Drama-documentary recreating the life and loves of France's most famous king, Louis XIV, who conducted many affairs and dazzled contemporaries with his lavish entertainments.
Browse content similar to The Dream of a King. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Louis XIV - so powerful, he took his name from the sun itself.
So dominant, he made the haughtiest aristocrats bend to his will.
So insatiable, that no one mistress could satisfy him for long.
Throughout a long and turbulent life, Louis sought magnificence in all things.
He strived for it in love...
in battle...and in art.
But above all, he wanted magnificence at Versailles
by creating a building so spectacular,
it would outshine any palace on Earth.
Taken from intimate memoirs and official records,
this is the story of how a king's obsession
created one of the wonders of the world.
It started in a swamp.
It was here, in a stretch of mosquito-infested marshland,
that Louis, the 27-year-old King of France,
decided to construct his new palace,
near a small and unremarkable country town called Versailles.
His courtiers were far from impressed.
It was almost as though Louis had deliberately picked the worst possible
site for his magnificent palace
in order to prove to the world that his will was greater than nature.
Louis had a sentimental reason for choosing Versailles.
It was the site of his father's old hunting lodge,
and as a boy, he'd played and hunted here.
The original chateau of Louis' father was on top of a hill.
The problem, if you wanted to turn it into a whacking great palace,
was that you weren't going to be building on flat land.
Louis was told, this is not a great place for a big expansion
of your father's chateau.
As a monarch with absolute power,
Louis wasn't used to being told what to do.
And he didn't much like it.
From the outset, Louis was thinking big.
He started by hiring the greatest architect of the age,
Louis Le Vau, to transform the hunting lodge into the palace of his dreams.
Louis was to devote much of his energy to his new project
but he was always sure to make time for his other great passion.
Although married to Queen Marie-Therese,
he had numerous affairs.
His current mistress was a young aristocratic beauty
called Louise De La Valliere.
Louis' attitude towards women was one of tremendous enthusiasm!
He really loved women. He didn't just love them for sex,
he loved their company, he loved their conversation,
he loved their elegance, he loved women who were witty and refined.
Most of all I think he loved women because they teased him,
they made him laugh.
He had a tremendous sexual appetite.
He would quite often, if his mistress was too slow in taking her dress off,
have a turn with her lady's maid while he was waiting,
or a passing servant in the corridor at Versailles.
He made love the way he did everything else, with enormous gusto.
A French king was expected to have a mistress.
It sort of symbolised the virility of the nation.
And, you know, a hundred years later, poor Louis XVI -
the French were furious with him because he DIDN'T have a mistress!
Louise De La Valliere was Louis XIV's first official mistress.
She was a lady-in-waiting at the court.
She was guileless, charming, daughter of a good family,
and she adored the King, and it was irresistible because she
convinced him, quite genuinely, that she loved him for himself.
And I think this is what the young King wanted to hear.
I think he had a very good time.
Louise was very important to him, he did love her.
They had two children together, he made her a duchess.
But it was a young man's crush, rather than a profound passion.
PANTING AND MOANING
Whatever his feelings for Louise,
Louis was always careful to fulfil all of his obligations to his wife.
His marriage to Queen Marie-Therese was politically vital.
It had ensured peace between France and Spain for many years.
And he needed to father children with her
to ensure that his dynasty lived on.
Louis did a feel a duty towards the Queen.
He made love to her frequently,
and she would always have a special mass said the day afterwards.
Everybody would nudge each other at court because she'd look very pleased as she came into the chapel.
He was attentive to her, polite to her.
They had children together, but she simply didn't have the looks or the
education or the spirit or the charm to captivate a man like that.
She accepted his infidelity, as did
most royal and aristocratic women of the time, as being part of marriage.
Louis' mosquito-bitten courtiers also had to accept their King for what he was.
Like all 17th century monarchs,
Louis believed himself appointed directly by God.
Nobody could tell him what to do, he was quite simply
the only power in the realm.
And having had this consciousness since he was a very, very small
child, I think it meant that he was, without any arrogance or hubris,
of the opinion that he was pretty much a god himself.
As a kind of living god, Louis liked nothing more
than being the centre of everyone else's attention.
Louis was brought up in a theatre-mad age.
