This morning, I went to Versailles. It was impressive, to be sure. Louis XIV built a hunting lodge on the spot in 1624/25 because of abundant game in the area. Like any man, he really wanted the ultimate man cave. And, if you have unlimited resources, this is what you end up with.
There’s a great deal of history at Versailles. Much more, indeed, than our guide offered; however, I was most struck by the Grand Rising Ceremony (and its cousin the Small Rising Ceremony). Of course, there’s the equivalent Grand and Small Retiring Ceremonies, but they aren’t nearly as intriguing.
You see, each morning, his royal highness would be woken up at 8:00 a.m. (this is the Small Rising Ceremony). He’d get his first newspaper, his first blessing, and his first medical examination of the day. Ok, here’s where the good stuff comes. His majesty would sneak – surreptitiously – into another room and sit on a bed that he didn’t actually sleep in — palace intrigue or something. Anyway, waiting for him was the court (about 200 nobles). They would come in and help him get dressed. Literally. You see, one courtier would put on his pants. Another would put on his shirt. Another his jacket. You get the point. But, let’s hold on for a second. How’d you like to be the underwear guy? How humiliating is that? Do you think he even had an underwear guy? I should have asked. Hindsight’s 20-20. I like to pretend he did. And that the underwear guy was whoever beat him at Poker the night before.
“Oh, you won? Well, ye shall put on my underwear tomorrow!”
Speaking of the open nature of being royal, apparently, childbirth was also a semi-public event. When a queen had a baby, the same 200 people who dressed the King and Queen had the laudable opportunity to watch the Queen give birth. This was to prevent any accusation of dilution of royal blood. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that the dilution would have occurred some 9 months sooner. Hey, but what do I know? I’m just a stupid American.
Versailles became the capital in 1682. It took about 49 years to “enlarge and embellish” it from a hunting lodge to the grand palace that it became. However, its’ role as capital came to a quick, crashing close in 1789 when it was stormed by revolutionaries. They rapidly killed all but one of Marie Antoinette‘s bodyguards. The lone survivor ran toward his charge, who was sleeping soundly. Our guide told us that he exclaimed,
“Madame! Please move on! The rioters are at your door!” (Based on my independent research, he most likely didn’t issue the proclamation in English.)
Anyway, she ran and hid out for a little bit. Not long, though. Another exclamation, “Off with her head!” came in 1793.
You’re probably wondering why they revolted. I’m sure there are many theories backed by scholars of all sorts, but I would like to add my own. It has to do with the Grand Supper Room. That was where the King and Queen ate and those same 200 poor suckers had to stand and watch them do it. Can you imagine it? You have to dress them, watch them pop out an heir, and watch them eat every meal?! No wonder they cut off their heads. I can’t really blame them.
And, to think, this impressive palace is now a tourist destination with little girls doing the moonwalk along the parquet floors (I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it, either) and Americans taking pictures of themselves in the Hall of Mirrors. What would good ol’ Louis have done?