As a result, Europe is today the most pleasant place in the world. Here, I no longer find those thorn bushes, those barren heaths, those swamps, those chasms which offended the eyes and made the traveller despair. I see the richest meadows, the most delightful pleasure gardens, the most beautiful views and the most pleasant streets, and France has done more than any other country to contribute to this happy transformation. …
Inhabitants of the various parts of Europe – if this book comes into your hands, then say to yourselves: it would not exist if we had not made it possible. It only shows the public what we do. It proves that we are French – as far as language, manners, clothes, reading, and outlook are concerned, and we constantly express this through the way we live.
Foreigners could not do better than to model themselves on the example of France, which is indisputably the most comfortably arranged, most pleasant and most delightful country.1
This description of a French Europe was penned by the French Marquis Louis-Antoine Caraccioli (1719–1803). It concludes his Paris, le modèle des nations étrangères, ou l'Europe françoise, which was published in 1777. According to Caraccioli, France, and the French language, customs and way of living had been adopted throughout Europe and had united the continent.2
This opinion was shared, with regard to the court of Louis XIV (1638–1715), by the German scholar of German literature and Baroque expert Richard Alewyn (1902–1979). In 1957, he wrote: "Bis hinüber nach Warschau und Stockholm und Petersburg verwandeln sich alle Höfe in Trabanten eines Sonnensystems, das nicht um die staatliche Macht, das um den festlichen Glanz von Versailles kreist."3
This article discusses the extent to which one can speak of a French Europe in the late-17th and 18th centuries. In doing so, it focuses on the "Versailles model" and does not discuss the role and influence of the French Enlightenment, which in the 18th century became a source of French influence to rival that of French absolutism under Louis XIV. This article is primarily concerned, therefore, with the role of French absolutism4 as a model for the rest of Europe and the influence which French absolutism had on transfer processes in various areas.
From the beginning of his personal rule in 1661, Louis XIV made his ambition to attain a position of hegemony in Europe unmistakeably clear. On the one hand, he pursued a policy of aggressive expansionism, which was aided in the initial years by a broad system of alliances, particularly with states in the Holy Roman Empire. On the other hand, he enhanced the power of the monarchy and the grandeur of his court in a way that gained attention in France and throughout Europe.
The increase in the power of the monarchy was based on a whole range of reforms which Louis XIV and his "First Minister" Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683)5 implemented from 1661 onward, building on the earlier policies of the cardinals Armand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu (1585–1642) and Jules Mazarin (1602–1661). These reforms created a range of new institutions in France. Recent research has indicated that Louis XIV fell far short of his ideal of absolute rule in many areas, that many reforms remained rudimentary in nature, and that certain important areas of the economy and of society remained all but untouched by the reforms.6 However, there was no doubt among contemporaries that the reforms had strengthened France, and the system of new and reformed institutions consequently elicited considerable interest elsewhere in Europe and prompted other rulers to introduce changes in their own realms.
I therefore use the term "Versailles model" to refer to the various institutions of French absolutism, at the centre of which was Versailles, but which cannot be reduced to the court of Versailles alone.
The State Reforms of Louis XIV
France's ascent to a position of hegemony on the European continent in the second half of the 17th century was accompanied by the decline of Spain, which was increasingly overwhelmed by the demographic and economic burdens placed on it by its colonial empire in the New World. Thanks to its superior diplomacy, France was able to demonstrate its dominant position already during the peace negotiations of 1648. But France was then plunged into a serious internal crisis, the Fronde, a revolt by the parlement of Paris and the upper nobility, in which parts of the general populace also participated, particularly the Paris public. However, the monarchy was ultimately able to emerge from this conflict stronger than before. This consolidation was highlighted by the conclusion of the Treaty of the Pyrenees7 with Spain in 1659 and the beginning of Louis XIV's personal rule.
After the death of Mazarin in 1661, Louis XIV took over the governing of France at a propitious time. The treaties of 1648 and 1659 had resulted in a more stable international situation. Internally, the failure of the Fronde had quelled opposition. Additionally, Louis could build on the work done by the cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin to centralize the state and increase its internal stability.
