The works of Saint-Simon provide one of the most complete accounts we have of the reign of Louis XIV. A regular presence in the court, the writer and historian detailed daily life at Versailles and was a close follower of political developments. When the king died in 1715 he became a member of the Regency Council, before retiring to his château at Ferté-Vidame. He died in 1755.
Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon, was born in the shadow of the palace. Son of Claude de Saint-Simon, a favourite of Louis XIII, he was baptised at Versailles in 1677. His godfather was none other than Louis XIV himself, with Queen Maria-Theresa of Austria serving as godmother.
Originally destined for a career in the army, he ultimately decided to remain at the court and went on to become a historian. Intimately acquainted with the intrigues of the palace, a close friend of various courtiers and ministers including Pontchartrain and Desmarets, Saint-Simon was to become the finest chronicler of courtly life. He was not held in high esteem by Louis XIV, although he did manage to win back the king’s favour thanks to two private interviews which he obtained in 1710. He occupied a luxurious apartment at Versailles, thanks to his wife’s position as lady-in-waiting to the Duchesse de Berry.
Saint-Simon’s Memoirs are a rich treasure trove of observations and critiques. He turned his forensic eye on all of the major players at Versailles, providing occasionally fierce judgements on life behind the scenes at the palace.
When the King died in 1715 the Duc d’Orléans, a personal friend of Saint-Simon, became Regent to the young Louis XV. The time had come for the writer to put his political theories into practice. In September of that year he was appointed to the Regency Council. However, the death of the Duc d’Orléans in 1723 put an end to his political career and to his favoured position at the court. Saint-Simon chose to retire to his château at Ferté-Vidame, thirty miles from Chartres. In 1749 he finally completed his Memoirs, covering the period up to the death of the Regent in 1723. Saint-Simon died on 2 March 1755, in his Parisian townhouse on the Rue de Grenelle. His Memoirs were not published in full until 1829, at the initiative of his descendants. Marcel Proust and Stendhal were avid readers of Saint-Simon.