Weird History
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What Was It Really Like To Live At Versailles?

Updated November 5, 2019 303.2k views14 items

During its heyday from 1682 to 1789, Versailles wasn’t just a palace - it was the center of France’s royal world. French royals, nobles, and state officials lived together in the sprawling palace complex. But despite the regal setting, everyday life for courtiers at Versailles was often stressful, regimented, and surprisingly unsanitary.

The palace of Versailles was King Louis XIV’s pet project. Before it was the center of French court and state life, Versailles was a simple - albeit regal - hunting lodge outside of Paris. As a young man, Louis transformed the site into a palace fit for a Sun King and moved his court and government offices there in 1682.

Life at Versailles wasn’t always easy for nobles. Everyone who lived there had to participate in an elaborate system of weird etiquette rules aimed at establishing the king as an all-powerful monarch and his courtiers as obliging servants.

Versailles, its elaborate rituals, and its community of courtiers outlived Louis XIV. His successors - Louis XV followed by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette - continued to lord over the palace until the French Revolution dramatically ended the royal world in the late 1700s.

  • Feral Animals And Exotic Pets Walked Freely Around The Courtyard And Palace

    Photo: Workshop of Pierre Gobert / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Louis XIV loved pets, especially dogs - they had an allowance of 1446 livres a year (roughly $20,500 by modern standards), and royal bakers made treats for them every day. The king loved animals so much he even established a royal menagerie at Versailles; it housed animals ranging from elephants to flamingos.

    But royal pets weren’t the only animals at Versailles. It was common for courtiers to see animals - both feral and domesticated - lazing about the palace and grounds.

  • About 10,000 People Lived In The Palace - And Everyone But The Monarch Struggled For Space

    Photo: Pierre Patel / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    People didn’t just visit Versailles - many actually lived there. The palace housed roughly 10,000 nobles, government officials, and servants. Space for all those people was at a premium. Higher-ranking courtiers often had better rooms than lower-ranking ones. Prime real estate included the rooms closest to the king since they provided better royal access.

  • Courtiers Endeavored To Attain Higher Positions In The Royal Court

    Photo: Marot François / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The opportunity to serve the king was a coveted privilege. Doing something as mundane and relatively base as getting the king’s chamber pot was considered a high honor.

    Jockeying for different positions was thus a game of politics. Some positions could be bought, while others were bestowed to courtiers who had entered the king's or queen’s good graces. This was strategic: scheming for influence at court meant that nobles couldn’t plot to overthrow their king. A system built on royal favor ensured that court power remained in the hands of certain noble houses.

  • Many Courtiers Struggled To Find Time To Leave The Palace

    Photo: Adam Frans van der Meulen / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Courtiers’ days at Versailles were a jumble of ceremonies, rituals, and entertainments. This was by design: Louis XIV used these social performances as a way to control the nobility.

    By attending parties or watching the king dine, courtiers had little time to do anything else - including plotting the king’s demise. Higher-ranking courtiers couldn’t leave Versailles without the king’s permission.