The Real Jacquot
In "A Season at Aix-les-Bains " Amédée Achard tells his readers about the reputation of Aix’s donkeys .
" The donkeys of Aix are the only ones able to rival those of Montmorency, the most indefatigable of animals. Perhaps, in terms of speed, they are even superior. When the donkeys of Aix stop it is that they have fallen. "
Almost every year donkey races were held, with all the pomp and ceremony usually reserved for horse racing. Their fame reached as far as England.
A report in the "Leeds Mercury " of 5th September 1863 relates that Madame Urbain Rattazzi (Marie de Solms) had taken Aix’s donkey under her protection and organised a race held before 3000 visitors.
It is true that Aix’s donkeys worked hard giving rides to visitors and transporting loads to market.
We can be certain that during the later years of her reign the Queen used a little carriage pulled by a donkey for short excursions. There are many photographs to prove this however they show different animals, some light, some dark. Which one was Jacquot?
When she first visited Aix-les-Bains in 1885 the Queen was having difficulty walking other than for short distances. She brought with her a little carriage to which a pony could be harnessed and which she could then drive herself.
A study of her journal reveals that for her visit in 1885 she talks about using her pony-chair, whilst in 1887 and 1890 she refers to a donkey-chair.
Here is the carriage itself, on display in the stables at Buckingham Palace.
The little sign on the seat says that the carriage was used to distribute Christmas presents to the royal grandchildren.
Xavier Paoli’s memoirs were translated into English. His version of the Jacquot story was subsequently taken up and circulated around the world. However a close reading of his book reveals numerous errors.
Paoli claims to have already been in service to the Queen in 1887 and to have obtained permission from the Pope for her to visit the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse. Elsewhere a letter that he quotes rules this out.
He situates the Jacquot story in Aix but dates it to 1892 and 1893 and takes upon himself the role of negotiating the sale. In 1891 the Queen spent her holiday in Grasse, in 1892 she visited Florence in Italy and from then on became a devotee of the Riviera. Thanks to this confusion Jaquot’s story is often wrongly transferred to Nice.
Luckily we have more reliable sources for the origin of the story.
The first known photo of our own Jacquot was taken in Grasse in 1891.
This picture shows the Queen in Hyères in 1892 with the same animal as that seen the previous year in Grasse and mentioned by Marie Mallet one of her maids of honour.
Grasse, March 30th 1891
At 11 a.m. I pranced forth again to trot behind the Queen’s donkey chair (thank goodness the beast is lazy and obstinate and refuses to be hurried!)
Two days later another lady-in-waiting wrote:
Villa Victoria, Grasse, April 1891..
We had a delicious morning, with air like crystal; part of it I spent on the mountain side, panting, after H.M.’s donkey chair. Off goes the donkey at a good firm pace, led by the groom Randall. H.M. in a grey shawl, with a mushroom hat, a large white sunshade, sits comfortably installed in a donkey chair; then come the two princesses close behind, walking like troopers; the two Scottish servants … The Queen never stops, but goes steadily on to the end of Alice’s (de Rothschild) delightful mountain drive, and then into the gardens of a villa belonging to a great perfume manufacturer. (Quoted in Victoria Travels by David Duff )
In Italy in 1893 and 1894
The Italians had by now come to accept Highlanders as part of the Victorian scene. It was the Indian servants and Jacquot who aroused their interest…That a Queen and Empress should be towed about by a small donkey, with whom she was obviously on the most friendly terms, was beyond their comprehension.
The story of Jacquot the donkey is without doubt the most charming of all those told about Queen Victoria and her visits to Aix-les-Bains.
It can be sumarised as follows:
One day the Queen was driving along the shores of the Lake du Bourget in her carriage when she came across a poor, thin little donkey. She took pity on him and decided to buy him on the spot. After being groomed and well fed he was taken to Windsor. On a return journey to Aix he recognized the stable where he had been so well treated and ran back to it at top speed.
How much truth is there in this story?
Both the Queen and Aix had long associations with donkeys.
Amédée Achard adds:
" The year of Aix’s donkeys can be divided in two : in summer they are part of the fashionable life of the town, in the winter they are subject to hard work. Noble steeds during the season, when the wind turns cold they turn back into normal donkeys. "
Amédée ACHARD Une Saison à Aix-les-Bains 1850
Queen Victoria was noted for her love of animals.
She first learnt to ride on a donkey which her uncle, the Duke of York, gave her as a present for her third birthday. This donkey was called Dicky. Through the railings of Kensington Palace, passers by could see the little princess mounted on her donkey which was decorated with blue ribbons.
