Reflections of the Court of Versailles
The early years:
It is fascinating to contemplate the early years of the Court
of Versailles, which from looking towards a distant past seem
to hold a magical quality today.
It is wonderful to read of the enchantments of the early years
of the court of Louis XIV which were often held in the gardens as
the palace was being built.
At the divertissements there were plays, poetry
and songs by Lully, who became the court composer to the king. Fireworks displays
were often a theme at the close of the evening at these entertainments.
Louise de la Valliere seems to hold imagination as a love of the
king. The king was inspired by his love for Louise and created beautiful
The king had previously wished to marry Marie Mancini, a niece of Cardinal
Mazarin, but this was not permitted which distressed and upset the young king
greatly. There were three Mancini sisters,
who were nieces of the Cardinal at the Court. A marriage was arranged for the
king to marry Marie Therese, Infanta of Spain.
There was also another cousin, who may at one time have become a prospective bride
for the young king. This was the Grande Mademoiselle, Duchesse de Montpensier,
a daughter of Louis XIII's brother, Gaston d'Orleans,
who was based at the Castle of Blois. The Grande
Mademoiselle may have grown up believing that one day whe was destined
to become a queen. However, during the fronde years, she fired a cannon
at the royal party from the Bastille,
the king being age 11 or 12 at the time. The Grande Mademoiselle was 11 years older
than the king, but she had by this act irrevocably ruined her chances of becoming
a queen of Louis XIV. Charle II at one time wished to marry her. The court composer
Lully, at one time was in her service.
Queen Henrietta Maria, widowed queen of Charles I of England,
in Margaret Irwin's book "Royal Flush" is described
as saying that one ought never to be responsible for one's own misfortune in life.
In time, the Grande Mademoiselle, after many years in exile, at a place Saint Fargeau,
was eventually permitted to return
to the Court. Perhaps by then, many of her chances in life were diminished.
Princess Henriette is also a vibrant character of the early years of the
court. She married the king's brother, Philippe, though unfortunately
died young. In Margaret Irwin's book "Royal Flush" she is described
as being as the Moon, a complement to Louis XIV, who was likened to the Sun,
given a title of the "Sun King" after dancing in the ballet of "Le Roi Soleil"
at age 15. His first ballet was Cassandre. He spent many years dancing, which
gave him grace, poise and a bearing appropriate to his role of the king. Louis XIV
has been described as being good looking. Because of his aura and demeanour, even
without being a king, he would still have been distinguished. People would often take a second
glance at him and I have also read that at times he also had a slightly oriental
appearance. This may be from an individual impression.
Princess Henriette often assisted the king with diplomatic duties and court functions
and also danced in ballets
with the Sun King and Louise de la Valliere.
Princess Henriette had lived at the French court from a young age
as she had fled from England as also had her mother during the years of Oliver Cromwell
Her brother, Charles II, was not so fortunate to remain at the Court,
as for political reasons, it was difficult to harbour the heir to the throne of England.
Louis XIV was young at the time
and his mother and Cardinal Mazarin would have been making decisions which they
would have believed were in the best interests of the country at the time. Charles II
spent many years in Europe living in poverty. However, he also had many loyal supporters
who had followed him into exile. Many of these people endured poverty during
their years of exile.
Philippe's second wife, Liselotte, a princess of the Palatinate, had a son who eventually became
Regent of France in 1715. Liselotte had quite a forthright personality in the Court, and
would often speak as she thought, calling a spade a spade.
The early years of the court reflect a time of culture,
arts, entertainment and literature. The young king was respected
and admired. The king may have acquired his love of Italian arts from the influences
of Cardinal Mazarin and Marie Mancini. Tapestries and decorative arts were
as a magical showpiece of the Sun King's reign, they seemed to be so much part of his
reign with the Gobelins and Savonnerie, making wonderful tapestries and carpets.
He shared a vision with Le Notre for the beauty of landscaped designs in the
gardens. Over the years, there was a potager, or vegetable garden, with
innovative plans by La Quintinie, who experimented with glass to reflect the sun
pear trees look as though shaped in a candlelabra frame. Many of the innovations
and experiments are detailed in the book of "The Sun King's Garden" by Ian Thompson,
which is a wonderful book, full of coloured illustrations and diagrams describing
the creation of the gardens at Versailles.
There was also the Orangerie where the trees could be kept at a moderate temperature
during the winter months. Louis XIV preferred the scent of the orange trees.
At Trianon once, the king and courtiers had to leave as the scents of the
flowers became quite overbearing.
The fountains also added enchantment to the setting. Chains of buckets and
horses at one time kept the water flowing and they were called "Rosaries of
Return" of "Jacob's Ladders" as the water was being redirected and recycled.
The king's imagination knew no bounds and it would have been a wonder and joy to walk
around the gardens with the king while the fountains were playing.
The early years seemed to be quite a magical time,
with the creation of Versailles and the magnificent gardens.
The Hall of Mirrors was built a little later. Italian craftsmanship of innovations
would have assisted with the mirrors at the time, which was a new phenomenon.
Glittering candles, a majestic setting and beautiful views looking out on to the
flower gardens and fountains
have given an appearance of a magical enchantment with an ephemeral quality
with the statues and bosques and garden parterres and broderies of the time.
The Hall of Mirrors
reflected the splendour of the young king's reign. There was also silver
furniture in the Hall at one time, which was subsequently sold to pay soldiers' wages.
The settings and magnificence created a sense of wonder and foreign ambassadors
would report home of the power and display of the Sun King.
Reflections of Venice, it must have seemed with a grand canal outside the windows of the palace,
which in turn
would reflect the beauty of the surroundings, the trees, statues and flower arrangements.
At one time there was a little
boatyard called "Little Venice" (Petite Venise) and the king was presented with two gondolas
from the Republic of Venice, complete also with gondoliers.
A Menagerie was also later included with exotic animals, which was given to Princess Marie-
Adelaide of Savoy. This princess arrived at the court at a much later time, destined to become
a queen and marry the Sun King's grand-son. A fascinating insight into her life is given
in Charles Elliott's book "Princess de Versailles." In this book the author describes the
love of the king and Louise de la Valliere as being beautiful.
A picture of the scenery at Saint Fargeau where the Grande Mademoiselle was sent into exile: