I mentioned before that the only figure that could rival Napoleon is Louis XIV, the Sun King. In my colonial American classes I talk about Louis XIV as a juxtaposition to what was happening in England. During the 18th Century, these two powerful nations were going in different directions. When teaching about the American Revolution what is confusing to most students was that England was becoming the most democratic nation in Europe. The Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution, which brought William and Mary to power, did so with the understanding that the monarchy would not be absolute but would be “King in Parliament.” In other words, there were things the King could not do, including taxation in which the people had the right to “no taxation without representation.” Across the channel things were moving the other direction with the ascension of Louis XIV who is the poster child for absolute monarchy. It was Louis XIV who wanted to move his seat of power out of Paris and built his new palace a few miles away at Versailles.
When I found out we were going to visit Paris, Versailles was the first place I knew I wanted to visit, and it did not disappoint. The palace was absolutely amazing showing Louis’ power but also the oppulence that would lead to the revolution two generations later. Louis XIV spared no expense building his palace but also showed his arrogance in the artwork filling the rooms with statues and paintings of himself. He even put his face on paintings of Roman mythology and Biblical scenes.
Louis IV is the longest raining monarch in Europe and outlived all his sons so at his death his grandson became Louis XV. After his death Louis XVI took over the Kingdom and Versailles. It was Louis XVI that assisted the American rebels with their revolution against his archrivals the British. Yet the war cost so much that it hurt his treasury and when he tried to raise taxes the people rebelled against absolutism and marched to Versailles to deliver a strongly worded letter. After Louis’ wife Marie Antoinette told the crowd to eat cake (which she probably never said) the people decided to have a change in administration by cutting off Louis’ and Marie Antoinette’s heads. The people then looted the palace of Versailles, meaning all the current furniture are replicas.
Today the palace is an amazing place to visit but also represents all that was wrong with absolutism and divine right of Kings. Louis XIV still represents supreme power and as I am now traveling through Germany he is despised as many of the castles in the region were destroyed by his armies as his troops tried to extend his domain.
A side note the Palace was used for the meetings at the end of WWI. The table picture of the table is the one used to sign the peace treaty to end the war. Probably the most important event in the home even if completely flaud.