Read CHAPTER V of The Story of Versailles, free online book, by Francis Loring Payne, on ReadCentral.com.

A DAY WITH THE SUN KING

Louis the Magnificent, we must agree with that profuse and sharp-witted chronicler, the Duke of Saint-Simon, was made for a brilliant Court. “In the midst of other men, his figure, his courage, his grace, his beauty, his grand mien, even the tone of his voice and the majestic and natural charm of all his person, distinguished him till his death as the King Bee, and showed that if he had been born only a simple private gentleman, he would have excelled in fêtes, pleasures and gallantry. . . . He liked splendor, magnificence and profusion in everything. Nobody ever approached his magnificence.”

With sumptuous detail the King’s day progressed at Versailles, from the formal “rising” to the hour when, with equal pomp, the monarch went to bed. Before eight o’clock in the morning the waiting-room next the King’s bedchamber was the gathering-place of princes, nobles and officers of the Court, each fresh from his own laving and be-wigging. While they passed the time in low converse, the formal ceremony of the King’s awakening took place behind the gold and white doors of the royal sleeping-room. “The Chamber,” one of the eleven offices in the service of the King, comprised four first gentlemen of the Chamber, twenty-four gentlemen of the Chamber, twenty-four pages of the Chamber, four first valets of the Chamber, sixteen ushers, thirty-two valets of the Chamber, two cloak-bearers, two gun-bearers, eight barbers, three watch-makers, one dentist, and many minor attendants all under the direction of the Grand Chamberlain.

A few minutes before eight o’clock it was the duty of the chief valet de chambre to see that a fire was laid in the King’s chamber (if the weather required one), that blinds were drawn, and candles snuffed. As the clock chimed the hour of eight, he approached the embroidered red velvet curtains of the royal bed with the announcement, “Sire, it is the hour.”

When the curtains were drawn and the royal eyelids lifted upon a new day, the children of the King were admitted to make their morning obeisance. The chief physician and surgeon and the King’s old nurse then entered to greet the waking monarch. While they performed certain offices allotted them, the Grand Chamberlain was summoned. The first valet de chambre took his place by the bed and, holding a silver basin beneath the King’s hands, poured on them spirits of wine from a flagon. The Grand Chamberlain next presented the vase of Holy Water to the King, who accepted it and made the Sign of the Cross. Opportunity was given at this moment for the princes, or any one having the grande entree, to speak to the King, after which the Grand Chamberlain offered to His Majesty a prayer-book, and all present passed from the room except those privileged to stay for the brief religious service that followed.

Surrounded by princes, nobles and high officers attached to his person, the King chose his wig for the day, put on the slippers and dressing-gown presented by the appointed attendant, and stepped outside the massive balustrade that surrounded his bed. Now the doors opened to admit those that had the right to be present while the King donned his silk stockings and diamond-buckled garters and shoes acts that he performed “with address and grace.” On alternate days, when his night-cap had been removed, the nobles and courtiers were privileged to see the King shave himself, while a mirror, and, if the morning was dull, lighted candles were held before his face by the first valet de chambre. Occasionally His Majesty briefly addressed some one in the room. The assemblage was, by this time, augmented by the admission of secretaries and officers attached to the palace, whose position entitled them to the “first entree.” When his wig was in place and the dressing of the royal person had proceeded at the hands of officers of the Wardrobe (there were, in all, sixty persons attached to this service), the King spoke the word that opened the ante-chamber doors to the cardinals, ambassadors and government officials that awaited the ceremony of the grand lever, or “grand rising,” so-called in distinction to the more intimate petit lever. Altogether, no less than one hundred and fifty persons were present while the King went through the daily ceremony of the rising and the toilet.

When the Sovereign of France had breakfasted on a service of porcelain and gold, had permitted his sword and his jeweled orders to be fastened on, and, from proffered baskets of cravats and handkerchiefs, had made his choice; when he had prayed by his bedside with cardinals and clergy in attendance; had granted brief informal interviews, and had attended mass in the chapel of Versailles, it was his custom to ask for the Council. Thrice a week there was a council of State, and twice a week a finance council. Thus the mornings passed, with the exception of Thursday morning, when His Majesty gave “back-stair” audiences known to but a few, and Friday morning, which was spent with his confessor.