Louis XIV continued on this path of the centralization of state power. After the civil war of the Fronde, which he had been old enough to remember,8 he sought to remove all intermediary and autonomous authorities. In particular, he sought to re-establish and consolidate monarchical authority in France with the help of the intendants, officials who derived their authority solely from the crown. Henry II (1519–1559) had been the first to use intendants in an attempt to assert royal authority in the provinces. Under Richelieu, the intendants, who held sole authority in the areas of finance, justice and law enforcement, gradually became a permanent fixture, but they also met with strong resistance from the opposition and were abolished in 1648 at the outbreak of the Fronde.9 Thereafter, Mazarin had to make do with envoys to the provinces. From 1661, Louis XIV and Colbert worked on the reintroduction of the institution of the intendants, which was made permanent in 1666. Simultaneously, the noble provincial governors were emasculated, though these offices were not abolished. This clearly demonstrates how cautious Louis was when calling into question the traditional hierarchy of society. In general, the king showed great consideration for the attitudes of the upper nobility.10 In addition to establishing the intendants on a firm basis, the prerogatives of the parlements were restricted, which, in tandem with the legislative activities of the king, promoted greater uniformity of law.
The centralized bureaucracy was necessary, in particular, to secure the funds Louis needed to drive the expansion and reform of the army. His greatest successes were undoubtedly in the creation of this army.11 From 1670, France possessed a standing army which was not demobilized after the conclusion of treaties and which grew to 400,000 men during the reign of Louis XIV. The army was also thoroughly modernized – by the adoption of new military technologies, the creation of institutions for paying and provisioning troops, as well as new weaponry and uniforms. The systematic training of officers at cadet academies and numerous disciplinary regulations made the army unconditionally subordinate to the crown and an important instrument of monarchical power, both inside and outside French borders.12 More recent research suggests that the army played a far more important role in bringing the nobility to heel than the court. Additionally, the building of a network of fortifications around the perimeter of France from 1660 onward not only made France more secure against attacks from outside, but also subdued the French provinces.13
That the state came to gain full control over the military was of great importance for the formation of the early modern state. However, it also resulted in large costs to the crown, which were partially covered by the taxes raised by the state fiscal administration and which were collected mostly by the intendants. In addition, an active, systematic mercantilist economic policy was implemented under Colbert. Colbert promoted the development of many state-run companies, such as those manufacturing armaments and luxury goods, and he promoted the expansion of infrastructure and the creation of trading companies. He invited foreign specialists to France, supported new branches of industry, prohibited the importation of finished goods from abroad, and expanded the French colonial empire. Although Colbert did not establish a unified French internal market, did not reform the system of privileges, and completely ignored the agricultural sector, in which nine tenths of the population was employed, his policies nonetheless yielded some initial successes, and he succeeded in achieving a balanced state budget. However, the numerous wars which occurred from 1667 led to a chronic state budget deficit.
However, Colbert not only sought to improve the economy. He created a system of institutions which were intended to promote France's leading role in Europe. The system of academies which Colbert founded in Paris in the 1660s is one example. The system promoted artistic and scientific endeavours, but was also intended to publicise the king's role as patron and to directly further the king's aims. In particular, the Académie des inscriptions, which was founded in 1663 and which contemporaries also referred to as the "little academy", was envisaged by Colbert as an institution for court propaganda. It was primarily engaged in producing inscriptions for monuments honouring the king and engravings on royal medals. It only developed into a research institution for history and philology from 1701 onward, and, as a result, was renamed the Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres.14
In addition to the academies, the court supported numerous writers and publicists – some of them located abroad – who skilfully portrayed France as playing a leading role in the Christian West.15
Versailles as a Site of Representation and Integration
The Palace of Versailles was used, in particular, for the self-representation of the ruler and to demonstrate the level of power to which he aspired. Louis XIV took great interest in the building works,16 using the palace as a backdrop for artistic performances, diplomatic demonstrations and also for the cultural and political integration of the upper nobility, though not in the way depicted by Norbert Elias (1897–1990), who portrayed the court exclusively as an instrument for domesticating and disciplining the upper nobility.17 Indeed, the number of nobles staying at the Versailles court increased considerably from 1664 to the 1680s,18 making the court also into a stage for the self-representation of the nobility.19 The palace also served to sacralise the ruler and to increase his prestige, to which end Louis also published and circulated depictions of the palace, expressing his power aspirations ever more resplendently.
