The great king must have the great Court…And Louis had the one. Even more! He has made the one! Unlike other European monarchies, France did not have this institution before Louis XIV. This is a great paradox of the French history. There were centuries of the Universal Monarchy, deep Royal traditions, but those of courtiers were lack of.
It has to do with the fact that courtiers of the past were always very independent. Indeed, they served to their Sovereign, kept their oath in wars, etc, but at the same time they prefered to be rulers in their own lands. Most of great noble French families were famous with their rebellious spirit & were involved in numerous scandals & political intrigues against their own king. The position of the Monarch in France was very unstable from the period of Charlemagne’s death to Louis XIII’s reign! There were short periods when the ruler’s personality put the Court together and made it organized but with his death this institution plunged into the chaos again.
François I was famous with his travelling. He moved very actively around France, so the Court did not even have any permanent palace to settle down. Henri IV was a great man & warrior, as I have already mentioned, but he was too mild with his courtiers, making friends with everyone. No wonder that this model of behaviour ended with his assassination right in the Court of the Louvre! Only Cardinal de Richelieu, who realized the importance of the centralization of power and the menace of a chaotic Court, began to establish rules & orders for courtiers. Of course, nobles were insulted with this policy & considered the Great Cardinal the enemy number 1. They had no wished to obey.
When Louis XIV ascended the throne in 1661 the Court, taught the lesson of the Fronde, was yet too liberated and demanded to be well-arranged. His Majesty did the great job in this direction and in 1684, when the Court officially settled down in Versailles, he enjoyed his brilliant results. Finally, to stay at the Court did not mean to hatch a plot but to serve the King & every noble desired it so much.
Unlike a mainstream impression or opinions of many Revolutionists & modern historians, serving Louis XIV was a difficult thing to do. First of all, His Majesty appreciated educated, honest, courageous people with a good sense of humour. Liars, pretenders, intriguers had no chance to become members of the Royal milieu. They could visit the Court though, but as a rule without any hope to get a position near the king. Secondly, Louis XIV did not make anyone live at the Court constantly. If a noble was invited to the Court, he had to spend there about 3 months a year. Besides, the true number of courtiers received at the Court is extremely exaggerated by almost all the historical statistics. In fact, they might have been about few hundreds, not thousands as they like to say.
To stay at the Court meant staying at your own expenses. Most even very noble courtiers lhad no room of their own in Versailles and never got one. The food & some necessary things as woods, water, etc. were mostly at the King’s account, but not always. So, as you see, Esteemed Readers, Louis XIV had no idea about all inclusive system. Not all of those who stayed at the Court participated in all feasts & other important Royal events. Invitation was always personal & Louis saw to that. Royal privileges were very limited & well arranged and to get at least one of them you had really to work hard.
Strictness & a personal genious of Louis XIV made the Court in France & turned it into the most splendid one in Europe, but after his death this institution decayed very fast and never managed to repeat the glory of its solar days.
Vive le Roy!