March 27 was the day we had all waited for. The day we finally got some new Versailles. The excitement was great. The feelings aflutter. What will this new season bring?
Like pretty much everyone else, I followed what happened between season one and season two on various social media platforms. I eagerly jumped at any new footage from the set, speculated what it might be about, and wondered how the balance of history and fiction would be handled this season. The teasers looked quite nice and stirred further excitement… but then, and pardon me but I can not not mention what a big fail the whole thing was, Canal + came up with what in their minds was a great marketing idea, but made me facepalm like there is no tomorrow.
What did they do? They set up an account on Twitter for Louis XIV. What could have been a great idea, if they had acted it out a little differently, made a lot of people, including me, cringe. A lot. The account itself wasn’t too much of a problem. I do not know how familiar you are with Twitter, but role play and parody accounts are not unusual there. Some of them are actually really great and invite you to join their world, may it be Stuart England, Ragnar’s Viking world or Downton Abbey. Canal +’s Louis XIV account wasn’t supposed to be role play and more of a parody… of a parody of a parody…. you get my drift. Dear me, it was terrible. Who ever wrote the tweets for it… I do not even know what to say. All this account basically did, was to tweet random celebrities in order to get a hashtag trending. Didn’t work out. It was terribly out of character for Louis XIV and obscene. None of the celebrities cared much about it. Obviously, they get tons of mentions every day and probably didn’t even see that nonsense. I wondered if George was fine with them using his face for such a connerie and silently prayed that the behaviour of this account will not mirror what we will see in the show. Said account was mentioned in some French papers, without doubt because Canal + had told them so, and according to them was a great thing. Louis XIV challenging the modern-day celebrities by telling them they might be great, but he is King. I just sat there and thought nobody challenged that… nor do any of them care. I cared enough to rant a little about it, after all my whole life circles around Louis XIV and I do react a little allergic when his brand is put on something which does not resemble him at all. I was later told that Canal + has an odd sense of humour and probably thought the whole thing to be hilarious…. it wasn’t. It was embarrassing. A sort of more character connected account with a bit of background history and fan engagement would have worked magic, but alas, it should not be.
Enough of that. Let’s move on to the first episode of this new season, but before we do that allow me to say that all my scribblings here are obviously based on the opinion I formed while watching. You are free to agree or disagree with it. I am also aware that this is a television show and not a historical documentation, but as it happens I am a historian and the whole point of these scribblings is to compare what happens in the show to what happened in history. I am a fan, but that won’t stop me to utter displeasure should it occur. A bit of constructive criticism does no harm and it is not my intention to bash anything. I just write what I think.
Back to March 27… I placed myself in bed, with my laptop on my knees, and tuned in to Canal + via online subscription. So did my better-half at the other end of the world and we both enjoyed some Versailles… in French. We didn’t know one could switch languages. You can find my initial reaction to it here. By now I have seen the whole thing in English, a language I understand a little better, and I do watch it again as I write… so let’s get started…
“1672-1678. The Franco-Dutch war wages on, Louis XIV confronts his bitter rival, Guillaume d’Orange. But danger threatens even inside the kingdom, within the court of Versailles itself with the Poison scandal. Between mysticism and obscurity, a dive into the dark side of power, with the king’s downward spiral, and his return towards the light. Louis has completed the first stage of his plan: to build the most beautiful palace in Europe, far away from Paris…And to lock the nobility inside it so as to exercise absolute control over it. But his plan backfires. Louis has created a new civilisation where the courtiers are ready to do anything to get to the Sun. Behind the veneer of etiquette, they dream of money, power, and climbing the social ladder. They will do whatever they have to: morality is waning, and poison spreads…Versailles is rotting. Blinded by his affection for Madame de Montespan, Louis is deaf to the Church’s injunctions. The greatest enemy standing before him is no longer the nobility, nor is it Guillaume d’Orange: the palace that he himself designed could end up becoming his worst enemy.”
