My Experience at the Palace of Versailles

Over the summer, I visited France with my family and had the opportunity to visit Versailles. Built in 1664, the Palace of Versailles is an incredibly beautiful and lavish,  yet disgustingly extravagant and indulgent palace where King Louis XIV lived with his royal family and where his later successors lived as well. While the architecture and decoration of Versailles is really incredible, it was a truly disgusting reflection of King Louis and really underscored the corruptness of the French government prior to the revolution. Upon visiting, I learned that Versailles was a significant factor behind the peasant’s anger.   With 2,300 rooms, a court, a lake, and personalized art covering the ceilings and the walls, it was very apparent to me as to why the king’s subjects were so angry. While the peasants were struggling financially to support themselves and had few rights compared to the other classes, the king built an excessive and decadent palace for himself, despite the poor villagers surrounding him. Versailles made me consider the differences of the uses of power in America versus in 18th century France. After the American revolution, a democracy was established to avoid despotic power and promoted the idea that power comes from the people. After visiting Versailles, however, it became clear to me that power in 18th century France before the revolution was corrupt and the king used power for personal gain, as evidenced by the king’s lavish palace. While the American government governs for the people and by the people, the French king prior to the revolution clearly governed for himself. Although this may not be true for all of the king’s accomplishments, the Palace of Versailles evidenced that much of the king’s power was self-interested and that he failed to properly represent the people.

What was very uplifting about my visit to Versailles was the part of the palace that now displays creative and nuanced pieces of modern art that was very unexpected. Below, I have attached a picture of a furry pink helicopter in the middle of a lavish room with different personalized murals all along the wall. I have also included a picture of two giant shoes made out of pots and pans in a similar room. What was uplifting about this exhibit was that it revealed just how much France has developed and the power and significance of the French Revolution. These comedic pieces of art revealed that France has developed from an extreme tyrannical king to a country that supports and encourages personal power and success, similar to the ideals of our government. While the revolution was more than 200 years ago, after seeing this outrageously decadent palace that revealed a corrupt and evil side of human nature, it was interesting and uplifting to find this palace home to nuanced pieces of modern art, revealing the development of France and how its values have changed.

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4 Responses to My Experience at the Palace of Versailles

  1. Dr. K says:

    Thanks for the post, Sarah. Out of curiosity, I tried to compare income distribution in Old Regime France, and modern America. Hard to do, but here’s some figures

    Old regime France:
    Top 5%: About 20-25% of the income
    Top 20%: 60% of the income
    Bottom 40%: 14% of the income

    Source is here

    Modern US (These figures are from 1998–since then the share of income going to the rich has increased):
    Top 5%: 21.4% of national income
    Top 20%: 49.2% of the income
    Bottom 40%: 12.5%

    Source: U.S. census

    The Gini coefficient is a traditional measure of income inequality. It indicates that the US now is more equal in income distribution than was Old Regime France, with France then about as unequal in income distribution as Guatemala or Colombia today (and significantly more unequal than most countries today)

    I think I got the numbers right. Feel free to check.

    • sweiswasser2015 says:

      Thank you, Dr. Korfhage for your response! These percentages are quite fascinating. I calculated the average difference in the percentage of income distribution in Old Regime France and modern America and found that France had an average difference of 40.5%, while modern U.S has an average difference of approximately 32.3%. While these two averages do not reflect an extremely significant difference, it is clear that there is more of an equal distribution among the “classes” of modern America. Perhaps most interesting is the consideration as to how this income distribution disparity affects our society or how it plays a role in our society. My visit to Versailles indicated to me that the powerful figures in older French society had an income that they used in their own personal interest. While “classes” exist in America, they are not solid divisions that are stated in our constitution or any laws. However, income inequality is continuously evident in our society. Unlike older French society, however, one’s power does not automatically determine their wealth, as their are individuals in society who are infamous, yet significantly wealthier than (not all) politicians. American income inequality, however, is in my opinion, more “natural” than in older French culture, in that income inequality in American society is a result of a difference in personal financial success. In France, however, early French kings used money that was scarce in lower classes to indulge himself in an unnecessary lavish palace.

  2. Madison says:

    Your article was very interesting to read! You stated that Louis XIV used his governing for his personal benefit, and when you visited the palace it clearly reflected that. The nobility was extremely selfish and viewed themselves to be superior to the third estate. Louis was a very poor ruler who had completely emptied the treasury, due to helping out the Americans with the wars with the English and because of his own personal desires. I had not known that modern art is now on display at the Versailles palace. This is very interesting and the pictures you attached reflect the extravagance of Marie Antoinette and Louis’s lives. Thanks for the insightful post!

    • sweiswasser2015 says:

      Thank you for your insightful response! I think Louis’ extravagance and self-interest also reflects an aspect of his character that is evident in many of the decisions he makes. While Louis may not have been the best monarch, it is clear that his character was the main factor that inhibited him from being a great monarch. Louis was extremely influenced by others’ decisions and was incapable of making decisions on his own. Such influence resulted in a poor reputation for the king. For instance, the king relied heavily on his indulgent wife, Marie Antoinette. The queen, however, despised the radicals and made decisions for Louis with such bias. It is perhaps possible that the indulgence I witnessed in the halls of the Palace of Versailles are rather a reflection of Louis’ dependent character and his wife’s freedom to indulge herself, given Louis’ inability to make decisions and take a stance.

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