Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte

Never build a better house than the king, especially if you build it with money 'earned' working for him.  Although the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte is known to many as Hugo Drax's estate in "Moonraker", the 1979 James Bond movies, the property has a more interesting REAL history.  It was home to a man of uncertain evil - some even argue his innocence.  The story has inspired many works of fiction, but the events surrounding the chateau's builder, Nicholas Fouquet, the Marquis de Belle Isle and the superintendent of finances.  Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned, which had an important impact on the history of France - and on Western civilization.

Louis XIV was a young man when he came to the throne.  In 1643 his father died and left France with a regency where Anne of Austria governed for the young King Louis XIV.  Real power rested with Cardinal Mazarin until the cardinal died in 1661.  Then, Louis XIV himself took control.  He was only in his early 20s upon taking control, and 'The Frondes", times of domestic strife, were in the recent past.  At the age of 12, the young Louis had pretended to be asleep as a mob entered his palace bedroom to make sure that he was still still their captive.  Concessions were made and Louis was safe, but the memory stayed with Louis.  Louis also knew that Henry III and Henry IV had been assassinated and that England's Charles I had been deprived of his head by mere commoners.  In these troubled times, the people wanted order and stability, and Louis wanted to give them just that - with him, of course, very much in charge.  

Fouquet used the best architects, sculptors, and gardeners available.  A total of 18,000 people were employed to build the place, and a village was even removed.  Louis would later use many of them for Versailles.  In all the place cost 18,000 livres.  The moat is a carryover from medieval times and reflects the traditional military service of nobles.  Now nobles served the monarch in other ways less threatening to the monarch - ideally, at least.  One of the disturbing things that Fouquet had done was to fortify Belle Isle on his own, which could throttle navigation from the nearby Loire and serve as a refuge in the event of conflict with the king.   In fact, Fouquet was accused of planning a civil war if he was removed from his office.  Another allegation was that Fouquet planned to take over the sugar rich Caribbean island of Martinique!  He was also said to be bribing and giving gifts to those within the royal circle.

Stables and support buildings were impressive in and of themselves.  Carriages were of royal quality.

Formal gardens were popular at that time because they gave order to nature, which was seen as more of a potential threat to man than it does for modern man.


The fountains were a marvel and expensive to create - and therefore a status symbol.  Louis didn't have fountains like these at Vincennes but he would at Versailles.


Fouquet didn't skimp on statues.

Fouquet didn't skimp on the interior either.

On  August 17, 1661, Fouquet held a grand party with 6,000 guests, including the king.  Colbert, a protege of the late Mazarin who would gain power and influence through Fouquet's arrest, convinced Louis that Fouquet was guilty of corruption and of  overtaking Louis as cultural leader of France.  Fouquet had to have been guilty of  embezzlement - most government and military officials were - but this was too much.  d'Artagnan of Louis' musketeers arrested Fouquet.  After a long trial, Fouquet was sentenced to banishment.  An unhappy Louis 'commuted' the sentence to life in prison at Pignerol fortress, a sure sign that Louis saw himself as above the law.  

In 1663, Louis began renovation of the Louvre in Paris, then the Tuileries the next year, then construction began at Versailles.  There would be no doubt now who was in charge, and Louis vowed that he would rule without a chief minister.  The new chateau at Versailles was used to control the nobility.  With Fouquet out of the way, Louis was able to reduce the power of the parlements and the nobles, making absolutism possible.  Absolutism was despotism, and it brought censorship and repression.  The corrupt system of tax farmers remained, and the wars of aggression that Louis waged brought more debt and increasing use of venal offices - government positions sold to men who would profit from the corruption that the jobs entailed.  All of these problems would remain through the next century, the Enlightenment, and they would come to a head in 1789.

Copyright 2015 by John Hamill

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