The Sassy Countess is a blog about historic houses, properties, castles, estates, mansions, homes, land, and lifestyles! Focusing mostly on 18th century, other time periods are also included, such as Regency, Golden Age, Gilded Age, Victorian, American Post and Antebellum, Romantic, Jacksonian, Medieval, Renaissance, Edwardian, New Republic, etc.
Louis XIV of
France used realpolitic in his palace at Versailles. He was an authoritarian
monarch with a huge personal ego. He built his palace to remind visitors that
he was the sun king, and his symbols were everywhere in the palace. Other
countries’ power politics were satiated because they believed that when Louis
was building, he was not enlarging his armies. It was the use of soft politics
of the palace that really influenced the other countries. Many countries
emulated France by building their own palaces to imitate, or rival that of
XIV was born to be the king of France. His father died when he was young, and
left him under the guardianship of his mother. The country was his, but he was
not allowed to rule until he came of age (Spalworth 2008, 1-2). France was an
authoritarian monarchy before Louis XIV. But, when Louis finally did get
control of the throne, he made sure that everyone around him knew that he was
king. Because he was not able to attain this position when he was younger, he
did exactly as Freud suggested. He compensated and identified himself with that
position, and set it up against his ego (Wolman 1982, 24).
The king’s ego was shown to everyone
by his manner of dress, as well as through his personal insignias (Wolman 1982,
5). He chose the sun because he wanted to be called the “Sun King” and would
create the gardens, the walks and building structure at Versailles in the
design of a central unit with rays emanating outward. This can still be seen in
the plans (Wolman 1982, inside and outside cover). Louis’ favorite fruit was
the orange, which he planted in plentiful groupings at the “orangaree” where he
gave as gifts to visitors of any significant. This too has the meaning of the
sun in the shape and color. “The Sun King used all available symbols to create
and impose his power” (Hilton 2002, 116)’
The realpolitics of Louis XIV was magnified
in his palace at Versailles. Of course, Louis believed that all diplomacy was
derived from power, his power specifically. He wanted everyone in the world to
know that he was powerful. His might was the mightiest. God had given him the
authority to rule, so he was providing the world with a visual reminder of his
power. Only a wealthy nation could afford to have such a powerful ruler that
could build this magnificent palace. He was making sure that everyone that came
to visit would be impressed with his wealth (Wolman 1982, 4; Hilton 2002, 116).
At Versailles, politics were joined with aesthetics in a “constant symbiosis”
(Hilton 2002, 116).
were acknowledged in his personal apartments. These rooms were built one to
another so that a door joined them. There was not a hallway, but one would have
to have entered one room by going through another room. These doors would
create a magnificent view when they were all opened at the same time. This was
built in this manner due to Louis’ “Preoccupation with impressing rival
European powers” (Spawford 2008, 9).
European countries used Versailles as a meter for their own power politics.
They believed that if the palace were under construction, Louis would not be
building up his arsenal (Hilton 2002, 116). When there was cause for war, they
believed that construction slowed down, or stopped due to the diversion of
funds and troops. When troops were not needed for fighting, Louis would bring
them in to assist with manual labor in the building works (Dubois 1983). So,
Versailles was like a type of war barometer for the other European nations
(Hilton 2002, 116). The construction of the palace created an atmosphere that
showed that Louis was politically defying the world. This showed that his
coffers, were not wanting. It should have also showed that his ability to pay
for his military was not in want either. “Louis always knew how his expenditure
would demonstrate his power internationally” (Hilton 2002, 116).
real impact of other European nations is the use of soft politics. Here is
where Versailles excels. The beauty and grandeur of the grounds and building
was so magnificent that many a person would have been shocked.This was a building that reflected the
grandiose personality of the monarch who lived there. When a visitor arrived,
they would have believed that this monarch must be very rich indeed. At the
time of Louis XIV, there were other palaces throughout the world, but none
could rival Versailles (Dubois 1983).
was originally a small hunting lodge that Louis’ grandfather purchased. Louis’
father loved that location for hunting far more than any of the other lodges
that the crown owned (Chateau 2011). One reason was the fact that the stag’s at
Versailles far outnumbered those at the other locations. The stag was
considered a royal beast. This animal was a trophy that only the best of men
could subdue. In fact, only the manly prince was capable of bagging this prize
(Spalworth 2008, 4). Perhaps Louis wanted to be as manly as his father and
claimed the prize of Versailles. Or, he may have believed that he was a better
man, or prince, than his father, which was why he built to such grandiose
magnitude. What ever the reason for the large scale building, Louis wanted “the
eyes of all Europe” to see that he was the “Preeminent monarch” (Fraser 2006,
any case, this monarch built upon the small lodge and turned it into a palace
that sightseers were drawn to from all over the world. Foreign architects were
drawn to the palace to get a sense of the new French style that they took back
to their homeland (Spalworth 2008, 5). Some people hired French architects and
took them back to do their building (Dubois 1983). Either way, there were many
other palaces that were built to emulate Versailles. Somerset House in London
was built to rival the palace at Versaille (Bergdoll 2000, 30). Other palaces
such as Sans Souci at Potsdam that belonged to Frederick the Great had French
elements (Summerson 2003, 31).
grand scale houses were built with French elements that Versailles had inspired.
