Court identities and the myth of Versailles in Europe: perception, adherence and rejection (18th-19th century)

Duration: 2017-2023

This research programme aims to analyse the modus operandi of the myth of Versailles in the monarchical Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries. The study will centre on two reciprocal issues: on the one hand, the creation of an imaginary world, contemporary then memorial, and, on the other, its implementation and efficiency in other spheres – architectural, ritual, political.

The “modern” courts in Europe included the institutional, social, societal and cultural aspects concomitant with the political affirmation of personalities emerging, by agreement or through conflict, from communities exercising power together in order to seize authority for their own personal benefit and to develop a range of encomiastic processes for their own person. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, the princely courts in Europe did not confine themselves to one single paradigm. There were as many courts as there were princely houses, as many “national” types, even if some, like the Burgundian court in the 15th century and the courts in northern and central Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, proposed models and exercised influence from one end of Europe to the other, while accommodating indigenous influences. What was new was that in 18th and 19th century Europe the princely courts referred to a model that would become the archetype: Versailles. From the 1680s, when Louis XIV established his court at Versailles, the French court was held up as a paradigm in relation to which all the others positioned themselves. This system of reference continued throughout the 19th century. Even when Versailles had foundered, along with Louis XIV’s legacy of absolute monarchy, in October 1789, its aura was strengthened by European monarchies, which persisted and even multiplied, continuing until their collapse in 1918.

This model has a reality in the French court as configured by Louis XIV. But this configuration falls short of the model used as a reference. Versailles is a myth - developed, certainly, by the French, but equally, if not more so, by their European competitors. A phenomenon that requires investigation: why did Versailles become a key reference, or not, for European courts? There are two parts to this question:

  1. What are the elements that make up this myth? How do we define this archetypal court presented as ideal? What provided the impetus, and what were the processes through which this myth developed? This question stretches well beyond France, and should be put to all those in Europe who constructed – or not – the fantasy of Versailles.
  2. How was this myth received – adopted, resisted or refused?

Research will be organised along five different lines, through which the idea of the “perfect court”, such as we find at Versailles, can be defined: organisational model, public and private areas in the residence, reigning and governing in Europe, palace and democracy, State and palace rituals.


Scientific Director: Gérard Sabatier, Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the Université Grenoble II, Member of the Scientific Committee of the Centre de recherche du château de Versailles

Research program coordinator: Flavie Leroux, Research Officer, Centre de recherche du château de Versailles.


  • Antonio Alvarez-Ossorio, Director del Madrid Institute for Advanced Study (MIAS), Universidad Autónoma de Madrid;
  • Mathieu da Vinha, Scientific Director, Centre de recherche du château de Versailles;
  • Maciej Forycki, Lecturer in Modern History, Uniwersytet Adam Mickiewicz, Poznań;
  • Éric Hassler, Lecturer in Modern History, ARCHE (Arts, civilisation et l’histoire de l’Europe), université de Strasbourg;
  • Mark Hengerer, Professor of Western European history at the start of the modern period, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich;
  • Christine Jeanneret, Researcher, Københavns Universitet, Centre for Privacy Studies;
  • Jean-Marie Le Gall, Professor of Modern History, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne;
  • Francine-Dominique Liechtenhan, Research Director, Centre national de la recherche scientifique;
  • Philip Mansel, President, comité scientifique du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles / The Society for Court Studies;
    Alexandre Maral, General curator for Heritage at the Sculpture department, musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon (until October 2023);
  • Andrea Merlotti, Director, Centro Studi La Venaria Reale;
  • Alexandra Pioch, Publishing Manager, Centre de recherche du château de Versailles;
  • Friedrich Polleroß, Vice president, Institut für die Erforschung der Frühen Neuzeit, Universität Wien;
  • José Luis Sancho Gaspar, Researcher, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid;
  • Jonathan Spangler, Lecturer in modern European history, Manchester Metropolitan University;
  • Thomas W. Gaehtgens, Director Emeritus, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


>  Database listing the accounts of foreign visitors to the domain, the Palace and the Court of Versailles, between the second half of the 17th century and the end of the 19th century.

>  Symposium “The Myth of Versailles and European Courts, 17th-20th century” (château de Versailles, 17-19 June 2021) and publication of proceedings in the Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles under the direction of Gérard Sabatier, Mathieu da Vinha and Flavie Leroux (2023).

>  Publication of proceedings of the workshop “Récits de voyages à Versailles, XVIIe-XIXe siècle” (scheduled for March 23, 2020, canceled due to the health context), in the Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles directed by Mathieu da Vinha, Flavie Leroux and Gérard Sabatier (December 8, 2020).

Programme (in french)

>  Publication of four articles in the Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles (in French):

>  Monthly reports on the activities carried out within the framework of the program, published in the Carnet du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles (in french).

>  Publication of articles on visitors to Versailles in the Carnets de Versailles (in French):

>  Participation by Gérard Sabatier, Mathieu da Vinha and Flavie Leroux at the symposium “Cosmopolitanism, Cultural Exchange, Performing Arts, and Transnational History between France and Denmark (1660-1800)”, organized by Christine Jeanneret (3-4 June 2019, Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark).

Symposium Danemark

>  Workshop “Versailles and Poland” (Polish Academy of Sciences, Paris - March 5, 2019) organised with Maciej Forycki and Flavie Leroux.

Versailles and Poland (in french)

>  Publication of proceedings of the “Versailles et la Pologne” Study Day in the Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles, under the direction of Maciej Forycki, Katarzyna Kula and Flavie Leroux (2021).

>  Enrichment of the CRCV bibliographic database with 188 references relating to the research program.

>  Conferences given around the program (in French):

  • “Présentation de la base ’Visiteurs de Versailles’” by Flavie Leroux and Gérard Sabatier in the seminar “Versailles : une histoire en perspective” organized by Pauline Lemaigre-Gaffier for the université Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (April 11, 2022).
  • “Visiter Versailles, de la résidence royale aux Galeries historiques” by Bastien Coulon and Flavie Leroux for subscribers to the Palace of Versailles (May 31, 2022).
  • “Visiteurs de Versailles au XIXe siècle” by Flavie Leroux in the seminar “Versailles et le XIXe siècle” organized by Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu for the université Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (February 7, 2023).
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