Imagine that money is no object. Imagine that your name meant “Gift of God” and you had been raised since birth to believe that you were Heaven’s gift to mankind. Imagine that you became a king at age 4 and were taught that you, a gift of God, had a divine right to rule over others. Imagine that you almost lost it all by age 10 when you suffered poverty and starvation before regaining virtually limitless power and wealth. What kind of person would you be? What would you do with all that power and wealth?
A trip to Versailles reveals, in part, what one such person — Louis XIV — did. In general, Louis XIV sought to edify himself and secure his and his family’s interests above all else. Consequently, he waged wars, including 13 years of war in a failed attempt to secure the Spanish throne for his grandson, Philip, persecuted Protestants, and built the palace of all palaces…Versailles, after he’d made his mark on the Louvre, Vincennes and Fontainebleau. The fact that he also plunged his nation into financial disarray in the process set the stage for his great, great grandson’s undoing during the French Revolution. For his part, his self-absorption ensured that Louis XIV, the Sun King, died a hated man.
Yet, a statue of Louis on horseback outfitted in kingly fashion greets you when you enter the palace grounds at Versailles. If you can push to the back of your mind the squalor, starvation and disease suffered by many of his fellow citizens while the “Gift of God” was building this gilded cage — then you can enjoy the magnificent opulence that oozes from every aspect of Versailles. It is, in all honesty, something to behold.
Yesterday, I enjoyed my second visit to Versailles — this time with my youngest child in tow. Hollywood shapes our view of history in ways that are interesting to behold. Megan’s exposure to Versailles was based in large part on Sophia Coppola’s luxurious eye-candy-of-a-film, Marie Antoinette, which Megan saw around 2006 at the age of 14. Interestingly, Megan saw a stylized take on the doomed queen at the same age said queen married Louis XVI.
We strolled for miles (literally) throughout the grounds pinpointing locations seen in the chick flick. It was a beautiful day so we were able to lunch outside at a restaurant on the grounds, watching swans swim on the Grand Canal. We both got a tremendous kick out of the Hamlet — an entire English village Louis had built on the grounds of Versailles for his Austrian queen. As I told Megan, I think this was Marie’s idea of roughing it — akin to camping out at Versailles!
The palace grounds are breathtakingly beautiful. I could spend all day just exploring the foot paths or sitting by the ponds and streams. My favorite part of the entire experience was strolling arm-in-arm, European style, with my little girl — watching her eyes light up when she saw something that struck her fancy and listening to her light laughter. Life is good.