Palace of versailles

Molecatcher at the Palace of Versailles Jérôme Dormion pictured fulfilling a centuries-old role: first molecatcher employed by King Louis XIV

The wireworm of Versailles: the man who is the latest in a 330-year line to keep the palace’s spectacular gardens rodent-free

  • Jerome Dormion, 36, is the latest mole catcher in a 330-year line of rodent killers
  • King Louis XIV first hired a resident pest killer in the late 1600s
  • Molehills have long bothered the gardeners of the Palace of Versailles


It has been almost three hundred years since the King of France Louis XIV died in his beloved Palace of Versailles.

But the job of driving out the underground rodents that irritated the monarch as they destroyed his palace’s luxurious gardens still exists today.

Jérôme Dormion is the latest in a long line of wireworms employed to keep the royal palace and gardens rodent-free.

Serious work: Molecatcher Jerome Dormion, 36, pictured outside the Palace of Versailles where he is the latest in a long line of moles

Dormion displays a number of previously captured frozen moles.  Once he spent three months chasing a mole

Take No Prisoners: Dormion displays a number of previously captured Frozen Moles. Once he spent three months chasing a mole

The sprawling 800-hectare (2,000-acre) grounds of the Palace of Versailles have long been plagued by moles creating molehills on the manicured grass

Stylish: The sprawling 800-hectare (2,000-acre) grounds of the Palace of Versailles have long been plagued by moles creating molehills on the manicured grass

The 36-year-old uses archaic metal traps that kill moles when their two teeth twitch and snap the animals’ necks.

But although the role may look like a gimmick, Mr Dormion insists his position is “serious work”.

The enthusiast signs his texts with the line “Molecatcher to the King” and says his job is to make sure “molehills do not degrade the most beautiful gardens in Europe”.

The former gardener added: ‘We still have visiting dignitaries. Imagine if they were to see them.

Mr. Dormion is in charge of guarding the surroundings 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of beautiful mole-free horticulture on the grounds, which include Marie-Antoinette’s beloved farm and André Le Nôtre’s royal road and Grand Canal.

While Dormion approaches his constant hunting of burrowing rodents with vigour, he also adds a touch of humor when discussing his role.

A trapped dead mole is seen in the park of the Palace of Versailles

Archaic: Dormion uses an age-old technique to catch moles – a metal trap that breaks when the mole passes, trapping the animal

Dormion shows a mole caught in a trap.  Rodents cause molehills as they dig, angering palace gardeners

Terminator: Dormion displays a mole caught in a trap. Rodents cause molehills as they dig, angering palace gardeners

He said: ‘I’m known as the king’s taupin because Versailles is still the palace. The king may be gone, but the palace still has moles, tons. Which is good, because it keeps me at work.

Dormion recalls one of his proudest moments when capturing an ole he had been chasing for months.

He said: “Moles are exceptionally intelligent. That is why the majority of gardeners cannot catch them. One of the most cunning I’ve met thwarted my traps for three months… Eventually it got lazy and I got it.

Dormion also points out how versatile the mole is. On a hot summer day, he once stood in dismay at a strange sight in one of the royal fountains: a mole swimming around the basin.

“In my work, says Dormion, I never fail to be surprised.

Dormion is the latest in a 330-year line of molecatchers employed on the palace grounds

Molecatcher to the king: Dormion is the latest in a 330-year line of molecatchers employed on the palace grounds

A recently captured dead mole hangs from a bucket.  King Louis XIV first hired a wireworm in the late 1600s

King of the Hill: A recently caught dead mole hangs from a bucket. King Louis XIV first hired a wireworm in the late 1600s

The royal molecatcher was first hired by Louis XIV, the Bourbon King who moved the court to Versailles, in the late 1600s. Historians say the monarch lavished so much money on the upkeep of his residence beloved that he plunged the whole country into debt.

Large mounds of earth line the routes traveled by moles – solitary underground rodents with giant legs for digging.

As the palace is about 7.5 miles outside the city walls of Paris in the countryside, moles have long been able to dig into the gardens, much to the chagrin of many gardeners.

Dormion describes his trapping technique as resembling a guillotine and says he first tried poison but decided the trap, invented in the 1600s, was the best technique and most faithful to the historical role.

Zoologists say a decline in natural predators like feral cats and weasels has led to a boom in mole populations.

A single mole can make 30 molehills a day, which could see entire gardens pockmarked within weeks if large numbers of rodents dig into its walls.

Speaking of King Louis XIV’s insistence on ridding the grounds of moles, head gardener Alan Baraton said: ‘Versailles was France’s greatest symbol. After all that (Louis) has spent on the gardens, imagine if the moles had been allowed to run wild? All that money would have been wasted, wasted.

The molecatcher was rewarded with his own residence at Versailles. From the 1600s, the molehillers all came from the same family – the Liards – until in 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte put an end to the succession.

“The last molecatcher Liard was a bit of a party animal and turned the residence into a cabaret and a brothel,” Baraton said.

“One day when Napoleon was walking in the gardens, a prostitute came out and made him an offer. Wireworm was immediately kicked out and that was the end of the residency.

The gardener also cheekily suggests that proper mole capture can save lives.

In 1702, William III of England died from injuries he sustained after his horse tripped over a molehill.

“If the king had taken more care in maintaining his weed, he wouldn’t have died at 52,” Baraton says.