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Season 1 follows the French king Louis XIV, the so-called Sun King, during the early years of his reign when he commissioned the construction of the palace of Versailles, a former hunting lodge. Construction of the palace began in 1661 and lasted, on and off, until 1715. Despite the objection of much of the nobility and even his court, Louis was determined to make the palace the greatest in the world and solidify his rule. Although later Louis was known as a strong and respected ruler in Europe, the early years of his reign were fraught with problems with the nobility, wars with the low countries, conspiracies, and ongoing conflict between Catholics and Protestants. It is this background that sets up the story in the first season.
==History and Key Events==
The story begins with Louis having a vision to build a great and grand palace at Versailles. The palace is depicted as a symbol for France and in the first season Louis attempts to instill in his nobility that the palace is to represent all of France and his role in building it is essentially to unify the country (Figure 1). Although the palace is known today for its grand opulence such as the Hall of Mirrors and other structures, the intent was to make this building project help centralize the state itself. Rebellion by nobles during the reign of his father was a major problem in France, weakening the country. The series rightly indicates that the construction of the palace was used as a way to control the government and put it more in the hands of the king by moving resources to Versailles. Paris had been rife with plots against the royal family, likely prompting Louis to move the court at a distance that allowed him to have better control of the government while not being trapped by the demands of the ever rebellious nobles. One major plot development is Louis asks his nobles to produce papers to prove their nobility. Louis XIV is known to have instigated a major program that verified the lineage of the nobility.<ref>For more on Louis' early part of his reign and vision to build Versailles, see: Berger, Robert W. 1985. <i>Versailles: The Chateau of Louis XIV.</i> Monographs on the Fine Arts 40. University Park: Published for the College Art Association of America by the Pennsylvania State University Press.</ref>
[[File:Chateau de Versailles 1668 Pierre Patel.jpeg|thumbnail|left|300px|Figure 1. The Palace of Versailles in 1668 during the period represented in the series.]]
Perhaps the most prominent plot in the series revolved around a group of nobles and others conducting a conspiracy to make the king loose power and control over the country. This involved poisoning of some of the characters, shooting prominent families on the road to Versailles, where even Philippe's wife and Louis' lover Henriette, who was the sister of the King of England Charles II, was killed in one of these attempts. This part of the story does differ from likely historical accounts, as it is not clear Louis ever faced any major threats to his kingdom from internal unrest despite having some troubles from the nobles as he centralized the state early in his reign. There were various plots, including a series of poisonings called the Affair of the Poisons, that lasted from the 1670s-1680s, but the reasons for this did not relate to plots by nobles.<ref>For ore on the Affair of the poisons, see: Somerset, Anne. 2004. The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV. 1st U.S. ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press.</ref> The Huguenot, or French Protestants, also attempted to conduct a campaign against the king, although Louis' major persecution of them only began in the 1680s, a period after when the first season took place. The Huguenot's came closer to threatening the French crown long before Louis' reign in the 1610s-1620s.<ref>For more on the Huguenot revolts, see: Trim, David J. B., and Walter C. Utt, eds. 2011. <i>The Huguenots: History and Memory in Transnational Context ; Essays in Honour and Memory of Walter C. Utt.</i> Studies in the History of Christian Traditions 156. Leiden: Brill.</ref>
While Louis' affairs with Henrietta are in dispute, she is shown as tolerating her husband's homosexual relationship with the Chevalier. Henrietta's relationship with her husband was, more likely, awkward, even by the French court's standards. She may have had an affair with one of her husband's lovers, Guiche, although Henrietta and Philippe did manage to have several children, but the paternity of the children was rumored to be from others given Philippe's known homosexuality. In the series, Henrietta and Philippe are depicted as a couple in name only. Historically, the Chevalier did join Philippe's household, where she did have to compete with her husband's lover for attention in the royal household despite her status as a royal figure. Nevertheless, she proved to be instrumental to the French crown when she helped secure the Treaty of Dover between England and France, where Henrietta, the sister of the English king, having played an important role in negotiations in the treaty that allowed the English to ally themselves with the French. The portrayal in the series is largely accurate, as it credits her with the success of the treaty.<ref>For more on Henrietta, see: Lehman, H. Eugene. 2011. <i>Lives of England’s Reigning and Consort Queens: England’s History through the Eyes of Its Queens.</i> Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, pg. 452.</ref>
==Display of Culture==
Much of the series depicted extravagant opulence and parties at the palace, where show was critical in displaying power and status. The series depicts that Louis made it a requirement for the nobility to view him getting ready in the morning and watch his performances such as dances. This is known to have occurred, as Louis did try to keep many nobles in court at Versailles, using the palace as a virtual prison for the nobility and keeping them from their lands. Fashion became an area of excess, which was true and many prominent officials and nobles began spending enormous sums of money on the latest fashions and clothing. In fact, the opulence in Louis' court was known to have influenced court life throughout Europe, where monarchs and other nobility began to imitate Louis' behavior and display of fashion and opulence.<ref>For more on court life in Versailles, see: Duindam, Jeroen Frans Jozef. 2003. <i>Vienna and Versailles: The Courts of Europe’s Major Dynastic Rivals, 1550-1780.</i> New Studies in European History. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.</ref>
The main cultural event was the development of the palace at Versailles, where its gardens were tended to by a former French army soldier. The gardens did command a lot of attention by Louis and several well known designers were employed by the king to help design the gardens, including their famous orangerie. Oranges had relatively recently been introduced into Europe and the garden in Versailles astonished visitors as these delicate plants were able to survive harsh winter conditions despite the tropical origin of the fruit.<ref>For more on the gardens of Versailles, see: Baridon, Michel. 2008. <i>A History of the Gardens of Versailles.</i> Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.</ref>
<i>Versailles</i> is a series full of visually effective scenes that display the intrigues of court, conflict in European affairs, and innovation that began to transform France and Europe in the age of the Sun King. While events such as the poisoning of royalty and birth of a black baby by the queen may not have happened as depicted in the series, many events did happen and the main characters and their personalities did represent aspects that were known from various historical accounts. Some of the timeline of events did not follow a historical timeline, such as the conflict with the Dutch, while other aspects did prove to be true, in particular Louis' attempts to centralize the state through his personality and through court etiquette that developed. At the center of Louis' desire for central power was the building of Versailles. In effect, this was true and Versailles did become not only one of the world most opulent palaces but became the symbol of France's centralized, royal power. Something that the participants in the later French Revolution noted as they stormed the palace grounds to capture and later execute Louis' great grandson Louis XVI.
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