The death of the "Grand Century"

By Hélène Delalex

On the morning of 1st September 1715, the King died. After steadfastly enduring 15 days of suffering, “he effortlessly gave up his soul, like a candle going out”, as the Marquis de Dangeau wrote. At that very moment the officers left the Royal Bedchamber and disappeared into the attic to move the single hand on the clock in the Marble Courtyard. This clock, a motionless one with no mechanism, does not show the real time but the time of the king’s death. Like an invisible finger, the unmoving hand of Versailles now indicated 8:15am.

The King had died, and the news spread in a great wave across Europe without ever needing to specify which king it was, because Louis XIV was ‘the’ king, ‘the world’s greatest king’, a king who was almost immortal having reigned for 72 years. At a time when 50 was old-age and the average life expectancy in France was only 25 years, such physical and moral endurance, at more than 76 years old, seemed truly supernatural. His reign, the longest in the history of France, bestowed unprecedented fame on the country, and people still remember the monarch’s greatness as builder of modern France, a creator whose name features on the pediments of grand monuments set up in his honour, author of Paris Ville Lumière, military reformer, a warlord who extended the boundaries of his kingdom, patron, commissioner of artistic and intellectual masterpieces, and more.

The King is dead, but this is not merely the death of a king: Louis XIV also took with him the Court, Versailles and the whole era of which he was the last remaining rampart.

By Hélène Delalex, attached to the Palace of Versailles’s conservation, in charge of carriage’s collection. On 15th October 2015, her book Louis XIV intime will be released, Gallimard Publishing.