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‘Nothing in the World is Finer’: Diplomatic Correspondence as a Record of Versailles, 1670–1715

« Rien n’est plus beau au monde » : Versailles au prisme des correspondances diplomatiques, 1670-1715
Stephen Griffin

Résumés

Les dépêches et les rapports ont toujours été au cœur des pratiques diplomatiques. Cependant, les papiers ministériels sont rarement intégrés au genre de la littérature de voyage. Les diplomates se placent généralement eux-mêmes au centre de l’attention dans leurs relations, en décrivant leurs interactions à la cour plus que les villes et les palais qu’ils ont l’occasion de visiter. Dans leurs correspondances officielles, ils commentent souvent brièvement l’architecture et les comportements des habitants des pays qu’ils visitent ; ils peuvent néanmoins en dire davantage dans les lettres adressées à leurs amis et à leur famille. Les diplomates anglais peuvent ainsi donner parfois leurs impressions sur les fêtes, les bâtiments et les lieux qu’ils découvrent dans le cadre d’une ambassade. Cet article retrace la présence de Versailles, de sa cour et de ses visiteurs dans les correspondances de ces ministres envoyés par le roi d’Angleterre (plus tard de Grande-Bretagne). L’objectif est de rendre compte et d’examiner la place tenue par le palais dans les sources diplomatiques, tout en soulignant à la fois les similitudes et les différences d’un ministre à l’autre.

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Introduction

  • 1 Duindam 2003, p. 167.
  • 2 Burke 1992, p. 65; Dickens 1977, p. 7.
  • 3 Dickens 1977, p. 7.
  • 4 Sowerby and Craigwood, 2019, pp. 1–5.
  • 5 Sherman 2002, p. 27.
  • 6 Lachs 1965, p. 246.

1This essay is an examination of the palace and gardens of Versailles in the correspondence of English diplomats between 1670 and 1715. Versailles was, as Jeroen Duindam described, the ‘vaut-le-voyage’ for travellers in France.1 From 1682 it was the main residency of Louis XIV and his court. The early modern court was a centre of culture and cultural endeavours can be another form of statecraft and diplomacy.2 It provided a basic propagandic function which was to impress visitors and to suggest that it was a hub of power.3 Foreign diplomats would travel there to have their audiences with the King and to see the fountains and gardens. The presence of Versailles in the letters of English diplomats reflects its role as a space for diplomacy based upon their perceptions and writings. Writing has always been an important part of diplomatic practice. Early modern theorists saw the connection between diplomacy and literature.4 Ambassadors and envoys could see themselves as being well suited to write travel narratives.5 However, the writings to which they devoted most of their time, their diplomatic correspondence, are often unsuitable as a form of travel writing. The focus of reports was upon the diplomats themselves and their interactions with the monarchs and ministers at the courts to which they were assigned. Reports to ministers at home will often say nothing about the culture or geography of the host court and remain focused on the business at hand. However, as Phyllis Lachs noted, letters sent home to friends and family can reveal more about their experiences.6 In tracing references to Versailles in diplomatic correspondence it should be possible, however, to outline the impressions that the diplomats had both of the buildings and the grounds and its court. It should also be possible to assess the extent to which Versailles appears as a centre of cultural diplomacy in their writings.

From leisure castle to royal residence

  • 7 Curran 1903, p. 54, Perwich to Arlington, 25 December 1669.
  • 8 Ibid., pp. 15, 94, 124, 163, 239, Perwich to Williamson, 1 June 1669; 18 June 1670; 24 December 167 (...)
  • 9 Nicholson 1710, p. 298, Sunderland to Danby, 22 August 1678.
  • 10 Curran 1903, p. 212, Perwich to Williamson, 6 April 1672; Historical Manuscripts Commission (hereaf (...)
  • 11 Curran 1903, p. 269, Perwich to Arlington, 29 August 1673; Cooper 1858, pp. 194–5, Savile to Jenkin (...)
  • 12 HMC 1874, pp. 238 and 241, Lockhart to Coventry, 3 October 1674; 27 March 1675; HMC 1896, p. 389, B (...)

2The appearance of Versailles in correspondence mirrors its growing prominence as the primary residence of the French court. In William Perwich’s dispatches there are recurring references to the King and his entourage having gone to the château for breaks and holidays. In December 1669, Perwich noted that there were plans to build a wall around the château to turn Versailles into a ‘little city’ where all the nobility would build houses for themselves.7 Occasionally the English ambassadors also visited, but for the most part they usually remarked on the King’s having travelled there or his plans to do so.8 More often than not, they had their audiences with Louis in Paris, usually at Saint-Germain. ‘Since I came hither’, wrote Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, ‘I am sure I have passed three quarters of my time at Saint-Germain’.9 William Lockhart, John Brisbane and Ralph Montagu all appear to have spent much of their time having audiences at Saint-Germain. Nonetheless, Lockhart obtained an audience at Versailles where he was well received in 1672 and he would return there in 1674.10 Perwich would salute the King there in 1673, while Henry Savile would also make the journey.11 Letters could be addressed from Versailles, denoting a diplomat’s presence but often revealing very little else.12

  • 13 See Tiberghien 2006.
  • 14 HMC 1879, pp. 308 and 318, Preston to Sunderland, 12 July; 11 November 1684.
  • 15 Walton 1986, p. 130.
  • 16 Ibid., pp. 132–3. For Colbert’s work on Versailles see Clément 1868, vol. V. For Louvois see Sarman (...)
  • 17 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 110, Preston to Sunderland, 8 November 1684.
  • 18 HMC 1879, pp. 317–8, Preston to Sunderland, 11 October 1684; 28 October 1684; 4 November 1684.

