Chaise à Porteurs aka sedan chairs were an incredibly useful mode of transportation at the court of Louis XIV and especially at Versailles, where the distances between buildings were, and still are, rather huge. They were perfect for getting from one part of the palace to a other, or from one’s magnificent Hôtel in the city of Versailles to the palace, or simply to enjoy the gardens without ending up with aching feet or with shoes covered in mud.
They could be privately owned, in which case they also served as status symbol and were richly decorated, depending on what was in fashion it could be idyllic scenes or fancy patters, plus had the coat of arms of the owner on them. Or they could be rented in the streets to get from one place to the other. Chaise à Porteurs were also available to rent, including two carriers, at the gates of Versailles to cross the vast space between the outer gates of the palace and the cour de Marbre. This was especially handy for all those who lacked the privilege to pass Versailles’ outer gate in a carriage.
These Chaise à Porteurs available for rent at the palace gates were in high demand. To distinguish them from other sedan chairs for rent, they were painted in a fashionable royal blue, which gave them the name chaises bleues, and their carriers wore a livree in the same shade. Louis XIV gave the sedan-chair-carrying-monopoly to veterans as well as homeless and wounded soldiers in 1674. Six sous to get from the outer gate to the palace.
The female population of Versailles was very fond of this mode of transportation, not just because too much walking was considered unfashionable, but also because their heavy gowns and at times uncomfortable shoes made walking a bit of a hassle. Liselotte von der Pfalz was rather astonished about how hardly anybody walked at Versailles as she arrived there. The men found them rather useful too, for it allowed them to get swiftly from one place to the next without being out of breath… and as Versailles, and its King, grew older, the sedan chair gained even more importance.
Louis XIV, troubled by pains in his legs, was carried through his gardens in his own royal Chaise à Porteur and Madame de Maintenon followed him in her own. The King often chatted with the gentleman at the front of the sedan chair poles, a Monsieur d’Aigremont, of whom the King was very fond.
Who could use a Chaise à Porteur inside the palace and proceed how far was regulated. There were areas accessible to all sedan chairs, others required a special badge and some were for royals only. For example, only the royal family had the right to use them in the Grand Apartments. Of course, the rank of the person inside the sedan chair applied to the chairs itself too, which means lower ranking sedan chairs had to make way for higher ranking ones.
In parking position, the carrying poles could be easily removed and the sedan chair did not take away too much space. For longer distance voyages, there was also a sedan chair version that could be carried by mules or horses.