Top 5 Questions About Versailles: Ep. 1

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I just watched the first episode of the new 17th century, Louis XIV-focused TV series Versailles — currently airing on the Ovation channel in the US, and coming soon to Netflix for US viewers. As is usual for me, I got questions. Hair and kings communing with wolves aside…

1. The king’s brother has never considered that he could be in line to the throne?

Versailles (2015- )

Philippe: “Durrr…..”

Really? He needs his lover to point this out to him? Is Philippe, Duc d’Orléans the slow one of the family?

(Yes, I realize that most modern people don’t understand things like “royal succession” and so need it spelled out to them. But still. I can be annoyed from a history-snob angle. IT’S MY RIGHT AS AN AMERICAN.)

Versailles (2015- )

The Chevalier de Lorraine (right): “Hey, honey? You’re pretty and all, but you might want to pay a bit more attention to things other than your hair and my amazing blow jobs.”

 

2. What color was that baby?

Versailles (2015- )

The implication is that the queen’s baby may be of mixed race, but that doesn’t look like a mixed-white-African baby to me. Nor does it look like an oxygen-starved baby, which is what is far more likely to have been the case.* It looks like a baby covered in mud, or, more grossly, poo. Yes, we realize that people at Versailles just shit wherever. But I don’t think they shit on newborns.

Okay, so looking into this: apparently Queen Maria Theresa of Spain had a premature daughter, Marie-Anne (born in 1664), who died about a month later. Later gossip suggested that Marie-Anne had dark, purplish skin, which we would now assume to be from oxygen deprivation. There were rumors after the queen’s death that Louise Marie-Thérèse, “the Black nun of Moret,” may have been Marie-Anne grown up and stashed in a nunnery… but most online sources suggest that this is not very likely. To learn more, check out this Wikipedia article on Louise. For some discussion with actual sources/citations, see Bricktop’s Paris: African American Women in Paris Between the Two World Wars and dig through its citations.

 

3. Why did the ONE English character have a French accent, when everyone else has a British accent?

Versailles (2015- )

Yes yes. We know that many filmmakers use British accents as code for “European.” But if you’re going to NOT do the accents of the setting, then at least be consistent! It makes ABSOLUTELY no sense that the ONE English character — Henriette, sister of King Charles II of England — has a French accent. I realize that the actress who plays her is French. But in a sea of British accents, What the Actual Fuck?

(Just once, I’d like to see, say, an Australian-made movie set somewhere in Europe where everyone still has Aussie accents. I’m sure it’s out there!)

 

4. Would Henriette, Duchesse d’Orléans really go swimming in a scummy-looking lake? Did we really need to see her nipples (apparently Ovation thinks no)?

Versailles (2015- )

Also, WHY WAS SHE SWIMMING IN THE FIRST PLACE? But yeah. I feel like there’s a lot of goose shit in this particular pond.

Versailles (2015- )

What us Americans didn’t get to see: a totally gratuitous shot of Henriette’s nipples, on screen for far longer than necessary, that was in the original British version.

On the one hand, for the BBC: I like a nice pair of cans, so I’m not complaining about that. It was just so gratuitous.

For Ovation: REALLY? AMERICANS CAN’T HANDLE SOME NIPPLES? STAHP EDITING OUT THE GOOD BITS!

For both: Really, not only would I not swim in that lake, if I were the king, I wouldn’t shag someone who had just come out of it either.

Versailles (2015- )

You know how your hair smells after you’ve swum in a scummy lake? Yeah.

5. Why the whole “lady doctor”?

Versailles (2015- )

Who DOESN’T like getting blood and gore in their hair??!!

UGH. She needs to hang out with “lady gardener” Kate Winslet from A Little Chaos. As a committed feminist AND a lover of history, I would argue that there are better ways to analyze and criticize history from a feminist/gender angle than the whole “token female who wants a male job” thing. I know, broad strokes are needed for people who can’t think critically. But if she’s all ultra-practical and just wants to be a doctor, give her a few more hairpins, PLEASE.

Got answers? Got questions? Let’s dish in the comments!

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

12 Responses

  1. Melinda

    Wolves=GOt craze thing.
    Swimming in shirt in a pond= P&P craze over Dracy thing
    Lady doctor=The Outlander craze thing.
    Only my suggestions, didn’t see the series (yet). The choco baby is truly horrible from every aspect (perhaps noone in the staff has a bay or ever saw a newborn).

    Reply
  2. Isis

    Henriette probably would go swimming, though perhaps not in a lake. :) Louis XIW was a keen swimmer at least until his mid-forties and the whole court had swimming tournaments every summer, both men and women. And women did swim in their shifts.

