When I was looking at some ceramic plates commemorating the Storming of the Bastille and the Execution of Louis XVI on a brocante stall in France, the stallholder leaned across to me and said in good English, “We don’t have a queen, you see.”
A similar spirit inspired Yasmin Alibhai Brown to tweet mischievously, “France, a Republic, gets ten times more tourists than the UK.” As most people care nothing about politics, it’s unlikely that there’s any connection between visitor numbers and a country’s political constitution. And it’s rather more significant that one of the most popular visitor destinations in France is Versailles, the symbol of absolute monarchy.
As it happens, I visited it myself recently. One of the most crowded places is the King’s Bedchamber, the focal point of the royal cult. Since the King embodied God’s will, the King’s body had a divine quality, and among the most important moments of the day at Versailles were the King’s rising from bed in the morning and retiring at night, which were always performed publicly.
The atmosphere in the King’s Bedchamber when I was there was reverential. The places it most resembled in my experience were the Sistine Chapel, the rock at La Verna where St Francis received the stigmata, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the room in the Topkapi Palace displaying a hair of the Prophet’s beard.
Music plays in the popular gardens at Versailles, by the way. One of the pieces is Handel’s Coronation Ouverture.