Absolutism in France

By Chet Eichenbrenner

Western Civilization II

April 19, 2012

            Absolutism is historically noted as the gain of absolute power in the monarchy in Europe during the 17th century.  King Louis XIV was the ruler of France during the 17th century.  His kingdom can be summed up in a personal quote that “The State is Mine.”  He used very minimal clergy and literally worked the state by himself.  He is responsible for the construction ofVersailles and the power and influence of the arts at that time. 

His luxury and esteem have been historically documented as the reflection of his court at Versailles.  He took pride in the king’s responsibility to receive and entertain his subjects.  In referencing Memoires de St. Simon and Letters de Liselotte von der Pfalz a comparison can be made about the luxury and esteem of King Louis XIV’s court.  His court was the most luxurious court of and to the time these journals were written, his court beheld the king in the highest esteem as a great leader according to these journals, and the court is a true reflection to King Louis XIV according to these journals.

Louis de Rouvroy, Duke of St. Simon, wrote his memoires in gratitude of the perfection in attendance at the king’s court.  Memoires de St. Simon is an undated journal written about what the Duke regards as the monumental features of King Louis XIV and his court atVersailles.  The public journal is a brilliant analysis of the state of the French elite, an accurate analysis of King Louis XIV himself, and an outstanding analysis of the Palace at Versailles; together all these aspects demonstrate the memoires as a primary source of King Louis XIV’s court.

According to the Duke, King Louis XIV’s court guaranteed splendor, magnificence, and profusion.  Nothing matched the air of gallantry under critical inspection.  In describing a lower court of Versailles, theMarble Court, he is said to have admired the magnitude and then flee from it because it was nearly god-like.  Among other distinguishing places, Trianon was a porcelain house for breakfast and crumpets.  King Louis diverted theEureRiverbetweenChartresand Maintenon having its full flow toVersailles.  There was an arrogant pleasure in the way nature was forced to abide in the courts with lairs of frogs and snakes entranced by the shine of a building.  In the countryside, King Louis XIV’s court was outlandishly beautiful and was unmatched in awe according to the Duke.

Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orleans, held rights to her maiden name Liselotte von der Pfalz.  In her journal she confirms the state of luxury and grandeur at Versaillesand goes into more depth from the critical perspective of a woman in the court.  Her journal is dated and is sectioned about her youth, marriage, widowhood, and motherhood of the regent.  Being a personal journal, Letters de Liselotte von der Pfalz,  is a different standing source than the memoires.  Yet still, the primary source journal demonstrates an accurate and opinionated writing on King Louis XIV and his court.

She says that the court at Versailles is matched only by the will of God.  The intricacy of the guardian statues led her to dream in her youth several times; the dream was about a soldier pulling his sword against an enemy of the king.  During her marriage to Elector Karl Ludwig, King Louis XIV’s brother, she attended with bishops, generals, and maidens down Versailles walk where the landscape was impeccable.  The landscape was kempt daily and never during walking hours.  She was a rather poor German princess, and after marrying her husband she remarks that the jewels, objects of art, table, and toilet accessories were all in gold and silver.  Not only were these abundant in the court, but in the Catholic faith there was an abundance of pristine metal crosses and golden pews.  During her life as a widow and as a mother of the regent, Elisabeth remarks how the boy grew up cloaked with gold lace capes.  According to Elisabeth, there was always something charmed and extravagant that came about in the court while she lived there for forty years. 

Both the Duke and Elisabeth remark on King Louis XIV as a great leader.  Elisabeth says as the king would host the elders within the elite, he would listen and present reason for continued stay at Versailles.  She remarks on how most of the clergy could spend their time in activity at Versailles rather than at work in Paris.  The duke says that of all the member in the court each was mortified of private walks with the king;  his power and glory always kept them a heel.  The Duke says how the tell tales and dramatists were countless in the court due to the king’s public demeanor.  Furthermore, these that were spying private affairs and public scrutiny were not put aside by the king but addressed formally and harshly.  King Louis XIV always had a remarkable hand in all instance of the court; the way he led the court was the same as he led the country.

Of his greatness, King Louis XIV is recalled as familiar with everyone in the court.  He presented himself kindled with the servants and especially the valets, according to the Duke.  Elisabeth said that of all the elite men in France, the king was of politeness that was greatly restrained.  This means that the king was naturally polite and enjoyed being polite.  They both say that he was not a king that one did not see, he was always around fondly presenting himself in the company of the court.  The duke relates the esteem of the court to their king almost perfectly.  He says he chose Versailles, originally an unattractive swampland, and transformed the natural landscape completing it with treasures and art.  He then goes on to compare this choice to the transformation of the court at the end of his life.  Any skeptic who ever appears to doubt the king transforms into a loyal member of the court.  King Louis XIV was highly esteemed by the court as a whole and on the individual level. 

In the comparison of the luxury of the court and the esteem of the court, there is a reflection between King Louis XIV and the court at Versailles.  The court was perfectly tame as was the king with respect to his work ethic.  Versailles was abundant in reserves as was the king with his power.  Each construction at the court was unique as the king wanted and the king himself was a unique reflection of the court.  Elisabeth spent several journal entries on contemplating how the court at Versailles was the king’s work.  Her overall conclusion was that the court was as great as is possible, and she could only consider the king to be as great as well. 

Greatness can rarely be measured in words, but the Duke and Elisabeth tried to express the king in the greatest of measurements.  The luxury of the court expands their journals page after page.  Admiration of the court was not the only admiration, as they held the king in highest esteem in their discourse.  This demonstrates the necessary reflection and the remainder of their journals.  Each journal spoke fondly of their time in the court at Versailles and with King Louis XIV.


Charlotte, Elisabeth.  Duchesse d’Orleans.  Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, 1652-1722

  • Translated by Elborg Forster in A Woman’s Life in the Court of the Sun King. 1958

Memoires de Sanit-Simon, ed. By A. Chereul (Paris, 1857), XII, 452-458, 461-471.

  • Appearing in A Century of Louis XIV, written by Ranum, O. 1972.


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