Tag Archives: Louis the Sun King

Blenheim: The Sun King’s Waterloo

Claude Lefebre, Public Domainnknown artist, after Louis XIV, circa 1670, u

Claude Lefebre, Public Domainnknown artist, after Louis XIV, circa 1670, u

Before there was Napoleon Bonaparte, there  was Louis XIV, the Sun King.  He believed himself the greatest monarch the world had ever seen, so naturally he thought he might as well control all of Europe plus the British Isles, not just France.  In 1704, the War of the Spanish Succession had been going on for four years, and things were going well for the French.  Unlike many kings, Louis XIV was actually a soldier, and an accomplished one.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1704, Adriaen van der Werff, Public Domain

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1704, Adriaen van der Werff, Public Domain

He met his match in John Churchill, who had risen through the ranks after beginning at court as a lowly page.  He had already attained the rank of First Duke of Marlborough when he stopped the French in their tracks.  He changed the course of European history.  Churchill/Marlborough did this through a combination of deceptive communications and wily maneuvering of his forces.  As I understand it, he marched his troops undetected through the Low Countries, pretty much surprising the French at a little Bavarian village called Blenheim.  The object was to keep the French from occupying Vienna, which would have broken up the delicate and ever-shifting balance among European powers.

Marlborough’s heroics ended Louis XIV’s dream of controlling all of Europe. The French suffered 30,000 casualties.  The French commander-in-chief, Marshall Tallard, was captured and hauled to England as a prisoner.  There were still battles left to fight, but the battle of Blenheim was a huge turning point in history.


A grateful nation gave the 1st Duke of Marlborough the lands and the money to build a suitable tribute, a palace that would rival the Versailles of Louis XIV.  In fact, the cavernous entry hall at Blenheim is as impressive as anything I’ve seen at Versailles.  It’s more austere, though–suitable for the military theme of Blenheim. The palace was built in the English Baroque style, and contained 187 rooms. The construction was halted in 1711, after the Duchess of Marlborough had a terrible quarrel with Queen Anne.  In fact, the Duke and Duchess had to go into temporary exile on the continent until the Queen died in 1714.  After that, the Duke had to spend his own money to complete his palace.

Serious historians would not be much impressed by my analysis of the military situation. If I wanted to fully understand the War of the Spanish Succession and its many battles, I could study a large military exhibition at Blenheim Palace.  I thought about the military exhibit on my recent visit, but the tearoom was calling my name.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!

Castle or Cottage, It’s All in the Details

MaintChateauI love architectural details: the curve of a stairwell, a finely carved door, a charming round tower. These small details make a place individual and personal.  I can imagine real people dreaming about a house or cottage or castle, debating the details, and watching their plans take shape.

The most interesting details often appear in smaller dwellings, places that were likely planned by individuals instead of royal committees. The Chateau de Maintenon, near Chartres in France, is a fine example. Building was begun in the 10th century. As ownership changed, families in succeeding centuries refined and added to this exquisite chateau, but it remains an intimate family home rather than a grand showpiece. In fact, although it is now open to the public, the family still occupies one private wing.


The north facade has rounded enclosures for stairwells with towers and an archway for carriages to pass under the building.


An interior circular stairway has sinuous curves and intricately patterned column supports.


An exterior doorway is elaborately framed in Gothic stone. Entering that ancient doorway is an occasion in itself.


An interior doorway has very old “linen fold” pleats carved from sturdy ancient oak.


This was the chateau given to Madame de Maintenon, the third and final wife of Louis the Sun King.  He was happy to escape the hubbub of Versailles in his old age and spend quiet time here.  I’d be happy to revisit this chateau anytime myself!

Previous posts about Chateau de Maintenon are at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/05/07/chateau-de-maintenon/

and  https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/06/10/jean-de-noaill…nch-resistance/

and  https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/06/18/three-slugs-and-a-cabbage/

and  https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/05/15/louis-xiv-a-very-thirsty-king/

Wow, I guess I really liked this particular chateau! Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe.