Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Hard times

The TLS blog: The death of Louis XIV

I recently posted about Louis and invention of modern fashion, and now have spotted a post at TLS that summarises some aspects of his times:
“L’État louis-quatorzien” was above all dedicated to military glory,
on land and at sea. France was, it seems, in perpetual conflict during
his reign: the Fronde, or civil uprisings of 1648 and 1651–3, the Dutch
Wars of the 1670s. In the War of Spanish Succession between 1701 and
1714 nearly 650,000 Frenchmen were mobilized, out of a total population
of 20 million. Cornette calls the French state at the time an
“insatiable Leviathan”. Yet, the defeats multiplied: Ramillies (1706),
Oudenarde (1708), a costly victory at Malplaquet (1709). Added to which
were the terrible winters such as that of 1693–4, during which 1.6
million French citizens perished. A further punishing winter in 1709–10
(average temperatures of –20 degrees C in the Ile-de-France in January
and February, rivers froze over and birds fell out of the sky) carried
off another 630,000 citizens – the death toll less great this time
partly as a consequence of "l'intervention de l'État" (which sounds like
a slightly anachronistic phrase).

Religion: in his lifetime Louis heard 2,000 sermons, attended Mass
30,000 times, i.e. one a day, touched some 200,000 people afflicted with
scrofula (“le roi te touche, Dieu te guérisse”). His detestation of
Protestantism, meanwhile, grew with the years. The revocation of the
Edict of Nantes in 1685 resulted in some 200,000 Huguenot Protestants
choosing exile to England, Holland, or Germany, depriving his country of
a valuable skilled workforce. Jansenists fared little better, being
viewed as dangerous heretics; their headquarters at the abbey of
Port-Royal were closed in 1710, the buildings razed to the ground.

Louis acknowledged at least twenty-two children, of whom six were
legitimate. Cornette writes that there were also “all those, numerous no
doubt, of whose existence we’re unaware”. His affair with Louise de La
Vallière produced five children; only two survived into adulthood. Six
of the nine children borne by the beautiful, spirited Marquise de
Montespan, Louis’s mistress in the 1670s, went past the age of seven. In
Cornette’s nice phrase, after the death of the last of his mistresses,
Mme de Fontanges, in 1681, the King “resolved to think about his
And here he is, showing a bit of leg:

The biggest unresolved historical mystery is how this look ever because fashionable.

Update:  an extract from an old book (I think) about those wigs:
The King himself, absolute as his authority was, was compelled to submit, in some things, to the exigencies of fashion. He continued to wear his enormous wigs when the dimension and the shape of wigs changed. This almost universal change was brought about by the perfumed starch powder which men used for their false hair. In this instance, it was the old who set the fashion instead of the young, and only powdered wigs were worn for the future, whether the hair of which they were made was dark or light. Louis XIV. at first denounced the use of powder very vigorously, but he was assured that it modified the effects of age and softened the expression of the face to which the black wig imparted a hard and forbidding air. He allowed himself to be persuaded into the use of powder, but he would not alter the shape of his wigs, though the gentlemen of the Court had brought into fashion several new kinds: the cavalière for the country, the financière for the town, the square wig, the Spanish wig, etc. People even wore horse-hair wigs, which did not uncurl when exposed to the air. But powder was the special attribute of the dandies, who never appeared in public without being powdered down even to their justaucorps. Everybody rejoiced in a white head, and one courtier ventured to remark to Louis XIV.: "We all wish to appear old, so as to be taken for wise." Powder led the way to the reduction in the size of wigs, from beneath which gradually emerged the natural hair, powdered and pomaded, gathered up at the back of the neck with a piece of black ribbon, and enclosed in a net which fell upon the coat collar.

No comments: