The court of the king of France, roaming in Versailles

The court of the king of France, roaming in Versailles

From Charlemagne, the king's court is traveling, sometimes long months, from towns to villages, from residences to palaces, for economic or political reasons or for pleasure, having no fixed place until Louis XIV and his court settled permanently in the Palace of Versailles in 1682, palace taking the statute of “castle of state”, accomodating the royal family, the courtiers and many services of the government. A system of prestige spending is set up in Versailles, essential to show its integration into the court company, punctuated by the label, a rigid code of social relations based on a strict hierarchy.

The need to move

During Antiquity, the Court remained on a central point, a fixed place and the emperor was surrounded on the spot by administrative structures. The Merovingian kings also remained in town, notably Soissons and Paris. Little by little, Charlemagne began to break with habits and the Court became itinerant: he made many stays in the north and east of Europe, the Carolingian Empire having large proportions. He manages to cover 10,000 kms between 794 and 804, or about 1,000 km per year!

In the Middle Ages, to exercise his power, the king had to go to the provinces to collect the royalties which were very often paid in products to be consumed on the spot, but also to exercise justice, charity and respond to requests from subjects. The king does not go alone, the Court follows, crossing the kingdom, from town to village, from palace to castle, rarely staying more than a few weeks in the same place.

From the 12th and 13th centuries, habits changed seriously: the royalties were made in money, the royal and judicial administration were entrusted to the intendants of the few provinces, as in 1515 where they were only 5,000, or one officer for 3,000 inhabitants and 155 kms2; the royal writings and acts are sent by couriers, the king manages his country from a distance and therefore travels a little less. But he must know his people, be loved by his subjects and therefore must show himself.

The king's court makes the "grand tour"

The most striking example is the “grand tour” organized by Catherine de Medici to “show” her son Charles IX, a trip of 4,000 km which lasted 27 months between 1564 and 1566. The procession of the Court can reach 10,000 people, composed of courtiers, servants, people of the king's council, the chancellery, the archives and the treasury and as many animals (bears, birds, packs of dogs for hunting, horses) without forgetting the carts carrying the furniture, linen, tapestries, crockery ... at a rate of 20 kms per day. This "grand tour" was nevertheless marked by major problems: 10 additional days of stop in Carcassonne due to snow, changes to the route due to floods in the spring, the death of humans and horses due to the heat in summer. , extended parking in Crémieu to avoid the plague raging in Lyon.

They are then very big festivals at each entry of the cities, but consequent expenses and great problems of stewardship, at the level of housing and food. The city requisitioned apartments as in 1533 in Marseille for the wedding of Henri and Catherine de Medici. A bourgeois who has the honor of accommodating the Marquis de Saluces and his suite recounts “on Wednesday September 24, the Marquis de Saluces arrived in Marseille, he was sent to my house and to accommodate him with his suite, I had to open my room and establish the wardrobe in the room of the friend Monthavan. They cooked in the house of Sieur Baylier, so that they crowded everywhere. The Marquis slept in my room and ate in my room and I assure you that his suite was so important that in the whole courtyard there was no such thing ». This cohabitation lasted seven weeks!

It is even more complicated when the Court arrives in poorly equipped areas or remote areas. The housekeepers taking care of preparing the accommodation are bribed by the courtiers and the gentlemen, who despite everything must share their rooms or at worst sleep in the camps under tents. We can see that these trips are trying for all, as well for the courtiers who ruin themselves to "appear", as for the provinces which are exhausted.

During these trips in the provinces, we took the opportunity to carry out the major cleaning of residences and castles: the ditches, the disposal of dirty water, the stables, the chimneys to be swept, the parquet floors to shine, the restoration of the walls. , the whole to obtain a better cleanliness of the places in order to avoid epidemics. So, by force of circumstances, we regularly changed places, we traveled a lot!

To each king his favorite residence

As you will remember, Paris was the official residence of the Court until Charlemagne. Even if it was an administrative city, it was neglected: Philippe Le Bel stayed there only one quarter a year and Philippe VI only five to six months. Considering that the air was more breathable elsewhere and the game more numerous, each monarch favored a region where he liked to stay longer and had a particular residence built there, a palace to his measure.

Although François Ier did not stop traveling, sometimes for a long time as between November 1531 and February 1534, he settled in the Loire Valley, had many castles built, but especially Chambord his favorite; knowing that he had to get closer to Paris following the reflections of the bourgeois criticizing his joker behavior with his "little band", he settled in Fontainebleau, a residence to the glory of the king and the monarchy, while setting up the construction site. Louvre from 1539 in order to organize receptions for ambassadors.

Catherine de Médicis will change the habits, decreeing that Paris will be the main residence of the Court from 1566 and this for a hundred years. Buying the Tuileries, she had the two buildings connected and lived there. The Louvre became the official residence of Louis XIII, even if he preferred to go to Saint Germain en Laye, Fontainebleau and Versailles to rest and "change the air". Naturally his son stays at the Louvre at the beginning, while enjoying the other residences in the countryside, but the troubles of the Fronde having disturbed him, germinates in him the idea of ​​moving away from this Parisian crowd and it will be Versailles, then Marly.

