Thoughts on Versailles, Episode One
The following contains major spoilers, so please refrain from reading if you have not seen the Episode yet. It is less of a review and more of statement of what I think of the Episode along with some historical facts and whatever caught my attention as you can read HERE.
The first scene brings us straight into the Royal bedroom and Louis (George Blagden) in bed, Bontemps (Stuart Bowman) by his side, or rather on some Taburetes in front, the King never slept alone for reasons of safety, and we dive into the world of dreams.
Anne d’Autriche, played by Dominique Blanc, who so very brilliantly portrayed Madame de Maintenon in L’Allée du Roi, lies on her deathbed. Timewise we are in January 1666, shortly before Anne died due to breast cancer. Her physicians, after discovering a growth, cut a little piece of it out, then some more and more, without what we would call narcotics today. In fact, they even considered to fill what they cut out with fresh pork for quite a while, but Anne died before these thoughts could be acted out. We see Monsieur weeping by her side, he suffered greatly due to the death of his mother and locked himself away after it for weeks, as Anne reflects on a King being no King without a castle. Versailles. Louis is woken from his dreams, or rather visions, and we see the Royal Guards sweep into the room informing him of a possible threat of unknown origin. Louis refuses to leave, while the guards, in order to guarantee the King’s safety, try to keep him away from the windows and have him brought into the Guard’s Room. The Ministers sweep in and demand the very same, Louis refuses and calls for his brother. I must admit, I was in no way prepared for what comes next…. and was pleasantly surprised. We see Monsieur, the King’s brother, attending to the Chevalier de Lorraine, who is not quite pleased to be interrupted.
I’m a big fan of these two, whose story by itself would make for a good book, not that intend to write on the very topic some day. Let us look at the Chevalier for a second, he is the second born son of Henri de Lorraine and thus what was called a foreign prince. Someone with a rather high rank at court with the right to be addressed as Highness and was called cousin by the King, by 17th Century standards pretty much a Jackpot. He managed to get a firm grip on Monsieur and his household that would last until Monsieur’s death in 1701, through happy and more turbulent times.
Next we see Monsieur and Louis in conversation, and Monsieur repeating the need to leave Versailles, a mere hunting chateau at the time, for the safety of Paris and its better protected Royal Residences, but Louis refuses. If you have ever been in the Louvre, a place he quite disliked along with pretty much the rest of Paris for various reasons, you surely noticed how in almost every room you can see the initials of a different King. They all lived there, they all had left their marks. Louis doesn’t want to be like the King’s of the past, he doesn’t want to put his mark on something someone else had built, he wants to create something himself, something greater, for France and his personal glory….
And then there is Fabien Marchal (Tygh Runyan), master of the police,…. what a character. His work protects the King as he says himself and we do see him doing just that, followed by the most fitting intro and theme song a show like this could have. I had a case of the goosebumps and think whoever decided for that song, should get an award.
The next scene takes us to Jean-Baptiste Colbert (Steve Cumyn), Minister of Finances and François-Michel le Tellier (Joe Sheridan), better known as Louvois, Minister of War, talking with Fabien of the dangers of the road, and the threat against the King’s safety, Fabien had just prevented from becoming worse… I do like this Fabien… while the King himself seems to be somewhere… just that nobody knows where. Monsieur for the rescue.
Once found, Louis tries to win his brother for the good cause that is Versailles, his dream, but Monsieur doesn’t seem quite impressed by it. I won’t go into detail of how very amazing Alex Vlahos looks in that outfit, because frankly I wouldn’t be able to restrain myself once I start and I have the odd feeling I annoy him enough already on Twitter. Sorry, Alex.
Let us continue…. with Marie Thérèse d’Autriche, the Spanish wife of Louis XIV. Like Anne d’Autriche, her aunt and mother-in-law, she was called d’Autriche “of Austria”, in France instead of “of Spain”, because the rulers of Spain were from the House of Habsburg, which also ruled Austria. Louis and her are married since 1660 and their wedding was part of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which ended the war between Spain and France that had lasted for a good thirty years. They were double first cousins: Louis XIV’s father Louis XIII was the brother of Marie Thérèse’s mother and her father was brother to Anne d’Autriche, Louis XIV’s mother.
We are introduced to Masson, who will be in charge of the birth of hopefully a second male heir, the dauphin had been born in 1661, and it is always better to have one spare, and Nabo, the Queen’s African dwarf. Something that was rather fashionable to have at the time.
While Henriette d’Angleterre (Noemie Schmidt) has a quick dip in the lake and is soon honored by Louis visiting. Henriette, or Minette as her brother Charles II of England called her and I mostly will call her from here on, was married to Monsieur in 1661. Another case of cousins here, Minette mother was the sister of Louis XIII. Minette had spent most her youth in France and at the court of Louis along with her mother due to the uprisings against her father, who was beheaded as she was four years old. I should perhaps note that I’m not a fan of Minette at all, not the actress, the actual Minette and therefore what I have I have to say about her might be far away from what pro-Minette people utter. I should also note that there are in fact more pro-Minette people than people who view her more critical, so if you have read about her, I might provide you with a different point of view.
