the figure of Louis XIV dominated the classical Baroque period.
His father, Louis XIII had become King after the assassination of
Henry IV in 1610. Louis XIII entrusted the government of France
during his reign until 1643, to Cardinal Richelieu who sought to
raise France to a dominant position in Europe. After Richelieu's
death in 1642, cardinal Mazarin carried on his work into the reign
of the young Louis XIV, actually dominating him, who had succeeded
his father on the throne in 1643 at the age of five years.
XIV's youth, some great nobles engaged in an open rebellion, called
the Fronde, in an effort to ruin Cardinal Mazarin (who was
quite openly the lover of Louis XIV's mother) and to undermine absolute
monarchy. This episode, which even endangered his life, left a strong
impression on the young Louis. As an adult, he was determined to
prevent any further rebellion by controlling the nobility and to
bring them to court where they could not endanger his idea of absolutism.
result of the Fronde was that Louis moved his court away from Paris,
still having the vivid impression of the dangers of the Paris city
mobs in mind. At great expense, he had an enormous palace constructed
outside Paris at Versailles (after the model of Vaux-le-Vicomte
and by the same architects and artists) where Louis XIII had a small
chateau for hunting. Versailles became the symbol of the glory and
the majesty of Louis XIV's reign, summed up in his famous statement
L'Etat est moi, serving as Louis's stage where he played
the role of an absolute monarch, the epitome of a divine King surrounded
by fawning nobles. In his wars, architectural plans, court etiquette,
pleasures, and sponsorship of theatrical entertainment, his overriding
consideration was whether his and France's glory were being served.
Once he was able to house all his court at Versailles, the King
pursued both business and pleasure relentlessly. No matter how exhausted
he or his courtiers were, there was a daily hunting or at least
a walk, and every evening was devoted to dances and plays.
For a member
of the nobility it was absolutely necessary to live near the King.
If he was not close to the court, this meant he was out of favour
with the King, deprived of pensions and sinecures which could only
be bestowed on those at court. By this tactic, Louis kept his nobles
busy at court where he could keep an eye on them. One could say
that he experience of the Fronde had paranoid him. "To keep
an eye" can also be taken literally, because the nobles were all
the time aware of the necessity of being recognised by the King.
If the King said about someone "We have not seen him today", this
meant the social death of this particular aristocrat and the result
was that he had to leave the court, never to be allowed back in
again. Though Louis thrived on his regimen, the courtiers often
found it torturous. For example, a lady invited to Versailles was
expected to arrive at six in the evening in full court dress and
might not have been allowed to depart until eight the following
morning. During those fourteen hours, she attended a comedy, a ballet
or a ball; she probably partook of two suppers and a roulette of
cards, and, throughout it all, she had to observe the most rigid
rules of etiquette. One such lady who broke the rules by sitting
at the gaming table was never received at court again. How rigid
the rules were can also be seen at different chairs that were in
connection to the varying degrees of relation to the King. Only
Louis himself was allowed to sit on a chair with arms, and the Queen.
His sons and daughters (natural and legitimised ones) occupied chairs
without arms, and one degree less meant to be allowed to sit on
a stool, etc.
To be at Versailles
a nobleman had to either live at the palace in the royal apartments
or in squalid lodgings. To maintain appearances at court, a nobleman
needed an expensive, varied wardrobe and funds to spend on life
at court. Furthermore, nobles competed to participate in a complicated
court ritual that included helping the King to get up in the morning
and prepare for bed at night. It was considered a great honour to
hand the King his night-shirt or to be allowed to help him out of
the left arm of his night-shirt during the petit Lever, and this
had to be done in a certain prescribed order and way. Louis's washing
consisted of rubbing his face with cotton soaked in diluted, scented
alcohol and dipping his fingertips in a bowl - washing in water
was considered dangerous to one's health. Relying on primary sources,
he only bathed twice in his life, when his doctors prescribed a
bath. Louis was usually only powdered from head to toe with perfumed
powder, several times a day. Though Louis never seemed to tire of
this routine, many of the courtiers found it trying in the extreme.
As a result, the aristocracy was so busy waiting on him and spending
money that they had neither the time nor the means to plot against
In his search
for glory, Louis tried to dominate Europe through a series of wars.
However, the other countries reacted to his aggressions by forming
alliances to thwart his ambitions. In the end, Louis's effort at
domination resulted only in exhausting the nation and impoverishing
the people. Therefore he set the ground for the French Revolution
sins and errors, Louis XIV definitely set the style for absolute
monarchy, a style that was copied throughout Europe.
French History | French
Royalty | Aristocratic
Louis XIV's Day
Royalty | Aristocratic
English Coins 1660-1715
II | James
II | William
& Mary | Queen
Food & Drink
Stillifes | Meals
Duke of Marlborough's
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Contents Copyright © N. Kipar 1997.