23 February 2011

An Ordinary Day In: The Life of King Louis XIV

Lila DiPasqua

It isn't easy being the most powerful monarch in all of Europe. Ruling the largest European realm in the seventeenth century--with a population of over 20 million--kept a man busy.

But never too busy to womanize. (ahem)

Or dance.

King Louis XIV did a lot in his lifetime. He opened the first school of ballet. He purchased what's known today as the Hope Diamond. (Now in the Smithsonian. Uncut it was originally the size of a fist!) And let us not forget that he was the one who commissioned the construction of the magnificent Palace of Versailles.

Let's face it; Louis was one flashy, colorful character--who loved abundance and did everything on a grand scale.

So what was a typical day like in the life of this mighty monarch?

King Louis's day would begin at 8 am when the official Valet of the Bedchambers would awaken him. First to enter his room thereafter were his doctors and those closest to the King (his son/heir, the King's brother and other male family members). And, of course, the Royal Wigmaker. You see, Louis started balding at an early age, and ordered every man of quality to wear a periwig at court. These were costly. In today's dollars, one periwig would set a man back about $5000.00. Oh, and those itchy wigs needed upkeep, too!

When you're the most powerful King in all of Christendom, something as mundane as getting out of bed, washing, shaving and getting dressed was a public event. Everything Louis did was a ceremony. Once the King had been rubbed down with spirits by his doctors, and had his slippers, wig, and dressing gown on, the next part of the ceremony began.

Within fifteen minutes, a crowd crammed into the Royal Chambers. This group of nobles was made up of courtiers favored by the King. Before the adoring mass, Louis had a light breakfast. Either a cup of broth or his favorite, bread dipped in wine. It was a great honor to be permitted to watch him don his undergarments, breeches, stockings etc. It was an even greater honor to be the noble selected to hand the King his shirt--only after he was presented to the King by the Valet of the Bedchambers.

There were so many crazy rules of etiquette during the morning ceremony, I don't know how they kept it straight. For example, when it came to helping the King with his coat (justacorps), the Valet of the Bedchambers could help only with the right sleeve. Whereas the Master of the Wardrobe could only assist with the left. Oh, it gets better! Only the Master of the Wardrobe was permitted to place the King's cravat on him, but he wasn't allowed to tie it. That was the job of the Royal Cravatier. The King's hat, gloves, and cane had to be handed to him in a certain order and by certain people. A rather involved ordeal, wouldn't you say?

Now, with the morning ceremony completed and the King fully dressed, His Majesty left his private apartments, followed by the crowd from his bedchambers, and made his way down the Hall of Mirrors. This grand sparkling hallway was hardly empty. It was lined with spectators, more courtiers who waited anxiously for a glimpse of their King.

Louis spent part of the day immersed in affairs of state with his many ministers and four secretaries. And part of the day outdoors. He believed it was unhealthy to remain indoors and spent as much time as he could walking about his massive gardens. Or hunting. Since hunting with the King was by invitation only, if you wanted an invite, you did your best to stand out among the other hundreds of courtiers who followed him around the gardens trying to gain favor.

The King attended mass daily--with the entire court in attendance. He had his meals at exactly the same time each day. His dinner (what we call lunch) was at 1:00pm. Courtiers would quickly down their food at noon, so that they could be present to watch the King have his midday meal--a favorite form of entertainment!

Three times a week, the King opened his state rooms to the court. From 7:00pm to 10:00pm, courtiers were free to wander and mingle with other great nobles, as well as the King. There were concerts, billiards, card games and iced liqueurs to enjoy. The environment was less formal and the King jested and chatted with those in attendance.

Supper was usually at 11:30pm. Louis had a hardy appetite. It was discovered after his death, during his autopsy that his stomach was quite a lot larger than the average man. All his life, people marveled at the amount of food he consumed at one sitting.

Once supper was finished, it was time for the King to retire to his bedchamber for bed. Yes, you guessed it--another ceremony! Yet again a crowd filled his bedchamber. One lucky courtier was selected to--are you ready for this?--hold the candlestick as the King disrobed and handed each article of clothing to the appropriate person. This was a huge deal! Then the King would get into bed and the ceremony would be over. Only to start again the next day.

Odd practices aside, France had the most sophisticated, sparkling court around in the 17th century. It was the very time and place when the genre of fairy tales was born! I couldn't help but set my "Fiery Tales" series in this elegant and opulent time period. With all its richness and decadent behavior, it made for great fairy tale retelling! My latest release, THE PRINCESS IN HIS BED, is inspired by "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Princess and the Pea." It has three notorious rakes, passionate trysts and three strong, smart heroines who make them lose their hearts.

The book video has just been completed. I hope you enjoy it!