The downside of this increasingly elaborate and luxuriant cultivation of the royal image was the ever-increasing cost involved in funding court life. Along with the wars, these costs contributed considerably from the 1670s onward to the growing state budget deficit – between 1661 and 1683, the building works in Versailles cost on average eleven per cent of the total state budget.20 But extension and conversion work at the palace continued also after 1683.21
Versailles was expanded to become a symbol of Louis XIV. But the palace not only served for the self-representation of Louis XIV, it also grew into a state institution in absolutist France. It became the centre of the entire state, and ordered the latter geometrically. From 1682, Versailles was the permanent seat of the ruler and of the central administration, as well as of the aristocratic elite.22
In the construction of the palace, as in the increasingly elaborate court ceremonial, Louis followed the example of Spain, while also endeavouring to surpass the latter. In its layout and decoration, the palace borrowed from Philip IV's (1605–1665) Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles was inspired by a similar hall in the Alcázar, the royal palace in Seville.23 As Louis looked back on a royal lineage which was far shorter than that of Philip IV – he was only the third Bourbon king on the French throne – he sought to compensate for this deficiency by employing various means of projecting an image of himself as a ruler.24 At the same time, a new style, referred to in art history as "Louis XIV", was created in Versailles to reflect the prestige of the monarchy. The distinguishing feature of this style was a unity of architecture, interior design and landscaping which had not previously been achieved. It was further characterized by space, brightness, size and decorative ornamentation – particularly in the interior design of the palace – as well as the symmetrically designed furniture, which often featured inlay work and which, though sumptuous, did not appear over-decorated. These renovations and decorations could be carried out thanks to the enormous funds which Louis spent on the completion of the palace, which made it possible to test and develop new techniques.25
From the beginning of his personal rule in 1661, the French king sought to establish a position of superiority over Spain. As early as 1661, this rivalry led to a conflict between the French and Spanish ambassadors in London over the issue of precedence, during which Louis strongly supported his ambassador. In the end, the Spanish ambassador to France was forced to apologize for the incident.26 The layout of Versailles Palace with its symmetrically designed wings for the king and the queen, a daughter of Philip IV, also gave expression to French claims on the Spanish crown after the death of the last Habsburg monarch in Madrid.27
Versailles played a central role in Louis' pursuit of a position of supremacy in Europe. Conflicts between rulers were not only played out on the battlefield, but also in the field of symbols through art, architecture, court festivals and court ceremonial. Architecture played a particularly important role in a time when written culture was of less importance. Colbert expressed this very emphatically in a letter to Louis XIV: "Votre Majesté sait qu'à defaut des actions éclatantes de la guerre, rien ne marque davantage la grandeur et l'esprit des princes que les bâtiments et toute la postérité les mesure à l'aune de ces superbes maisons qu'ils ont élevées pendant leur vie."28
The choice of the sun as the symbol of his rule clearly expressed Louis' ambitions and his concept of himself as a ruler and as the representative of God on earth. The sun served as a symbol of his central position within the state, as well as his theoretical claim to world rule and supremacy among the monarchs of Europe. The sun symbolism was also borrowed from the Habsburgs and it subsequently led Louis into a conflict of symbols with the Austrian branch of that royal family.
The ideology of the Sun King was enacted most intensively in Versailles.29 The chronicler of the arts André Félibien (1619–1695) stated in 1689 that everything in Versailles was connected with the sun symbolism.30 This was also true of the spacious parkwhich the garden architect André Le Nôtre (1613–1700) designed at the same time as the palace. The palace and the garden of Versailles formed a unified whole, in which the course of the sun represented the rule of the Sun King. The geometrical layout of the garden, and the manicured trees, shrubs and hedges symbolized the power of the ruler over nature.31 The garden also became a "Symbol mathematisch-kosmischer Gesetzlichkeit und hierarchischer Staats- und Weltordnung" ("symbol of the laws governing mathematics and the cosmos and of the hierarchical order of the state and the world").32
The plan of Versailles brings home the well-ordered, geometrical layout of the palace and the park. This was also intended to symbolically express the subordination of nature and the whole country to the king. The town of Versailles, which was to be built near to the palace, was to adhere to a similar design. It was planned as an expansive settlement orientated towards the palace and integrated into the overall plan for the palace. While the town of Versailles could not be completed as planned, it nonetheless became the model for various other residence towns.
Versailles, then, glorified the power ambitions of the king as well as his government, which also resided and worked there. The palace was part of a broad propaganda campaign of Louis XIV which has been analysed in detail by Peter Burke. The Hall of Mirrors (Grande Galerie) created by Jules Hardouin-Mansart (ca. 1646–1708) was decorated with images that depicted the history of the kings from the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) to the Treaty of Nijmegen (1678).33 These depictions of royal rule were subsequently transmitted to a broad audience in the Mercure Galant and in various books.34 Important buildings which were newly completed were publicised by means of prints. From the beginning, pictorial representations of the feasts held in Versailles were prepared and sent to foreign courts.35
France as a Model?
