Saturday, September 1, 2012

What would Louis XIV eat?

Louis XIV of France 
 Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701

This morning, while reading the paper, I realized that today, September 1, is the 297th anniversary of the death of  Louis XIV.  As a French major, I studied him.  I don't remember a whole lot other than:
--He was the longest reigning king- 72 years.
--Cardinals Mazarin and Richelieu were involved somehow in his life.
--He turned a hunting lodge into the Château of Versailles.  (I've been there several times and love it.)
--He had rising and going to bed ceremonies.
--He was known as Le Roi Soleil, The Sun King.
--He supported Molière, although the playwright made fun of him.
--He supposedly said "L'État, c'est moi."  I am the State.

Somewhere along the line, I was told that he thought he had lovely legs and that's why they feature so prominently in his portrait.  I've seen the portrait above in Versailles.  There are several versions of it.

So, I started thinking about Louis Quatorze, Louis the X-I-V, as I've been known to call him in order to keep it straight in my head.  Back in March, the Best Guide in Paris and My Favorite Parisian, upon hearing that I had never been to the Basilica of St. Denis, loaded my 20 eighth graders, Arles Lucy, and moi into the métro for a visit.  (A really good thing to do on the first day in Paris after little or no sleep on the plane, actually.)
I was thrilled.  Here I am, in the hallowed burial place of so many famous souls from French history.
And here is Louis' final resting place.

More about this later for those of you with strong stomachs...

I decided to do some Louis XIV research.  (I first started thinking about his eating habits, of course.)
Things I learned from Googling:
--He was a Bourbon king (he ever drank any- it's an 18th American creation).
--He was also called Louis-Dieudonné, Gift from God, because his mom had 4 stillborn children prior to his birth.
--Legend has it that he was brought to Louis XIII's deathbed and when his dad asked him who he was, little Louis answered that he was Louis XIV, to which his dad told him- Not yet, buster.  Sheesh.  Kids!  Talk about entitlement...
--He placed a tax on salt.
--Reportedly, he was close to his mom and they shared a love for food and theatre.
--He built the Hôtel des Invalides to be used as a hospital for soldiers.
--He renovated and improved the Louvre and gave it over to the arts as a museum after his move to Versailles.
--He was officially known as Roi de France et de Navarre and liked to be addressed as Monsieur le Roi.
--He married Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660 and only one of their 6 children survived to adulthood.  She died in 1683.  He had numerous official and unofficial mistresses and illegitimate children.   He "secretly"married Madame de Maintenon at Versailles a few months after his first wife's death.
--He revoked the Edict of Nantes (perhaps at her urging?), forcing as many as 400,000 Huguenots out of France.  Their big loss.  We Protestants are not necessarily a bad bunch.
--He was probably diabetic and died of gangrene.
--Napoléon said of him:  "... a great king... the only king of France worthy of the name."

Of course, there is a lot more than this, but since I already have my degree and I teach middle school, I don't really need the rest.

Okay, now what would Louis XIV eat?  He was a serious eater, mes amis.  His doctors worried about him and supposedly his stomach and intestines were twice the normal size (info gleaned from his autopsy report, I guess). His life at Versailles was one big ceremony. La Levée (the Getting Up) and La Couchée (the Going To Bed) were attended by his fans.  Breakfast consisted of tea and broth around 7:30-8:00 am.  Lunch, le Petit Couvert, was around 1:00 pm and sometimes attended by his advisors.  On the menu:  soups, pheasant, chicken, mutton and gravy, ham, boiled eggs, salads, pastries, and fruit.  I read that he was fond of Dom Pérignon wines.  Dinner, le Grand Couvert, was served around 10:00 pm.  Observers were allowed, but no one could talk or make noise because Louis didn't like to be distracted during his dinner.  He would partake of 20-30 different dishes (although I did read that he ate less at dinner than at lunch) and then nibble on a boiled egg and candied fruit on his way to bed.  Maybe La Couchée made him hungry?  Each dish had to be tasted by the chef and maître d' first.  If Louis's glass was empty and he expressed thirst (Alors, j'ai soif!), the Principal Cupbearer would shout "A drink for the King!" (en français, bien sûr) and three servants would take 7-8 minutes to ceremoniously taste the King's water and wine before offering it to him.  (I guess he was a bit paranoid about the possibility of a Royal Poisoner being in his midst?  After all, he had his whole court living with him at Versailles in order to squelch any uprisings and coups d'états.)

Now, at this point, I must warn you that if you have a sensitive stomach and get grossed out easily, you might want to stop reading.  I found some very interesting information about Louis XIV's heart.  I cannot believe that I did not know this before.  What were my teachers thinking?  Or maybe they just didn't have the ability to find such interesting stuff.  It was in the days before computers and Google, after all. Okay, you've been warned.

It seems that during the French Revolution some angry Revolutionaries broke into the Basilica of St. Denis and into the crypt of Louis XIV.  Remember, they fiercely hated the monarchy.  Someone stole Louis's heart.  It ended up in the hands of Lord Harcourt, the Archbishop of York.  Then it ended up in the tummy of the Very Reverend William Buckland, a very, very strange Englishman who was fascinated with eating any and all animal parts.  The story goes that Buckland had the heart sautéed, slow roasted and served with a side of broad beans.  He ate it for his Christmas supper.  He reported that it was a bit on the chewy side but otherwise quite good.  I wish that I could tell you which wine he chose for this meal, but, alas, no record was kept.

While at St. Denis, I did get to see the heart of Louis XVII, well, the man would would've been Louis XVII had France returned to monarchy.
Très intéressant, n'est-ce pas?  And grossly fascinating to my gaggle of 8th graders who all photographed it.

Supposedly, Louis XIV was fond of fish, sole in particular.  Perhaps he and Julia Child would've shared a moment over Sole Meunière.  Qui sait?  Can't you just picture them in the King's private chambers noshing and chatting?  Maybe he would've broken his no-talking rule for her.

My sources for this post: 

Bon appétit, Louis the X-I-V!

1 comment:

harry said...

this post was very helpful