Life at Versailles

Despite the fame of lassitude that the French have, the Palace of Versailles used to be timed and controlled to the last minute.

Louis XIV, known as le Roi-Soleil -the the Sun King- followed a strict schedule from the moment he woke up until he went to bed, and most of his waking minutes the king was under observation from his courtiers. The Duke of Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy, chronicler of the Palace of Versailles, wrote of the Sun King: "with an almanac and a watch, you could be three hundred leagues from here and say what he was doing".

And the reason for such extremely organized agenda? The idea was that the king's Court could organize their activities by his majesty's timing.

Louis XIV implemented a very meticulous etiquette standard. In truth his successors could not deal with so much oppressiveness, and the ceremonies and traditions became less punctilious.

The Daily Routine

Each morning the King had to be woken up at 7.30, but unlike most humans for whom waking up is a rather private affair, the Sun King was surrounded by a doctor, a some relatives and a chosen few among his favorites who were permitted to watch. The number of people estimated who attended this ritual around 100.

The Sung King

Then he washed, got dressed and sat down for breakfast (yes, all of this under observation). His next activity was to walk among courtiers and aristocrats in the Hall of Mirrors, generously giving them a chance to get a glimpse of him. The following appointment was the daily mass, again, surrounded by an audience. Up until this moment the King has never been alone yet.

After mass, the Council of State was held, it was time for the King to attend to important matters of state. At 1 pm the King dined. Most of the times alone in his private bedchamber, however very often he received men of the Court.

The king would inform his secretaries of his wishes for the afternoon. Most of the activities, indoor or outdoor, took place in the palace or the surroundings. At 6 pm the king attended the evening entertainments, often presided by his son. While the courtiers enjoyed themselves or schemed some intrigue or other, the king signed the letters his secretaries had prepared.

At 10 o'clock it was time for the King's supper. The French cortège would push to get a good position in the king's antechamber to watch him eat. The king himself would be surrounded by members of the royal family. When the Grand Public Supper the Sun King retired to his cabinet, where he was more at leisure to chat with relatives and friends or close acquaintances.

At 11.30 it was time for The Couchée (the ceremony followed to go to bed) which was public event. Louis XIV got into bed, watched by the same members of the court who were present at his waking.

Method to the King's madness

Louis XIV loved formality, pomp and grandeur above all things (the Versailles Palace is proof of this), and profusion in all things. None of his courtiers would have dare say this within his hearing, but his main flaw was his ego. He loved nothing more than to be flattered and he could listen to sycophants forever. The more blatant they were, the more he approve it.

Despite this fault he was quite a clever man. The reason why he not only permitted but also encouraged extravagance and lavishness among his Courtiers was to make them dependant on his wealth He encourage money to flow freely and for the cortège to spend on carriages and buildings, at gambling or on luxuriant feasts. The more they spent, the more the king appreciated them. The more they spent, the more they lived beyond their incomes. In the end it was a ploy to gain a loyal crowd.

The Decline

But in 1685 things began to change. Perhaps another of Louis XIV weaknesses (very common in royalty at the time) was his religious intolerance, as this would be the starting point of his problems. The Sun King viewed Protestantism as a proof that it was possible for the royalty to loose power.

Versailles Palace

Furthermore, since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, the principle "cuius regio, eius religio" was established, this basically meant that the religion of the ruler should be the same as that of the realm. It didn't amuse Louis XIV one bit.

At first the Sun King excluded Protestants from office, limited the meeting of churches outside the sanctioned areas and even went as far as to ban Protestant preachers have sermons outdoors.

But his desire to control and eradicate Protestantism escalated and later offered rewards to those who converted to Catholicism and also prohibited inter-faith marriages.

Escalating problems

But the worse was still to come. In 1685 the King made the huge mistake of revoking the took the calamitous decision to revoke the Protestant minority's right to worship given by his own Edict of Fontainebleau. This decision is often referred to as the Edict of Nantes' revoke.

Many Huguenots (Protestants)- who were rather a valued segment of French society - decided to leave France, obviously taking their wealth, skills and industry with them to their new homes. left the country, taking with them their wealth as well as their skills and industry. An allegiance of Protestant powers in Europe came together against Louis, motivated by his frank and very public religious bigotry.

But the religious issue was not the only one. In September 1688, Louis XIV sent his troops into the Palatinate, expecting to stop his enemies who had formed the League of Augsburg against him. The 9-year war of the Grand Alliance followed. France barely maintained control of the situation, but the Treaty of Rijswijk (signed 1697) ensured France's sovereignty permanently over the region of Alsace. It also established the Franco-German borders that remain until today.

But then the Sun King decided to intervene in the War of the Spanish Succession, to protect and ensure his grandson Philip V's right to the Spanish crown after Charles II's demise. The winter of 1709 was one of the worst that France has seen, added to the almost fiscal collapse it was all in all a disastrous year.

However, all was not lost and it soon began to improve.

With the Peace of Utrecht signed in 1713 France kept most of its earlier conquests. On the other hand the Spanish empire was divided between Philip V, who sat in the Spanish throne and retained the Iberian country's overseas colonies, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, who obtained the Spanish Netherlands and Spain's Italian territories.

After reigning for 72 years, Louis XIV was diagnosed with gangrene and the Sun King died at the Palace of Versailles on 1 September 1715. Only four days later he would have turned 77 years old.

Sadly Louis had had to deal with the deaths of all but two of his direct descendant, only his grandson Philip V of Spain and a great-grandson, his own successor, Louis XV outlived the Sun King.

Read about Louis XIV's special political and love life here.