Strengthened and partially modernized, France played an increasingly prominent role as a model for the rest of Europe from the last third of the 17th century. This was particularly obvious in the adoption of French clothing fashions and manners throughout Europe. Versailles became a compulsory destination on the grand tours which young nobles undertook in order to practice courtly etiquette and to establish new contacts.36 French replaced Latin as the new lingua franca: Not only did the noble ruling class at the European courts begin to communicate in French,37 the Treaty of Rastatt38 negotiated in 1713/1714 was the first to be written in French instead of Latin. This treaty marked the transition from Latin to French as the language of diplomacy. The transition was completed by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle39 of 1748.40 The Francophone press in Europe included roughly 1,200 titles. In the German-speaking territory, almost 100 French-language newspapers and journals were published between 1686 and 1789, some of which were only published for a few years while others existed for decades.41
French also became increasingly important in the sciences after the foundation of important scientific periodicals in France, among them the Journal des Savants founded in 1665 thanks to Colbert. The extent of the shift towards the French language and French culture can be clearly seen as early as 1687 in a text by Christian Thomasius (1655–1728), only one example of a whole range of contemporary texts also observing this phenomenon.42 The author was very critical of the tendency of slavishly following the French example in dress, manners and other aspects of lifestyle, while he recommended such French virtues as politeness and learning.43 France's role as a model to all others nonetheless persisted in many areas for the entire 18th century. Frederick II (1712–1786) usually communicated in French as he regarded the German language as vulgar.
The adoption of cultural forms was above all due to the fact that these cultural forms were seen as an expression of a reformed and rationalized state order and of increased power. For this reason, the system of institutions created by Louis XIV, which strengthened the control of the state over its subjects considerably, was regarded throughout Europe as a model for others to follow and many of its elements were adopted elsewhere. On the one hand, such changes were intended – in view of French modernization – to prevent one's own realm from falling behind. On the other hand, the European rulers adopted these changes in order to strengthen their power within their own states and beyond.
Adoption of Elements of the Military Reforms
The creation of a standing army of soldiers in the pay of, and wearing the uniform of the state, which had a corresponding infrastructure, a clear hierarchical structure as well as its own defined norms of military behaviour played a central role in Louis XIV's acquisition – and demonstration – of more power. The tendency towards developing standing armies in the 17th century was further strengthened by the French example and standing armies were established in all European states during the 18th century at the latest.44 Different conditions in the respective countries led to very different variants emerging, such as the Swedish indelta system of recruiting, in which the recruitment of soldiers was organized on the basis of rural landownership.45
The introduction of a standing army, which considerably strengthened the position of the ruler, was often accompanied by serious conflicts with the estates. Establishing a standing army presented a considerable challenge to the entire state administration and led to further modernization processes without which the maintenance and expansion of the army would not have been possible.
In Prussia, the French model of a nationalized standing army was taken to the extreme. However, Prussia was a much poorer country than France and could only establish and maintain an army of such size and strength by making the entire economy and society subservient to the needs of the army, which ultimately resulted in a kind of militarization of Prussian society.46
The network of fortifications erected by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633–1707),  which included building works at more than 300 sites,47 was also viewed with admiration in other European states and imitated by some: after 1715 the Netherlands and Austria strengthened the Belgian border fortifications together to provide extra protection against France.48 Following the French example, Frederick II built a network of fortifications in the recently conquered Silesia in order to secure the territory and to protect it against Austria. Although in principle adhering to the French system, the defensive systems of individual fortresses went beyond the fortification methods pioneered by Vauban.49 Vauban was nonetheless an important model to Frederick II and he had Vauban's work translated.50 Due to the shortage of engineers in his own realm, Frederick II founded a school for engineers in the Berlin City Palace in 1775. He appointed a Frenchman, Professor Marsson, as its head.51
The maintenance of a standing army required a more modern state administration which was also more closely aligned with the ruler. Indeed, such changes were attempted in almost all countries. In Bourbon-ruled Spain and in Brandenburg-Prussia, the reordering of the state administration was more closely based on the French institutions than elsewhere.52
After his accession to the throne in Madrid, Philip V (1683–1746) attempted to reorganize the oligarchical system of Charles II (1661–1700) at the court after the French model and to create a hierarchical model which would strengthen his authority, not least in view of the civil war which was looming. His efforts were met with considerable resistance from the Spanish upper nobility, but he was able to implement his plans in important areas over time and to achieve a degree of centralization of power. In these endeavours, Philip initially received strong support from Louis XIV, who not only advised him on how to proceed, but also made individuals in whom he had confidence available to Philip. Philip created his own Garde du Corps based on the French example; he reduced his court and introduced state secretaries, the forerunners of ministers. In this way, Philip V attempted to create a bureaucratic apparatus which was loyal to him and which he could depend on in his efforts to centralize the state. In a second step, he created a central authority for state finances and reordered the tax system.53 These measures ultimately culminated in the reign of Ferdinand VI (1713–1759) in the introduction of the system of intendants in 1749 based on the French model.54 Philip V had already succeeded in the first third of his reign – during the civil war which was connected with the Spanish War of Succession – in removing the tax privileges of the Aragonese, who had taken to the field against him, and in strengthening the ties that bound Aragon to his monarchy.55 By adopting French models which were in some cases amalgamated with traditional institutions, Philip V succeeded in rationalizing political, cultural and socio-economic structures, which enabled the Spanish monarchy to experience a degree of reinvigoration in the second half of the 18th century.
