Report of General Monthly Meeting - Tuesday 12th November 2019
Louis XIV and the Court at Versailles: Richard Costard
Louis XIV ruled France from 1638 until his death in 1715 and was thus king for more than 72 years – the longest rule recorded of any monarch of a European country. He believed in the divine right of kings and created a centralised state with himself at the centre. He moved the centre of power from Paris to his wonderful new palace of Versailles with its fantastic gardens and fountains, amazing hall of mirrors and glass imported from Venice. The cost of the building and furniture was immense, and nearly bankrupted a country still recovering from the cost of the recent war with Spain. One reason for moving the centre of power to Versailles was to increase the kings’ control; many members of the nobility were required to reside at Versailles so it was more difficult for any dissenting plots to develop. Versailles was also a great cultural centre; Louis surrounded himself h the great artistic and literary figures of the time. He also commissioned hundreds of portraits of himself and a number of statues – sometimes portraying him as the god Apollo.
Louis XIV also enforced the uniformity of the Catholic religion, revoking the Edict of Nantes and thus removing any rights of the Protestant Huguenots who were forced either to flee the country or convert to Catholicism. His first marriage to Marie Therese of Spain had been arranged for political reasons, and although they had seven children (of whom only the Dauphin Louis survived to adulthood), he had official mistresses for much of his married life. He had further children with his mistresses who included Louise de Valliere (five children) and Marquise de Montesfan (seven children). Following the death of his wife Marie Therese, he secretly married again to Francoise d’Aubique; this was widely known although never officially acknowledged.
Richard showed us a wide selection of images which demonstrated what a splendid palace Versailles was in the seventeenth century for those sufficiently privileged to be living there. He gave us a feeling of the scale of extravagance which was so great, however, and in such contrast to the poverty of the vast majority of the population that is it small wonder that there was revolution by the end of the eighteenth century.