About four years have passed between the last episode of season one and the first of this new season. Like in the very first episode, we start with a sort of dream scenario. Louis XIV, who in the meanwhile has established Versailles as the centre of France, wanders aimlessly through the gardens of his creation. It is snowy and his Most Christian Majesty is lured by the ghostly voice of Minette towards a pond. It does look like the one she used to bathe in. Her death seems to haunt him still and as we see now, it is not so much of a dream and more of a hallucination. The Sun King sleepwalks. That he does so has not gone unnoticed and Monsieur Bontemps rushes to rescue Louis, who has walked into the pond by now. Bontemps brings the King back to his senses with the help of smelling salts and his Majesty inquires if Fabien has returned or if there is news of his son… Here is me thinking something along the lines of ‘How on earth is it possible that he is missing for four years?’ but then I remember that the writers of the show are not really to worried about time. If you have read my scribblings for season one, you might remember that they altered time as it suited them the best. I do not expect anything else this season.
As his Majesty leaves the pond, he looks to the glorious Versailles, that shines lit by a thousand candles in front of him, and reflects upon how many lives his dream has devoured thus far. Thousands have died and thousand more may die. It appears that Louis does doubt his creation a little as he ponders if his epitaph will be written in stone, aka Versailles, or blood.
The scene changes from night-time to day-time and Rohan hiding behind some shrubbery. We seem to be at some sort of hiding spot Rohan and his buddies used to rest. Some of them will rest a little longer, they lie death on the ground, as the familiar voice of Fabien inquires if Rohan has been captured yet. Fabien takes to enter the building, while Rohan still hides, and finds inside a rather terrified looking Dauphin. He has grown a bit, obviously. His hair looks surprisingly good considering that he has been missing for four years.
“My name is Fabien Marshal. I serve your father. You are safe.” says Fabien to a Dauphin that does not really recognise his face and does not seem too sure about it either after hearing the words. In the meanwhile Rohan sneaks away and brings himself in possession of a horse. (A horse! My kingdom for a horse!) He does not manage to get too far, because Fabien goes 17th century sniper and shoots him off the horse. ‘That’s it???’ I ask myself. We have spent most of season one with building up to the kidnapping of the Dauphin and now, with no explanation what happened in the meanwhile, Rohan, the great mischief-causer of season one, is captured in the first four minutes. Maybe we will get some more info on that later. (We won’t get much more info on it.) Historically speaking, the whole thing did not happen at all. The Chevalier de Rohan was involved in a plot against the King, but the thing never went that far… The conspirators met in a sort of tavern, to discuss how they could get the means to act out their plans, and during one of those meetings Rohan was spotted by a musketeer. A quick investigation let to the arrest of the Chevalier de Rohan, who was just as quickly executed along with the rest of the gang. More about it here.
Rohan’s face meets Fabien’s boot as we move to what the lovely Vanessa calls the song of our people. The awesome Intro tune by M83 called Outro. (Bit funny, non? I mean an intro that is called Outro… non? Alright I will shut up.)
I have a case of the goosebumps and the Intro-Outro faints and we return to Versailles to see Louis holding court. From the off speaks the voice of one of William of Orange’s advisers and explains what happened since we left off.
Versailles is apparently full with people willed to inform the Dutch about everything that is going on. The King has crushed a rebellion that threatened his son, who was, as we saw, rescued from Brittany. Rohan has been captured, but replacement has been arranged. Versailles grows by the day, the voice says as the Dauphin moves slowly towards his father, and etiquette dictates court life. Montespan has risen to the position of official mistress and we see her in quite the advanced state of pregnancy. Monsieur enjoys life in Saint-Cloud. We see him in bed with quite a few naked fellows, but looking not too happy. The Chevalier de Lorraine is in exile. Why? I have no clue. They do not say. (And won’t give much of an explanation later on.) The historical Chevalier was already in exile as the historical Minette died. Our show Chevalier was in Versailles at that point. Why he should have been sent into exile afterwards… I have no clue… but story reasons are probably the cause. William’s adviser continues with talk about the Rohan replacement, which is apparently very able…
We move to Louis and la Montespan in a carriage, on the way to Paris, and Louis utters his urge to find a historian to write all his great deeds down. History is made by the winner… or those with the best writers.