As a young man, he took dancing lessons,
which seem to have completely transformed his self confidence.
He was actually a very accomplished dancer,
and he clearly enjoyed greatly taking part in these
performances, which were mainly in front of a court audience.
I think all his contemporaries were extremely impressed by him.
He was astonishingly handsome
with his long golden hair and his almost cherubic face.
He was indeed "God given", as his mother, Anne of Austria, called him.
Louis liked dressing up, and not just for fun.
It was part of his public image.
He chose as his role model the Greek god Apollo,
represented in classical imagery as the sun.
Louis was very interested in the sun as a symbol.
It's a very powerful symbol because it sheds its light everywhere.
It's obviously very beneficial.
But it's also a symbol of domination,
because all the other elements are subordinate to the sun.
He's in a sense, above everything.
The Sun King seems to be an appropriate title.
It was one that was a piece of propaganda when he was young.
But like many bits of propaganda, I think it became fact.
Le Vau's plans for the remodelling of Versailles were complete
and ready to present to his demanding boss.
Louis certainly knew that what he wanted
was a building which had that shock and awe effect.
There's absolutely no doubt that he wanted a building
that would be sensational.
Le Vau's model was impressive, but had a major flaw.
He planned to destroy the old hunting lodge.
The idea of Louis XIV was to
keep always the little chateau of his father.
So that was a problem for an architect because architects
prefer to destroy everything and to build a new building.
So Louis sent the architect away and told him,
"I want this little chateau preserved."
With Le Vau sent back to the drawing board,
Louis turned his attention to the landscape.
He wanted to expand the existing garden,
adding ornamental lakes and groves lined with dazzling fountains.
But he'd picked an awful site.
There were no views - it's hemmed in by the sides of a valley.
And also Versailles wasn't endowed,
the region, with the sort of trees which Louis wanted for his garden.
Louis's chief gardener was the century's most celebrated landscape designer,
Andre Le Notre. Versailles would be the greatest challenge of his career.
But the Sun King did not want to wait for his earthly paradise,
or for his trees to grow from saplings.
Louis XIV wanted results and he wanted them fast.
This was really a theme of the whole sort of Project Versailles.
And the solution was to uproot mature trees
from other parts of France and bring them in.
And a special contraption was invented,
a horse-drawn contraption, which would allow these
mature trees to be transported on, as you can imagine, these terribly
bad roads from other provinces.
With major new building work on hold,
Louis instructed Le Vau to upgrade the interior of Versailles.
On his inspection tours, Louis was accompanied by his
entourage, including mistress Louise De La Valliere.
But Louise now had a rival.
After a while he became bored with Louise, and she hung around
at court desperate to get his attention back. She never really did.
So I think she probably suffered quite a lot.
I think the King could pick and choose.
Power's a great aphrodisiac, and a crown even more so.
So naturally I think he picked very beautiful women.
Louis liked to display his power.
After winning a war against Spain,
he celebrated with a huge party in the gardens of Versailles.
It was also a chance for the King to show off
the woman who had now replaced Louise as his favourite mistress.
Her name was Madame De Montespan,
and she was one of the most beautiful women in France.
Montespan is such an attractive figure, I think.
She was a tremendous goer. She loved everything to do with pleasure.
She loved jewels, she liked marvellous clothes,
she liked food, flowers, gardening.
And above all she liked sex, you see, and he did too,
so he found the absolutely the right maitresse-en-titre for him.
And she knew about having wonderful feasts
and about having entertainments.
So she was exactly the kind of person Louis envisaged as being suitable. At the
same time she was so beautiful that ambassadors thought she contributed
to the legend of the Sun King.
The Sun King's festivities were about more than pleasure.
They had real political significance.
Louis was slowly turning his new palace into the most important
and the most fashionable seat of power in Europe.
The parties at Versailles,
they've been described as Pagan masses.
Fireworks, rides along the canal in gondolas,
balls for 3,000 people under the stars.
Plays, ballets with a hundred dancers by Lully.
Everything you could possibly imagine all at once
in this tremendous circus of celebration for the King.
The great parties were intended to show the nobility and the rest
of Europe how powerful the King of France was, what wonderful artists
he had, what wonderful musicians.
How superior his court and his culture were
to every other court and culture in Europe.