It already starts with what we see next…. The King sleeping with the wife of his brother. It was then as I realised what is said to have happened in 1667 by the show, didn’t quite happen then and I will probably mentioned it a few times more are we proceed in episodes. In fact, Louis and Minette had an affair shortly after Minette was married to his brother, but it did not last until 1667. It was a 1661 thing… and it did enrage Monsieur. Very much. How could it not when the brother who pretty much permits you to have nothing of your own now also claims your wife and she is just too willing to participate. Minette and Louis saw it a little differently.
Back to Monsieur…. him being called Monsieur is pretty much a tradition thing, the brother of the King was called Monsieur. We see him with his Chevalier, sassy Chevalier, great acting here, Mister Williams, talking of what he would do if he were King. This scene pretty much sets the tone for the relationship they had, and now where I have seen some more episodes, I can only say I wish they would have kept it this way. As we continue, you will see that this will be the one thing I will criticize the most.
Next we learn what a good spy Fabien is and how very useful that is for Louis, before we move to a bit of gossiping of Minette with Madame de Montespan (Anna Brewster ) and Louis having a fumble with Louise De La Valliere (Sarah Winter) in the chapel, while we are introduced to Beatrice (Amira Casar) and her daughter Sophie (Maddison Jaizani), fictional cousins to our dear Chevalier de Lorraine. Back to Masson (Peter Hudson) and his smart daughter Claudine (Lizzie Brochere), perhaps a little too smart for a woman of the time, as Masson tells us.
Louis talking taxes and ordering the Archives to be brought to Versailles at once, much to the displeasure of his ministers. At this very point Louis was not quite yet the great King as we know him today and had at times, quite an opposition against him, which would change later on, Versailles being one of the reasons for it. And so we return to the plans he had in mind for his one big love Versailles. I do love this scene. So very Louis. We move on to Louis talking with his gardener (Gilly Gilchrist), a former soldier, and talk of digging was once will be known as the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses, the Swiss Lake. It started as an octagonal ornamental lake in 1665 and was enlarged in 1678 by the Swiss Guards, hence the name, and then again in 1682. It replaced a marshy stretch known as the “stinking pond” which caused numerous illnesses among the inhabitants of Versailles. Versailles was quite the swamp.
Back to Louis and Fabien talking of the threats against the King, before we move to the one scene that pretty much says it all. What a fabulous scene and what a sassy Chevalier. Said fabulous scene is followed by another just as fabulous scene and more goosebumps as Bontemps talks of the King to his ill son. Very touching. Seriously.
We are back at Versailles and Louis and his Ministers talking war as ever so casual an ever so gorgeous Monsieur enters… and thus everyone else is dismissed.
Louis XIV, during all his life, pretty much excluded his brother from all political activity. The reason for it is the Fronde. Now, I won’t explain the Fronde and its length here, it would be quite much. It was basically a big disagreement that let to a civil war with members of the Royal Family opposing each other and the King. It was something Louis, who was a child then, would never forget and influence his thinking greatly. In case of Monsieur he was influenced by it in the way of wanting to prevent Monsieur from grasping the power himself, something Monsieur never wanted, and thus excluded him from pretty much everything that would give him the knowledge to do so….while Monsieur just wanted a little appreciation.
Now,I could go on about this scene for quite a while too, so let’s keep it short. We have Monsieur, in a typical way, trying to get Louis attention and showing off his knowledge, but Louis blocks the attempt. Monsieur wishes to prove himself to his brother, Louis is afraid his brother might reach to high, afraid to trust him with too much, afraid his little brother could outshine. We can’t have that. Louis is King and Philippe is his subject as well as his brother, and depending on Louis’ mood he is sometimes more brother or more subject. I wouldn’t want to swap places with him. Louis has it all, takes what he wants, while his brother has to beg for a little attention, and Louis doesn’t stop… he takes his wife too… which brings us to the next scene….
Now I’m conflicted about it, it is not typically something Monsieur, who had serious trouble to even touch a female, would do, yet it is something he would do or could have done when in a fit of rage, to spite his brother, to show his wife she is his wife.
I personally do not think he ever lowered himself to such an act, but I can’t totally exclude it either. He could be quite unpredictable, yet the fact that we know quite a bit about his relationship to females, or the lack of it, makes me personally think…. nope. He wouldn’t. He would most likely go and buy an outrageous amount of shoes for an outrageous amount of money….
At the end of Episode One we are called to the bed of the Queen and surprise… that surprise will be the topic of the next post.