As their carriage rolls on, the Ministers gather in Versailles and one of them, a certain Reynard, suddenly starts to spit blood.
Louis arrives in Paris, I presume it is supposed to be the theatre of the Palais Royal, and his brother is already there. He is accompanied by some of his mignons, a term that comes from the time of Henri III and means as much as male favourites or admirers. He doesn’t look too pleased with himself. One mignon asks him how he keeps warm at night while the Chevalier is away and Monsieur informs him that he is in possession of a duvet. The King enters, with la Montespan, and Monsieur refuses to rise… while that is not proper etiquette, it can be blamed on his state of mind… but what my eyes spotted then… if you follow me on Twitter you might guess…. did make me wrinkle my nose. It’s the arm-chairs. I totally get why they did that. To make clear that the Marquise might not be Queen of France, but is Louis’ Queen… but that doesn’t make it better. Why? Because only a real Queen was allowed to sit on an arm-chair in public and Louis XIV would have never approved of such a great breach in etiquette. He didn’t even allow his brother or sister-in-law to sit on them. He even said that, although his brother was of royal blood, it was still a matter of rank and could not be. Putting a Marquise in a arm-chair came as bit of a shock to me. A chair without arms would have done, would have been only half so bad, but enough to get the point across. Something in me yells noooooo at the whole arm-chair situation.
We see Fabien race somewhere on horseback as the play starts. Someone that does look a bit Moliére to me enters the stage and is surprised to see the King. He is called Thomas Beaumont, played by Mark Rendall, and interrupted after a few moments as Fabien enters and informs the King there has been a poisoning. Thus King and pregnant mistress leave. The actor continues and Monsieur seems quite impressed by the suggesting that also he was making history and that people in the future might remember him. (Vive Monsieur.)
Back In Versailles, Louis goes on a bit of a rant. Talking of the Dutch, of William of Orange and how he seeks to make our Sun King a little nervous by poisoning his Minister. William tried to snatch the Dauphin away, says Louis, and now steals his peace, his sleep, his Minister…. but Louis won’t have this and plans to destroy that orange William. He wants William dead and asks Rohan, not looking so well anymore, if William has paid Rohan to snatch the Dauphin away. Rohan points Louis to the possibility that William might not be the only one who dislikes Louis and Louis promises him in turn that when the history of his reign is written, Rohan’s roll will be completely erased. I get the feeling that history… or history as it might have been… will play a bit of a role this season. At least it would explain why the makers of Versailles have given Rohan such a big role in season one. Rohan doesn’t care much, at least not about Louis’ plans to erase him from history.
The Sun King leaves Rohan to meet with la Montespan, with whom he ‘engages’ until the sun rises. That pregnancy belly looks quite real. After they have sufficiently exhausted themselves with bed-sports, the Marquise guides Louis’ attention towards the fact that his brother needs a new wife. (It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.)
Fabien sees similarities between the death of the Minister and that of Minette, asking Claudine to assist, while replacements for the positions are considered. The Minister widow is questioned, but appears quite innocent on first glance. The Duc de Cassel is still in Versailles, living in his broom cupboard, and his hair did not improve. It still looks a little like a mop, which is oddly fitting for his living conditions. What he says about scratching on a door instead of knocking is actually true. Knocking was not fashionable, but growing one’s fingernail long was. Some people did this in order to show that they were of a rank which did not require them to knock, or rather scratch.
In matters of history, the Marquise de Montespan did not really have anything to do with the choice of Monsieur’s wife… nor had the Queen although we see both of them, and Louis, picking a new wife for Philippe together. They decide for a certain Élisabeth-Charlotte du Palatinat.
In the salons we meet Gaston de Foix and his mother Madeleine, two of many new faces this season, while Fabien sends Mademoiselle de Clermont on a spy mission.
Monsieur returns to the theatre to discover that the actor he was so fond of has been snatched away by his brother. Philippe goes into tantrum mode and trashes the evil arm-chairs (good boy) as said actor arrives at Versailles to start his new job as writer of Louis XIV’s history. Reminds me of Moliére again. He worked for Monsieur first, but then Louis took a liking to him and he became essential in matters of entertainment to the Sun King.