On her fourth birthday she received an invitation from another uncle, King George IV, to pay him a visit. " Oh! mama, shall I go upon my donkey? "she asked, certain that he would be pleased to see her arriving in this fashion.
She grew into a competent rider, graduating from donkeys to ponys and then horses. As a young queen she enjoyed galloping through Great Windsor Park.
Click on the illustration here to see a photograph of the Queen and a dark coloured donkey at Windsor Castle. Is this Jacquot?
The most widely circulated version of the Jaquot story is that told by Xavier Paoli, seen in this photo in the bottom, left-hand corner wearing a bowler hat.
The French Republic had given him the delicate task of ensuring the safety of royal and imperial visitors to France. In the photo he is in the presence of the King of Greece, a frequent visitor to Aix. During his years of service to the French government Paoli built up a collection of gifts given to him by various monarchs and aristocrats. He also collected many anecdotes which he drew upon to write his memoirs.
The earliest reference to Jacquot that we have found so far comes from the archives of Queen Victoria’s doctor James Reid and is dated 25th March 1890.
“A Frenchman, who has been employed by the Queen each time Her Majesty has come to Aix startled me by exclaiming in his recently acquired English –“Lo and behold, sir, up comes the donkey! Mon Dieu, how fat he has become in England!... He used to belong to a boatman who came into this piece of property at the death of a near relative. A bequest of this kind being a cumbersome piece of goods to a man who earns his living by fishing … he was quite ready to sell his legacy to anyone who wanted it. It so happened that Queen Victoria had given orders to look out for an animal which she could drive herself slowly and surely in the winding mountain paths of Tresserve and the Dent du Chat. The donkey worth a couple of pounds on the Chambery market place was sold to the Queen for twenty pounds...”
In the same year on 5th April 1890 in an article in "The Graphic" entitled "The Queen’s Daily Life at Aix-les-Bains "
The morning is spent in driving or reading, with the donkey "Jacquot" and his chair in readiness at every steep incline.
On the 11th April 1890 a newspaper report stated that the Queen’s grandchildren were taking it in turns to have rides on her donkey.
These were the children of Duke of Connaught, who appear in the photograph of the Queen which was taken in Aix-les-Bains.
They were holidaying with the Queen on their return from India.
A final confirmation that Jacquot was a native of Aix-les-Bains comes from Émile Leder who worked at the Hôtel de l’Europe in 1885 and then at the Spledide Hôtel in 1887.
" The donkey in question was Jacquot, famous in Aix. He was bought from a peasant at the Grand Port during one of the Queen’s outings."
Some early accounts do talk about a grey or white donkey and later on in Nice Queen Victoria certainly did use a white donkey ,however, for Jacquot's appearance we have relied on an article published in the "The Idler" magazine" in 1893 which gives details of many of Queen’s pets.
"This vehicle is much used by Her Majesty when driving about the grounds, and is drawn by an exceedingly strong, handsome donkey called “Jacquot,” in colour a very dark brown, with white nose and curiously knotted tail. “Jacquot,” who is a very intelligent animal, with a rather strong objection to work, and a great love of good living, accompanies Her Majesty whenever she goes abroad, his next destination being Florence.”
We can be confident about the accuracy of this article since it was corrected and revised by the Queen’s Personal Secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby.
There is, however, a remaining question:
Did the Queen make use of a chaise à porteur to reach the summit of La Chambotte, as recounted in local legend? She had used one in 1868 when she had been carried to the summit of Seelisberg in Switzerland when she recorded that she had not enjoyed the experience at all.
During the Queen's excursions to La Chambotte, overlooking Lac du Bourget near Aix-les-Bains, in 1885 and 1890, the weather was mild and she took her tea in her carriage, as was her usual custom. On 16th April 1887, however, the wind was bitterly cold, icicles were hanging from snow covered roofs. Given the biting cold it was decided to open up the inn for her to take her tea.
The Queen reached the viewpoint and after admiring the impressive view took refuge inside the inn where she was treated to scones freshly baked by Mary Robertson, the Scottish wife of the inn keeper.
According to the Queen's Journal and the Court Circular the ascent was made in the donkey chair. But, who knows, maybe she did go back down in the chair?
This is a picture of the beautiful Grand Port in Aix-les-Bains.
Our dream is that the town of Aix-les-Bains should, for the delight our children and our visitors, raise a memorial to one of its most illustrious sons here beside the lake!
Perhaps something like this