The show Versailles includes no shortage of scandals, but the most shocking thing about it is many, if not most, of the salacious details it portrays about daily life in the court of Louis XIV are true. The Sun King led a sensuous and unorthodox life filled with mistresses, drama, and intrigue.
When it comes to the life of Louis XIV, the facts are almost stranger than fiction. From a baby of African descent being born at Versailles to a wild carriage race between the queen and the king's mistress, life for the French royals was never boring. And why should it have been? The court was filled with beautiful and ambitious women, and men who had won their place in history as war heroes. With so many beautiful and striving people in one place, things were bound to get scandalous under the reign of Louis XIV.
The War of Devolution began in 1667, and Louis XIV led the charge as city after city fell to his armies. While he was back in Paris, he was very much missed by his mistress of the moment, Louise de La Vallière.
At the time, she was pregnant with their fourth child, and he was the only real love she had ever known. Determined to prove her love and impress him, Louise decided to join the rest of the court in traveling to meet up with the king - despite having been told to stay behind.
As Louise's carriage drew close to the queen's, she made the fateful decision to break etiquette and ordered her driver to overtake the queen. Marie Thérèse was not in any way amused by Louise's actions - in fact, she was so shocked that she vomited on her ladies' skirts. When the caravan stopped, Marie Thérèse's frosty attitude made it clear to Louise she should have stayed home.
But Louise wasn't about to back down. When the court moved on and could see the king in the distance, she once again had her driver race past the queen's carriage. The two coaches raced hard to reach the king first, with Louise as the winner. But instead of receiving an affectionate greeting from her lover, she heard him say only, "What, madame? Before the queen?" before he turned away.
In 1678 rumors flew that a member of Louis XIV's court was going to poison him. The accusation opened up a deep well of secrets and magic as dozens of members of the court were found to have used potions or spells on the king. At that time, Paris had a thriving underworld of magicians and sorcerers who sold their wares to the ambitious members of the court.
It was mainly ambition that drove them - Louis XIV could give them power, wealth, and social status at his discretion, so the people in his inner circle had plenty of reasons to compete for his favor and attention. One of the most anxious to secure her status as the king's primary mistress was Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise of Montespan. People believed Madame de Montespan was a customer of the most notorious sorceress in Paris, known as La Voisin. Allegedly, she laced the king's food with love potions and aphrodisiacs she purchased from this magical underworld - on more than one occasion.
In 1679 Louis XIV essentially criminalized magic and potion making. In an event known afterward as "The Affair of the Poisons," he formed a special tribunal that investigated 400 people over three years, sending 36 people to their death and 34 into exile.
Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans, Duchesse de Montpensier, was better known as La Grande Mademoiselle. She was a cousin of Louis XIV, and although she received many marriage offers (even one from Louis XIV himself), by her 40s she had become an old maid of the court.
However, one day a man finally caught her eye - it was the somewhat unattractive, charming yet rude Antoine Nompar de Caumont. He is better known today by the title he received later in life, Duc de Lauzun. Although Mademoiselle fell head-over-heels for him, he unfortunately didn't feel the same way. She did everything in her power to make him love her, and eventually he just gave in and agreed to marry her.
But the engagement was short-lived and ended on what would have been the couple's wedding day. Once other members of the court realized Mademoiselle was marrying a man who was essentially a nobody (and far beneath her), the king withdrew his permission.
Soon afterward, Lauzun found himself in prison because of various altercations with members of the court. After 10 years of begging the king to release the man she loved, Mademoiselle agreed to sacrifice some of her fortune to free him. Reportedly they did finally get married, but their relationship was volatile and ended with Lauzun permanently kicked out of their home.
The marriage between Henriette Anne of England and the king's brother, Philippe, the Duc d'Orléans, at first appeared genuinely loving and relatively stable; however, the facade quickly crumbled as both parties began having affairs. Henriette, known at court as Madame, was very close with Louis XIV and served as a diplomat for France's dealings with England. Rumor had it she was also very close with him in a sexual way.
There were plenty of rumors flying around Versailles regarding the intimate relationship between Henriette and Louis XIV, fueled by their many private rendezvous. And the idea that Henriette was sleeping with her husband's brother only added to the scandalous nature of the affair.