These were to be seen throughout England, Holland, and somewhat in America.
They were, however, many more near the frontier of France on the Rhine. These
palaces would “sometimes reach the scale of Versailles” sometimes due to the
intermarriage of the local aristocrats to French nobles. At other times, the
French influence was simply the fashion. There were many German palaces that
emulated the palace at Versailles, some were small, but others tried to rival
the French palace in scale as well (Dunlap 1999, 433).
someone was not wealthy enough to build the entire palace to scale, they
emulated the princely domicile by using specific parts of the palace.
Versailles had very prestigious parts that made up the whole. Paintings and art
were essential to aristocrats throughout the centuries, and Versailles had
those in abundance (Atwood, 2011, 26-29). Painted ceilings were something that
many an envoy appreciated when they visited. Sculptured cornices were another
prominent detail was in the apartments where persons of note stayed (Spalworth
2008, 7). This created a fad across Europe for every well to do to try and copy
(Dunlap 1999, 433).
The gardens at
Versailles were another political maneuver of Louis XIV. Louis used one-fifth
of the GDP of France just in the gardens, which “showed the foreign emissaries
the power, artistry and control he had at Versailles” (Saunt 2010). There were
many statues of Louis as the Sun King Apollo in the garden. The pathways were
created in the shape of a sun, with the fixed point in the center circle with
rays that shoot off in many directions. This occurred time and again throughout
the grounds. (Wolman 1982, inside and outside cover) The Orangeree was another
allegory of the Sun King. Visitors were able to smell the orange blossom, and
taste the sun fruit of the mighty king (Hilton 2002, 116).
The grounds were very beautiful.
But, they were beautiful with a purpose. Many of the allegories there were
state of the art for the time, but had a classical overtone. The statue of Apollo
was a contemporary interpretation of the Greek god of light and sun. There are
also other Greek inspired statues that give the impression that Louis was one
of the great Hellenists. There were waterworks that had not been seen since
Rome (Saunt 2010). Although, of course Louis was French, the idea was to
compare him, and his country, to the great empires of the past. Louis emulating
the past made other Europeans want to emulate him, which was exactly what he
Even the buildings that housed Louis’
dogs and horses were envied and emulated. There was the main horse stable that
was called the Grand Stable that actually housed the horses, and another
smaller version that housed the carriages. Louis’ dogs were housed in another
stately building called the kennel, but only the Sun King’s dog’s were allowed
to live there. Each one of these three buildings was large enough to be called
a grand mansion themselves. They had beautiful stone facades with sculptures on
top of the elaborate portals. These animal buildings were built to show that
the Sun King could afford extravagant living environments for the lowliest of
creatures (Spawford 2008, 11). Emissaries, diplomats, and people who were just
regular aristocrats were envious of the wealth that the Sun King was able to
Another way that Louis showed his
power and wealth at Versailles was to have the royal births and weddings occur
there. He made sure that his wife, and the wives of his sons were physically at
the palace when they were giving birth. He even had his daughter-in-law, the
Dauphine, carried to the palace in a litter when she was fully pregnant.
Marriages were (and still are) a way to bring attention to the monarchy. Louis
gave the most spectacular events that were envied throughout Europe (Spawford
Events such as parties and fetes
were used to raise his profile. Louis knew that aristocrats liked to have fun.
So, he used their fun loving ways to his advantage. “He always had politics in
view” when he put together an event (Spawford 2008, 5). Parties were given in
the palace buildings, as well as in the gardens. These were used for “social
engagement and political power” (Saunt, 2010).Even today Versailles is used as the epitome of locations to throw a
Versailles was not just a
palace that allowed Louis XIV of France, and his court to live in, but was an
instrument of power. Politics were part of the building and decorations. The
ego of the authoritarian monarch of France was hugely visible to everyone who
visited. The palace was a barometer of Europe’s power politics. Soft politics
was the most abundant type of political power that Louis held over his
adversaries. Versailles soft politics held sway over local citizens and foreign
governments in the same manner. The grandiose beauty of the palace at
Versailles made thousands of people want to be exactly like France’s Sun King.
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