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My fellow panellists knew I had written a serious, fully sourced, history of life at Versailles and expected me to decry this sensationalism of history. But instead, I had to report to them that it was all true. Versailles comes to BBC2 next week, and I am surprised that it has taken so long for a TV blockbuster to use this material. My book, and it appears the television series as well, begins with sex and ends with sex and in between you have royalty, mistresses, intrigue, illegitimate children, gay sex, happy marriages of state and unhappy marriages of state, all centring round this extraordinary man, Louis XIV, the Sun King, who ascended the throne when he was four years of age in and ruled for the next 72 years until his death in The experience seems to have been enjoyable enough to be repeated on several further occasions.
She ended up in a convent, but not before giving birth to children, as many of his lovers did. I imagine her being beautiful in the way Nigella is beautiful.
After her was Angelique de Fontanges, who some people thought the most beautiful woman ever to come to Versailles. The arrival of Madame de Maintenon - Mme Now as she was punningly called - marks a slight change of direction.
If sex is an important theme, so is religion. She was the young widow of the poet and playwright Scarron, not noted as a great beauty, who came in as a governess to the many royal children.
The king never abandoned his religion, but remained a very sensual man — always a problematic combination. There may have been a secret, morganatic, marriage — although neither of them ever declared it — as there is otherwise no way they could have lived in such intimacy with the blessing of the church. Centuries later some people suggested Prince Charles should marry Mrs Parker Bowles morganatically, but things, fortunately, had moved on.