3Restoration works and improvements were often commented upon. Construction at Versailles was a constant.13 Richard Graham, Lord Preston’s correspondence provides an account of building and repair work. In 1684 he writes that the Peace of Nijmegen had allowed for 15,000 people and ten battalions of soldiers to be set to work in the area removing a large hill that was interfering with the view from the palace.14 When Jean-Baptiste Colbert died in 1683, he was replaced by François-Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois as superintendent of the King’s buildings.15 Under Louvois, projects begun by Colbert were quickly completed and the King was kept regularly informed of what was being done at Versailles while he was away.16 While Versailles underwent repair, Preston wrote that the place was unfit to receive the King.17 The beams and roof of the gallery were also ordered to be repaired and this was all overseen by Louvois while the King stayed at Fontainebleau.18

  • 19 Lossky 1994, p. 113.
  • 20 Duindam 2003, p. 155.
  • 21 Curran 1903, p. 38, Perwich to Arlington, 19 October 1669.
  • 22 Ibid., p. 38, Perwich to Williamson, 5 September 1671; Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 8–9, (...)
  • 23 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f. 172–3, Preston to Sunderland, 23 December 1684.
  • 24 HMC 1933, vol. I, p. 237, Newsletter addressed to Thomas Errington, 6 February 1696.

4Andrew Lossky describes the 1660s as the greatest period for life at Versailles particularly for fêtes and entertainments.19 The diplomats occasionally made reference to the balls and festivals being held there. One can find references to special masquerades such as médianoche which began at 11 o’clock at night and continued until dawn.20 The diplomats mention these but often only in passing. ‘The King comes to Versailles this night to pass his medianoche’, » wrote Perwich in 1669.21 On another occasion he wrote that after the festivities, there would be a celebration for the King’s birthday, while Preston could describe the entertainments that proceeded the event such as cavalcades, games like running at the ring and a ball.22 After the court permanently moved to Versailles, the festivities being held there continued to be mentioned and remarked upon. During Christmas 1685, there were assemblies, balls, comedies, and performances of operas by Lully.23 Accounts from 1696 make reference to preparations for Carnival and the entertainments being planned by the King for the ladies of the court.24

  • 25 Curran 1903, p. 106, Perwich to Arlington, 23 August 1670; Berger and Hedin 2008, pp. 19–20; Hutton(...)
  • 26 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 224–5, Preston to Sunderland, 23 May 1685.
  • 27 HMC 1879, p. 325, Preston to Sunderland, 28 April 1685.
  • 28 HMC 1904, p. 317, Prior to Portland, 4 March 1699.
  • 29 Curran 1903, p. 199, Perwich to Williamson, 20 February 1672; HMC 1879, p. 346, Preston to Bulstrod (...)

5Some of these entertainments could take on a diplomatic character. Extensive festivities were held for George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, when he visited as a special envoy in 1670 to negotiate an alliance between Louis and Charles II.25 The Doge of Genoa and his party were invited to see the fountains and a ball was held in their honour, in 1685.26 Furthermore, a carousel was meant to have been performed for them but Preston wrote that it had been postponed until June because ‘those who were to have appeared and acted in it are found to do it with so little address that his most Christian Majesty is rather willing to lay aside the thought’.27 When the English embassy visited in March 1699, there was a ball followed by a ‘private masquerade in Madame [de] Maintenon’s apartments from 7 till 10’ after which another masque was held in the Dauphin’s apartments.28 Festivities could hinder the obtaining of news and carrying out of duties. Both Perwich and Preston commented on the lack of news when the court turned its attention to entertainments such as ballet and opera.29

Symbol of an absolute monarchy

  • 30 Note addressed to a person in authority to ask for justice or a favour.
  • 31 Lossky 1994 p. 114; Duindam 2003, p. 165.
  • 32 Ibid., p. 114; ibid. p. 165–7.
  • 33 HMC 1879, p. 271, Preston to Bishop of London, 30 September 1682.
  • 34 HMC 1904, p. 192, Prior to Montague, 18 February 1698. See also Legg 1921.
  • 35 Onnekink 2007, p. 208–9.
  • 36 HMC 1879, p. 324, Preston to Sunderland, 23 December 1684. As reported by the marquis de Dangeau in (...)
  • 37 HMC 1879, p. 324.

6When Louis XIV made the château his permanent residence, references to the palace and activity at court increase. The King was continuously on display like an actor for the crowds to see and it was possible to interact with him when he received ‘placets’30 or when he was in the park.31 There were relatively few restrictions for public access, especially for diplomats.32 ‘We have access to the King at all times’, noted Preston, ‘and may discourse him upon indifferent things’.33 Matthew Prior, who was there in 1698 and would return again in 1712, was unflattering in his description of Louis, noting the King’s habit of picking his teeth and finding him immensely vain.34 When Hans Willem Bentinck, the Earl of Portland arrived at Versailles on 11 March 1697 after his official entry to Paris, a large crowd had gathered to see him and he was required to push his way through to see the King.35 The openness of the court could sometimes lead to rowdiness. In December 1684, Preston wrote that the marquis de Termes had been attacked in the grounds by ‘a good number of persons in disguise’ and was taken from his chair and beaten.36 ‘There are several young men of the first quality extremely dissolute and very free in their expressions’, wrote Preston without naming names and Louis was, he continued, coming close to banishing them from court.37

  • 38 Cole 1733, p. 35, Manchester to Jersey, 19 August 1699.
  • 39 HMC 1933, vol. IV, pp. 189, 197, 216, 269 and 285, Portland to William III, 10–20 April; 15–25 Apri (...)
  • 40 Grimblot 1848, vol. I, p. 443, Portland to William III, 4 May 1698. See da Vinha and Masson 2015, p (...)
  • 41 Walton 1986, pp. 189–90.
  • 42 Hardwicke 1778, vol. II, p. 540, Stair’s journal, 13 August 1715.
  • 43 Ibid., p. 538-39, Stair’s journal, 11 August 1715.
  • 44 Ibid., p. 539, Stair’s journal, 12 August 1715.
  • 45 Ibid., p. 540, Stair’s journal, 13 August 1715.
  • 46 Ibid., p. 542, Stair’s journal, 16 August; 19 August 1715.

