La Belle et la Bête: The Palace of Versailles, Self-Fashioning, and the Coming of the French Revolution


  • Savanna R Teague


While the mass consumption of luxury items is oftentimes described as a factor leading the Third Estate to take action against the First and Second Estates in the buildup to the French Revolution, that spending is presented as little more than salt in the open wounds of a starving and ever-growing population that had been growing evermore destitute since the beginnings
of the early modern era. However, the causes and contexts of the conspicuous consumption as practiced by the aristocracy reveal how they directly correlate to the social tensions that persisted throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries until they erupted in the 1790s. The
isolation and the dictation of taste and style that Louis XIV commanded through Versailles and State-run luxury workshops became commonplace within a generation after the Fronde in which the nobles had engaged during the previous century. Versailles allowed the new generation of the
aristocracy to be placated with petty privileges that developed out of the rigorous court etiquette, and their conspicuous consumption only increased as the need to compete with others at Court and those newly ennobled continued. This study examines a materialistic culture alongside its
material culture, focusing on explaining the expenditures of the aristocracy without becoming enamored by the spectacle of wealth itself. The goods and services that the French aristocracy indulged in purchasing were not simply marks of luxury; they represented social ideals about order and privilege. Versailles allowed Louis XIV and his heirs to control their nobles while simultaneously reflecting the order and the stability of the State in the architecture and gardens.