In the 18th century the Prussian states developed an administration which employed even more officials than the French administration. While this administration was of a more collective character, its responsibilities were similar to those of the French intendants.56 Brandenburg-Prussia even managed to go further than France in some areas. By the end of the 18th century, the Prussian state maintained a considerably stronger presence in provincial Prussia (in terms of state officials) than the French state did in provincial France.57 Additionally, considerable progress was made in the separation of administration and justice, and the professionalization of jurists under Frederick II.58 A decisive factor in these reforms was the fact that the Prussian rulers hoped to homogenize the heterogeneous Prussian states through the introduction of a uniformly organized and effective administration.59 It has been shown that Frederick II, in particular, followed French examples in this regard.60 He endeavoured to strengthen the economic basis of his state (following the example of western Europe), in order to buttress the position gained through military might (the conquest of Silesia). The creation of the General Excise Administration, the so-called Regie, in 1765 and 1766 occurred following the example of French principles of bureaucratic administration and as a result of suggestions from the French. Central positions in this institution, which was only nominally subordinate to the General Directory, were also occupied by Frenchmen. The work of the Regie significantly increased state revenues.61 It also prompted the old bureaucracy to become more efficient by introducing western European ideas – in particular, from the Netherlands and Britain, as well as France – during the restructuring of administration.62
Cameralism, a German variant of mercantilism, manifested itself most clearly in 18th century Prussia and also became closely connected with state administration. The demand for capable officials was met by the introduction of courses of studies in cameralism. Halle University, which was founded in 1694, became a very important institution for the training of Prussian officials,63 and the first chair for cameralism in the German states was established there in 1727.64 Frederick II and his successor, Frederick William II (1744–1797), also recruited French specialists from the silk industry to establish manufactories in Prussia, thereby making Prussia less dependent on imports – this was, however, only a partial success.65
The mercantilist economic policies of Colbert became a model for the rest of Europe, though this did not always play out to the advantage of France. From the 1670s, a range of books were published in the German states which recommended protectionist measures, particularly regarding the import of French goods, in order to support the domestic economy. During the wars with France, Leopold I (1640–1705) repeatedly banned the importation of French goods into the Austrian lands, often citing decrees of the Imperial Diet.66
Versailles as a Model
Versailles, French court culture, and the way the French constructed the public image of the ruler, became a model which all other European courts sought to follow, even though Versailles had already been surpassed culturally by Paris by the end of the reign of Louis XIV.67 Colbert's comprehensive cultural policy, which he developed through the introduction of a system of institutions, aimed at establishing the cultural supremacy of France. This aim was largely achieved in the late-17th and 18th centuries. This policy proved much more successful than Louis XIV's attempts to attain and maintain French political hegemony in Europe by military means.
Louis XIV's royal residence enjoyed an exceptional status. For more than a century, Bourbon architecture was the example which the rest of Europe sought to copy. The list of palaces which were based on Versailles or copied or imitated parts of Versailles is very long. The style of Versailles transformed most of the palaces of Europe. To contemporaries, Versailles was a rich source of ideas and set new standards with regard to artistic design.
