Louis XIV in Pouzols-Minervois? Yes, it really happened. On 2 January 1660, the Sun King spent the night here on his way to marry Maria Theresa of Austria.
The 21-year-old King did not exactly travel light. His 3,200 km journey from Paris to Saint-Jean-de-Luz on the Spanish border took a staggering 13 months.
He was accompanied by some 15,000 people and 10,000 horses. That included teams of staff that travelled ahead to get everything ready. Other teams ensured that the huge entourage did not forget to take anything – a clean-up team, as it were.
His mother Anne of Austria (image right), the former Queen of France was with him. She had acted as regentess after Louis became King at the age of 4. His brother Philippe was there as well as other members of the royal family. Philippe was still Duke of Anjou at the time, but to become Duke of Orléans later that year.
The First Minster, the highly influential Cardinal Mazarin, came along with Louis XIV. Mazarin would die the next year. After that the King ruled as a absolute monarch for the rest of his life. But Mazarin and Anne had arranged the marriage to bring an end to a very expensive war with Spain. It made sense for them both to travel to Spain to ensure that everything went according to plan.
The Treaty of the Pyrenees is signed on 7 November 1659. It brings an end to a long and expensive war between Spain and France. Cardinal Mazarin has spent months in Saint Jean de Luz negotiating the terms of the treaty. This includes agreement that the Roussillon region – south of Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois along the coast near the Spanish border – would become French.
King Louis XIV goes to Toulouse to attend a Te Deum. The next day, he receives confirmation of both peace with Spain and a contract for the marriage with Maria Theresa. The marriage contract has been signed by Cardinal Mazarin, who arrives from Saint Jean de Luz shortly after. The wedding will take place in the church of St John de Baptist in Saint Jean de Luz.
The royals leave for Carcassonne on 28 December. They stay in a private house that still exists, now in use as André Chénier College. Typically, the King visited a local hospital to touch hundreds of patients.
The belief was that this provided divine healing powers, as the Kings and Queens of France and Britain rules by divine right. This was known as the Royal Touch.
The Royal Touch had become part of the coronation ceremony in both countries. The new monarch’s hands were blessed with holy oil. In France, the King still had to go on a pilgrimage before it became activated. But after that, they were good to go. Louis XIV was a firm believer and blessed 1,600 people on a single occasion even as a child.
There is no evidence that the King touched patients at the local hospital in Pouzols-Minervois (known as ‘the house with the stairs’) during his visit. But it is likely. Pouzols-Minervois is exactly halfway between the Roman Catholic destinations of Rome and Santiago de Compostella.
The enormous group left Carcassonne for Pouzols-Minervois on 2 January. The royal family and other important individuals travelled in horse-drawn carriages. In winter, it must have been most uncomfortable to endure the swaying of the carriages along the bumpy rural roads. The group also experienced ongoing heavy rain, flooded roads and lots of mud throughout their journey.
A predecessor of the road from Carcassonne to Béziers past Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois is thought to not be Roman. It was first constructed under Louis XIV for his army. The main road from Toulouse to Béziers turned north before reaching Pouzols-Minervois and went through Saints Pons.
The region looked very different then. It was long before the wine industry took off. Six years before Louis XIV ordered the construction of the Canal du Midi. Ironically, the King’s marriage also meant the end of Carcassonne’s role as a border fortress. The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) confirmed where the border between France and Spain should be. Carcassonne was subsequently abandoned by French forces.
It is likely that the King travelled to Pouzols-Minervois with only a smaller entourage. The rest stayed in Carcassonne or travelled ahead. We don’t know where the guests stayed with Louis XIV in Pouzols-Minervois. The only description we have says that the very important guests was allocated accommodation ‘in various places in Pouzols’.
The current chateau in Pouzols-Minervois was a rebuild in 1786, after the original castle was destroyed in religious wars. It was in the family of the barons of Fournas-Fabrezan since 1437. This castle hosted the King. Afterwards he had their wines delivered to him, according to local history.
Other likely guest accommodation included parts of the fortress of which Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois is part. Others included perhaps a local inn, the Mayor’s house and anything else available within a 20 km radius.
Most French courtiers and royals had a table somewhere nearby that was forever stocked with food to snack on throughout the day. Louis XIV was different. He did not.
The Sun King’s day started when he was woken up by a trusted courtier. First, there was a modest dressing ceremony attended only by a trusted few. Later, the King would get fully dressed much in the public eye – albeit that the public consisted of curious and attention-seeking courtiers.
Unlike many other courtiers, Louis XIV ate his main meal of the day at lunchtime. This is still the preferred French way today, but it was unusual at the time. The number and variety of dishes was more limited than at dinner. Louis XIV typically had lunch in private, with perhaps a few relatives and courtly ladies.
Dinner took place at 10pm. It was a grand affair whenever possible. The King would sit in the centre of the long side of the table, on a pedestal. Courtiers gathered round to watch him and his family eat, with neighbouring rooms cramped with people desperate to catch a glimps.
There is no reason to think that a private dinner in Pouzols-Minervois would have been very different. The King would politely push around whatever food was offerered to him at night, well aware that invited local dignitaries were staring at his every move.
Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois was a larger building in those days, covering also the area that is now the courtyard. Most of it was likely used a garrison. That doesn’t mean that it could not have hosted Cardinal Mazarin and other guests for the night with Louis XIV in Pouzols-Minervois. Haunting, is it not?
On 3 January 1660, they all left for Béziers before travelling slowly to Marseille and back to Pezenas, Narbonne and Sigean. The King reached Perpignan on 10 April, but then return north and back to Carcassonne on 17 April.
At the end of May, he was married by proxy. It was not until 9 June that he finally married Maria Theresa face-to-face in Saint Jean de Luz before returning to Paris.