The Home of the Royal Court: The Palace of Versailles
The Home of the Royal Court On May 6, 1682 Louis XIV proclaimed the Palace of Versailles to be the seat of the French government. In effect, the entire bureaucracy moved from Paris to the suburban villa of the king. The court consisted of 20,000 persons that included 9,000 soldiers, 5,000 servants, 1,000 great lords and members of the nobility, 1,000 lesser aristocrats (who visited the court on a daily basis) and 4-5,000 bureaucrats to manage the official business.
The Home of the Royal Court The court was further supported by 2,500 horses, 200 coaches, and 5,000 hunting dogs. The great lords and members of the nobility were required to live at Versailles--in the palace--so that the king could keep track of them. They were required to wear entirely new clothing (down to their linens) for the king’s parties (fêtes) and other important social occasions. They could beg permission to return to their lands periodically in order to regroup financially!
A Court Regulated Like Clockwork The Kings day had to be perfectly timed so that the officers serving the monarch knew exactly what they should do & when. As a result, he court’s schedule was regulated like clockwork. Referring to Louis XIV, the Duc de Saint- Simon wrote, “with an almanac and a watch, even at a distance of three hundred leagues, you could say precisely what he was doing”.
Levée: The Ceremonial Rising 8:00 AM: It is time, Sire, declares the First Valet de Chambre, waking the King. The levée, or ceremonial rising, thus begins. When Louis XIV awoke, he was examined by his doctor and surgeon. Then, his Valet washed his face and hands with cold water. The King then relieved himself in front of all the courtiers (noblemen of court).
Levée: The Ceremonial Rising As monarch, Louis XIV never had any privacy, and was always on ceremonial display. His aides would even converse with him about state matters as he sat on the toilet! The most important officials of the kingdom were admitted during the levée; and it is estimated that the usual number of people attending numbered one hundred, all male.
Levée: The Ceremonial Rising Within fifteen minutes, a crowd was crammed into the Royal Chambers. This group of nobles was made up of courtiers favored by the King. Louis then chose his wig and his clothes for the day, while he drank two cups of chicken stock soup or bread dipped in wine. Then the courtiers dressed him. It was a great honor to be permitted to watch him don his undergarments, breeches, stockings, etc. It was an even greater honor to be the noble selected to hand the King his shirt – only after he was presented to the King by the Valet de Chambre. This could happen five times to accommodate all the courtiers who wanted the honor.
Levée: The Ceremonial Rising Rumor: Louis XIV took only 3 baths in his life. NOT TRUE! In Louis’s day, people thought a good, thick, grimy layer of filth would keep you healthy and strong! They believed water spread diseases by penetrating the pores of the skin and then infecting the bloodstream. Most people didn’t bathe more than once a year. The wealthy did change their linen throughout the day because they believed that the linen wicked away sweat and dirt, but they still stunk. To combat the smells, the men and ladies in Louiss court would douse themselves with perfumes and powders.
Levée: The Ceremonial Rising Ironically, Louis was so clean that he was almost fussy about it. He often bathed in a big Turkish bath in his palace at Versailles. When not in his bath, he rubbed spirits or alcohol on his skin (perfume gave him headaches), which acted as a disinfectant. And, as if that were not enough, he changed his underwear three times per day! All of this cleanliness must have paid off, because Louis lived to the ripe old age of seventy-seven and was King for seventy-two years, longer than any other French monarch in history.
Levée: The Ceremonial Rising There were so many crazy rules of etiquette during the morning ceremony, I dont know how they kept it straight. For example, when it came to helping the King with his coat (justacorps), the Valet de Chambre could help only with the right sleeve. Whereas the Master of the Wardrobe could only assist with the left. Oh, it gets better! Only the Master of the Wardrobe was permitted to place the Kings cravat on him, but he wasnt allowed to tie it. That was the job of the Royal Cravatier. The Kings hat, gloves, and cane had to be handed to him in a certain order and by certain people.
Levée: The Ceremonial Rising Thefts were frequent at Versailles, despite the guards and staff. Once, during the Kings levée, the royal doctor had his watch stolen!
Levée: The Ceremonial Rising Louis was completely bald by age 35, so he made wigs mandatory for all members of his court – both male & female. Louis XIV had fourteen personal wigmakers on staff and a repertoire of 1,000 wigs.
The King Processes to Mass 10:00 AM: Upon leaving the Kings apartments, a procession would form in the Hall of Mirrors. The King would lead the procession of courtiers through the Hall toward the Royal Chapel for his morning prayers. During this procession, the public could now see the King and even petition him with a written request for favors.
The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles The space measures 73 meters long - more than half a soccer field! The space measures 12 ½ meters in height – about the same as a three-story building! This is where the King received all important foreign visitors, like ambassadors. Each week there are were parties, masked balls, and concerts held here. There was a limit on the number of courtiers who could attend – only those of high status! Each of the 17 windows is directly across from 17 huge mirrors that reflect the light and cast a divine glow.
