The Palace of Versailles was the royal residence and center of political power in France for little more than a century, from 1682 until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. Now a world-class museum, Versailles is famous not only as a building, but also as a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.
Before 1038 in the Charter of the Saint-Père de Chartres Abbey, Hugues de Versailles was listed as the seigneur of the insignificant village of Versailles, whose small castle and church lay on the road from Paris to Dreux and Normandy. The population of the village declined sharply after an outbreak of the Plague and the Hundred Years’ War, but in 1575 a Florentine citizen, Albert de Gondi, purchased the seigneury, and he invited the future Louis XIII on several hunting trips in area.
|Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701|
The king and his successors, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI each renovated and enlarged the structure during their reigns, creating extensive gardens and adding numerous other buildings to the site until it became one of the most costly and extravagant palaces in the world. More than 36,000 workers were involved in construction, and when the building was completed it could accommodate up to 5,000 people, including servants. An additional 14,000 servants and soldiers were quartered in annexes and in the nearby town.
The short video below is a cool 3-D presentation showing the progression of the chateau’s enlargement and the development of the gardens and additional buildings. In all, about 37,000 acres of land were cleared to make room for tree-lined terraces, walkways, and thousands of flowering plants, with 1,400 fountains and 400 pieces of sculpture.
Versailles is most associated with the Sun King, Louis XIV, who personally took on the role of architect. He made the chateau the new center for the royal court in 1682, establishing all the power of France there: government offices and the homes of thousands of courtiers, their retinues, and all the functionaries of court. The nobles of a certain rank and position were required to spend considerable time there, which enabled Louis to solidify his control of the government by preventing them from developing their own regional powers that would compete with his. Thus the French government became an absolute monarchy.
Below is a longer and very interesting video documentary about the history and development of Versailles.
In Refiner’s Fire, Jonathan Carleton’s uncle le comte de Caledonne brings Elizabeth Howard to France to keep her safe from British General Henry Clinton’s assassination attempts. While there she will meet the American commissioners to Paris and be drawn into the intrigues at court. So in my next post, I’m going to offer an overview of what life was like at Versailles during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
What attracts me to Versailles the most is those fabulous gardens! The works of art housed there are also a great attraction for me. Please share what fascinates or attracts you the most about this palace turned museum!
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, releases April 1, 2017. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.