Settle those heaving bosoms, refasten your gaping pantaloons and crimp your ruffles. Versailles is back for a third and final series.
So what has happened over the past two series?
Written and created by David Wolstencroft , the mind behind BBC drama Spooks, and Simon Mirren (Waking the Dead), the first series followed King Louis XIV’s political machinations as he shifted the French court away from Paris to Versailles.
Then in series two literally anything could have happened. But it didn’t. Instead the French went to war with the Dutch, to bed with each other and to prison for murder.
Before the show starts it might be worth running through a quick who’s who of the French court, after all, it’s been a whole year since we last mired ourselves in the den of inequity that is Versailles, and we've forgotten who was bonking whom.
Warning: there are spoilers in here. And also in history. So don't look there either.
King Louis XIV, aka The Sun King, Louis the Great – played by George Blagden
Wily, scheming, spirited and secretive, Louis XIV is a brilliant statesman, however, haunted by childhood memories of the Fronde, a bitter coup where nobles attempted to overthrow his father, he fears his power is on the wane. We’re now into the third season of his insecurity. Get over it Lou.
He has built Versailles, the most beautiful palace in Europe and the nobles clamoured to get in. A cunning ploy, for he has not only built a lavish chateau but created a gilded cage, trapping and controlling the nobles. Damned clever that man.
Update - Louis has had a busy couple of series, having bid adieu to one of his mistresses and his sister-in-law (same person) through poisoning, and lost another to a nearby nunnery. He also went to war, came back again, witnessed a builder surprise-hang himself (that's a hanging you weren't expecting), and kills Moncourt, who has been conspiring to overthrow the King. Then in series two, it was all about who was poisoning whom. The answer, Louis found out, was everyone. His lady love, Marquise de Montespan, or Monty as literally none of the other characters call her, fell from grace after her child with the king, died. He’s now shacked up with a new woman, the Marquise de Maintenon. She was initially brought in to mind Louis’ child with Monty, but now she’s minding something jolly different.
Philippe I, Duke of Orleans aka Monsieur – played by Alexander Vlahos
Prince Philippe is a man of many parts. A free spirit, effeminate dandy and unashamed homosexual, Philippe would wander the gardens of Versailles while dressed as a woman. However on the battlefield he was renowned as a fearless and ferocious fighter with the deepest loyalties of his men, something his brother the king is deeply jealous of. To complicate matters, Philippe’s neglected wife finds herself seduced by the king and falls into his arms. Before she dies and he remarries.
Philippe was another one who had a rolicking ride in series one. He set aside his cross-dressing tendencies to wage a very effective war against the Dutch before returning to Versailles and moping around the place moodily. He and his lover - Philippe, Chevalier de Lorraine - have a fairly rough time of it over the series, with Chevalier getting imprisoned for treachery, and then subsequently freed. King Louis then appoints his brother to the illustrious position of boss of Court Etiquette.
Update - Phil has been a little dour ever since his brother commanded him home from the war in season one. He spent most of season two being jolly mopey and also got married to Elizabeth Charlotte. After various political and sexual services in the name of the state, Phil gets what he most wants (to leave his wife, his lover, and his brother behind), and get back to what he does best: wearing dresses and killing the Dutch. He’s off to war.
Henriette, aka Madame – played by Noémie Schmidt Sister to the English king, Henriette is married to one brother and mistress to the other. Despite her apparent grace, fragility and elegance, Henriette is a shrewd politician and a force to be reckoned with. However when the King falls under the spell of the dazzling Madame de Montespan, she finds herself forced to secure her position through other means. After doing an excellent job negotiating an alliance with England against the Dutch (which was then promptly overturned), Henriette returns to Versailles just in time to be poisoned and die in blood-soaked agony. She also miscarries a baby that was either her husband Philippe's or the King's, no one is sure. Either way, she's dead now.
Update – still dead. Also pretty sure that the baby was the king’s because he seems to be being treated like a prince. Unless that’s a different kid.
Marie-Thérèse, The Queen – played by Elisa Lasowski
Viewed by history as a tragic figure, Marie-Thérèse was married to the King who publicly neglected and shamed her in pursuit of his mistresses. Although seemingly docile and mild, beneath her apparent piety she hides her most intimate secrets and an iron (well, tin) core.