The Swedish king even maintained a diplomatic representative at ambassadorial level in Paris between 1693 and 1718, whose duty it was to observe artistic developments in France and report to the Swedish royal architect.68 The influence which the example of Versailles had in Sweden can be seen, for example, in the Royal Palace in Stockholm.69
In the 18th century, the Spanish Bourbons adopted many elements of the style of Versailles without question. Louis XIV even intervened personally at times in the renovation and redesign of Spanish palaces and gardens. A whole range of artists who had been involved at Versailles worked for Louis's grandson Philip V in the first third of the 18th century.70 Ultimately, though, the outcome was a mixture of Spanish and Versailles elements. This was due in part to the large financial problems which the War of the Spanish Succession had caused Philip V.71 Philip also adopted a range of rituals from the Versailles court.72
The influence of Versailles was also evident in Italy in the 18th century due to the Bourbon secundogenitures in Parma and Naples.73 Philip I of Parma (1720–1765) had the interior of the Ducal Palace of Colorno redesigned after the example of Versailles by the French architect Ennemond Alexandre Petitot (ca. 1727–1801).74 From 1752, the king of the Two Sicilies – who later became Charles III of Spain (1716–1788) – had the Palace of Caserta built by Luigi Vanvitelli (1700–1773). Following the example of Versailles, this palace was intended as a new administrative centre and as a symbol of rule.75
The German princes followed the example of Versailles particularly closely with regard to architecture, garden design, furniture and art collections. This was true of the Bavarian Wittelsbachs, who were related to the Bourbons and connected to them through alliances, as well as of the electors of Saxony and Brandenburg, the latter dynasty subsequently becoming kings in Prussia.76
The Elector of Brandenburg Frederick III (1657–1713), who had his sights set on the title of king, devoted considerable financial resources to raising the cultural prestige of his court, following, in particular, the examples of the French and the Spanish-Burgundian courts.77 Frederick William I (1688–1740) subsequently reduced expenditure on the court, but by no means got rid of the court. The court remained at a level that permitted a degree of luxuriant display.78 Wolfgang Neugebauer describes this as a rationalization of Prussian court structures and points out that it went hand-in-hand with a de-politicization of the court.79 The character of the court remained the same under Frederick II.
Although Frederick II was mostly contemptuous of court ceremonial and displays of royal prestige, even he followed French examples, particularly in the area of architecture. After his accession to the throne, he sent his superintendent of the royal palaces and gardens, Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff (1699–1753), to Paris in 1740 to gather ideas in preparation for his building projects.80 French influences in the construction of the Palace of Sanssouci and of the Neues Palais (New Palace) are unmistakeable. The work De la distribution des maisons de plaisance et de la décoration des édifices en général by the French architect Jacques-François Blondel (1705–1774) was the departure point for Frederick's plans for Sanssouci.81 The plans for the Communs, which were built opposite the New Palace, were drafted by the French architect Jean-Laurent Legeay (ca. 1708–ca. 1790). The New Palace itself was realised by the German Carl Philipp Christian von Gontard (1731–1791), who had studied in Paris in the mid-18th century.82
The permission for the Huguenots to settle in Brandenburg-Prussia and the special legal status granted to them were important factors of the strong French influence on language and culture well into the 18th century. By inducing them to come to his realm, Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg (1620–1688) had brought a large number of agents of French culture to his country. The role of the Huguenots in the areas of education and culture in particular – many Réfugiés were engaged as stewards and tutors to the nobility (even to Frederick II himself) – further strengthened the model function of French culture in 18th-century Prussia.83
Besides the important German territorial princes, even the lesser potentates had their palaces and gardens redesigned after the example of Versailles and often under the direction of French architects. This was the case – among others – in Trier, Mainz, Cologne, Zweibrücken, Ansbach, Bayreuth and Kassel.84
Volker Bauer has pointed out that this did not involve a straightforward imitation of Versailles. Instead, specific elements such as the topographical siting of the palace buildings, the general architectural layout and the interior decoration were borrowed and adapted. Influences from the Spanish-Italian tradition, which were transmitted to the German lands via the model of Vienna, were also incorporated as were specific German and Dutch traditions. Court life was not entirely copied from Versailles either, but included a mixture of French, German and Spanish-Italian elements, depending on the confession, financial clout and prestige requirements of the respective ruler. This resulted in a specifically German variant of Baroque palaces and courtly life.85