7Occasionally, we find the ambassadors at the activities which the King carried out in his daily routine. They are rarely described because as Charles Montagu, 1st Duke of Manchester informed William III, the King would already be familiar with them.38 Portland states that he was in attendance at the lever on different dates between April and June 1698.39 He was also honoured and asked to hold a candle (bougeoir) at the King’s coucher.40 After 1701, the lever and coucher would take place in a more impressive setting as the King’s bedroom was moved to the Grand Salon.41 John Dalrymple, 2nd Earl of Stair was late to Versailles one morning in 1715 and missed the lever despite having made notes of his questions for the King.42 By this point, Louis was ill and suffering from gangrene, from which he died on 1 September 1715. Stair’s records describe the very public decline of Louis at court and highlights the King’s attempt to continue to display himself until he was no longer able to do so. At a meeting at the Tuileries, the duc de Bourbon informed him that the King was becoming increasingly ill.43 The next day Stair journeyed to Versailles where he saw Louis, visibly in pain and reliant upon a cane, come to dine.44 The next day following the lever, the King was carried to Mass.45 He was carried to Madame [de] Maintenon’s apartments on Friday 16 August, and three days later, after his meal, he was taken out in a chair.46

  • 47 Roosen 1980, p. 467.
  • 48 Lossky 1994, p. 173.
  • 49 Ibid., p. 173.

8As an outlet for non-verbal communication, Versailles’s physical spaces and structure were a prime example of what Roosen called ‘situational communication’.47 In 1684, the French had subjected Genoa to severe bombardment in response to the city’s recruitment of soldiers to serve in the Spanish army.48 In the aftermath, the Doge was required to come to Versailles to offer Louis his apologies.49 The Doge’s visit to Versailles was witnessed by Preston, who wrote:

  • 50 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 211–7, Preston to Sunderland, 16 May 1685.

About 12 o’clock he was ordered to audience through a prodigious crowd of people from the Salle des Ambassadeurs […] to this King’s great apartment. When he arrived and when he crossed the court he did not find the French and Suisse guards standing to their arms with their drums beating and colours flying as they do when ambassadors from Kings are received. In ascending the great stairs he only found the Cent Suisse in order, though without their habit of ceremony, and in the Salle des Gardes he found the Gardes des Corps in rank […] He passed through all the greatest apartment which was magnificently furnished and adorned […] to the long gallery, in which all the conquests and triumphs of this King are represented in painting. At the end of the gallery his most Christian Majesty appeared, surrounded by Monseigneur le Dauphin, Monsieur le Duc d’Orleans, and several other princes and noblemen standing before his throne… At his return from audience a dinner was prepared for the Doge and his company, which being ended, he was obliged to complement every one of the royal family in particular, though no foreign minister in this court ever salutes any of them below those of the family of Monsieur.50

  • 51 Walton 1986, p. 24; Roosen 1980, p. 467.
  • 52 HMC 1904, vol. IV, p. 193, Prior to Montague, 18 February 1698.
  • 53 Cole 1733, p. 80, Manchester to Prior, 25 November 1699.
  • 54 Ibid., p. 149, Manchester to Stanhope, 25 June 1700.

9The Doge’s climbing the staircase and making the long walk through the apartments to his audience with Louis XIV was clearly intended to make a point. Such acts were designed so that the building itself and the experience of walking through it could communicate the message of Louis’s power and dominance.51 The message to the Doge was that the King of France was not to be messed with. Ostentation did not sit well with some. Prior wrote that he found Versailles to be ‘something the foolishest in the world’ for the King’s image was on every panel and ceiling and ‘if he turns to spit he must see himself in person’.52 Returning from an audience at the château, Manchester wrote that he journeyed ‘with five coaches and all the English gentlemen, and twenty four men in liveries, each of them carrying a white flambeau. I am glad I am coming to a conclusion of these vanities, though I am satisfied it does service here’.53 He ultimately found public audiences to be the worst part of his embassy.54

Visiting the palace

  • 55 HMC 1879, p. 330, Preston to Le Bel, 11 November 1682.
  • 56 Ibid.
  • 57 Ibid., p. 330, Preston to Lacy, 15 December 1682.
  • 58 Lister 1699, p. 202.
  • 59 Ibid., p. 202.
  • 60 Baridon 2008, p. 32.
  • 61 Prior 1740, p. 29–30.
  • 62 Ibid., p. 30.
  • 63 Strong 1903, p. 98, ‘Prior’s commonplace book with notes and sketches in prose and verse’.

10Going to Versailles solely to view the apartments and gardens can appear in a diplomat’s correspondence. When Preston arrived in France in 1682, he had written to the concierge to know when he could see the waters and apartments.55 He requested doing so that weekend.56 In December of that year, he wrote that ‘nothing in the world is finer or more agreeable than what is seen there. The illuminations, the decorations, the music, the comedy, the opera, the fetes all conspire to feast and surprise the senses’.57 Members of Portland’s group left detailed descriptions of Versailles. Martin Lister, who attended upon Portland throughout 1698–9, wrote precise accounts of all that he had seen in his A Journey to Paris in the Year 1698. Lister considered Versailles to be the ‘most magnificent’ palace in Europe.58 He described the poor soil and the resultant lack of water and plants, but wrote that Louis XIV had brought water there ‘in abundance, and made the ground too to be fruitful’.59 In highlighting Louis’s ability to turn a harsh landscape into a bountiful one, Lister’s comments are reminiscent of what Michel Baridon describes as the King’s demonstration of his power over nature and his overall might and prosperity.60 However, other members of the party were less impressed. Matthew Prior was given a tour of the palace by a member of the court and was asked whether William III also commemorated his past activities in a fashion similar to Louis.61 His response was that William’s acts were remembered ‘everywhere but in his own house’.62 Overall, Prior appears to have been unenthusiastic with Versailles and its King and the juxtapositions of the palace and gardens with the poverty of the common people depressed him.63

  • 64 Berger and Hedin 2008, pp. 1–5; Roosen 1980, p. 470; Woodbridge 1986, p. 213.
  • 65 Hoog 1982.
  • 66 Woodbridge 1986, p. 219–20.
  • 67 Roosen 1980, p. 470.
  • 68 Woodbridge 1986, p. 220.
  • 69 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 222–3, Preston to Sunderland, 19 May 1685.
  • 70 Gazette de France, 22 May 1688, no. 10, pp. 251–2.
  • 71 HMC 1899, vol. II, p. 19, Shrewsbury to Talbot, 22 June 1675.
  • 72 Berger and Hedin 2008, pp. 1–2.

11The gardens and fountains could play an important part in propaganda and ceremonial often serving as the finale to the elaborate ritual of a diplomatic visit.64 Louis had written Manière de montrer les jardins de Versailles as a guide for showing them to important guests.65 The King was especially proud of the fountains and there was a continuous issue with ensuring that there was enough water and pressure for them to operate.66 Therefore, to operate the 1,400 water jets in the palace gardens was an honorific act for only the most specific of Louis’s guests.67 Whenever the King and an important guest were in sight, the closest fountain needed to be operating but as the fountains could not operate all at once, servant boys with whistles were used to inform the fountain master and intendants when the King and his entourage were gone to their next destination.68 When the Doge of Genoa visited, Preston wrote that his party was shown the gardens and fountains, ‘they having lately finished one of the best fountains on purpose to be shown to him’.69 A party composed of Henry Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk, Lord Robert Spencer and diplomat Bevil Skelton were conducted around the gardens in 1688.70 According to Charles Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, the waterworks were in operation when he visited with Ralph Montagu in 1675, but the King and Queen and their court were nowhere to be seen.71 Nonetheless, the guides who led visitors through the park followed specific routes designed to highlight the triumphs of the King.72 During Portland’s embassy he wrote in detail concerning the gardens:

  • 73 HMC 1933, vol. IV, p. 100, Portland to William III, 1 March 1698.

Owing to the bad weather I was in no hurry to see the gardens, for everything looks dead and dirty and the fountains are not playing, as the frost has prevented the pumps from filling the reservoirs. The orange trees at Versailles are very fine, large and numerous; the stems are beautiful and lofty, but the crowns are not like those at Honselaarsdijk and those at Trianon are of little account in comparison with the others. The strange thing is that in the whole of this district I have been unable to find the fruit trees I want and I have had to send to Orleans to get them. I have not seen one of the thousand of flowers, with which the flower beds were said to be filled at all seasons and of which you have heard so much, not even a snowdrop; and in winter the gardens are not so well kept as ours; nothing is done to them. The general effect at Versailles is splendid, both gardens and buildings, but the latter are open to criticism, though I am no specialist in architecture. The expenses there are enormous. Trianon is most delightful and charming, but Meudon is the best situated of all and the air there must be like the air at Windsor. The prospect is rich and beautiful, and your Majesty would love the place.73

  • 74 Ibid., p. 127, Portland to William III, 3 March 1698.
  • 75 Ibid., p. 210, Portland to William III, 4 May 1698.
  • 76 Ibid., p. 211.
  • 77 Claude Desgots (1655–1732).
  • 78 Strong 1903, pp. 42–4, Le Nôtre to Portland, 11 July 1698; Onnekink 2007, p. 94.

12Within a few days, Portland had concluded that Versailles was indeed beautiful but he believed that Saint-Cloud and Meudon were better situated.74 Portland was additionally honoured by having Louis XIV personally shown him the gardens and fountains.75 Speaking of his intentions of giving William III a full description of the ‘fine and splendid’ Versailles, he also noted that the court appeared to prefer being at Marly.76 So impressed was Portland that he would ultimately try to persuade Le Nôtre to accompany him back to England, although the latter instead sent his grand-nephew77 with plans for the gardens at Windsor.78 Lister notes that the fountains were eventually turned on to honour Portland and his group:

  • 79 Lister 1699, p. 203.

The waters were ordered to play for the diversion of the English gentlemen. The playing of the spouts of water, thrown up into the air, is here diversified after a thousand fashions. The Theatre des eaux, and the Triumphal Arch are the most famous pieces. But in the groves of the left hand, you have Aesop’s Fables, in so many pieces of waterworks, here and there in winding alleys. This might have been said to be done in Usum Delphini. ’Tis pretty to see the owl washed by all the birds; the monkey hugging her young one, till it spouts out water with a full throat and open mouth.79

  • 80 HMC 1904, p. 212, Prior to Albemarle, 3 May 1698.

13Of the tours Prior wrote: ‘Si c’étoit un compliment fait à Milord par Sa Majesté ou une ostentation de sa propre grandeur, qu’importe il?’.80

  • 81 Cole 1733, p. 40, Manchester to Jersey, 2 September 1699.
  • 82 Ibid.
  • 83 Hardwicke 1778, vol. II, p. 545, Stair’s journal, 26 August 1715.
  • 84 Ibid.

14Diplomats awaiting an audience could spend the time in between seeing the gardens. When the Earl of Manchester arrived to pay complements to the Duke and Duchess of Orléans on the birth of their grandson, he was informed that they were in the company of the exiled James II and Maria Beatrice of Modena.81 Manchester resolved to wait and took to the gardens until Monsieur was free.82 The park could also be the scene of meetings. In 1715, the Earl of Stair walked in the gardens with the Prussian ambassador Baron Knyphausen.83 They were met by Marshal [de] Villeroy who informed them of developments in the dying King’s bedchamber following the announcement of the regency for the future Louis XV.84

Place of politics and plots

  • 85 Gregg 2004, p. 11.
  • 86 Hutton 1989, pp. 158–60; Lossky 1994, p. 124.
  • 87 Hutton 1989, p. 401.
  • 88 Lister 1837, vol. III, p. 321, Hollis to Arlington, 11 May 1665.
  • 89 Ibid., pp. 413–4, Hollis to Arlington, 28 October 1665.
  • 90 Cooper 1858, p. 238, Savile to Jenkins, 22 November 1681.
  • 91 Scott 2000, p. 178.

