This morning, I discovered a new documentary that further described the history and inner workings of Versailles Palace. Versailles Palace was constructed by Louis XIV of France. He built this palace because he did not feel safe and powerful in Paris. In Paris, the visiting nobles were close to home and had plenty of opportunity to plot against him. In an attempt to regain his power and security, Louis developed a system of running a royal court that had not been beaten.
At this time, the French monarchy’s power was weakened and the various nobles had more authority in various regions of France. This caused Louis to enter a power struggle with the nobility to regain control over France. Louis learned from the mistakes of Charles I of England. If he went to war with his own people, he would gamble his throne and the future of his dynasty. Therefore, he planned to do battle with his vassals on his own terms and on a battlefield of his choosing. The battlefield was his family’s hunting lodge, which was located some distance from Paris. Its distance meant that his courtiers would be isolated from their allies in the capital and their ability to plot against Louis would be severely diminished. When Louis first moved his court to the lodge, it proved too small to accommodate everyone. With this in mind, Louis made the hunting lodge undergo an extreme makeover into the Versailles Palace.
Louis would conquer his enemies not with armies or weapons, but with fashion and refinement. Louis would set a series of strange yet strict house rules that even the most powerful duke had to obey. These rules even involved something as mundane as watching Louis wake up in the morning. Louis was called the Sun King and he compared his getting up in the morning to the rising of the sun. In exchange for following his strict house rules, Louis would grant favors to nobles who would visit him the most. Nobles who do not obey the house rules are denied any favors from the king. All the visiting nobles would fight with one another to gain an audience with the king, which greatly reduced their ability to scheme against Louis. It also gave Louis a cult of personality where he was almost worshipped as a god. This is something Louis absolutely believed because his mother drilled into him the belief in the divine right of kings.
Even if he did not grant nobles favors, Louis still smothered them with lavish hospitality. This legendary hospitality took the form of gambling, feasts, hunts, and elaborate parties. This constant sense of fun made Versailles Palace the ultimate playground for the French nobility. It constantly made them want to keep coming to Versailles. While the nobles were too busy having the time of their lives, Louis’s spies were gathering intelligence on them from the shadows. Even the mail was monitored in Versailles Palace. If there was any sign of treachery, Louis would be informed. Essentially, Versailles Palace became a gilded cage for the French nobility where all of their secrets were laid bare. Due to this system of surveillance, Louis was always a step ahead of his enemies and countered them accordingly.
Even fashion was strict at Versailles and it would constantly change depending on Louis’s decisions. If you wore the wrong type of clothes, they would be burned and you would be fined. Versailles also had its own version of a shopping mall for the nobility, which sold fashionable items such as shoes and jewelry. They were so expensive that the nobility lost a considerable chunk of the wealth just to please Louis’s constantly changing sense of fashion. With no money in their pockets, betraying the king became both unthinkable and unaffordable, which kept the nobility firmly under Louis’s thumb.
This system of courtly intrigue is what has allowed Louis XIV to become the longest reigning monarch in European history.