Fears over reaction to a sumptuous Versailles banquet were a key reason for cancelling King Charles’s state visit to France, insiders say. “The comparison to Louis XVI’s court while citizens protested at the cost-of-living crisis was simply too striking,” said one source involved in the preparation of the postponed trip.
But it was King Charles’s penchant for spontaneously mingling with crowds that provided the final death knell.
The three-day visit with Queen Camilla was to be His Majesty’s first trip abroad since becoming King.
On Saturday, the violence was showing little signs of quelling, with petrol bombs and mortars being used against officers.
Thousands ran amok in Sainte-Soline, near Poitiers, where protesters used Molotov cocktails to set police vans alight.
And more than a million people took to the streets on Thursday during the biggest demonstrations since French President Emmanuel Macron pushed through a Bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote in the National Assembly.
The state visit had been organised to mark a new Anglo-French entente brokered during a recent meeting between Mr Macron and Rishi Sunak.
During the trip, King Charles and Queen Camilla would have visited Bordeaux, where protesters set fire to the town hall on Thursday.
The highlight was to have been a state banquet at the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, once the epitome of pre-Revolutionary opulence under Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.
A source involved in the preparations for the feast said: “No expense was being spared – Macron and Charles were going to dine like old world monarchs.”
Overseen by Michelin-rated chefs Anne-Sophie Pic and Yannick Alléno, the menu was to have included King Charles’s “favourite vintage cheese”, a 30-month-old Comté, and expensive bottles of claret. After an entrée of asparagus, guests were to have been treated to Bresse chicken with truffles.
It was to be accompanied by “rhubarb water jelly” and a tarte tatin with caramel and dried fruit.
Comparisons with the fall of Versailles and the French Revolution in 1789 were not lost on protesters.
“Death to the King” was scrawled on the Place de la Concorde – the Paris square where Louis XVI and Marie were executed – as well as “Charles III do you know the guillotine?”.
On Saturday night, Sylvie Bermann, former French ambassador to the UK, said Mr Macron could not have hosted King Charles during such civil unrest.
She said: “It was impossible. The dinner in Versailles would not have given a good image while there is unrest in France.”
But it was the King’s habit of spontaneously mingling with the crowds for impromptu handshakes that finally caused France’s police to decide they could not ensure his safety.
A source said: “There is no doubt that such good manners could have been very dangerous indeed.”
The royals’ state visit to Germany, starting in Berlin, is understood to be going ahead on Wednesday.