Louis was always a busy man of affairs and never shirked his kingly duties. It was a principle of his life to place duty first and pleasure after. He told his son in his memoirs that an idle king showed ingratitude toward God and injustice toward man. “The requirements and demands of royalty,” he wrote, “which may, at times, appear hard and irksome, you should find easy and agreeable in high places. Nothing will exhaust you more than idleness. If you tire of great affairs, and give up to pleasures, you will soon be disgusted with your own idleness. To take in the whole world with intelligent eyes, to be learning constantly what is going on in the provinces and among other nations the court secrets, the habits, the weaknesses of princes and foreign ministers, to see clearly what all people are trying, to their utmost, to conceal, to fathom the most deep-seated thoughts and convictions of those that attend us in our own court what greater pleasure and satisfaction could there be, if we were simply prompted by curiosity?”

Ordinarily, when at Versailles, the King dined alone at one o’clock, seated by the middle window of his chamber, overlooking the courtyards, the Place d’Armes, and the long avenue that led to Paris. More than three hundred persons, stewards, chefs, butlers, gentlemen servants, carvers, cup-bearers, table-setters, cellarers, gardeners, were charged with the care of the kitchens, pantries, cellars, fruit-lofts, store-rooms, linen closets, and treasuries of gold and silver plate belonging to the King’s immediate household the Maison du Roi. The Officers of the Goblet were present when the King was served, having first, with attendant ceremonies, “made the trial” of napkins and table implements as a safeguard from evil designs against his life. Even the simplest repast served to the King comprised many dishes, for the Grand Monarch ate heartily, though with discriminating appetite.

Unless the Sovereign dined in the privacy of his bed-chamber, he was surrounded by princes and courtiers. At “public dinners” a procession of well-dressed persons continually passed through the room to observe the King at his dining.

It was ordained that the King’s meat should be brought to the table from the kitchens in the Grand Commune after this manner: “Two of His Majesty’s guards will march first, followed by the usher of the hall, the maitre d’hotel with his baton, the gentleman servant of the pantry, the controller-general, the controller clerk of the Office, and others who carry the Meat, the equerry of the kitchen and the guard of the plates and dishes, and behind them two other guards of His Majesty, who are to allow no one to approach the Meat.

“In the Office called the Bouche, the equerry of the Kitchen arranges the dishes upon a table, and presents two trials of bread to the maitre d’hotel, who makes the trial of the first course, and who, having placed the meats for the trial upon these two trials of bread, gives one to the equerry of the Kitchen, who eats it, while the other is eaten by the maitre d’hotel. Afterward the gentleman servant takes the first dish, the second is taken by the controller, and the other officers of the Kitchen take the rest. They advance in this order: the maitre d’hotel, having his baton, marches at the head, preceded some steps by the usher of the hall, carrying his wand, which is the sign of his office, and in the evening bearing a torch as well. When the Meat, accompanied by three of the body-guards with carbines on their shoulders, has arrived (that is, in the first antechamber, where the King is to dine), the maitre d’hotel makes a reverence to the nef. The gentleman servant, holding the first dish, places it upon the table where the nef is, and having received a trial portion from the gentleman servant in charge of the trial table, he makes the trial himself and places his dish upon the trial table. The gentleman servant having charge of this table takes the other dishes from the hands of those who carry them, and places them also on the trial table. After the trial of them has been made they are carried by the other gentlemen servants to the table of the King.

“The first course being on the table, the maitre d’hotel with his baton, preceded by the usher of the hall with his wand, goes to inform the King; and when His Majesty has arrived at table the maitre d’hotel presents a wet napkin to him, of which trial has been made in the presence of the officer of the Goblet, and takes it again from the King’s hands. During the dinner the gentleman servant in charge of the trial table continues to make trial in the presence of the officers of the Goblet and of the Kitchen of all that they bring for each course.