Despite giving birth to a baby that was not only the wrong gender, but the wrong colour, Marie-Thérèse had a fairly quiet first series. The baby now resides at a nearby, and delightfully atmospheric, nunnery. She popped up again at the end of the series and demanded to sleep in the marital bed.
Update - I’ve had just about enough of this lady. She’s a right misery. She puts paid to Monty, who’s star is very much going out. She's also the key driver of the mission to cleanse the court of all the ‘evils’ it contains (read poisoning and sex), so I guess that’s a good thing. Certainly for the plot of the show.
Philippe, Chevalier de Lorraine – played by Evan Williams
A cruel, predatory figure, Chevalier was as toxic as he was handsome. He was the love of Philippe I and was known to be petty and manipulative. He took delight in controlling his lover, with Philippe once telling his wife, Henriette, that he could not love her without Chevalier’s permission.
Chevalier found himself caught in the conspiracy to overthrow the King, and then subsequently found himself caught in prison. However his good grace with the King's brother led to him being freed.
Update - Last season everyone still thought Chevalier was a bit rotten. This is because of all the rotten things he did. He’s very whiney. However he did redeem himself by saving the life of dear ol’ Phillippe when a fiendishly Dutch spy/rotten poet clobbered him with what appeared to be one of those pots for your space change. I suppose he does actually really care about Philippe, and is gutted every time he leaves to kill the Dutch.
Louise de La Vallière – played by Sarah Winter
Louise is one of the King’s many mistresses. Unlike the others however, he know that she truly loves him for who he is, not for his crown. He leaves her nonetheless and she is forced to beg for his permission to flee the court so that she and the illegitimate child she bears can seek refuge in a convent. This self-flagelating ray of sunshine isn't half a merry as she appears. After falling pregnant midway through series one, she begs the King to send her to a nunnery so that she can pop the kid out in a convent. The King refuses, until eventually he doesn't.
Update - She’s still gone.
Madame de Montespan – played by Anna Brewster
Beautiful, charming, elegant, Madame de Montespan is the envy of the court. However her wit and grace hide a seething ambition, greater than any woman of the court. She uses all her talents and connections to get her man: Louis XIV.
Madame de Montespan was very busy in series one, what with all the flirting and mistressing she did with His Maj. She's also a dab-hand at cards, however, recouping the King's 2,000,000 francs that he lost to Rohan. She was quite upset by the death of Henriette at the end of the series, I wonder if she's got over it in time for series two.
Update - She might not have been over it. Either that or there is some other reasons why she has made some truly dismal decisions in this recent season. She’s dabbled in Satanism, tried to poison the king, worn some very unconvincing merkins, the list goes on. As the series comes to a close, she is cast out by the king: instructed to remain in Versailles but stripped of her title and privilege. Who is she now? Absolutely no idea. Isn’t the show hard enough to follow without changing people’s names?
Rohan – played by Alexis Michalik
Louis’ childhood friend Rohan is a notorious cad and a fierce warrior however the friendly competition he has always had with the King has morphed into something darker and he is holding deep feelings of resentment and contempt. This notorious cad lived up to his all expectations. Despite only appearing sporadically in the first series, it was revealed that he was the baddie behind the conspiracy to over throw King Louis. As the series ends, he has pulled the monarchic wool over the Royal Eyes and persuaded Louis to entrust the Dauphin to his care. He then disappears off to the woods - kidnapping a success.
Update - Captured, tortured and killed by Fabien early in season two. It’s very gross.
Alexandre Bontemps – Stuart Bowman
As loyal as a dog, Bontemps is absolutely committed to his master the King ,and sleeps at the foot of his bed every night. Louis’ First Valet and the Governor of Versailles, Bontemps was envied for his exceptional access to the King.
Exceptional access he may have, but storylines, not to much. Bontemps had a rough first series, which began as he sponged the monarch's emissions of the Sun-King's midriff, and continued with the death of his son. He indulged in a bit of light torturing towards the end of the series, but wasn't much good at it.
Update – Bontemps is an interesting character. He knows a lot more than he lets on, and subtly brings the King in line when he’s about to do something incredibly stupid. But he’s not a big one for personal dramz.