15There could be tensions between the diplomats and their hosts. Throughout the seventeenth century, Louis XIV and the French had always been viewed with suspicion and mistrust in England.85 From the beginning of Charles II’s rule, Louis had looked to use England to further his own interests. In this way, he would play a part in arranging the marriage of Charles with Catherine of Braganza of Portugal to counter Spain in 1661.86 In the early 1660s, Charles II had experienced difficulties in dealing with a young and haughty King anxious to assert his dominance.87 Denzel Hollis had remarked that at the court ‘ambassador’s compliments have but a pretty cold reception here – looked upon rather as an homage done than an expression of kindness’.88 Hollis suspected that the French would abandon their friendship with England while their alliance with the Dutch would be against English interests.89 Henry Savile reported that the court was confident in its belief that nobody could do them any harm.90 In their correspondence in the 1670s, Charles had reminded Louis of the increasingly anti-French attitudes held in England.91

  • 92 Jones 1989, pp. 10–13.
  • 93 Ibid., p. 6; See also Condren 2015, pp. 700–720.
  • 94 HMC 1896, p. 388, Brisbane to Danby, 30 October 1677.
  • 95 Jones 1989, pp. 10–13; Gregg 2004, p. 12.
  • 96 Jones 1989, p. 2; Hutton 1989, p. 401.

16Nonetheless, Louis XIV continued to make efforts at influencing the English. English diplomats in France such as Hollis, Buckingham and Montagu had accepted gifts and payments from him.92 Charles II became his subsidized ally against the Dutch in 1670 and he played matchmaker for the second marriage of Charles’s brother James, Duke of York to Maria Beatrice d’Este of Modena in 1673.93 When James’s eldest daughter Mary married William, Prince of Orange, Brisbane wrote that Louis XIV and his ministers were unhappy at not being consulted about the match.94 Louis then supported the Whigs in the English parliament during the Exclusion Crisis, 1678–81, which threatened to exclude the Catholic Duke of York from the line of succession.95 In March 1681, a secret treaty had been signed with Charles which granted him £385,000 in subsidies. These were to be paid by Louis over three years and allowed Charles to defeat the Whig parliament attempting to block his brother James from the succession.96

  • 97 HMC 1879, p. 340, Preston to Halifax, 22 February 1683.
  • 98 Ibid., p. 344, Preston to Halifax, 16 October 1683.
  • 99 Ibid.
  • 100 Ibid.
  • 101 Hardwicke 1778, vol. II, pp. 529–30, Stair’s journal, 11, 14 and 17 July 1715.
  • 102 Ibid., p. 540, Stair’s journal, 13 August 1715.
  • 103 Saint-Simon 1914, vol. XXVI, pp. 187–8.
  • 104 Dangeau 1858, vol. XV, pp. 389–90 and 401.
  • 105 Saint-Simon 1886, vol. V, p. 61.
  • 106 Ibid., vol. XXXVIII, pp. 262–3.

17Those who had been impressed by the buildings and gardens at Versailles could be underwhelmed by the attitudes they encountered there. ‘It is neither easy nor pleasant to put down in writing what is thought and said of us by this Court’ wrote Preston, ‘and how perhaps we shall be used by it when we can no longer be useful’.97 In October 1683, Gilbert Burnet, who had been implicated in a plot to assassinate Charles II, was invited to the chateau and was well received by the King.98 Burnet was presented to the Dauphin, the fountains were played for him and the palace apartments were all opened to him.99 Preston was disgusted. It was hinted that this was a better reception than had been given to Prince Borghese who had visited a few months earlier.100 Stair records the hostile feeling towards him at Versailles in 1715. On 11 July he had an animated argument with Torcy and reported the court’s increasing resentment towards him over the following days.101 The next month he came to watch Louis dine. When the King was aware that Stair was watching him he ‘seemed uneasy to see me at the table’ while ‘the courtiers looked hideously upon me’.102 Overall, Stair was unpopular. The memoirs of Louis’s courtiers can sometimes provide an insight into how certain French nobles perceived the diplomats at court. Saint-Simon described Stair as impudent and immature.103 Dangeau was also uncomplimentary of the diplomat in his assessment noting that the King’s ministers would be happy to see him go.104 By contrast, Portland received a glowing portrayal in Saint-Simon’s famously subjective memoirs.105 Matthew Prior was recorded as ‘un homme extrêmement capable, savant d’ailleurs, d’infiniment d’esprit, de bonne chère et de fort bonne compagnie’.106

  • 107 Jones 1989, p. 18; Gregg 2004, pp. 13–15.
  • 108 See Genet-Rouffiac 2007 and Corp 2009.
  • 109 Nordmann 1976, p. 83.
  • 110 HMC 1933, vol. IV, pp. 71–5, Portland to William III, 16–18 February 1698.
  • 111 Gregg 2004, p. 54.
  • 112 Rule 2007, p. 93.
  • 113 HMC 1904, vol. III, p. 196, Prior to Vernon, 21 February 1698.
  • 114 Ibid., p. 204, Prior to Montague, 10 April 1698.
  • 115 Ibid., p. 271, Prior to Portland, 29 September 1698.
  • 116 Ibid., p. 271.

