Published by Atria Books
Publication date: March 21st 2017
The Enemies of Versailles is the final novel in Sally Christie’s Mistresses of Versailles trilogy. When we left King Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour, one of his longest lasting mistresses had died and with her went the reign of mistress as advisor. The fact that she was able to keep her exalted position long after their affair ended was due to the fact that she had no problem procuring new bedroom talent for Louis once she aged out of the position. With her dead, Christie splits the focus of Enemies between Louis’s final favorite, Comtesse du Barry, and his daughters, especially Adelaide, who have had to live their entire lives at Versailles with their father’s ‘favorites’ being flaunted in front of them.
Is Enemies an éclair stuffed with luscious scandal and dripping in the chocolate of a decadent court? Yes, absolument. But beyond the extravagance is the history of the times and it is fascinating. Louis had five daughters, but married off only one of them, consigning the others to a life of empty spinsterhood. For Adelaide it is her deepest desire to be her father’s closest aide but this desire is in direct conflict with her disgust at his behavior. She and her sisters had suffered through Pompadour’s rule, but when, in Enemies, he chooses the exquisite but venal Jeanne Becu it is more than she can bear. Pompadour was at least born in the middle class, convent educated, intelligent and had a firm understanding of court etiquette and politics. Becu was a shop girl, who because of her incredible beauty soon came to educated as a courtesan, entered a fake marriage to get a title and was handed over to Louis shortly afterward.
Louis had followed the time honored tradition of French kings by marrying as he was supposed to do, producing heirs and immediately taking a mistress. The proper sorts of mistresses were allowed—within reason and following established etiquette. Consorting with a commoner who was one step above a prostitute might be overlooked, but installing her at Versailles and being seen in public with her was unfathomable. This is just one of the many sacrosanct rules followed at Versailles. Protocol that reads as almost farcical, but was just one of the ways of preserving the social order. Christie details who bows to whom, who may speak to whom, who may be seated and who must stand, the proper form of address—the list goes on and on and surviving at court depended on knowing how to behave properly.
Christie makes The Enemies of Versailles indulgent and engaging reading throughout, but does not shirk from showing the hypocrisy of the times. There was the fervent Catholic faith followed by people who committed the seven deadly sins on a daily basis. And the men, who in their efforts to gain position and money for themselves, pimped out beautiful young women to the king—even those they were related to. For those women their beauty was their only hope of a good life. In this way, Adelaide’s life stands in stark contrast to du Barry’s. One is a creature solely of the flesh and pleasure, while the other has never known physical pleasure and seeks only to be the epitome of a proper princess. Adelaide lives in the world of the intellect and history. Decorum and protocol are her strongest weapons, but after Louis dies and the political turmoil around them increases neither woman is able to survive the new world.