The story of Fouquet
Turn right onto the wide path, which is the Allée des Près, and halt for a moment. We will not enter the Wood of the Obelisk to your left, but you may if you like. We will stop at the fountain way up ahead.
Continue walking while I tell you about Nicolas Fouquet.
So, who was Fouquet? He was the surintendant of finances, before Colbert got the job. Money was something he knew a lot about, as his family was certainly the richest in all of France. So rich, that they rivalled the crown in wealth. During the decade in which he was acting finance minister, the fortune of Nicolas grew ten-fold.
How Fouquet revelled in his privileged condition! He spent lavishly, offering himself ostentatious pleasures and the company of talented artists. He collected the best painters, poets, architects, landscapers and craftsmen of the time. He showed off with spectacular parties that even heads of state couldn't put on themselves.
In the Summer of 1661, he outdid himself with two grand feasts. The first for the queen mother of England, and the second for the king of France, Louis XIV.
Fouquet was celebrating the completion of his masterpiece, Vaux le Vicomte, the most splendid castle in the kingdom, with sumptuous gardens stretching to infinity. Remember at this time that Versailles was still a humble hunting lodge, and that Louis XIV lived in the sparsely decorated and comparatively cramped Palais Royal, in the middle of a crowded Paris, with the accompanying noise and smells and danger of a metropolis.
The king and 600 members of his court were fêted at Vaux le Vicomte. They gorged on a fabulous feast for a thousand people put on by the best cook in the land, François Vatel. They walked around greenery trimmed in fantastic shapes, among sculptures and water jets. Molière premiered a new play. An enormous fireworks display closed the ceremony.
How did Louis XIV like the fête? He was furious. I'll tell you what he did next after the fountain.