The King's former mistress Louise
eventually gave up trying to win him back.
After years of neglect, she decided
to enter a convent, leaving behind the children she'd had with Louis.
I don't think she felt guilt about leaving them
behind because she knew that they were going to be very well treated.
So I don't think she felt that kind of guilt, because I think
her big guilt she wanted to expunge with penance and fasting and all that in the convent.
And when she finally got away I think she was much happier.
And she became a very hard-line nun, you know, hair cut, hair-shirt,
praying and repentance, and generally ended her life more or less in the odour of sanctity.
Because Louis was spending more and more time at Versailles, he decided
to move his entire government there.
To accommodate the new officials, Le Vau suggested a brand new idea -
keeping the old hunting lodge
but enclosing it with massive new buildings on three sides.
The design was known as the "envelope".
The chateau was preserved, but it was enveloped in this new
building in a completely different style, which looked like a palace.
What he also did with Le Vau was to build pavilions for his ministers.
This was very important. What this meant was that for the first time,
Versailles could function as a seat of monarchy,
a place from which the King could govern.
Building the "envelope" was a massive task,
requiring thousands of workers.
The largest number of workers were 40,000 people at the same time.
It was a very dangerous place
also because the work to be done was not done in a secure way of course,
it was with accidents and people dying.
Louis was impatient to get the job done quickly.
Work went on day and night.
There was no health and safety regime.
And the workers who were most at risk
were the ones who were working high up.
So, for instance, the roofers, the carpenters.
We do know that there were a lot of accidents on site.
WOMAN CRIES OUT
There were times when the death rate, the mortality rate,
was high, and in order not to demoralise the workforce,
the corpses would be removed at night.
Louis' mistress Madame De Montespan was already married,
but that didn't stop her spending most of her time with the King.
And he made sure she got the VIP treatment.
She had a suite of 20 rooms whereas the Queen had to make do with 11.
They were gorgeously appointed, and he spent a lot of time in them.
They included a bathroom - most unusual for the time,
in which apparently he and Madame De Montespan spent many happy hours.
Despite her elevated status,
Montespan found it hard to share Louis, even with his own wife.
I don't think she was really jealous of the Queen because after all she had
everything of Louis' real love, and she knew it.
But I think she made scenes about the other mistresses,
when they came along as the years passed.
And I think there are some men - possibly Louis among them - who
rather like it if a woman is jealous and shows signs of caring.
You know, she certainly complained like mad if she felt
he was straying from what was in fact an illegitimate relationship.
Louis kept a close eye on the building works.
But one inspection visit brought a nasty surprise.
A mother angry at the death of her son, killed on site,
was waiting for him.
We're told that she just let fly at Louis XIV.
I mean, he was very surprised. He said, "Is that me?"
This was a courageous thing for this mother to have done, because
there were guards everywhere,
and of course as soon as she had said this she was very quickly
hustled away for her punishment.
SHE CRIES OUT
Le Notre's ambitious plans were finally taking shape.
And Louis' dream of creating the most spectacular palace in Europe
was slowly becoming a reality.
Louis' great gardener, his real gift
was for rearranging the landscape basically and dividing it up on a
grid, and then you treat the units within the grid essentially as outdoor rooms.
And then you would bring in all sorts of other people -
water engineers, sculptors,
architects, essentially to furnish these rooms.
The "envelope" around the old hunting lodge was complete.
Louis' ministers were installed in their new apartments, and the King
began governing from Versailles.
Now, Louis decided he would make the palace his permanent home,
and insisted that leading French nobles come and live there too.
There's no question that for Louis, the nobility,
particularly the court nobility, were an essential aspect of his kingship.
They surrounded him with glory and status.
This is a state where the ultimate decider
on granting favour or refusing favour is in the hands of the king.
If you were looking for a military command, if you
were looking for favours for many of your clients, supporters and family,
then the way to achieve this was by getting access to Louis
and to a lesser extent by gaining access to the ministers around Louis.
But housing all the nobles would mean yet more building work.
Louis' finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert
worried about the cost.
Louis wanted the nobility at Versailles in order that
he could keep an eye on them.
The message he wanted to give to his nobles was this -
"You don't need to rebel to get what you want.
"What you have to do is come and pay your court to me."
Original architect Louis Le Vau died before his project was complete.
His replacement, Jules Mansart, had ideas of his own.
Mansart had the great idea to have big wings
each side of the "envelope", to make some accommodation for
the princes and the court, so it was a huge design,
and I think he had a greater idea
of what would be a great palace for a great king.
Mansart's most ambitious proposal
was to build a fabulous gallery lined with mirrors.
However magnificent the plans,
Louis' experience with his builders was a familiar one.
Everything took much longer and cost far more than the estimates.
And they made a terrible mess.
Nothing is more false than these gracious pictures of Versailles,
which shows this stately place with everything perfect, everybody gliding about.
Actually, it was a huge building site.
All the court ladies complained about it.
The workmen starting at 6am, my dear, the dust
and the smell of wet plaster which got into their hair.
It's exactly like today - exactly like what we feel on a tiny scale
when our neighbours go building.
Must have been an amazing sight.
I mean, the first day in at Versailles.
Everybody starts jostling, jostling, jostling for bigger rooms and
better rooms and a better position.
In meantime, the lesser folk, they were trying to get down from the
attics, get better rooms, always to get as near as possible to the King.
At night, there was this sort of great unrolling of
mattresses all over the palace, as servants and soldiers, guards,
they'd go to sleep on the floor.
The lavatory arrangements were pretty kind of basic.
Servants would think nothing of relieving themselves
in the corridors of Versailles.
So you have this extraordinary attention on outward appearances
and magnificent clothes, but alongside you have all these smells.
I mean, you could have been in a farmyard.
I think many of the nobility would have resented the chaos
and lack of order, and doubtless complained about this at length.
But I think one shouldn't underestimate the compulsive desire
of most of the great nobility to attend at court
to be around the King.
Louis' desire for magnificence
extended to every aspect of his life - especially his wardrobe.
He dressed in the finest cloth
and expected his courtiers to do likewise.
And when his hair began to recede,
he adopted the fashion for elaborate wigs.
A half inch of lace on a cuff, a gold or a silver button,
whether your pearl was here on your collar or here.
These could mean life and death to the courtiers.
Fashion was hugely important and it was a very important way for
the aristocracy to distinguish themselves from the ordinary people.
Louis influenced fashion to some extent.
When he was a young man he dressed quite flamboyantly -
lots of cavalier silks and laces and ribbons.
He was a bit on the short side, so he introduced a fashion
for high-heeled shoes. His mistresses perhaps
were more influential on fashion.
Madame De Montespan invented various outfits including one,
the glorious deshabille, which was a sort of a tunic worn over trousers,
and she invented this because it was very easy to take off.
Normally a lady's dress required two women to stand behind her to
undo all the strings, and of course Louis was an impatient man, he couldn't be bothered waiting.
So she invented this so that he could undress her easily in private.
With so many courtiers now craving his attention, Louis kept them busy
by turning his daily activities into public rituals.
When he gets up in the morning, that's the royal lever, with a
great queue of great nobles who hand him different articles of clothing.
At night it's all reversed, it's the royal coucher
and he takes things off and gives them to nobles.
Great nobles would quarrel with one another as to which of them had the
right to hand him his shirt,
because it had to be the person of highest rank in the room.
They couldn't go off to the country on their estates and
start raising armies, meddling. It meant that they had to stay there,
quarrelling about whose turn it was to give the King his napkin.
Even the King's mealtimes turned into a performance, where the nobles
stood and watched the King eat, waiting for him to speak to them.
One of the phenomena of Versailles was the sight of leading nobles
adopting these very deferential poses.
This was actually a very powerful signal that the monarchy was back in charge.
For the courtiers, flattery became a way of life.
For instance, one courtier, a great nobleman in his province,
Louis says to him, "When is your wife's baby due?"
And this nobleman says, "When your majesty wishes it."
As well as accommodating thousands of courtiers and officials,
Versailles was also used by the King to promote France itself.
There was a deliberate intention to create a showcase
for French manufacturers and to rival or outdo
Italy above all, which was the great source of taste in the 17th century.
The magnificence of the interior - of course, it was all about the
splendour of the monarchy and the splendour of Louis XIV.
Louis personally loved rich materials and fine craftsmanship.