The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles The world-famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles was designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, and the interior decoration was by Charles Le Brun in 1678. The Hall of Mirrors served as a passage between the Kings and the Queens apartments. In this historic room the German Empire was proclaimed in 1871 and the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, was signed here in 1919. The ceiling’s painted heavens were meant to remind the viewers of the King’s divine right and the glorious moments of the King’s life.
The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles The Hall of Mirrors remains, as was the Sun King’s intent, a sight breathtaking in its majesty. The Hall of Mirrors contains: – 357 mirrors, – 17 glass doors – 17 large chandeliers – 26 small chandeliers – Marble walls – Painted plaster ceilings
The King Attends Mass • 10:30 AM: The King enters the Royal Chapel, which has two stories. • The galleries (the upper stories) were reserved for the King, the royal family, and important members of the Court, while the rest of the congregation occupied the ground floor. • Mass would last roughly thirty minutes.
The King Attends Mass• The choir, known as the Chapel Music, famous throughout Europe, always sang new music composed by French composers such as Lully & Lalande.• Consecrated in 1710, the Chapel is dedicated to St. Louis, ancestor and patron saint of the royal family.• The Chapel was the last building to be constructed at Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV.
The King Holds Council 11:00 AM: Upon returning to his apartments, the King holds council in his cabinet. – Sundays & Wednesdays: Councils of State – Tuesdays & Saturdays: Finances – Mondays, Thursdays & Fridays: Another Council of State, the Dispatch Council on Domestic Affairs, a Religious Council, or discussion the King’s building programs.
The King Holds Council Five or six ministers usually advised the King on any issue. When being advised, Louis famously spoke little and listened a great deal before coming to a decision on any issue.Minister of Finance: Once his decision wasJean-Baptiste Colbert issued, it was non- negotiable and final.
The King Attends His Midday Meal 1:00 PM: The King dined in his bedchamber, at a table facing the windows, looking out onto the palace grounds. This meal was theoretically private, but Louis XIV routinely admitted the men at court, making attendance similar to that of the levée.
The King Attends His Midday Meal It was a huge ceremony, with a large number of different characters in attendance. The most noble person had the right to give the King his towel in order for the King to clean his hands before eating. Six gentlemen served the King and some of them had useless duties. Because of the length of the ceremony, the King always ate cold food.
The Afternoon Program Begins 2:00 PM: The King would announce the program for the afternoon that he had decided upon earlier that morning. In every season, Louis XIV loved to be outside in the open air. Every afternoon he went hunting, or for a long walk or carriage ride through the gardens (promenade). During those occasions, the King was relaxed and in a good mood, so the courtiers liked to accompany him to get his attention and ask for favors. His gardens even had a zoo (ménagerie) filled with animals like zebras & giraffes given to him from countries in Africa and Asia.
The Afternoon Program Begins If he had decided on a promenade, it might be taken on foot in the gardens, or in a carriage with ladies of court.
The Gardens of Versailles Versailles’ grounds are landscaped in the style of French formal garden design. The garden’s strict formality and precision were meant to reflect the King’s power and control over the environment, his court & his country. The first plans for the garden were made in 1630, when Louis XIV hired the preeminent landscape architect of the time, Andre Le Nôtre, to design the palace grounds. There were ultimately four phases of garden construction, eventually ending under the reign of Louis XVI.
The Gardens of Versailles PHASE I When the first phase of the gardens’ construction began in 1662, the first order of business was modifying and rearranging all the existing bosquets (groups of trees of the same species) on the grounds. When the first phase was completed in 1664, one of the most impressive parterres (garden divisions), the Orangerie was completed. The Orangerie contains over 1,000 exotic, non-native trees, with the majority being varieties of citrus.
The Gardens of Versailles PHASE II From 1664 – 1668, new fountains were constructed as well as new bosquets. With this phase, the gardens assumed their iconic, topographical, symmetrical design. Additional features of the garden were completed at this time: Grotte de Téthys (fountain of the Greek sea nymph Thetis), Bassin de Latone (fountain of the Greek god Apollo’s mother), and Bassin d’ Apollon (fountain showing Apollo & his chariot emerging from the sea). In the early days of Versailles, fountain guards were ordered to whistle when Louis XIV approached, so that the fountains could be turned on.
The Gardens of Versailles PHASE III The period 1680 – 1685 marked a stylistic change from Le Nôtre’s design. The King recruited a new architect: Jules Hardouin-Mansart! Hardouin-Mansart modified Le Nôtre’s design by expanding the lawns between fountains, completing the fountains to their present size & adding twin octagonal basins (called the Grand Canal [vertical] & Petite Canal [horizontal]) to represent the two major rivers of France.
The Gardens of Versailles PHASE IV The final phase occurred from 1704 – 1785. Between 1704-1709, the existing bosquets on the grounds were modified However, on September 1,1715, Louis XIV died from gangrene at Versailles. His great-grandson Louis XV was to succeed him. In 1722, Louis XV returned to Versailles. He did not spend large amounts of money on the palace like his great- grandfather, instead performing minor changes.
