The Court of Versailles
The Court of Versailles
Born in 1638, Louis came to the throne of France at the age of five years under the regency of his mother, Anne of Austria. It was Cardinal Mazarin who directed the affairs of the kingdom since then.
When Mazarin died, he surprised the whole court by not letting the prime minister govern alone. The Sun King takes his place and plays by the motto: Nec pluribus impar (Superior to all).
Louis XIV decided to reside in Versailles in 1677 and the place became the emblem of absolutism inscribed in stone. Suddenly, the whole world was looking up to the Court of France. He even used his favourite girl (a person close to the sovereign, often the king's mistress and confidante of the Queen), Madame de Montespan, to impress foreign ambassadors and demonstrate his greatness by showing off the beauty of his mistress.
The favorites played a major role in court life and their influence was even extended to political and social life fields, due to the confidence and favours they enjoyed from the King or sometimes even the Queen. Thus, women such as Madame de Maintenon or Madame de Pompadour had a huge influence over Louis XIV and therefore truly marked the history of Versailles.
Versailles lived by the rhythm of royal activities. The King was always accompanied by relatives and servants, and it was during the evening that the nobility met to play games or even bath at the mercenaries’ pool. The courtiers lost no opportunity to be seen with the King while respecting the strict etiquette of Versailles.
It was the royal mistresses -envied by all- that dictated fashion in Versailles. They spent a lot of money and were adorned with fabrics embroidered with gold, inlaid, satin or velvet to suit their desires and imagination. It was Montespan who launched a pregnant woman's dress called “The Innocent” and Madame de Sevigne who inspired a curly hairdo, “The Hurluberlu" which remained two decades in fashion before it was overshadowed by “The Fontanges." This hairstyle was born the day that Mademoiselle de Fontanges’ hair, mistress of Louis XIV in 1680, got stuck in a branch during a hunting party. Feeling quickly dazzled, the King asked her to never change that hairstyle.
What characterized life at Versailles was the pomp and artifice. Women wore make-up and decked themselves out, spied on and set traps to approach the King, to get closer to the sun.