A house is an extension of the person living in it. This explains why the American President inhabits the White House, that immaculate Neoclassical edifice in Washington DC, a district purposely created to represent the federal government or why previous popes have dwelled in the Apostolic Palace and not in a humble rectory – after all, they were an elective monarch leading the Catholic Church and a sovereign of Vatican City.
Ergo, it stands to reason why Louis XIV, the “Sun King” – France’s absolute monarch ordered the construction of a chateau reminding everyone of His Majesty’s mode de vie – splendid and opulent.
“L’Etat c’est a moi”
Louis Dieudonné ascended the French throne as Louis XIV after his father, Louis XIII, died of Crohn’s disease. With death looming the old king, he arranged for a regency council to be established to act on behalf of his heir until the four-year-old reached majority.
The will was a break with tradition which appointed the queen dowager, the king’s widow, to rule as the sole regent. But with her husband deceased, Anne, through the Parlement de Paris, pressed on the nullification of the decree and assumed her customary role as her son’s regent but delegated the administration of political affairs to Cardinal Mazarin, the chief minister (Treasure, G.).
Mazarin’s dealings were greeted with downright repugnance by Parisians who, as an expression of their disgust, heaved stones at the windows of the cardinal’s connections (University of Wisconsin). His accentuated close relationship with the Queen drove the royal family out of Paris twice to seek protection from the disgruntled locals.
But the death of Cardinal Mazarin provided the now 23-year-old Louis XIV to reign over France sans a chief minister. An advocate of the divine right of kings, Louis embodied absolutism and sensibly chose the Sun as his insignia (BBC). For 72 years, Louis XIV personified everything in 17th century France.
A house fit for a King
Versailles was about 16 kilometers from Paris. Its fallow land and plethora of undomesticated animals recommended the city to Louis XIII, an ardent hunter, who requested for the erection of a hunting lodge at the chateau’s present site.
But Louis XIV was discontented with Versailles being a mere shooting lodge. He commissioned the expansion of the meek cabin to include sundry other buildings containing offices, sprawling gardens and a number sculptures providing fountain spectacles to visitors. It was on May 6, 1682 when Louis XIV moved his retinue to Versailles and instituted it as the new seat of the French government (Chateau de Versailles).
The King’s decision to relocate the court from Paris corroborated his fear of rebellion incited when Cardinal Mazarin was at the helm of state affairs. Not to mention the ease by which the French nobles shifted alliances – at one moment, they were the monarch’s strongest adherents, but a whim could turn them into his toughest enemies. Making Versailles as the capital district required nobles to find shelter in the palace apartments, limiting their facility to muster regional bases to defy the King. And since officials were lodged in one area of the chateau, they could be effortlessly sought for by their monarch – a far laborious task at hand in Paris (Jarus, O., 2013).
Fall of the Ancien Regime
The sun lost its radiance on 1715. Two other Louises took up Versailles. Louis XV resided in it his entire life, Louis XVI prematurely.
Meanwhile, civil disorder was rife in Paris. Rising inflation, arduous taxes and skyrocketing bread prices cursed the natives while the King and Queen were accused of living in an ivory tower. And on October 5, the market women travelled barefoot to Versailles, stormed the chateau and insisted the return of the Royal Family to the capital.
As the fuming rabble marshaled Louis XVI and his family to Paris, the revolutionaries, on the other hand, concluded the fate of the monarchs. They were stripped off their titles and power, imprisoned and executed under the first French Republic. Their possessions were likewise seized by the Republicans. Not even the magnificent Versailles escaped their hands when its articles were traded to cover the expenses incurred during the Revolutionary Wars (Jarus, O., 2013).
A Symbol of France
Many monumental events have occurred in Versailles since it was inaugurated by its builder, Louis XIV. Most, I judge, may have been unimaginable during the “Sun King’s” time – the great French Revolution and the two World Wars. But what is certain is Versailles never fails to work its charm on anyone – not even the callous Kaiser Wilhelm II opposed the chateau’s allure (Jarus, O., 2013). Why, of course, would he select the salient Hall of Mirrors to declare himself the Emperor of Germany after a victory over France?
British Broadcasting Corporation. Louis XIV (1638-1715). Accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/louis_xiv.shtml on May 2, 2014.
Chateau de Versailles. The Palace. Accessed from http://en.chateauversailles.fr/the-palace- on May 2, 2014
Jarus, Owen. (2013, August, 13). Palace of Versailles: Facts & History. Accessed from www.livescience.com/38903-palace-of-versailles-facts-history.html on May 2, 2014
Treasure, Geoffrey. Mazarin and the Fronde. Accessed from http://www.historytoday.com/geoffrey-treasure/mazarin-and-fronde on May 2, 2014.
University of Wisconsin. The Fronde and The English Civil War. Accessed from http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/351/351-12.htm on May 2, 2014