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
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
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