Louis XIV was one of Europe’s longest ever reigning sovereigns, keeping his throne for an incredible 72 years. His reign is known as sort of a Golden Age in French history, admired for the dazzling royal court culture at Versailles, and the intellectual and scientific achievements that blossomed under his patronage. Louis ruled over France at the peak of its powers, and is remembered as the country’s ‘Sun King’.
As the ruler of a great European power, Louis was constantly in the public eye, performing the role of glorious monarch throughout his day. He kept a rigorous schedule, and was always surrounded by members of the royal court.
Taking the sun as his emblem, he developed a complex system of court rules and ceremonies, placing himself at the center of France’s political world and reinforcing his absolute, divinely inspired power.
According to the website of the Palace of Versailles, the daily routine of Louis XIV began at 8:30am, when the First Valet of the Bedchamber came to rouse the king. This instigated the start of the ‘getting-up ceremony’, in which favored members of the court were invited into the king’s bedchamber to observe as he was washed, shaved, coiffed and dressed.
This getting-up ceremony occurred in two stages, with more and more people entering the chamber over the course of the morning. Once his ablutions were complete, the king would sit and eat his breakfast, watched by around 100 adoring male subjects.
At 10 am the king left his apartments and usually went to the royal chapel to attend a personal mass. The corridors of Versailles would be filled with hundreds of people anxious to catch a glimpse of the king as he processed ceremoniously from one part of the palace to another.
As he passed through the Hall of Mirrors, members of the court would try to hand petitions to the king. According to the Palace of Versailles website, these processional ceremonies were another way that Louis rendered himself visible to the court and commanded respect and adoration.
At 11am he would begin to work, sitting in council and passing judgments on important matters. The king’s councils were the epicenter of his rule and took place in his chamber, in his personal apartments. It was here that the actual business of ruling was performed, and the week was divided up to ensure that different state concerns were given adequate attention.
Financial, religious, and national matters were each allocated their own time, and the king would listen to the matters brought to him by his ministers. Once the work was completed, Louis would take his lunch in his chamber, once again, observed by the same male courtiers who had been present at the getting-up ceremony.
While the mornings were a time for business and state matters, the afternoons were usually reserved for outdoor entertainment. After lunch, Louis might decide to walk around the grounds at Versailles, go hunting, or play other kinds of outdoor games.
He would often tour the gardens in a small, open carriage, surrounded by the ladies of the court. At this time, the gardens would be filled with members of the court, all keen to observe the Sun King and win favor with the monarch and his trusted ministers.
Evenings at Versailles were also legendary for their entertainment, although these evening gatherings were often presided over by Louis’ son the Dauphin, particularly in the later years of the Sun King.
According to the Palace of Versailles website, this allowed Louis time to focus on paperwork, including signing letters and inspecting matters brought to him by his Secretaries of State.
At 10pm, the lucky court members who had been invited to dinner entered the king’s antechamber and sat down at the Royal Table. Dinner at Versailles was always a lavish affair and was followed by conversation, music and discussion.
Finally, at 11.30pm, the king retired to bed. However, even this was not a moment for solitude but rather was attended once again by dozens of people, who observed as the king was carefully undressed and washed by his servants, mirroring the getting-up ceremony that had been performed earlier in the day. Louis’ waking and retiring mirrored the daily rising and setting of the sun, regulating the life of the court in the process.
The life of Louis XIV was one of constant public attention. In order to maintain the mystique of the monarchy and his own position as the God-given head of a great nation, he had to play the part.
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This meant that every aspect of his life, including washing, dressing and eating, was part of an elaborate public ritual, designed to reinforce his glorious image.The ‘Sun King’ kept up these endless ceremonial events for 72 years, eliciting the reverence and awe of the court to til the end, an act that stood as a tall shadow over every succeeding French Bourbon monarch.