Versailles "State Palace"

As Charles IX had done, Louis XIV also undertook a "grand tour" in 1650-1651. The king visited 15 provinces, stopping for almost a year in the center and the south, his trip ending in Saint-Jean-de-Luz for his marriage to Marie Thérèse. On his return to the capital, it was one of the last grandiose entrances with triumphal arch, decorations, statues, presentation of gifts, exchange of oaths, processions with thanksgiving in churches, feasts and entertainment. Little by little, these manifestations will disappear in the 18th century.

Louis XIV moved to the Louvre, close to the legal and financial institutions, but the place quickly became inconvenient, the number of apartments was insufficient, everything was too small and above all he remembers the days of slinging too well. He preferred Saint Germain en Laye and Versailles, which he began to enlarge, visited more and more and in which in 1673 he occupied apartments that had barely been completed. He also decided to make it a "state castle" and install government services there.

The king's court settles in Versailles ...

The Great of the kingdom also settled in Versailles where the king completely transformed the castle into a palace; a palace where everything was organized to fix court life. The comfort was disastrous there, however: the royal presence alone was enough. The privileged were the "lodgers" lodged in the castle (a little over two hundred apartments were fitted out there), opposed to the "gallopins" who returned to Paris in the evening. Around 1682, ten thousand people, courtiers and servants, animated this court life. Brilliant, whimsical, even libertine until around 1682, it then became stiff, austere, the age and devotion of the king advancing.

Any act placed the individual in a system of values: pensioners by the king, the courtiers had to spend too much on buildings, crews, parties and various protections; the rank of nobility authorized one to sit on a stool, a chair, an armchair more or less close to the king according to the favor of the moment. The tone of the conversations and their subjects were the subject of a number of rules, the mastery of which was the condition for remaining in court society. The daily schedule was organized according to the moments of the king's life: small and large rising, various meal services, dinner and supper, religious services, were open to a more or less numerous courting public. The ceremonial increased when Louis XIV gradually stopped moving. Finally, artistic recognition passed above all through that of the king: the artist presented was sacred; the doors of the academies were then open to him. Court society imposed very strict rules of decorum; it established the nobility in the service of the king and became a model which not only other European courts followed, but also all social classes.

... but Louis XIV travels

Very appreciative of his grandiose palace, Louis XIV keeps his traveling soul, like his ancestors, favoring residences in the countryside rather than in the city. In 54 years of reign, 33 years have been devoted to war and therefore to displacement.

These trips are perfectly organized. The king is accompanied by a guide captain informing him of the names of the towns and villages crossed, while appointing a "tourist guide" for each town; he also checks the condition of the roads and makes sure of the right place chosen by the king for meals. The First Squire is always present at the king's request to provide him with a horse or, on the contrary, to bring him back if the monarch wishes to continue in a coach.

During these trips, in addition to the Court, certain painters and historiographers are "invited" to follow the king to immortalize his deeds and gestures. Saint Simon also describes very well the logistics of the time during the trip to Compiègne in 1658, which marked the spirits throughout Europe. He mentions “four leagues around Compiègne, the villages and farms were filled with people, and Francois and strangers, unable to contain anyone, and yet everything went smoothly. They had set up wooden houses, furnished like the most superb houses in Paris, and all new and made on purpose, and immense, magnificent tents, the number of which alone could form a camp.

The colonels, and even many simple captains, had plentiful and delicate tables ... French and foreign wines, the rarest liqueur wines were there as it were abandoned in profusion, and the measurements were so well taken that the he abundance of game and venison arrived from all sides, and which the seas of Normandy, Holland, England, Brittany, and as far as the Mediterranean, furnished all they had of most monstrous and most exquisite to day and not named ... until the water, which was suspected of being troubled or exhausted by the large number of mouths, arrived from Sainte-Reine, the Seine and the most esteemed sources ”.

The triumph of the capital

As he ages, the Sun King travels less, organizes fewer parties, the courtiers are bored and find “life” in Paris. When he died, Versailles was empty and would never again have the same brilliance and the same effervescence: the Regent preferring the Palais-Royal, Paris once again becoming a place of pleasure, culture and sociability; Louis XV never feeling well in the same place will travel between Compiègne, Choisy, Trianon, Bellevue while making a few rare stops at Versailles; the Petit Trianon will be Marie-Antoinette's privileged place.

In the 18th century, the prestige of Versailles was in marked competition with that of Paris and its salons; presentation to the king and respect for the rules of etiquette, however, remained the social norm of the elites. Versailles becomes desert, except on weekends when you quickly come to pay court, then you leave for more lively places in the capital. The fashion is no longer to travel for long periods and we return to our land. Paris triumphs in a way: it is the revenge of the capital in October 1789 when the king and his family are brought back to the city!

For further

- The Court of France, by Jean François Solnon. Fayard, 1987.

- The King, the Court, the State: From the Renaissance to Absolutism, by Nicolas Le Roux. Champs Vallon, 2013.

- The king, the court and Versailles, by Alexandre Maral. Perrin, 2013.


Video: Music at Versailles: entertainment at the court of King Louis XV 1715-1730