In the salon of Versailles, which is actually in Vaux-le-Vicomte, the power of the sun is demonstrated as la Montespan sweeps in rather confidently and orders both Louis and Bontemps around. She and Louis meet the mysterious Madame Agathe shortly after. I look at her and think Voisin… Madame Agathe is there to lay the cards for the King. Montespan, knowing her Louis well, urges her to talk of his future glory and leave the not so good parts out… she doesn’t do and what she has to say is not too pleasing to Louis. Interestingly she makes references to things Louis said himself and have been said to him. The King is not impressed and leaves.
Next we see Fabien questioning the Minister widow again, who tells of all sort of powders to enhance a marriage that can be bought at court. Turns out that the powder she used on her hubby was poison and she is arrested. Change of scene to la Montespan relaxing in a very large tub. A reference to the bathing-apartments of Versailles and giant tub of Louis XIV. Although, for some reason, people believe today that he just had about three baths in his life, he actually had plenty.
Back to Fabien, now in company of Mademoiselle de Clermont, who tells him of a book called the Pleasures of Venus and I presume she means the School of Venus with it. The latter is a guide on how to sex, written in the 1650’s. It is about a conversation two ladies have, in which the older one educates the younger one in matters of pleasure, birth prevention, how to call the body parts and so on. Here is a bit more about it, but careful…. it is rather lewd.
Louis and his mistress lounge in that giant tub and talk of Philippe being in Saint-Cloud. (The outside of Vaux-le-Vicomte serves as that of Saint-Cloud here. It is interesting to see how much Vaux is actually in Versailles. The Grand Salon, and various other rooms as well as the gardens…) We see him thus in the next scene wandering through empty rooms. It appears he had invited to a soirée, but nobody showed up. While he wonders where everyone is, Madame de Montespan tells him to search in Versailles and that it is time to come home. Home to Versailles. Philippe isn’t really impressed by the idea and makes a sort of ‘annoyed I-knew-it’ face as la Montespan casually mentions that if he should return to Versailles a certain Chevalier might return from exile. We still do not know how he landed there, but it appears he is in Rome.
After having been acquainted with Fabien’s boot, Rohan is now acquainted with the device to bundle the rays of the sun we saw earlier. It appears his tongue has been cut out, at least that would explain why he is relatively quiet as his eyes are burned out. Ouch…. but he deserves it.
Episode one draws to an end as Madame de Montespan meets up with Madame Agathe and gives her a good slap. It’s not hard to see that this Madame Agathe is a bit of a b/witch nor that she has something to do with the Marquise being where she is. All of this yells la Voisin…
Back in Versailles Louis announces that he has chosen the Duc de Cassel as replacement Minister. Everyone looks surprised and I did too… but keep your friends close and your enemies even closer… how much of a clue does Louis have of Cassel’s deeds in the last season? I am not quite sure. Someone who isn’t quite sure either is Gaston de Foix. He looks like he expected to get the job.
The episode closes with the court watching an eclipse. (The period 1601 to 1700 had 248 solar eclipses of which 89 were partial. 26 occurred between 1671 and 1680. I can not quite say which of those we just see.) The moon slides slowly in front of the sun. An omen? Obviously, when I see something like this I automatically think of the Moon to Louis’ Sun… his little bro Philippe. Everyone watches in awe and with dashing sunglasses. The first sunglasses that can be compared to those we use today are from the 12th century. Rohan isn’t in need of sunglasses sans eyes and now he is also sans head.
So ends episode one and I am a little irritated about the whole Rohan situation… I expected a little more, to be honest. A little more backstory perhaps. A little more ado about it all. And what about the Dauphin? We just saw him like twice? How does he cope? Maybe episode two will bring answers… (It won’t.)
During the next episode’s patati-patata we will talk a little more about Madame de Montespan and her belly. Something that did irritate me too. Not that it is there, but that it so prominently on display.
Thank you for reading.