Here Comes the Sun King: finding Louis XIV in State Papers Online

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Elinor Hawkes

I joined Gale in December 2014 as Digital Product Editor, working particularly on our Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library and Stuart & Cumberland Papers from the Royal Archives projects. I’m a qualified archivist and before joining Gale I worked in the Universities sector for nearly 10 years, so I’m delighted to continue working with Archives and Academics in a role that has broadened my horizons and introduced me to new challenges.

On Wednesday night the BBC premiered Canal+’s lavish new period drama, Versailles. Always a sucker for period dramas, I looked forward to this one especially as I had no idea of the plot beforehand so the drama was a complete surprise, and I had very fond memories of a trip to the real Versailles as a student. Home of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Versailles was the seat of French government for most of the 18th Century, and if the TV show is to be believed, was the centre of much political intrigue.

Louis XIV had close ties with the English royal family, as his English sister-in-law Henrietta was daughter of Charles I, and sister to Charles II and James II. She was also Louis’ first cousin, as he was the nephew of her mother, Charles I’s wife Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV of France. The longevity of Louis’ reign (72 years – the longest reign of all the European monarchs) meant that he sat on the French throne during a time of great political and religious upheaval in Britain, from the execution of Charles I to Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the Interregnum, to the restoration of the monarchy, the Glorious Revolution, and finally George I’s accession as the first monarch of the House of Hanover.

1)Portrait of Louis XIV, Workshop of Claude Lefèbvre [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1) Portrait of Louis XIV, Workshop of Claude Lefèbvre [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With this in mind, I realised that our State Papers Online archive must be a terrific resource for studying Louis XIV and the court of Versailles, and for studying how the turbulence of 17th century Britain was witnessed on the continent. State Papers Online contains dispatches from British envoys and ambassadors to France, as well as correspondence between various heads of state. There are many ways to find relevant content – searching for Versailles or Louis XIV brought up calendar entries and their associated manuscripts that mention those terms (I found the Index tab especially useful for drilling down into different types of entry), or an alternative method was to browse for manuscript and calendar volumes from a particular time period and location. For example, this manuscript volume from various British envoys to France from 1682, the year Louis XIV officially moved his parliament to France, might be a particularly good read:

2)Excerpt from SP78/144, ‘Henry Savile, Viscount Preston, Richard Tempest, Bedford Whiting and Robert Lang’, 1682

2) Excerpt from SP78/144, ‘Henry Savile, Viscount Preston, Richard Tempest, Bedford Whiting and Robert Lang’, 1682

State Papers Online continues to expand, and in the next 9 months we will see the third instalment of the State Papers Online: 18th Century programme, focusing on Western Europe. This collection would provide ample material for students interested in researching French and British relations in the 17th and 18th centuries.

You can request a free trial of State Papers Online and State Papers Online: 18th Century here.