Versailles season 3 plays with the idea that Louis XIV, the great Sun King, was not legitimate. This idea is not new at all and pretty much as old as Louis XIV.
If a child is legitimate, it means it is born to two people bound in marriage and those two people are the natural parents of the child. If a child is illegitimate, it means that it is born to two people who are not married to each other, might not be married at all or be married to someone else. The kids Louis had with his wife, were legitimate. Those he had with his mistresses, were illegitimate.
The Sun King’s parents, Louis XIII and Anne d’Autriche, tried… but for many years they were not blessed with a child. Anne became pregnant a couple of times, but she lost the children. Louis blamed her a bit for that. He wasn’t really eager to perform his duties in that department either, so it took what felt like ages until the future Louis XIV was finally born.
And the rumours of him being a bâtard were born along with him. There are many versions of how that supposedly happened.
The most common one involves Cardinal Mazarin. Since Anne and Louis XIII were not blessed with children, people started to think there might be something wrong with Louis XIII… down there. Which in turn would mean that Louis XIII might not be able to father children… or there could be something wrong with Anne and maybe she was not able to carry a child for the necessary duration. The latter was what people suspected first, but the longer it took, the more people started to eye Louis XIII suspiciously. He was not really considered to be a strong King and not being able to father kids, perfectly fitted his persona. A man with problems down there, was not a ‘real man’ as in he was not considered strong.
But then Anne got pregnant again, when the people already had given up hope, and her pregnancy went well. Therefore, the problem could not be Anne, they thought… and so the rumours started. Anne must have had an affair, they said, or at least a one-night-stand. She was rather beautiful and had many admirers. She also was desperate to be the mother of the next King of France and did not really want Louis XIII’s brother to become King. Maybe she plotted with someone… and the most likely plot-partners were Cardinal Richelieu and Mazarin. Cardinal Richelieu was of an advanced age, Mazarin not so much. Thus Anne must have slept with Mazarin.
Other candidates were Louis XIII’s brother Gaston, to keep it in the family, the Marquis de Cinq-Mars, a favourite of Louis XIII and someone Richelieu brought to court.
Cardinal Mazarin was not in France, or anywhere close to Anne, around the time Louis XIV was fathered. Both of them got along very well in later years, which led to rumours of a secret marriage between them, but he can not possibly be the father of Louis XIV. Same goes for Cinq-Mars. Anne was already pregnant as Cinq-Mars gained close access to the royal family. In case of Gaston, it is highly unlikely that Anne, who did not want Gaston as next King, would agree to have him as father of the future King… and live with the danger of being exposed by him. Some argued that Louis XIII actually arranged for Anne and Gaston to share a bed. Either way, Gaston already showed he was able to father kids and if Louis XIII died without heir, he would become King. There was plenty time left for Gaston to roll in bed and make a legitimate heir himself with the wife.
There was a bit of a smear campaign in the 1690s and these rumours emerged again with more possible fathers being added. For example, the Duke of Buckingham, who was already dead as Louis XIV was fathered. Or an illegitimate son of Henri IV. Or even an illegitimate son of Henri IV, who was not known as illegitimate son of Henri IV to the general public. There were also whispers it was someone who looked a bit like Louis XIII and was then shipped off to the colonies afterwards, dared to return a couple of years later and ended up as the infamous Man in the Iron Mask….
As interesting as the rumours are, the chance of something like that actually happening are very very very slim. There is a much more simple explanation why it took so long, it makes way more sense… and is actually documented.
Anne and Louis tried, but since Louis was not too eager in that department, he might have had more interest in men, they did not try as often as the general public expected. Louis was not infertile, nor was Anne, which the misscarriages prove. The couple did not always get along well, which made them even less eager to try. As both grew older, they worried more about the matter and Cardinal Richeleau did indeed involve himself… but not as the rumours say by finding a bed-partner. He had a serious talk with Louis XIII about the matter and urged him to make peace with his wife and try again.
Shortly later, Louis XIII spent a night in Anne’s bedroom, in November 1637, and around six weeks later, the doctors declared Anne to be in happy circumstances. She gave birth to healthy boy, the future Louis XIV, nine months later. At Christmas time in 1639, they had a bit of a cuddle again and Philippe was the result. Both boys had undeniable Bourbon features and they could not come from Anne.
The idea Versailles plays with is thus a bit of a century old conspiracy theory with the aim to discredit everyone involved by painting Louis XIII as weak, the pious Anne d’Autriche as adulterous, Louis XIV himself as imposter and Richelieu and Mazarin as evil masterminds. Hinting the people of France, who fight and finance their King, have been fooled and are ruled by someone who has no right to do so…. which would make them a bit of a laughing stock.