18After Charles II’s death in 1685, it has been said that Louis XIV saw James II as a reliable friend, although Edward Gregg has highlighted the suspicions which the King of France had concerning him.107 Following the Glorious Revolution in 1688, Louis provided refuge108 for the now exiled James and his court, a role that he appears to have enjoyed.109 Versailles would now become the scene for awkward encounters. In February 1698, Portland was indignant to discover numerous Jacobites keeping an active presence at the court.110 After Portland’s complaints in 1698, Louis XIV was forced to notify James’s court at Saint-Germain that they were not to come to Versailles when the English diplomats were present.111 Portland would make frequent complaints about the Jacobite presence in Versailles to the embarrassment of the King and his ministers, who explained that they were required to receive them out of hospitality.112 Prior described the court and its courtiers as insincere for its dealings with the two parties.113 ‘These people are all the same’, he wrote on 10 April 1698, ‘civil in appearance and hating us to hell at the bottom of their heart’.114 Prior would encounter the Jacobites at Versailles one afternoon as the ten-year-old son of James II and Maria Beatrice passed him in the apartments.115 He recounted with amusement the look on the faces of the Jacobites as he did not pay any respect to the child.116

  • 117 HMC 1933, vol. IV, pp. 97–8, Portland to William III, 1 March 1698.

19Although impressed by the gardens and fountains, Portland found his initial experiences at Versailles to be unsatisfactory. He complained to Pomponne and Torcy that numerous individuals at court and in the town were putting words in his mouth. Thereafter, he noted that he was receiving more attention than before. His description of the court was of one that was ‘utterly unlike anything I have ever seen and utterly foreign to my habits and disposition […] Honest folk are as rare here as elsewhere, and those who make the greatest show of frankness and candour are often the greatest dissimulators’.117

  • 118 Ibid., p. 128, Portland to William III, 13 March 1697.
  • 119 Onnekink 2007, pp. 208–9.
  • 120 HMC 1933, vol. IV, pp. 127–8, Portland to William III, 13 March 1697.
  • 121 Stevenson 1924, vol. I, pp. 161–2, Duchess of Orléans to the Duchess of Hanover, 18 March 1698.
  • 122 Ibid., pp. 161–2.
  • 123 Grimblot 1848, vol. I, pp. 443–4, Portland to William III, 4 May 1698.
  • 124 Cole 1773, pp. 82–3 and 91, Manchester to Montagu, 8 December 1699 and Manchester to Prior, 2 Janua (...)
  • 125 Ibid., pp. 406 and 423, Manchester to Vernon, 23 July; 24 September 1701.
  • 126 Hatton 1977, p. 260.

20He believed that they did not understand the character of the Dutch and the English.118 When he returned after his official entry into Paris, he was courteously received by Louis XIV.119 He found the French King disingenuous.120 According to the Duchess of Orléans, a song was written in his honour.121 ‘It strikes me as funny’, she wrote to the Duchess of Hanover, ‘that they should now be singing the praises of the ambassador of a King whose effigy only a few years ago they burnt and dragged through the streets’.122 By May, Portland wrote to William that Louis was now speaking to him whenever he saw him in the palace. The King’s frequent conversations with the diplomat and his honouring him with a guided tour of the fountains and gardens appear to have won Portland over and he wrote that William III was being ‘highly honoured, esteemed and respected’.123 The following year, Manchester stated that he found the court sincere and was confident of Louis’s friendship, though he hinted that it would not last.124 However, he also disclosed his growing unease with the court, stating that ‘there is no relying’ on them.125 In his journal, the Earl of Stair provides an account of Louis XIV’s decline and death at Versailles in 1715. After the King’s death, his heir Louis XV and the court moved to Vincennes and immediately afterwards to Paris, and would not return until the young King was close to reaching his majority.126

Conclusion

21In examining the diplomats’ correspondence, it is possible to trace the growing prominence of Versailles over time. Initially they comment upon the King’s pleasure trips, entertainments and fêtes and remark upon their own visits. References become more prominent from 1682 when the court was permanently moved there. It is true that the château is often mentioned only in passing and descriptions of the palace and the gardens and the activities may not be a staple of diplomatic correspondence. Yet the activities they did remark upon – the fêtes, ceremonies, audiences and garden tours – were what contributed to Versailles’s reputation. Occasionally the descriptions are more detailed. Preston’s account of the visit of the Doge of Genoa and the descriptions of the palace and garden tours by the visiting members of Portland’s embassy are prime examples of the château as an instrument of cultural diplomacy. The gardens are often present, even for the most mundane of activities such as Manchester’s stroll to pass time or Stair’s conversations with Villeroy and the Prussian ambassador. Overall, accounts of Versailles vary from individual to individual. Preston and Portland enjoyed the gardens but Prior does not appear to have done so. Manchester and Stair do not describe them at any length. At times some of them found that the entertainments impeded business and the ceremonies were tiresome. Many of them appear to have held a common distrust in the French King and his court, a recurring idea from the 1660s. The presence of Jacobites after 1688 only reinforced this belief. Nevertheless, it is clear that when they did comment upon Versailles at length, the position of the palace as a place of culture and as a space for cultural diplomacy can be clearly seen.

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Bibliographie

Printed primary sources

Clément Pierre (ed.), 1868, Lettres, instructions et mémoires de Colbert, Paris, Imprimerie Impériale, vol. V.

Cole Christian, 1733, Memoirs of Affairs of State Containing Letters Written by Ministers Employed in Foreign Negotiations, from the Year 1697 to the Latter End of 1708, London.

Cooper William Durant (ed.), 1858, Letters To and From Henry Savile, Esq., Envoy at Paris, London, Camden Society.

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Dangeau Philippe de Courcillon, marquis de, 1858, Journal du marquis de Dangeau, M. Feuillet de Conches (ed.), Paris, Firmin Didot Frères, vol. XV.

Grimblot Paul, 1848, Letters of William III and Louis XIV and of Their Ministers, London, Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, vol. I.

Hardwicke Philip Yorke, Earl of (ed.), 1778, Miscellaneous State Papers from 1501 to 1726, vol. II, London, W. Straban and T. Cadell.

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Berger Robert W. and Hedin Thomas F., 2008, Diplomatic Tours in the Gardens of Versailles under Louis XIV, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Burke Peter, 1992, The Fabrication of Louis XIV, Bath, Yale University Press.

