Louis XIV’s Valets: so close to the King

By Mathieu DA VINHA

The King’s terminal illness began officially on August 10, after his return from Marly. However, “the King’s health had been declining for more than a year. His closest valets were the first to notice and witnessed each development, but none dared to speak of it,” reported the Duke de Saint-Simon, one of the people who witness the events at the time. Nobody dared imagine that this monarch, who had now reigned for more than 72 years, might die. He had already recovered several times from various illnesses.

Only Louis XIV’s domestic staff were constantly with him. While the most important courtiers came and went in the Royal Bedchamber, the Officers of the Chamber and the Wardrobe occupied their positions full time, since the King was bedridden. The Anthoine brothers, who were Gun-Bearers and Officers of the Royal Bedchamber, kept a Journal, like the one their father had at the time of the death of Louis XIII.

The servants were ever-present in this ‘relationship’: they were the ones who provided the daily care, particularly in relation to illness. The Marquis de Champcenetz, Premier Valet de Chambre de Quartier, was a valuable support to his master: aided by the Officers of the Royal Bedchamber he got the King out of bed, placed him in his chair and changed him. Similarly Blouin – as Louis XIV’s closest servant – was constantly at the King’s side. He was the first to be openly seriously concerned for the King’s life. The Anthoine bothers wrote that “it was at this time that the doctors began to fear the worst for this illness and M. Blouin, Premier Valet de Quartier, said, quite loudly even, that everyone was quite afraid that this illness would become very serious, and that it would be wise to summon the most skilled doctors of the faculty of Paris in order to confer with them, and that no precaution was too great in such a situation.”

Strangely, it was therefore a Premier Valet de Cahmbre de Quartier who was the first person to take his master’s state of health seriously; the Doctors did not consider his case worrying enough! From August 15 onwards, the bedroom's valets spent their time bandaging up the King’s gangrenous leg and assisting him. Blouin pushed the King around in a wheeled chair when the latter wished (and was able to do so!) and move around.

On 26th August, as his condition continued to decline, Louis XIV wanted to personally thank his officers. He asked the Duke de Tresmes, Head Valet de Chambre that year, to bring together all the officers he could find. Facing death, the King seemed more humble and showed genuine gratitude. The Anthoine bothers wrote once again in their journal: “His Majesty had opened the curtains around his bed in order to see them, and told them with great tenderness of his satisfaction with the services they had rendered him at all times with as much affection and loyalty as is possible, and that if he had given them any cause for grief or discontentment, he asked their forgiveness”.

Par Mathieu da Vinha, scientific director of the Palace of Versailles' research center. Les Valets de chambre de Louis XIV, Perrin, coll. « Tempus », 2009.