But it was also a careful orchestration of Louis XIV's -
France's - claim to lead Europe in terms of taste and the arts.
As building progressed, Louis commissioned hundreds of paintings,
sculptures and other decorations, many containing images of himself
as the embodiment of French glory.
This was no accident.
If you compare Louis with rulers before, it is remarkable how he had professional advice.
So, he's not presenting his image by himself.
There was a whole back-up team of intellectuals, writers.
This is a real innovation, that there should be a small committee
of people who are simply working on how to present the king's image
in the most grand manner possible.
The great French painter Charles Le Brun was recruited to the cause.
Louis' image-makers liked art that presented him as a conquering
hero - drawing on figures from ancient mythology like Jupiter
and his favourite, Apollo.
The association with the image of very powerful men of the past
were part of the strategy of being
the best king and the most powerful and most important king of the time.
Louis' public image may have included a fair amount of 17th century hype.
But he was certainly a remarkable man.
He goes hunting three times a day, goes to council meetings
three times a day, he's a very hard worker,
he makes love three times a day -
we must conclude the man had amazing energies.
Louis' restless pursuit of glory and magnificence
found expression in the gardens of Versailles.
But even the King could not change the geography of a region that was
critically short of running water to power the hundreds of new fountains
that Le Notre had installed.
And so, when the King took a stroll,
his gardeners had to turn the fountains on as he approached.
And then off again once he had walked past.
The problem of getting supplies of fast running, high-pressure water
were never adequately solved.
Various attempts were made to find alternative sources from
quite far away from Versailles.
The celebrated Machine of Marly was a series of vast water wheels which
were intended to bring water up from the Seine
and deliver it to the Palace of Versailles.
This provided water but not enough...
The great and final scheme involved building a full scale Roman-style aqueduct.
This was abandoned as being too expensive and the result,
of course, was that the great gardens of Versailles never
had enough water to drive all the fountains simultaneously.
Fortunately, there was enough glass to furnish the Palace's most ambitious development,
the result of six years' intense work.
This was Mansart and Le Brun's most stunning achievement,
Versailles' Hall of Mirrors.
I think the effect of the gallery is more a dream.
A wonderful light given by the mirrors.
And it's... I think it's very impressive. And astonishing.
Versailles is undoubtedly one of the great palaces.
Louis would have wanted us to think of the chateau as
an integrated whole.
Not to focus on specific items,
whether the Hall of Mirrors or the Great Canal.
And as an integrated unit it completely outshines, I think,
almost every other palace ever conceived or built.
Louis said of his house, "Versailles, c'est moi."
Louis was Versailles, he was his house.
If we understand one, we understand the other.
The King wishes to assert his authority and maintain his position.
He has to do it through display.
Versailles is an ideal theatre set on which he can act out
what he regards as his royal duties.
Versailles from this view point fulfils those requirements
better than almost any other building that could be imagined.
Louis' love affair with his palace
lasted longer than any of his human relationships.
After 14 years, nine pregnancies and seven children,
Montespan was beginning to lose her looks and her hold on the king.
Madame de Montespan began to fall out of favour because,
inevitably, after nine pregnancies, her figure wasn't quite what it was.
She became rather blousy, she drank too much,
she gambled too much, she made a nuisance of herself with
her tantrums, and I think, as happens to a lot of women, the more she felt
her man slipping away from her,
the more needy and clingy she became,
and the more needy and clingy she became, the more she drove him away.
But I think Louis was also undergoing quite a significant personal transformation.
He was becoming much more religious.
Madame de Montespan was a married woman.
Committing adultery with an unmarried woman was one thing,
but double adultery was sacrilege.
It was a tremendous scandal,
and he was becoming conscious of the fact that his way of life was
really compromising the state and compromising his kingship.
Louis turned to a very different woman.
Madame de Maintenon - governess to his illegitimate children.
Maintenon was pious, quiet and intelligent.
Qualities that a middle-aged Louis had come to admire.
Poor Madame de Maintenon had to do everything.
She had to act as a cook, plumber, gardener, as well as a teacher and nursemaid.
It was exhausting, and she did this so well that Louis began to pay attention to her.
He noticed this, this intelligent woman, this calm presence.
Slowly, slowly Madame de Maintenon began to seduce the King.
