On May 6, 1682, Louis XIV moved the French court from Paris to Versailles. The reasons for the move ostensibly stem back to the Sun King’s childhood. Louis XIII died when his son was only four. During the period of Louis XIV’s Regency, there were two rebellions by nobles. At one point, people actually forced themselves into the young king’s bedroom, demanding to see him. The child-king pretended to be asleep, and the throng left, but his mother was so terrified that she fled Paris with her son and a few trusted courtiers. This incident left Louis XIV with a life-long distrust of Paris and the nobles who lived there. But a king needs a palace, and if he wasn’t going to live at the Louvre, where would he hang his crown at night?
In a series of three major building campaigns, Louis XIV transformed Versailles from a hunting lodge to the opulent palace that exists today. According to Saint-Simon, a memoirist of the time, Louis XIV’s motivation for the massive construction program was to exercise control over the nobles by isolating them about 15 miles from Paris. The theory was that it would tougher for them to cook up plots against the king without being caught. Every moment of the day was ceremonial and involved nobles waiting in attendance on the king. About 100 highly-privileged nobles watched the king being washed, shaved, dressed, and eat his breakfast, and it went on like this all day long. The king was mad about theatre and ballet, both as a participant and as a spectator, so the court was too, and staging spectacles took plenty of time. Fashions were elaborate and ruinously expensive, so nobles who were wearing the latest looks couldn’t afford to fortify their castles and raise personal armies as well. It was a brilliant plan and it worked. Louis XIV enjoyed the longest reign of any European monarch – a whopping 72 years – much of it spent at his beloved Versailles.
Today’s quotation was apparently uttered on Louix XIV’s death-bed: Je m’en vais, mais l’État demeurera toujours” (zjuh mohn vahy meh laytah duhmuhrerah toozjoors), which means “I depart, but the State shall always remain.” While the Bourbon monarchy did not always remain, Versailles is still doing quite nicely, thank you very much.