Anne of Austria – Dominique Blanc The King’s mother had an extremely close relationship with her oldest son and, although dead, continues to haunt his dreams, acting as a Machiavellian voice on his shoulder, guiding him in the craft of statesmanship. Queen Anne was dead before the first series even began. She is even deader now.
Update - Still not a peep.
Madame Agathe – played by Suzanne Clément
Thought you’d had your fill of poisoning is series one? Think again. Madame Agathe is a poisoner and sorcerer whose wiles and mystery seduce a number of eminent figures (including Madame de Montespan) into occult practices. The character is based on two of the key figures in one of the greatest scandals of Louis XIV’s reign. The Marquise of Brinvilliers and La Voisin were major players in the affaires des poisons. La Voisin’s cult is suspected of killing between 1000-2500 people.
This is one crispy diva! Diva because she leads a rebellion against the king that very nearly works. And crispy because they burned her to death.
Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, aka Madame Scarron – played by Catherine Walker
Madame Scarron came to the French court as a friend of the King’s mistress, Madame de Montespan, and when Montespan gave birth to Louis’ child, Scarron became the child’s guardian.
She was also the second wife of Louis XIV after [SPOILER] his first wife died. However her marriage to the king was always kept very hush-hush and she was never Queen of France because French politics is confusing.
Update - I think I jumped the gun on this last year. She’s still not the second wife of Louis. She’s not that nice. She ousts her mate Montespan from the king’s bed where Monty was having a harmless little affair, then she doesn’t seem at all miffed when the king excommunicates Monty – the very person whose baby she was brought it to raise. Where is that baby now? Dead. I rest my case. (It was actually sickness, I don’t think she killed the baby. Unless I missed that bit. Do write in.)
Liselotte von der Pfalz, aka Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess of Palatinate – played by Jessica Clark
So if you remember from series one, Monsieur’s (Philippe's) first wife – the lovely and feisty Henriette – had an unfortunate run in with death, from which she never really recovered. Well, this chick is the new Mrs Duke of Orleans – and long may she remain so. Although this is Versailles, so possibly not.
She famously once remarked that her husband – whose homosexual activities were well known in the court – needed “rosaries and holy medals draped in the appropriate places to perform the necessary act” with her. Zing.
Update - I am a BIG fan of this woman. She’s got some backbone too her. And front bones. Generally speaking, she has the normal number of bones. She was certainly a bit miffed that Phil decided to spend their wedding night flat on his back with his mouth open, when she had been hoping to do that, but in time she’s got over it. And she’s got a surprise in store for him when he get’s home…!
Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor of Hungary – played by Rory Keenan
Who dis? Leopold was the Holy Roman Emperor (who knew those were still around so recently?) and King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, and was big on warring. He warred all over the place. It wore him out.
He was Louis’ first cousin and waged three wars against the French, the first – and focus of Versailles – was the Franco-Dutch War. Well now Phil has won that war and returned home to adulation, adoration and adultery (probably), and he’s bringing home the spoils of war … in the form of relatives.
Leo used to be married to Marie-Therese’s sister, who has sadly died. He’s not too bothered though as he thinks the Queen might be an attractive notch on his bedpost.
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the characters that you won’t find in any history books.
A. Fabien Machal – played by Tygh Runyan
Fabien is the terrifying, violent and dangerous leader of Louis XIV’s Stasi-like police force.
Highs, lows, frights, fights, Fabien has had them all. In the course of series one he: smooched the night away with (the now sadly deceased) Beatrice, was poisoned by the same headless temptress, beheaded the poisoning rascal, tortured and killed a number of nameless men and interrogated Beatrice's daughter Sophie. He also receives one sword to the gut in a fight with Montcourt in a tussle which sees the Sun-King himself dirty his hands with a bit of killing.
Loyal bloke this. Bit unstable. Big one for the torturing.
Update – OH MY GOD ARE YOU, LIKE, TORTURE-OBSESSED?!
B. Beatrice – played by Amira Casar Beatrice is a penniless widow who seeks to use her beautiful daughter Sophie as a springboard to wealth and success. She's dead now having been beheaded for treachery, although her daughter Sophie is alive and well. Alive.
