At the tender age of six, Louis XIV showed very little signs of kingly behavoir. He was a socially awkward child, tongue-tie, and bashful. Hushed whispers ran through the court that the young boy would likely be unfit to lead. One Italian traveler reported followed a trip to the royal court at the Louvre that the French “considered him dim-witted.”
Whether through training or through maturity, there would be little doubt just a few years later that while Louis was a taciturn youth, he had an uncanny gift for physical activities.
Each morning, Louis woke to a room full of well-wisher and attendants. He was helped from bed to a small alter in his room and knelt to pray. Hair combed, tights and knee-length pants on, Louis springed with delight to a large room just behind his chamber for his daily exercises. One of his valets de chambre, Dubois de Lestourniere, wrote that the king “vaulted with an admirable lightness, like a bird and had his wooden horse propped up to its highest point. He would fall back on the saddle as noiselessly as if it were a pillow. He then fenced, jousted, and went back to his alcove room where he would dance.”
France dance in the seventeenth century required outstanding coordination, strength, and delicate agility. It was an exercise in control as the dancer completed elaborate and richly choreographed movement to pounding, triumphant music that shift in rhythm an dmood. Every part of the body was involved: the dancer’s feet tapped, praced, and swirled, torso still and upright, hands followin gin stylized staccato. Restrained facial expressions were careful to hide the complexity of the art.
In 1653, the full power of the young king’s artistic talent was put on display for the court. He took the stage as Apollo, Sun God. His costume was “covered with a rich gold embroidery and many rubies. The rays that appeared around his head were of diamonds and the crown was of rubies and pearls topped with numerous pink and white feathers.’
Now if time travel is ever made possible in my lifetime, this is the historical moment I would give anything to attend…
References: Regine Astier, “Louis XIV, ‘Premier Danseur.'” IN Sun King: The Ascendancy of French Culture During the Reign of Louis XIV. Ed. David Lee Rubin. NJ: Associated University Presses, 1992: 73-102.