“When His Majesty desires to drink, the cup-hearer cries at once in a loud tone, ‘The drink for the King!’ makes a reverence to the King, and goes to the sideboard to take from the hands of the chief of the Wine-cellars the salver and cup of gold, and the two crystal decanters of wine and water. He returns, preceded by the chiefs of the Goblet and the Wine-cellars, and the three, having reached the King’s table, make a reverence to His Majesty. The chief of the Goblet, standing near the King, holds a little trial cup of silver-gilt, into which a gentleman servant pours a small quantity of wine and water from the decanters. A portion of this the chief of the Goblet pours into a second trial cup which is presented by his assistant, who, in turn, hands it to the gentleman servant. The chief and the gentleman servant make the trial, and when the latter has handed his cup to the chief, that officer returns both cups to his assistant. When the trial has been made in this manner in the King’s sight, the gentleman servant, making a reverence to the King, presents to His Majesty the cup of gold and the golden salver on which are the decanters. The King pours out the wine and water, and having drunk, replaces the cup upon the salver. The gentleman servant makes another reverence to the King, and returns the salver and all upon it to the chief of the Wine-cellars, who carried it to the side-board.”

The ceremony of tasting the King’s wine was most impressive, and it was regarded as a necessary and effective safeguard against poisonous attacks or deleterious effects on His Majesty’s august health. The thought is suggested, however, that the test could have been effective only in case of immediate or quick-working poison. A slow and insidious drug and there were experts in such concoctions in those days would surely have passed the taster’s test and affected the King in time. The test was but a mere formality, however, for Louis was the Most Adored Monarch. As one chronicler has observed, “He was not only majestic, he was amiable. Those that surrounded him, the members of his family, his ministers, his domestics, loved him.” Poison played no part in his career. That subtle method of attack was reserved for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, on both of whom it was attempted more than once.

The carver, having taken his place before the table of the King, presented and uncovered all the dishes, and when His Majesty told him to do so, or made him a sign, he removed them, handing them to the plate-changer or to his assistants. He changed the King’s plate and napkin from time to time, and cut the meats when the King did not cut them himself.

On rare occasions, when the King was in residence at Versailles, his brother dined with him. But large, formal dinners were rare, and women were seldom at the King’s table except on grand occasions.

Upon leaving the table, Saint-Simon tells us, “the King immediately entered his cabinet. That was the time for distinguished people to speak to him. He stopped at the door a moment to listen, then entered; very rarely did any one follow him, never without asking permission to do so; and for this few had the courage. . . . The King amused himself by feeding his dogs, and remained with them more or less time, then asked for his wardrobe, changed before the very few distinguished people it pleased the first gentleman of the Chamber to admit there, and immediately went out by the back stairs into the court of marble to get the air. . . . He went out for three objects: stag-hunting, once or more each week; shooting in his parks (and no man handled a gun with more grace or skill), once or twice each week; and walking in his gardens, and to see his workmen.”

The King was fond of hunting and the chase held an important part in the service of the royal household. The conditions of the sport were determined with a formality in keeping with the other affairs of Versailles. There were two divisions of the chase the hunting and the shooting. The first had to do with the chase of the stag, deer, wild boar, wolf, fox and the hare. The shooting had to do with smaller game. Here was also falconry, though in this Louis was not particularly interested. The chase was conducted by the Grand Huntsman of France, and his duties were enormous and varied. Under him the Captain General of the Toils kept the woods of Versailles well stocked with stag, deer, boars, and other animals caught in the forests of France. Some idea of the pomp and ceremony of the hunt may be obtained from the following account which was printed in the Mercure Galant in 1707:

“The toils were placed in the glades of Bombón. In the inclosure there were a large number of stags, wild boars, roebucks, and foxes. The court arrived there. The King, the Queen of England (the wife of James II, then in exile), her son, Madame la Duchesse de Bourgogne, and Madame (the Duchesse d’Orléans, wife of Monsieur) were in the same carriage, and all the princesses and the ladies followed in the carriages and calèches of the king. A very large number of noblemen on horseback accompanied the carriages. Within the inclosure there were platforms, arranged with seats covered with tapestry for the ladies, and many riding-horses for the nobles who wished to attack the game with swords or darts. They killed sixteen of the largest beasts, and some foxes. Mgr. Duc de Berry slew several. This chase gave much pleasure on account of the brilliancy of the spectacle, and the large number of nobles who surrounded the toils. A multitude of people had climbed into the trees, and by their diversity they formed an admirable background.”

