The first season of Versailles features a running plot involving sinister men in black robes and masks, who skulk around Versailles slipping coded messages to people, threating to kill the Chevalier de Lorraine (Evan Williams), and generally being sinister. This all climaxes in the discovery that the Chevalier de Rohan (Alexis Michalik) is plotting assassinate Louis (George Blagden) and kidnap his son. It’s fun stuff and ends with a solid cliffhanger, which unfortunately gets wrapped up in about 5 minutes at the start of season 2. Is it based on anything?
The Latréaumont Conspiracy
Yes. It’s a rather fictionalized version of a plot known today as the Latréaumont Conspiracy (which the internet seems determined to spell as “Lautreamont”). It centered around two men, Louis de Rohan and Gilles du Hamel de Latréaumont. Rohan was a close associate of the king’s, being his Chief Huntsman (Rohan’s mother was a cousin of Anne de Rohan-Chabot, one of Louis’ mistresses). Since Louis loved hunting, this office brought Rohan into regular close contact with Louis, which was one of the most valuable forms of currency at Versailles. It paid off when Louis made him Colonel of Louis’ Guards, another important office. But then Louis soured on Rohan. (Incidentally, if you have trouble keeping track of the players, most of the women I mention are discussed in more detail in this post.)
Rohan was a close friend of the Duc de Nevers, whose sisters were the five Mancinis, two of whom, Olympe and Marie, were mistresses of Louis. A third sister, Hortense, was romanced by Charles II while he was in exile after the English Civil War. Her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, rejected Charles’ offer to marry the girl, which meant that Hortense missed out on being Queen of England (and since she, unlike Charles’ eventual wife, was quite fertile, that marriage would have changed the course of England history). Instead, Mazarin arranged for her marriage to Armand Charles de La Porte de La Meilleraye, a very wealthy nobleman. But he was a terrible match for Hortense. She was free-spirited (and only 15), while he was violently jealous (he once reportedly knocked out a female servant’s front teeth so that men would not flirt with her). He seems to have been at least a little insane; when a fire broke out in one of his residences, he declared that trying to put it out was against God’s will, and he forbade wet nurses to nurse his children on Friday and Saturdays because those were Jesus’ death-days. That’s only some of his issues. (If you want to know more about their disastrous marriage, here’s a good post about it.)
Anyway, soon after the birth of their fourth child in 1668, Hortense had enough of La Porte’s abuse. She fled into the streets of Paris to Nevers’ house. Rohan helped her escape the city, dressed in men’s clothing, and get to Rome where her sister Marie was living. This anger Louis, and not long afterward, Rohan was forced to resign all his offices. Because the real reason was kept secret, rumors circulated that Rohan was having an affair with Marie or that he was making moves on Madame de Montespan. (Incidentally, Hortense eventually wound up in England, where she became Charles’ mistress. She took the Countess of Sussex as a lover until the two wound up brawling in St James’ Park in their nightgowns. After her death, La Porte seized her corpse and travelled around France with it until Louis ordered him to bury it.)
Gilles du Hamel de Latréaumont was a military officer from Normandy. In 1657, he had briefly plotted with the Maréchal d’Hocquincourt to seize control of Normandy. That resulted in Latréaumont going into exile in Normandy, where he met Affinius van den Enden, a philosopher and teacher. By 1672, Latréaumont was van den Enden’s student, along with the Comte de Guiche. All three of them were unhappy about Louis’ invasion of the Netherlands. They relocated to Paris, where van den Enden opened a Latin school in his lodgings. They approached Rohan, who was badly in debt, with a plot to kidnap the 11-year old Louis the Grand Dauphin while he was hunting in Normandy, hold him hostage and seize control of Normandy, which they would turn into a republic. Then they would assassinate Louis and put the Grand Dauphin on the throne as their puppet. Both the Dutch and the Spanish liked the idea and their agents were soon meeting with the conspirators at van den Enden’s little school.
Unfortunately, one of the king’s musketeers was renting a room in the school and got curious about why a bunch of nobles and foreigners were meeting with a Latin teacher, so he alerted Louvois, the king’s minister for war. Louvois passed the information to the Lieutenant General of the Police of Paris, Gabriel Nicholas de la Reynie, who promptly arrested Rohan at Versailles, caught Latréaumont at the Latin school, and then rounded up the other conspirators. They found some letters about the plot that Rohan had written anonymously. Eventually they got Rohan to confess by claiming that Louis was willing to pardon him if he made a full confession. Latréaumont died from wounds received during his capture. Van den Enden was hung, and Rohan and the other nobles were beheaded in 1674.
The Latréaumont Conspiracy was the only significant conspiracy against the state during Louis’ reign, and given how hare-brained it was, it never had much chance to succeed. It had no lasting repercussions.
The Conspiracy in Versailles
Large elements of the actual conspiracy appear in the show. Latréaumont is completely omitted in favor of focusing on Rohan as the ring-leader. Rohan is shown as Louis’ huntsman, and he did hold that office into 1669. Since the show opens in 1667, that’s basically accurate, but the show omits his fall from grace and maintains that he held Louis’ favor down into the 1670s, which is untrue. His motive is not anger at Louis for his fall and a need to clear his debts, but rather just a vague desire to overthrow Louis because reasons. Nor was Rohan the huntsman who lured the young Dauphin out in the woods. In fact, the kidnapping never happened at all because the plot was uncovered before it could be put into motion. Louis himself was never in any personal danger.
Fabien Marchel (Tygh Runyan) is basically a fictionalized version of La Reynie. He spends a good deal of time trying to chase down the mysterious letters that Rohan is passing to people and this is how the conspiracy gets uncovered (complete with an odd subplot about a cypher hidden in a book that Louis just happens to acquire). That’s untrue. The letters weren’t discovered until after the plot was found out.
The Comte de Guiche is entirely omitted, maybe because giving Philippe have two boyfriends would confuse the viewers, so instead the Chevalier de Lorraine is substituted, but instead of being out of favor like Guiche, he’s just been browbeaten into co-operating with Rohan. The entirely fictional Montcourt (Anatole Taubman) also gets some of Guiche’s story, being a disgraced nobleman who wants to get revenge on Louis. He eventually helps Marchal uncover the plot, so he’s also sort of a stand-in for the musketeer.
The whole ‘guys in black robes and masks sneaking around Versailles’ is totally made up and reads a lot like something from a novel by Victor Hugo. However, Versailles was actually pretty easy to get into. Whereas in the show characters are constantly being barred from entering rooms by guards with pikes, in reality, anyone at all could just walk straight into the palace. Even Louis’ personal apartments were open to everyone when he wasn’t in them. And Versailles does have secret passages.
So whereas the show significant tones down the sexual escapades at Versailles, it’s wildly exaggerated the Latréaumont Conspiracy far behind the facts.
Want to Know More?
Versailles is available through Amazon.
So far as I know, there’s no book in English about the Conspiracy or about Rohan or Latréaumont, apart from something published in 1845. In fact the only Wikipedia articles about these are on the French-language version of the site. When English Wikipedia doesn’t have an article on something, that’s usually it’s a real sign of obscurity.