Rejected mistress Montespan was distraught.
I think it was the rise of Maintenon in the first place
which really riled her because she found she'd made a mistake -
she'd underestimated another woman.
Maintenon was poor, and a widow
and innocuous and very pleasant and intelligent.
And she didn't spot that Louis might actually fall in love with a woman
like that, you know, and it might be a very seductive thing to him,
in quite a different way from her own seductive past.
And I think, for a couple of years at least, she was extremely angry.
When Louis' long-suffering queen, Marie Therese, died,
he was free to marry again.
And he turned to the quiet governess.
She'd not only won his heart,
she'd convinced him she could help save his soul.
17th century mentality - it was very different.
The attention paid to salvation, dying in a state of grace so you
didn't go to hell was enormous, and Louis, who in some ways was
quite simple took this very, very, seriously and I think Maintenon
persuaded him that she could help him towards his salvation.
As Maintenon was a commoner,
the King could only marry her behind closed doors.
He did need a secret church wedding, a morganatic wedding,
as they're called, in the presence of clergy and witnesses.
After that, he's all right with God and the church - he can go to
communion, it's all perfectly OK.
And it's interesting that Louis never declared the marriage
because she wasn't a princess.
He had his own values, that is, he would have his private life,
but in public, he was solitary.
In public, Louis concentrated on running his palace.
And his court life at Versailles became ever more formalised.
I think the establishment of the full court at Versailles really turned it
into the great social political power broking centre of France.
Versailles was exciting, if you thought like a French nobleman.
Because Louis XIV was your host.
You would spend the evening in the physical presence of the King of France.
You would be admitted to his gaming table.
You would be invited to dance in front of the King. Now, for nobles,
this was an enormously prestigious, an enormously flattering thing.
The court of Versailles could be seen as a cross, perhaps, between
Royal Ascot and the dealing floor of a futures exchange.
A combination of a very
socially elite group who already know each other and can interact with each
other and at the same time a group of hardened professionals who have their
own language and their own codes.
Who know how to strike deals, and to extract the best possible advantages
from a particular situation.
Versailles was the original hotbed of scandal.
The phrase with which everyone began their conversation was, "On dit" -
"it's being said." They're saying this, they're saying that.
All day, these whispers of rumour would travel about the palace
and people would send each other little bulletins by sedan chair,
to report on what was going on in the different rooms and that of
course made it a tremendously claustrophobic place to live.
You couldn't do anything without everybody knowing about it.
It was this extraordinary networking centre.
Everyone who was anyone in France, was now at Versailles,
so to be excluded was disastrous for a French nobleman.
The worst thing that a courtier could hear from the King
was, "He's a man I never see."
People would spend literally years
trying to hear one word or have a gesture from the King.
With the nobility now so dependent on him,
Louis could fully immerse himself in the role he was born to play.
He emerges as this absolutely consummate performer.
The whole regime at Versailles hinged on your having this
extraordinarily charismatic figure who could perform in all the right
ways for this enormous audience which he had assembled around him.
But Louis was only human. And after years of good health,
he began to suffer from a serious medical problem, an anal fistula.
This was an extremely serious condition in the context of the 17th century.
The risk of it becoming gangrenous - that the pus would seep into the rest
of the body and infect - was very great indeed.
Untreated, it would almost certainly have killed the King.
The only way that it was likely to be cured was through invasive surgery.
Such surgery had had a very poor success rate.
But Louis instructed his doctors to go ahead.
His senior physician devised a new instrument
especially for the operation.
The doctors involved in the operation
practised on a number of others who had anal fistulas before hand.
But it was nonetheless still a very risky operation.
In the 17th century, the doctors were much more likely to kill you than cure you.
Huge effort was made at Versailles to keep the details of this secret
because it was felt so likely that the King wouldn't survive,
that the diplomatic repercussions of this would sweep through Europe.
HE GASPS AND MURMURS
He was so stalwart during the operation, he never spoke at all.
Imagine the pain, no anaesthetic.
This extraordinary self control he had,
he just gritted his teeth and conducted himself with great dignity.
And that night, he took a counsel meeting.
Extraordinary, very pale with a sort of sheen of sweat, but he made it.
Louis recovered his health, but other troubles were looming.