    Reply
  3. MoHub

    The accent thing makes sense if you figure she’s speaking French with a bad foreign accent.

    Gilbert and Sullivan played this for all it was worth in The Grand Duke, in which a bunch of English people were playing Germans, but with “translated” English accents. The one English character—played by a Hungarian actress—had a German/Hungarian accent to indicate that she was supposedly speaking German with a bad foreign accent. There is even a reference made to her broken German.

    It’s still done that way, and it’s hilarious.

    Reply
  4. Mrs. D

    Thank you so much for using the correct past participle form of “swim”–“swum”! I’m constantly having to explain to my students that it is, actually, a word. Bravo!

    Reply
    • MoHub

      I constantly deal with writers—many with master’s and doctoral degrees—who couldn’t distinguish between the simple past tense of a verb and its past participle. Unfortunately, they won’t have me around much longer to make them look good since, because I’m old enough to have learned the mechanics of English, I’m heading for retirement soom.

      Reply
  5. Anne

    I think Henrietta Anne may have had a French accent. She left England when she was about 2 years old -if memory doesn’t fail me- and was brought up in the French entourage of her French mother at France, so I would go with a French accent here. However, I remember having red letters written to her by her brother Charles II in English, so she clearly wasn’t ignorant about the language.

    PS: please forgive any grammar mistakes, English is not my first language. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Trystan L. Bass

    The accents thing is all bec. the series consciously chose to use mostly British & Canadian actors, so, oops, a French actress slipped in. While it’s a French production, filmed in France, they didn’t want it to be spoken in French & subtitled / dubbed (or use accented French actors, apparently) so the series would have broad appeal & sell worldwide. This article sums it up: https://www.thelocal.fr/20150305/versailles-series-french-tv-english

    The black baby / black nun rumor seemed really thrown in so there’d be EVEN MORE controversy, but yeah, could the visual dept. have not made it look so gross? Wtf?

    I’m right there with you on the whole ‘lady doctor’ cliche, & I agree with the comment that it feels like an Outlander ripoff (at least that had the excuse of time travel).

    Reply
  7. Spm

    With all due respect, your remark about “mixed race babies” was a bit odd to me. Lol. I’ve seen friends with mixed race babies look any number of ways, not all mixed babies have lighter skin. That being said, THAT baby did look just covered in something so I do agree with you there. Also, I found the series dry and pretty formulaic. I’m disappointed as I was excited for this one.

    Reply
  8. Tamara

    The accent thing is bonkers. I don’t mind if they all have English accents, but when they throw what seems to be 3 actual French actors in with French accents it messes it all up. So I thought well Henriette is foreign so she is “different”, but then they send her to England to meet her brother who alas also has an English accent. So it is just awful. One of these things is not like the other.

    Reply
  9. ZelM

    There were more than a few ‘women in men’s “industries”‘ in real life- why make sh*t up?

    For example, I read about a movie concerning a real female artist (of which there’s over 60, in the 17th c alone, according to Wikipedia), Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c. 1656)- if the plot/ critics’ opinion is anything to go by, I won’t be watching the movie itself, & in terms of history (I found extracts of the actual trial) it sounds like a travesty.

    Now, in terms of the sciences (according to Wikipedia, not the greatest of sources, but not a bad starting point)- there were some 28 in the 17th C, including at least one who was a pharmacist (it said so in brackets), two duchesses & the famed Aphra Behn.
    One of the 28 was Louise (Bourgeois) Boursier (1563–1636); a French midwife called ‘The Scholar’: midwife to the French royal family of King Henry IV & Marie de Médicis- Louis & Philippe’s father & siblings (including Minette’s mother) were delivered by her, & she ‘helped raise the art from folklore to science through her prodigious writings & methods which were based on common sense’ – she was married, & had children (what I mean, is she had a life- women could have lives & careers, it wasn’t a case of either, or)… she also had a daughter, & a descendant who were midwives, in the case of the latter, she too was a royal midwife. Though she retired as a ‘royal midwife’ after Henrietta’s birth, she was, in fact, still working- & in 1627 delivered (pardon the pun) a hell of a written smackdown in the aftermath of the Duchess of Orleans’ childbirth death to her opponents, using her maiden name- she’s also known as the first woman to have written about obstetrics; the first of 4 (though 2 are regarded as expanded editions of the first) published in 1609.
    There’s also Marie Meurdrac (c. 1610-1680); a French chemist & alchemist- she too was married, & wrote a work in 1656- scholars have argued that this was ‘the first work on chemistry by a woman since that of Maria the Jewess’ from the late classical period.

    See– there’s real historical inspiration, right there- right place, right century- & within the industry, as it were- what does it cost them to do some more research, to get closer to history?
    Sorry if this is a bit long, lol.

    Reply

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