Update – She so dead you don’t even know.
C. Montcourt – played by Anatole Taubman
Montcourt conspired against the King’s father so Louis makes a public example of him, forcing the nobleman to turn bandit and thirst after revenge.
Montcourt was up to his old tricks in series one, by conspiring against Louis XIV. He appeared to have turned over a new leaf when he warned the King about a plan to kill one of his mistresses, however we were misled and he was just as dastardly as before. He stabbed Fabien in a tussle before losing his head in front of the King (in teh decapitated, not the look-a-bit-silly way).
D. Sophie – played by Maddison Jaizani
Beauty and innocence are not useful attributes in the French court, and Sophie finds herself caught in the cruelty of Versailles
Sophie was royally stitched up by her mum, Beatrice. The wide-eyed ingénue gets caught in her traitorous mother's mess and has to endure a tough interrogation from Fabien.
Update - This girl has storylines now! Fabs is now a big fan of little Sophie and warns her against believing everything her boyfriend, Thomas, says. However she’s grown up and by season three, little Sophie is one biscuit dur. When Tom is shot dead, Fabs calls off the guards as she flees into the night – away from Versailles and the corpse of her husband, Cassel. Oh yeah, Louis made her marry Cassel who raped her. Anyway, she’s fleeing to Holland to join the Dutch. Laters Soph.
E. The Duke of Cassel – played by Pip Torrens
Already a wealthy and powerful man, Cassel refuses to kowtow to the King leading to political tensions. Although charming, Cassel is a skilled manipulator and conspires to bring down Versailles. This weasel is every bit the otter-you-can't-trust as he teams up with Montcourt throughout the series to overthrow Louis XIV. The duo do not succeed, and, unlike his co-conspirator, Cassel retains his head throughout.
Update – Maybe I spoke too soon. After wrestling a fancy title from the hands of Gaston de Foix (below), Cassel found himself with power and influence. But Louis has a plan to keep the snake-in-the-grass under control: marry him off to poor little Sophie. He’s rotten to her but on the bright side, Thomas (also below) murders him, so every cloud. Basically, he dead.
F. Claudine – played by Lizzie Brocheré
Claudine, the Royal Physician's daughter, is a clever clogs. A modern woman trapped in the 17th century she refuses to become a plaything of powerful men and instead pursues her love of medicine – a practice which is illegal for women.
Claudine is one smart cookie. After making the difficult decision to save her dad, the doctor, Masson, or save Louis, she wisely elects to save the King, which she does. She is still alive.
G. Masson – played by Peter Hudson When abruptly promoted to royal physician, Masson’s already nervous nature is exacerbated and he finds himself torn between panic and delight at his new position.
Poisoned. Couldn't cure that, could he...
H. Gaston de Foix – played by Harry Hadden-Paton
An unlucky man with terrible hair and a generally weaselly demeanor, Gaston comes from a debted noble family, seeking the curry favour in the French court. However he becomes all too embroiled in the affaires des poisons which takes up most of the second season. His mum quite loses her head at the whole thing.
I. Thomas Beaumont – played by Mark Rendall
A new face in season two, Beaumont arrives in glittering Versailles at the behest of the Prince Philippe, writing piss-poor poetry that have the powdered gentry squawking in their slippers with pleasure. The king just LOVED it. However it turns out the preening pen-pusher was a spy for the dastardly Dutch. Drat! He then fell in love the Sophie (Maddison Jaizani). When languorous Lou found out Tom was a rascal, he asked his brother to offer his arse for the castle of Versailles, (and surrounding nation) and seduce the refractory rhymer.
J. Guillaume – played by Matthew McNulty
New for season three, this smoldering hunk of soldierly rump struts into town with the victorious Phillippe, fresh from the war fields of Holland. Although greatly rewarded for his valour (and general Frenchiness) by the king, Guillaume is horrified to see his fellow citizens struggling in poverty under the weight of crippling taxes (and taxing cripples thanks to all the torturing Fabs has been doing). He is a man of the people, as evidenced by his and his family’s thick Yorkshire accents. Very common in that area of France.
All images courtesy of BBC/Canal+ except where otherwise indicated.
Versailles begins tonight on BBC Two at 9pm and continues on Fridays at the same time.