Research

Court identities and the myth of Versailles in Europe: perception, adherence and rejection (18th-19th centuries)

Duration: 2017-2019

The “modern” courts in Europe included the institutional, social, societal and cultural aspects concomitant with the political affirmation of personalities emerging, by agreement or through conflict, from communities exercising power together in order to seize authority for their own personal benefit and to develop a range of encomiastic processes for their own person. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, the princely courts in Europe did not confine themselves to one single paradigm. There were as many courts as there were princely houses, as many “national” types, even if some, like the Burgundian court in the 15th century and the courts in northern and central Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, proposed models and exercised influence from one end of Europe to the other, while accommodating indigenous influences. What was new was that in 18th and 19th century Europe the princely courts referred to a model that would become the archetype: Versailles. From the 1680s, when Louis XIV established his court at Versailles, the French court was held up as a paradigm in relation to which all the others positioned themselves. This system of reference continued throughout the 19th century. Even when Versailles had foundered, along with Louis XIV’s legacy of absolute monarchy, in October 1789, its aura was strengthened by European monarchies, which persisted and even multiplied, continuing until their collapse in 1918.

This model has a reality in the French court as configured by Louis XIV. But this configuration falls short of the model used as a reference. Versailles is a myth - developed, certainly, by the French, but equally, if not more so, by their European competitors. A phenomenon that requires investigation: why did Versailles become a key reference, or not, for European courts? There are two parts to this question:

  1. What are the elements that make up this myth? How do we define this archetypal court presented as ideal? What provided the impetus, and what were the processes through which this myth developed? This question stretches well beyond France, and should be put to all those in Europe who constructed – or not – the fantasy of Versailles.
  2. How was this myth received – adopted, resisted or refused?

Research will be organised along five different lines, through which the idea of the “perfect court”, such as we find at Versailles, can be defined: organisational model, public and private areas in the residence, reigning and governing in Europe, palace and democracy, State and palace rituals.

Team

Scientific Director: Gérard Sabatier, Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the Université Pierre Mendès-France – Grenoble II, President of the Scientific Committee

  • Antonio Alvarez-Ossorio, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid,
  • Maciej Forycki, Uniwersytet Adam Mickiewicz, Poznań,
  • Mark Hengerer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich,
  • Christine Jeanneret, Centre de recherche du château de Versailles and the Danish National Museum, Frederiksborg, Denmark,
  • Jean-Marie Le Gall, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne,
  • Flavie Leroux, Centre de recherche du château de Versailles,
  • Francine-Dominique Liechtenhan, Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
  • Philip Mansel, The Society for Court Studies,
  • Andrea Merlotti, Centro Studi La Venaria Reale,
  • Thierry Sarmant, Service Historique de la Défense,
  • Jonathan Spangler, Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • Thomas W. Gaehtgens, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
  • Productions planned

  • Formation of a database listing the accounts of foreign visitors to the domain, the Palace and the Court of Versailles, between the second half of the 17th century and the end of the 19th century,
  • Publications of historiographical summary articles on the “myth of Versailles” in Europe in the Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles,
  • Symposium “The Myth of Versailles and European Courts, 18th and 19th centuries” (château de Versailles, end of 2020).
    See our call for papers.

Call for papers

Consult our call for papers related to this area of research on the Bulletin du Centre de recherche.

Website produced with the support of:
Château de Versailles
Conseil général des Yvelines
©CRCV