Versailles: the historical truths behind the BBC’s spicy period drama

The story of French King Louis XIV’s decadent and stormy reign returns this week with the second series of Versailles, but how historically accurate is the period drama?

Last updated: 18 April 2017 - 12.12pm

If you enjoyed series one of this steamy depiction of 17th century French royalty, then you can expect more of the same – and then some.

The show sparked plenty of discussion about whether the writers took liberties (or libertés, as the French might say) with the truth, so we’ve separated the fact from the fiction to bring you the reality behind Versailles...

The setting

The action largely takes place inside the Palace of Versailles and begins in 1667, as the building is being constructed, and at a time when the young ‘Sun King’ is developing his own unique personality and ruling style. However, although Louis XIV did spend time at Versailles during this period, it didn’t become his permanent residence until it was completed in 1682.

The characters

A number of people in the drama never existed in real life. They include Louis’s ultra-violent head of security, Fabien Marchal, as well as his one-armed gardener/philosopher, Jacques. Then there’s his daughter, Claudine, and his physician, Dr Masson; the King’s real doctor during this time was Antoine Vallot. Well, we can allow a little creative licence…

The affairs

The depiction of Louis as a bed-hopping lothario is entirely true, and he was able to keep several relationships going at the same time. What is unclear, and still the source of much debate, is whether he ever had a physical relationship with his sister-in-law, Henriette, or whether they simply flirted with each other… a lot.

The madness

In the series, Louis loses his marbles and composes a ballet (the real king was a huge fan of the art form and danced throughout his early years). Although he did suffer life-threatening bouts of smallpox and typhoid, they were contracted much earlier in his life, away from Versailles. In fact, Louis was something of a medical marvel, avoiding serious illness for many decades.

Versailles series 2 starts at 9.30pm, Friday, on BBC Two, followed by Inside Versailles, which reveals the real history behind the drama.

Catch up on all the episodes on BBC iPlayer on your BT TV box.