Condren John, 2015, ‘The dynastic triangle in international relations: Modena, England and France, 1678–85’, The International History Review, no. 4, pp. 700–720.

Corp Edward, 2009, A Court in Exile: The Stuarts in France, 1689–1718, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

da Vinha Mathieu, 2009, Le Versailles de Louis XIV, Paris, Perrin.

da Vinha Mathieu and Masson Raphaël (eds), 2015, Versailles : Histoire, Dictionnaire et Anthologie, Paris, Robert Laffont.

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Duindam Jeroen, 2003, Vienna and Versailles: The Courts of Europe’s Dynastic Rivals, 1550–1780, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

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Lossky Andrew, 1994, Louis XIV and the French Monarchy, New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press.

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Notes

1 Duindam 2003, p. 167.

2 Burke 1992, p. 65; Dickens 1977, p. 7.

3 Dickens 1977, p. 7.

4 Sowerby and Craigwood, 2019, pp. 1–5.

5 Sherman 2002, p. 27.

6 Lachs 1965, p. 246.

7 Curran 1903, p. 54, Perwich to Arlington, 25 December 1669.

8 Ibid., pp. 15, 94, 124, 163, 239, Perwich to Williamson, 1 June 1669; 18 June 1670; 24 December 1670; 7 September 1672; Perwich to Arlington, 19 August 1671; Cooper 1858, pp. 27 and 235, Savile to Arlington, 15 October 1672; Savile to Jenkins, 19 November 1681.

9 Nicholson 1710, p. 298, Sunderland to Danby, 22 August 1678.

10 Curran 1903, p. 212, Perwich to Williamson, 6 April 1672; Historical Manuscripts Commission (hereafter HMC) 1874, p. 237, Lockhart to Coventry, 31 March; 21 June 1674.

11 Curran 1903, p. 269, Perwich to Arlington, 29 August 1673; Cooper 1858, pp. 194–5, Savile to Jenkins, 21 June 1681.

12 HMC 1874, pp. 238 and 241, Lockhart to Coventry, 3 October 1674; 27 March 1675; HMC 1896, p. 389, Brisbane to Danby, 1 December 1677.

13 See Tiberghien 2006.

14 HMC 1879, pp. 308 and 318, Preston to Sunderland, 12 July; 11 November 1684.

15 Walton 1986, p. 130.

16 Ibid., pp. 132–3. For Colbert’s work on Versailles see Clément 1868, vol. V. For Louvois see Sarmant and Masson 2007–2009, vols. I–II.

17 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 110, Preston to Sunderland, 8 November 1684.

18 HMC 1879, pp. 317–8, Preston to Sunderland, 11 October 1684; 28 October 1684; 4 November 1684.

19 Lossky 1994, p. 113.

20 Duindam 2003, p. 155.

21 Curran 1903, p. 38, Perwich to Arlington, 19 October 1669.

22 Ibid., p. 38, Perwich to Williamson, 5 September 1671; Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 8–9, Preston to Sunderland, 23 August 1684.

23 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f. 172–3, Preston to Sunderland, 23 December 1684.

24 HMC 1933, vol. I, p. 237, Newsletter addressed to Thomas Errington, 6 February 1696.

25 Curran 1903, p. 106, Perwich to Arlington, 23 August 1670; Berger and Hedin 2008, pp. 19–20; Hutton 1989, pp. 271–3.

26 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 224–5, Preston to Sunderland, 23 May 1685.

27 HMC 1879, p. 325, Preston to Sunderland, 28 April 1685.

28 HMC 1904, p. 317, Prior to Portland, 4 March 1699.

29 Curran 1903, p. 199, Perwich to Williamson, 20 February 1672; HMC 1879, p. 346, Preston to Bulstrode, 7 December 1685.

30 Note addressed to a person in authority to ask for justice or a favour.

31 Lossky 1994 p. 114; Duindam 2003, p. 165.

32 Ibid., p. 114; ibid. p. 165–7.

33 HMC 1879, p. 271, Preston to Bishop of London, 30 September 1682.

34 HMC 1904, p. 192, Prior to Montague, 18 February 1698. See also Legg 1921.

35 Onnekink 2007, p. 208–9.

36 HMC 1879, p. 324, Preston to Sunderland, 23 December 1684. As reported by the marquis de Dangeau in his Journal on December 17, 1684, this anecdote seems to have been a rumour (see da Vinha 2009, pp. 248–9).

37 HMC 1879, p. 324.

38 Cole 1733, p. 35, Manchester to Jersey, 19 August 1699.

39 HMC 1933, vol. IV, pp. 189, 197, 216, 269 and 285, Portland to William III, 10–20 April; 15–25 April; 8 May; 4 June; 17 June 1698.

40 Grimblot 1848, vol. I, p. 443, Portland to William III, 4 May 1698. See da Vinha and Masson 2015, p. 173.

41 Walton 1986, pp. 189–90.

42 Hardwicke 1778, vol. II, p. 540, Stair’s journal, 13 August 1715.

43 Ibid., p. 538-39, Stair’s journal, 11 August 1715.

44 Ibid., p. 539, Stair’s journal, 12 August 1715.

45 Ibid., p. 540, Stair’s journal, 13 August 1715.

46 Ibid., p. 542, Stair’s journal, 16 August; 19 August 1715.

47 Roosen 1980, p. 467.

48 Lossky 1994, p. 173.

49 Ibid., p. 173.

50 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 211–7, Preston to Sunderland, 16 May 1685.

51 Walton 1986, p. 24; Roosen 1980, p. 467.

52 HMC 1904, vol. IV, p. 193, Prior to Montague, 18 February 1698.

53 Cole 1733, p. 80, Manchester to Prior, 25 November 1699.

54 Ibid., p. 149, Manchester to Stanhope, 25 June 1700.

55 HMC 1879, p. 330, Preston to Le Bel, 11 November 1682.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid., p. 330, Preston to Lacy, 15 December 1682.

