Vaux Le Vicomte: a tragic tale

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Here is a little historical story for you….

 

The magnificent Château de Vaux Le Vicomte in Maincy France is the largest private château in France today owned by the Sommier family, who purchased the estate in 1875. It is now a dazzling site to see and for garden lovers it is a breathtaking experience.

But the Château has a dark and tragic history and I will recount a little of it here for you now.

On Aug 17, 1661, the Sun King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Nicholas Fouquet (Marquis de Belle Île, Vicomte of Melun and Vaux) was putting the finishing touches to an elaborate dinner for 6,000 guests. Other than the fantastic feast, there was to be a play by Moliere and a ballet by Lully, and at the end of the evening’s feasting, the garden was to erupt with illuminated fountains and a fireworks display. Vaux had cost some 160 million livres and Fouquet had employed over 18,000 men to complete the grand task. Fouquet was a wealthy man in his own right and his wealth increased when, in 1651 he had married Marie de Castille, a member of the wealthy Spanish nobility.

Louis XIV arrived at Vaux as guest of honour but instead of being delighted at what he saw, he was totally outraged and, having for some time suspected Fouquet of pilfering state coffers, assumed that Fouquet had indeed stolen vast sums to finance this immense château and the extraordinary gardens. It is said that Louis flew into an tyrannical rage, and had Fouquet later arrested by  the musketeer d’Artagnan. Fouquet underwent a ‘mock trial’ and spent the last 19 years of his life imprisoned, without so much as books or writing material.

There was no real evidence that the wealthy Fouquet had indeed misappropriated any funds at all, but his failure was to seem to outdo the splendour of the Sun King, something that could not be tolerated. Louis looted the Château of its treasures and had thousands of plants taken from the gardens and replanted at Versailles.

Voltaire said of that tragic evening – “At six in the evening, Fouquet was ‘King of France’, at two in the morning, he was a nobody.”

 

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