You think you know everything about Louis XIV ? His taste for the arts, his innumerable mistresses, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the war against Spain? But do you know the story of Marie Mancini her first love? That he had had to go into exile as a child on the roads of France for three years, and that at fifty he had secretly married Madame de Maintenon? That Versailles had been built and destroyed several times by his simple will? That in the corridors of this sumptuous palace reigned a terrible odor?
In the company of the author Henry-jean Servat open the gates of Versailles, discover the mysteries of the court. Follow the entire history of the reign of the Sun King, the political, economic and cultural events of his long reign. This book makes us discover man: neither the God, nor the strategist, nor the monarch nor the grandiose character that he was, but also a being of flesh and blood capable of being carried away by his emotions. A king who knew how to carry the political, military, cultural and artistic ambitions of France.
An unexpected dolphin
At nearly twenty years without heirs between Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, it is the miracle: The arrival of a prince on September 6, 1638 who will be named Louis Dieudonné! He survived the deadly infections of his time and was joined by a brother two years later: Philippe, Duke of Anjou. At the age of seven, the child was entrusted to M. de la Porte, the first valet de chambre.
Cardinal Mazarin, successor to Richelieu as minister, was appointed godfather of the young king by Queen Anne of Austria.
The terrible years of the Fronde
From 1648 to 1653, a civil war opposed the parliamentarians and grand princes of the kingdom to Mazarin and Anne of Austria, precipitating the flight of the queen with her eleven-year-old son on the roads of the kingdom which at the time was ravaged by years of war and over-taxation. But when Louis XIV appeared before the royal troops he was acclaimed and celebrated wherever he went. It is alongside Cardinal Mazarin that Queen Anne of Austria faces the sling.
In 1654, Louis, like all his predecessors, came to be consecrated in the cathedral of Reims, which made the young sovereign the intermediary of God on earth. He is fifteen years old, and solemnly undertakes to fulfill his duties.
Louis's first love
Daughter of Lorenzo Mancini, Marie is one of Cardinal Mazarin's many nieces who arrived in France in 1650. She is a rebellious, intelligent and cultivated girl with whom Louis exchanges letters and talks about literature and art. She will be present at the time of the young king's typhoid fever, and the latter, madly in love with her, decides to marry her when he is healed! The option is not even possible for Mazarin and Anne of Austria, because they are preparing a union with a cousin of Louis the Infanta of Spain, Archduchess of Austria Marie-Thérèse. This marriage was a family affair for the young king, and he had to give up seeing Mary again.
The wedding took place in the church of St John the Baptist on June 9, 1660. Marie-Thérèse found it difficult to integrate into the court, not speaking a word of French, took time to practice it. She will give six children to Louis, only one of whom will live, consanguinity not being foreign to their disappearance. For more than twenty years she will have to support the mistresses that her husband will choose from the cohort of her bridesmaids. She takes refuge in the religious community drinking hot chocolate that she adores, surrounded by her dwarves and her monks.
The king enters the scene
Night of March 9, 1661: Cardinal Mazarin passed away and the court bustled with rumors. Every man with vanity and education hopes to take his part. Louis summons all the big names present at the court, princes, dukes, ministers to tell them that he has taken the resolution to command his state himself! In a few months, he reorganizes the top of the state, eliminates certain charges, creates others, modifies the councils. He moved the court to Fontainebleau and began a personal reign that would last fifty four years!
Louise de la Vallière, Athénaïs de Montespan
Louis is twenty three and Louise seventeen when they meet. She is neither ambitious nor conspiratorial, she dances to perfection, barely limps and rides delightfully. For the only time in his life, the young king is loved for himself. The romance will last three years, until the appearance of the dazzling Athénaïs de Montespan who, by subjugating Louis XIV with his aura and his going, transports him to a universe filled with noise and fury. Louis does not resist, a mad passion wins! Louise hangs on but the more she follows him the more he runs away from her. Mother of at least four children made for her by the king (two of whom died in infancy, and two were legitimized) she received in 1667 a title of duchess which, in the eyes of the cruel court, meant her leave.
The reign of Athénaîs de Montespan began in 1668 and lasted more than ten years. Gifted for the things of love, fascinated by luxury, authoritarian and arrogant, she attracts the total favor of the king, whom she helps to develop a sense of pride and excess. She will give him seven children, six of whom will be legitimized and will end up growing a lot.
The poisons affair in which she was involved, when she wanted to keep the favor of the king, precipitates her in disgrace, but despite this she continues to lead a great life at Versailles, by organizing sumptuous parties to which Louis does not appear. . In 1691 on the death of her husband, she left the Palace of Versailles and moved to Paris. She lives there in devotion, fear of God and fear of dying. She died in 1707 in Bourbon-L'archambeau.
The Palace of Versailles
Forced to stop at Versailles during the Fronde, Louis discovered the castle of Louis XIII, more or less abandoned. The panorama is an ungrateful place, sad, without sight, without wood, without water and without land, not enough to make vibrate those who identify with the God Apollo, but by a mystery whose history has the secret, Louis XIV decides in 1660 to transform the estate. He put the creators of Vaux-le-Vicomte to work: the architect Louis-le Vau, the painter Charles le Brun and the landscape designer André le Nôtre. Louis then wanted to make Versailles his retirement where he could temporarily escape the Parisian atmosphere.
Louis organizes renovations and gives parties which make it appear that the castle is much too small to accommodate several hundred guests. This is the signal for the transformation of the castle of Louis XIII into the palace of the Sun King! A new castle with white stone facades is born and the work, constantly modified, never ends. The court, which settled permanently on the spot from 1682, had no other choice but to live in the middle of the scaffolding where the workers pay a heavy price: they will be thousands to die of malnutrition or malaria. Between 1665 and 1670 Le Vau tripled the area of Louis XIII's building, which was to be adorned with the most beautiful paintings, sculptures, ponds, majestic alleys, magnificent trees and formal gardens, works of André Le Nôtre.
Madame de Maintenon
Françoise d'Aubigné married without a dowry Paul Scarron, a cultivated man counterfeit following an accident who held a salon frequented by Madame de La Fayette, the Marquise de Montespan, Ninon de Lenclos and Madame de Sévigné. Widowed at the age of twenty-five and penniless, in 1669 she found a job as governess of the royal offspring, bastard children of the king and of the Marquise de Montespan, which she did with great dedication. Louis XIV discovered her little by little while visiting his illegitimate children and forged a loving relationship with this wise and witty woman, granting her the title of Marquise de Maintenon. Madame de Montespan realizes too late of the ascendancy taken by Françoise and understands that she must step aside. When his wife dies, Louis chooses to marry his dear forty-eight-year-old confidante whom he will eventually marry secretly.
This magnificent work, which is very affordable to read, is not only adorned with very beautiful illustrations retracing the stages of the life of this great King, Louis XIV, but also contains a number of documents, portraits, precious letters and fac- similés which mark out the course of this time.
Louis XIV King of excess, by Henri-Jean Servat and Mathieu Banq. Documents of History, Ed Larousse, 2015.