Stag hunting was even more impressive in ceremonial details. After the chase the “quarry” was usually held by torchlight at Versailles, in one of the inner courts, and the ceremony of the quarry was as follows: “When His Majesty had made known his intentions on the subject, all the huntsmen with their horns and in hunting-dress came to the place where the quarry was to be made. On the arrival of the King, who was also in hunting-dress, the grand huntsman, who had received two wands of office, gave one to the King, and retained the other. The dogs were held under the whip about the carcass of the stag until the grand huntsman, having received the order from the King, gave the sign with his wand that they should be set at liberty. The horns sounded, and the huntsmen, who while the hounds were held under the whip had cried, ‘Back, dogs! Back!’ shouted now, ‘Hallali, valets! Hallali!’ When the quarry had been made, that is to say, when the flesh had been torn from the bones, a valet took the forhu (the belly of the stag, washed and placed on the end of a forked stick), and called the dogs, crying, ‘Tayaut, tayaut!’ and threw the forhu into the midst of the pack, where it was devoured at once. At this instant the fanfares redoubled, and finished by sounding the retreat. The King returned the wand to the grand huntsman, who at the head of all the huntsmen followed His Majesty.”

In his promenades at Versailles and Trianon any courtiers that chose to do so were permitted to follow the King. On his return from out-door recreation His Majesty, after again changing his costume, remained in his cabinet resting or working. Frequently he passed some time in the apartments of Madame de Maintenon.

At ten o’clock the captain of the guard announced supper in the chamber between the Hall of the King’s Guards and the antechamber called “Bull’s Eye.” This meal was always on a pretentious scale, and was attended at table by the royal children and numerous courtiers and ladies. When the last course had been served the King retired to his bedchamber and there for a few moments received all his Court, before passing into his Cabinet, where he spent something less than an hour in the company of his immediate household, his brother seated in an arm-chair, the princesses upon stools, and the Dauphin and all the other princes standing.

When the King had bid the company goodnight he entered his sleeping-room, where were already the courtiers privileged to attend the ceremony of the coucher, or going-to-bed. At the grand coucher the King, being formally divested of his hat, gloves, cane and sword, knelt by the balustrade about his bed, while an almoner murmured a prayer as he held a lighted candle above the royal head. When the King had risen from his knees he gave to the first valet de chambre his watch and the holy relics he was accustomed to wear, and proceeded through the assemblage to his chair. This was the moment when, with regal mien, the Sun King bestowed the candle upon whomever he wished to honor a ceremony brief, trifling, but significant of the Monarch of Monarchs in its gracious portent.

To the Master of the Wardrobe fell the task of removing the King’s coat and vest; the diamond buckles of the right and left garters were unfastened respectively by the first valet de chambre and the first valet of the wardrobe, and the valets of the Chamber withdrew with the kingly shoes and breeches while the pages of the Chamber presented slippers and dressing-gown. The latter was held as a screen while the shirt was removed, and the night-dress was accepted from the hands of a royal prince, or the Grand Chamberlain.

Having put on the dressing-gown, the King, with an inclination of the head, dismissed the courtiers, to whom the ushers cried, “Gentlemen, pass on!”

All those that were entitled to remain for the petit coucher princes, clergymen, officers, chosen intimates then disposed themselves about the bedchamber while the King submitted to the hands of his coiffeur and received from the Grand Master of the Wardrobe the night-cap and handkerchiefs. After bathing his face and hands in a silver basin held by a royal prince or grand master, the petit coucher was at an end. The bathing apartments of Versailles were numerous and luxuriously appointed, but, though the most trivial details in the daily life of His Majesty were attended with imposing circumstance, there is no record of a Ceremony of the King’s Bath, nor do we know of any noble order at the Grand Monarch’s court that held the title of Knights of the Bath.

When the assemblage that witnessed the petit coucher in the royal apartment had dwindled one by one, according to precedent, the Master of Versailles was, at last, free to do as he chose, to play with his dogs in an adjoining cabinet, or take his ease in pleasing solitude. Then, in the familiar words of Samuel Pepys’ immortal diary, “Home, and to bed.” Outside the gilded balustrade the first valet de chambre slept on a folding cot. “Beyond that balustrade, by the faint candle-light, there loomed among the shadows a white-plumed canopy and crimson curtains. The Grand Monarch slept.”