Last Updated: 4 February 2023

Aux marches du palais is a traditional French ballad dating from the 18th century. The story of the song tells of the love affair of one of the prettiest girls in the kingdom with a shoemaker. The latter is going to fit the girl with a beautiful shoe, like in Cinderella.

The story of the song

Aux marches du palais is one of the oldest and best known songs in the children's repertoire.

As was customary in the 17th and 18th centuries, the melody is a bit draggy with a hint of melancholy, but it is still very pleasant. 

The authors of this ballad are anonymous and it is thought to date from the 18th century.

However, there is a song with a similar theme, 'La Flamande', published by Chardavoine as early as 1615.

A popular song with many versions

Its popularity began in the eighteenth century and its circulation was widespread. It spread throughout France, from Artois to Languedoc and from Champagne to the Channel Islands.

From 1732 to 1790, more than 40 different versions are attested in the different French provinces, such as "Dedans la cour du Roi" and "La fille du laboureux".

What story does the song tell?

The song tells the story of a pretty girl who stands near the steps of the palace. She is not a princess because they are inside the palace.

This common girl is so pretty that her beauty almost makes her a princess.

Her beauty attracts many suitors and it is a humble shoemaker that she chooses. He puts a beautiful shoe on her, evoking the Cinderella tale.

The huge bed mentioned in the song would have made people dream because at the time, beds were narrow and short.

However, the song contains a double meaning that adults will understand (this is what led to its great popularity in the 18th century).

Maisons-Laffitte Castle by night © French Moments

The entrance to the chateau of Maisons-Laffitte © French Moments

Which palace are we talking about?

Popular imagery (especially among children) illustrates the song with steps in front of a palace.

However, contrary to this received idea, it is neither a staircase nor a castle.

"Marches" refers to a border region on the edge of the kingdom of France (March, in English).

This territory was entrusted to a "marquis" (marquess) responsible for its military defence.

Palais or Pallet?

The "Palais" here is a distortion of the word Pallet, which gives the song a royal feel that it does not have.

Le Pallet is a little-known village between Nantes and Clisson, whose name comes from the Latin "palatium".

Le Pallet © Selbymay - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Le Pallet © Selbymay - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The "Marche du Pallet", also called the "Marche de Bretagne", is a region between Poitou, Anjou and lower Brittany, showing the song's rural origin.

The story is almost the same as in the other two versions: a girl to be married, too many lovers, a shoemaker... But here, the lovers get straight to the point: they go to bed together!

The steps of the market place

Moreover, in the song, the word "palace" may not refer to a castle but to its Italian origin "palazzo" which means a place of trade. So, Aux marches du palais can be interpreted as the steps of the market place.

Aux marches du palais

Lyrics, music, free download... let's learn more about the popular song:

Aux marches du palais

The lyrics in French

The original song of Aux marches du palais has 10 verses.

Couplet 1

Aux marches du palais

Aux marches du palais

Y a une tant belle fille, lon la

Y a une tant belle fille

Couplet 2

Elle a tant d'amoureux
Elle a tant d'amoureux
Qu'elle ne sait lequel prendre, lon la
Qu'elle ne sait lequel prendre

Couplet 3

C'est un petit cordonnier
C'est un petit cordonnier
Qu'a eu la préférence, lon la
Qu'a eu la préférence

Couplet 4

Et c'est en la chaussant
Et c'est en la chaussant
Qu'il en fit la demande, lon la
Qu'il en fit la demande

Couplet 5

La belle si tu voulais
La belle si tu voulais
Nous dormirions ensemble, lon la
Nous dormirions ensemble

Couplet 6

Dans un grand lit carré
Dans un grand lit carré
Couvert de toile blanche, lon la
Couvert de toile blanche

Couplet 7

Aux quatre coins du lit
Aux quatre coins du lit
Quatre bouquets de pervenches, lon la
Quatre bouquets de pervenches

Couplet 8

Dans le mitant du lit
Dans le mitant du lit
La rivière est profonde, lon la
La rivière est profonde

Couplet 9

Tous les chevaux du roi
Tous les chevaux du roi
Pourraient y boire ensemble, lon la
Pourraient y boire ensemble

Couplet 10

Et nous y dormirions
Et nous y dormirions
Jusqu'à la fin du monde, lon la
Jusqu'à la fin du monde

Translation of the lyrics into English

Here is an approximative translation into English:

Verse 1

On the steps of the palace
On the steps of the palace
There's such a beautiful girl, lon la
There's such a beautiful girl

Verse 2

She has so many lovers
She's got so many lovers
That she doesn't know which one to take, lon la
She doesn't know which one to take

Verse 3

He's a little shoemaker
It's a little shoemaker
He's got the preference, lon la
He's got the preference, he's got the preference

Verse 4

And it's by putting it on
And it was while putting on her shoes
He asked for it, lon la
That he asked for it

Verse 5

The beautiful one if you wanted
The beautiful one if you wanted
We'd sleep together, lon la
We'd sleep together

Verse 6

In a big square bed
In a big square bed
Covered with white cloth, lon la
Covered with white cloth

Verse 7

At the four corners of the bed
At the four corners of the bed
Four bunches of periwinkle, lon la
Four bunches of periwinkle

Verse 8

In the middle of the bed
In the middle of the bed
The river is deep, lon la
The river is deep

Verse 9

All the king's horses
All the king's horses
Could drink from it together, lon la
Could drink from it together

Verse 10

And we'd sleep there
And we'd sleep there
Till the end of the world, lon la
Until the end of the world

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Aux marches du palais © French Moments

French Nursery Rhymes

My challenge for the year 2023 is to publish 80 French Nursery Rhymes lyrics and descriptions (list below). Come back as time goes by to discover the new articles:

About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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