58 Lister 1699, p. 202.

59 Ibid., p. 202.

60 Baridon 2008, p. 32.

61 Prior 1740, p. 29–30.

62 Ibid., p. 30.

63 Strong 1903, p. 98, ‘Prior’s commonplace book with notes and sketches in prose and verse’.

64 Berger and Hedin 2008, pp. 1–5; Roosen 1980, p. 470; Woodbridge 1986, p. 213.

65 Hoog 1982.

66 Woodbridge 1986, p. 219–20.

67 Roosen 1980, p. 470.

68 Woodbridge 1986, p. 220.

69 Yale, Beinecke Library, Osborn fb83, f˚ 222–3, Preston to Sunderland, 19 May 1685.

70 Gazette de France, 22 May 1688, no. 10, pp. 251–2.

71 HMC 1899, vol. II, p. 19, Shrewsbury to Talbot, 22 June 1675.

72 Berger and Hedin 2008, pp. 1–2.

73 HMC 1933, vol. IV, p. 100, Portland to William III, 1 March 1698.

74 Ibid., p. 127, Portland to William III, 3 March 1698.

75 Ibid., p. 210, Portland to William III, 4 May 1698.

76 Ibid., p. 211.

77 Claude Desgots (1655–1732).

78 Strong 1903, pp. 42–4, Le Nôtre to Portland, 11 July 1698; Onnekink 2007, p. 94.

79 Lister 1699, p. 203.

80 HMC 1904, p. 212, Prior to Albemarle, 3 May 1698.

81 Cole 1733, p. 40, Manchester to Jersey, 2 September 1699.

82 Ibid.

83 Hardwicke 1778, vol. II, p. 545, Stair’s journal, 26 August 1715.

84 Ibid.

85 Gregg 2004, p. 11.

86 Hutton 1989, pp. 158–60; Lossky 1994, p. 124.

87 Hutton 1989, p. 401.

88 Lister 1837, vol. III, p. 321, Hollis to Arlington, 11 May 1665.

89 Ibid., pp. 413–4, Hollis to Arlington, 28 October 1665.

90 Cooper 1858, p. 238, Savile to Jenkins, 22 November 1681.

91 Scott 2000, p. 178.

92 Jones 1989, pp. 10–13.

93 Ibid., p. 6; See also Condren 2015, pp. 700–720.

94 HMC 1896, p. 388, Brisbane to Danby, 30 October 1677.

95 Jones 1989, pp. 10–13; Gregg 2004, p. 12.

96 Jones 1989, p. 2; Hutton 1989, p. 401.

97 HMC 1879, p. 340, Preston to Halifax, 22 February 1683.

98 Ibid., p. 344, Preston to Halifax, 16 October 1683.

99 Ibid.

100 Ibid.

101 Hardwicke 1778, vol. II, pp. 529–30, Stair’s journal, 11, 14 and 17 July 1715.

102 Ibid., p. 540, Stair’s journal, 13 August 1715.

103 Saint-Simon 1914, vol. XXVI, pp. 187–8.

104 Dangeau 1858, vol. XV, pp. 389–90 and 401.

105 Saint-Simon 1886, vol. V, p. 61.

106 Ibid., vol. XXXVIII, pp. 262–3.

107 Jones 1989, p. 18; Gregg 2004, pp. 13–15.

108 See Genet-Rouffiac 2007 and Corp 2009.

109 Nordmann 1976, p. 83.

110 HMC 1933, vol. IV, pp. 71–5, Portland to William III, 16–18 February 1698.

111 Gregg 2004, p. 54.

112 Rule 2007, p. 93.

113 HMC 1904, vol. III, p. 196, Prior to Vernon, 21 February 1698.

114 Ibid., p. 204, Prior to Montague, 10 April 1698.

115 Ibid., p. 271, Prior to Portland, 29 September 1698.

116 Ibid., p. 271.

117 HMC 1933, vol. IV, pp. 97–8, Portland to William III, 1 March 1698.

118 Ibid., p. 128, Portland to William III, 13 March 1697.

119 Onnekink 2007, pp. 208–9.

120 HMC 1933, vol. IV, pp. 127–8, Portland to William III, 13 March 1697.

121 Stevenson 1924, vol. I, pp. 161–2, Duchess of Orléans to the Duchess of Hanover, 18 March 1698.

122 Ibid., pp. 161–2.

123 Grimblot 1848, vol. I, pp. 443–4, Portland to William III, 4 May 1698.

124 Cole 1773, pp. 82–3 and 91, Manchester to Montagu, 8 December 1699 and Manchester to Prior, 2 January 1700.

125 Ibid., pp. 406 and 423, Manchester to Vernon, 23 July; 24 September 1701.

126 Hatton 1977, p. 260.

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Stephen Griffin, « ‘Nothing in the World is Finer’: Diplomatic Correspondence as a Record of Versailles, 1670–1715 », Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles [En ligne],  | 2020, mis en ligne le 08 décembre 2020, consulté le 26 janvier 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/18617 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/crcv.18617

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Auteur

Stephen Griffin

Stephen Griffin, PhD currently teaches at the University of Limerick. He was awarded a Richard Plaschka Predoctoral Fellowship 2017–18 and was the 2019 recipient of the Rev. Liam Swords Bursary. His research interests include early modern courts, courts in exile, early modern diplomacy, diaspora and international Jacobitism.
Stephen Griffin est docteur et enseigne aujourd’hui à l’université de Limerick (Irlande). Il a reçu en 2017-2018 le prix Richard Plaschka Praedoctoral Stipendien et en 2019 la bourse Rev. Liam Swords. Sa recherche porte notamment sur les cours à l’époque moderne, les cours en exil, la diplomatie, les diasporas et le jacobitisme international.
E-mail: Stephen.Griffin[at]ul.ie

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