This once more highlights the fact that cultural transfer does not involve a straightforward imitation of foreign examples, but the integration of particular elements which are adapted for specific reasons and are integrated with other elements in a new context.86 By adopting elements from French court culture, German potentates aimed less at strengthening ties with the nobility than at strengthening their position internationally, and particularly within the political system of the Holy Roman Empire.87 It was assumed, however, that this would in turn strengthen their position in their own territories.88
The important role played by French theatre as a model for German court theatre – particularly from the 1670s to the end of the Seven Years' War – should also be highlighted.89
In Russia, Peter I's (1672–1725) initial motivation in adopting elements of French court culture was to promote the spread of western lifestyle among the Russian aristocracy, in order to modernize Russia and integrate it into the European system. Peterhof Palace near Saint Petersburg was very similar to Versailles Palace in terms of its function. Architecturally, Italian influences played a bigger role than French influences. However, in the garden design, Peter followed French models, entrusting the planning of the garden to Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond (1679–1719), a student of André Le Nôtre. Le Blond also brought a whole range of specialists to Russia with him. These transformed the interior design of the Russian palaces after the French example. Peter I was particularly impressed by the Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory in Paris, and he founded his own manufactory in Saint Petersburg emplyoing French Gobelin masters, which quickly became very successful.90 Peter's successors in the 18th century, particularly Elisabeth (1709–1762) and Catherine II (1729–1796), continued this trend.91
The Sun King's opponents also tried to undermine his claim to a position of hegemony by attempting to style and portray themselves in a similar manner. This was undoubtedly true of the Viennese court, which clearly strove to emulate the French example while at the same time introducing its own touches. Leopold I, who reigned from 1658 to 1705, was a determined adversary of Louis XIV.92 The construction of Schönbrunn Palaceoutside Vienna was unmistakeably a response to Versailles. Even contemporaries viewed it as an alternate Versailles. The medal that was cast to mark its completion in 1700 depicted Schönbrunn Palace as the seat of the sun, as a sun palace, similar to depictions of Versailles. The symbolism of the sun had been used by the Habsburgs in the aggrandisement of their rule since the reign of Maximilian I (1459–1519).93 Because Louis XIV aspired to a position of hegemony, which he expressed in particular using the sun symbolism, Leopold I and his successor Joseph I (1678–1711) reinforced their claim to similar symbols.94 Both French and Italian elements were employed in the building of Schönbrunn Palace. As in Versailles, architecture was employed as means of expressing supreme power and, in the case of Vienna, imperial status. The construction of Schönbrunn Palace was part of an artistic contest with the French king and was intended to signal the re-emergence of the Austrian Habsburgs as a European great power.95 The Triumphtore ("Gates of Triumph") which were constructed from the 1690s for the ceremonial entry of the Emperor into the city were also part of the contest with Louis XIV.96 It is therefore possible to speak of a battle of symbols, in which the Habsburgs, particularly Leopold's son Charles VI (1685–1740), made full use of the distinctive independent tradition of Roman emperorship.97 Charles VI pulled out all the stops in this endeavour and initiated the "barocke Apotheose des Hauses Österreich" ("Baroque apotheosis of the House of Austria").98 In spite of attempts to strongly differentiate itself from France, the Viennese court could not afford to completely reject the French models. Leopold I, for example, brought various French specialists, garden architects, jewellers, fortifications engineers and master carpenters to Vienna.99
The situation was similar with William III of Orange (1650–1702), another bitter rival of Louis XIV, who was the Stadtholder of the Netherlands and, from 1689, King of England, Scotland and Ireland (in personal union). In spite of his virulent hostility towards Louis XIV, William also imitated the French style. He had the Palace of Het Loo redesigned by the Huguenot architect Daniel Marot (ca. 1661–ca. 1752); as part of the renovation the palace received a copy of the Escalier des Ambassadeurs in Versailles. Marot also served as an interior architect for William III at Hampton Court and Kensington.100 In 1697, William III acquired some silver furniture from London goldsmiths which was made in likeness of silver furniture which Louis XIV had had to have melted down a few years previously to cover war expenses. William had the gardens of Hampton Court redesigned after the example of Versailles.101 Thus, even the most implacable opponents of Louis XIV were so impressed by his display of prestige in Versailles that they zealously sought to emulate him.