His fame and success had earned him many enemies.
Two years after his operation,
France began a costly war against Spain, England and Sweden.
As the fighting dragged on, some of Versailles' silver was
quietly removed and melted down to pay the King's soldiers.
Unable to win the war, Louis signed an unfavourable peace treaty,
conceding territory to his enemies.
The Sun King was finally in decline and, although he continued to make
small improvements to his great palace,
he lost much of his enthusiasm.
After just four years of peace, a new crisis threatened.
The Spanish king died, leaving his empire to Louis' grandson.
If Louis accepted on the boy's behalf, he knew the other European powers would try to stop him.
But if he refused, the territories would go to France's rivals in Austria.
He was in an impossible situation.
Louis was damned if he did, damned if he didn't.
Faced with an issue which concerns the honour of his dynasty,
it's perhaps not surprising that he opts for the acceptance of the Spanish offer.
But inevitably, therefore, provokes war with the other major European powers.
This, the most gruelling war of Louis' reign,
lasted for 12 years and brought France to the brink of ruin.
As Louis grew old and frail, he fell ever more under the influence of his
devout wife, and now shunned the lavish amusements
that had once filled his beloved palace.
I think Versailles became a chilly, tedious place in many respects once
de Maintenon got Louis into her grip.
It became this sort of rather dreary world
where whatever the King of France was doing, you could set your
watch by - you could look at a clock at any hour of the day and
know exactly where Louis was, and his whole life became this, this endless
choreography of etiquette and ritual, with Madame de Maintenon sitting
there in the corner like some sort of holy spider watching it all.
Maintenon was a comfort to Louis when he needed it the most.
Illness took the life of many members of his family, including
a son and grandson, and he was haunted by the legacy of his wars.
I think Louis was a tragic figure in his final days.
I think the tragedy began with the sudden deaths of so many of his nearest and dearest.
Louis had Maintenon by his side, but she said about him that sometimes he
would be alone with her, he'd shut the doors
and then he would just weep about the way things had gone.
I think it was a very sad old age, you know,
outliving his descendents, and having led France into these wars,
which seemed wonderful when he was winning them and became ghastly when he wasn't.
Aged 76, and after 72 years on the throne,
Louis was once again taken seriously ill.
No-one expected Louis XIV to live as long as he did.
When Louis finally weakens in the last year of his life,
it's the result of a gangrenous infection which gradually spreads
from his leg to the rest of the left side of his body.
Even Louis' own death became a public performance.
In spite of their long intimacy,
Maintenon wasn't actually at the King's side when he died.
That was not the practice.
By her own wish she went off to a
convent to be among ladies who would sucker her and sympathise with her,
leaving him to priest and, ultimately, to God.
He died rather slowly, and so she came back once I think, twice,
to be with him again.
But ultimately, it was time for her to go.
The heir to the throne was a really tiny child,
a little five-year-old boy, and he's brought in to see his
grandfather, and his grandfather sort of
tells him to be a good king but says, "I have loved war too much."
Very sad dying words from Louis XIV, certainly true.
Throughout his long reign,
Louis sought to bring glory to himself and his country.
That lifelong devotion, expressed in the extraordinary
palace he built at Versailles,
is the reason he's become part of the very essence of France.
He didn't just leave glorious monuments, beautiful
buildings, fabulous paintings,
he left a sense of identity which has endured until today.
Louis certainly embodies, I think, the idea of the greatness of France.
He was the king and you were the subject,
and there was never any doubt about that.
He imposed his will on the world so splendidly in every respect.
He wanted to impress everybody, and I think he succeeded.
The scale of the vision is breathtaking.
No-one did it like Louis.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Drama-documentary recreating the life and loves of France's most famous king, Louis XIV.
Dubbed the Sun King by his admiring court, Louis conquered half of Europe, conducted dozens of love affairs and dazzled his contemporaries with his lavish entertainments. But perhaps his greatest achievement - and certainly his longest lasting love - was the incredible palace he built at Versailles, one of the wonders of the world.
Filmed in the spectacular staterooms, bedrooms and gardens of Versailles itself, this beautifully photographed drama-documentary brings the reign of one of Europe's greatest and most flamboyant monarchs triumphantly to life, with the help of interviews with the world's leading experts on his reign.