The Gardens of Versailles All told, the construction of Versailles’ gardens consisted of: – At least 200,000 trees strategically placed throughout the property – 81 miles of tree rows – About 210,000 flowers distributed throughout the parterres, an replanted at least twice annually! – 50 water fountains fed by 21 miles of water piping – 12 miles of roads – Over 1900 acres of parks
The King on the Hunt Hunting activities, the Bourbon royal family’s favorite pastime, would take place on the grounds or in the surrounding forests. The head officer organized the royal hunts. During the royal hunt, only Louis XIV was allowed to carry a weapon and had the right to shoot. This was to prevent him being injured or killed by a hunting accident.
The King on the Hunt Louis was very attached to his hunting dogs and fed them himself. He had over 100 hunting dogs and knew all of their names. On horseback, and with the help of his dogs, Louis would track a stag for hours throughout Versailles. Occasionally, he hunted by foot with only one or two dogs.
The King on the Hunt The female nobles would follow the hunt in horse- drawn carriages. At the end of the day’s hunt, King Louis XIV would offer the best prizes (stags) to his favorite women of the court. Receiving the King’s daily prize was considered a huge honor at Versailles.
The King’s Evening 6:00 PM: Following the hunting party’s return to the palace, Louis XIV often allowed his son to preside over the private social gatherings in the evenings known as soirées dappartement. During that time, The King might sign the many letters prepared for him by his secretary throughout the day.
The King’s Evening Even though Louis XIV married Queen Marie-Thérèse in 1660, he did not remain faithful to her. As a result, following the soirées dappartement , the King would then go to Madame de Maintenons quarters each evening. The Madame de Maintenon was Louis’s mistress, and eventually became his second wife (though the marriage was never officially announced or admitted). Cest un scandale! While there, he might study an important file with one of his four secretaries of state, in addition to enjoying the Madame’s company.
A Supper Fit for a King 10:00 PM: A crowd would fill the antichambre of the Kings Suite to witness the King’s public supper. The King would be joined at the Royal Table at the end of the antichambre by the princes and princesses of the royal family. The royal family ate while on public display, all the while having live music performed for them.
A Supper Fit for a King A typical royal supper service consisted of 40 plates that would be reused five times during the meal. The meal would consist of soups, salads, meats, vegetables, and desserts. All the dishes were tasted by a servant first to check for poisons. It took 1,500 food servers kept busy by “master of the kitchen” Chef Vatel to prepare and serve the courses of food. The servers, or “officers of the mouth”, brought the dishes to the table. In addition, another force of staff, referred to as the “officers of goblet” poured the drinks.
A Supper Fit for a King The plates, napkins, and food covers were the colors of the Bourbon royal family: gold, scarlet, or silver. The drinking glasses were made of cut Baccarat crystal. The King’s personal utensils and spices were kept in a box called the “the padlock” Ironically, Louis XIV preferred to eat with his fingers. Since the kitchens were so far from the dining room, the food got cold before being served. It is because of this distance that they invented the silver bell food covers to place over plates to keep the food warm. These are still used today in restaurants.
Special Occasions at the Palace Throughout the year, Louis XIV organized big parties (fêtes), which typically lasted for several days and nights. There were hundreds of guests invited, and while at Versailles, they would admire the gardens, go to the theatre, and dance at costume balls. In the evenings, to end the parties, there would be a fireworks show.
Special Occasions at the Palace When the King decided to throw a party, he entrusted the preparations to the service of the Menus-Plaisirs du Roi, or royal party planners. They were responsible for making costumes, fabricating the decorations, and preparing the food. Louis XIV’s parties usually had a theme that was based upon Greek mythology, stories of knights from the Middle Ages, or upon contemporary poetry.
Special Occasions at the Palace The Grand Canal was the largest water feature on the palace grounds, and was modeled after the canals of Venice. The Grand & Petite Canal formed the major axes of the gardens, around which the pomp & frivolity of the fêtes centered. All of the actual ships in the French navy were duplicated in miniature for entertainment uses in the canal. There were even gondolas in the canal given to Louis by the city of Venice. Sometimes, as part of the entertainment, Louis XIV had the miniature ships act out battles.
Special Occasions at the PalaceAn artist’s rendering of the Versailles’ Grand Canal stocked with miniaturized French naval ships and gondolas during one of Louis XIV’s fêtes du nuit.
The Sun King Finally Sets Once the meal or fête was over for the evening, the King would retire to his cabinet (private sitting room) where he could indulge in conversation with his close acquaintances, members of the royal family, or mistress.
The Sun King Finally Sets 11:30 PM: The ceremonial day of the court at Versailles ends with the couchee, or public ritual of retiring, is a reverse, shortened version of the levée. It was considered a great honor to hold the candle by which the King was undressed during this final ceremony.