The Institutions of Science and Propaganda as Models
The broad range of academies created in Paris by Colbert for the purposes of propaganda and to raise the prestige of the French monarchy was also regarded as a model to follow by other European states, even if other states did not found as many specialist academies as France. The Spanish court under Philip V, Louis XIV's grandson, is again the best example of imitation of the French in this regard. After the example of the Académie française, he founded an Académie espagnole in Madrid in 1713, which set about compiling a dictionary of the Castilian language.102
In the German-speaking territory, it was again Brandenburg-Prussia that led the way. In 1696, Frederick III, who had his sights set of the title of king, founded the Academy of the Arts of Painting, Sculpting and Architecture, which was subsequently renamed the Academy of the Arts.103 The academy was much neglected by his successors Frederick William I and Frederick II, and would only be reinvigorated during the reign of Frederick William II.104 Of more significance was the foundation of the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1700, which was based to a large extent on the example of Paris. The reform of this academy in 1744 during the reign of Frederick II contributed to the increase in the founding of such academies in the territory of the Holy Roman Empire. Academies were founded in 1751 in Göttingen, in 1754 in Erfurt, in 1759 in Munich, in 1763 in Mannheim and in 1785 in Prague.105
During the 18th century, descendants of the Huguenot refugees played an important role in the development of an independent scientific landscape in Prussia. In 1720, Berlin Réfugiés participated in the foundation of a journal aimed specifically at the German-speaking territory, the Bibliothèque Germanique. The journal addressed a learned Francophone public in Germany and in the Nordic countries, and reported on developments in learning and science. The journal was based on the example of the Journal des savants in Paris, with which it very soon competed successfully. In the longer term, this resulted in the increasing emancipation of the French-speaking literary public in Prussia from French dominance.106 Additionally, Frederick II brought other enlightened French thinkers to Prussia, such as the philosopher and mathematician Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698–1759), whom he appointed head of the reorganized Academy of Sciences. Other German academies also had French members during the 18th century.107
In Russia, Peter I created an Academy of Sciences after the example of the Académie des sciences. As soon as 1724, Peter also advocated the founding of an academy of fine arts, though this was to occur only in 1764 under Catherine II.108
Opponents of Louis XIV followed the example of France also in this area. For example, the English poet and politician Joseph Addison (1672–1719) recommended the founding of an academy of inscriptions in England after the example of the Petite Académie in Paris.109
Was There a French Europe?
Elements of Louis XIV's reforms of the state and society in France had a long-lasting effect throughout Europe. Though these reforms did not bring about a French Europe, they nevertheless had an enduring impact on the development of the European states. The effect of French art and culture – in particular, of Versailles as the most glorious manifestation of these – is clearly visible in Europe. Architecturally, many rulers in Europe took their lead from Versailles, though how much they borrowed from the latter depended on their financial means as well as on the extent to which it was possible to combine French influences with their own traditions and needs. Versailles was also an important model in the areas of interior design and the visual arts. These ideas were disseminated by French craftsmen, artists and architects as well as by French publications, which were keenly read and translated. In some cases, diplomatic representatives at the French court were specifically instructed to observe developments in the areas of art, science, manufacturing and the military, and to secure the services of French specialists for their own states.
Louis XIV's extensive plans for the town of Versailles were also an important model for a number of capital cities which were newly established or rebuilt in the 18th century, such as Saint Petersburg, Lisbon, Caserta and Washington.110
However, Versailles court ceremonial had a less enduring impact. As Bauer has stated with regard to the Holy Roman Empire, a new, more private style of court life had established itself from the second half of the 18th century at the latest.111 This was also the case in France itself.
French art and science, and the French language nevertheless continued to play a dominant role. Besides the French model of absolutism, the French Enlightenment played a central role in this regard as well, as it gathered momentum just at the point when France's position of hegemony in Europe was under threat. However, institutions had already been established in France during the reign of Louis XIV – in the form of the academies – which would help to facilitate communication between Enlightenment thinkers throughout Europe in the 18th century.
While France's power ambitions and the aggressive expansionist policy of Louis XIV soon elicited rejection and fear from the other European states, Louis XIV's portrayal of himself as the Sun King, and the instruments of his system of rule – both at the level of image projection and propaganda, and at the level of the direct exercise of power – were adapted and copied elsewhere. This contributed to the rationalization of state, socio-economic and cultural structures in Europe – within the context of the early modern feudal state.
In most cases, actual cultural transfers occurred: European rulers adopted elements of the French institutions and methods of royal representation, and adapted them to their own circumstances. In the areas of architecture and art, in particular, Italian influences played always an important role alongside the French example. For the 18th century one can therefore speak of a Europe under French influence. French influence, however, was mixed with various other elements and French models were constantly adapted to the changing circumstances in the 18th century. Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire's recent discussion of a "Myth of a French Europe" with regard to the French Enlightenment applies to a large extent also to the influence of Versailles.112 While French models and examples played an important role, they were adapted, reconstructed and combined with other traditions in a dynamic process.