Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Failed Education of the Grand Dauphin

The turbulent childhood of Louis XIV made him determined to provide his son and heir with the best education possible. Jacques Bénigne Boussuet was appointed as Louis, le Grand Dauphin's tutor; the Grand Dauphin's education would be decided by him as well as his governor, the Duc de Montausier. However, before they took over, the basic education was formed by Louis' preceptor, Périgny.

Unlike what might be imagined, Louis was not alone in the school-room. Four boys of the highest ranking families were chosen to partake in his lessons with Périgny. They were taught the basics of writing and reading. Périgny - in his capacity as the Grand Dauphin's preceptor - focused heavily on the moral education of his pupil. For this purpose, he used the legendary fables by La Fontaine to highlight moral problems. He also began the Grand Dauphin's lessons in French and Latin. Louis appears to have enjoyed his lessons by Périgny but they were not to last. Périgny died in 1670 and Boussuet took his place.

Louis, le Grand Dauphin

The plan devised for his new education included a wide array of subjects: geography, history, philosophy,  classical literature, rhetoric, logic, anatomy and physics. Besides these were the more courtly pursuits of drawing, riding and dancing. But there was one more aspect that was necessary for a future king: lessons in warfare, jurisprudence and the day-to-day functions of government.

As for his political education, Louis XIV took that into his own hands. He wrote the book "Memoires pour l'instruction du Dauphin" which was meant to guide the Grand Dauphin when he ascended the throne. However, nothing else was done to further the young boy's political acumen. Even when he became older and could have benefited from listening in on his father and his advisors, the Grand Dauphin was barred entry into the Council Chamber. 

Louis was born with a natural desire for learning but his teachers were terribly ill-suited. The young boy would have benefited from a less rigid educational style - like his own sons would receive - but both Boussuet and Montausier were of the old school. They attempted to cram as much knowledge into Louis in as short a time as possible - and would mercilessly berate him if he made mistakes. The consequence was that Louis became terrified of new knowledge and avoided it at all costs. 

Boussuet himself stated that the education of the future king was very much a "public affair". Therefore, he dedicated the vast majority of his time to this goal. Unfortunately, his pupil did not have the same pedantic nature. Louis had an indolent streak which would only get more pronounced as he grew older. 


Nevertheless, Louis had the very best materials available for his personal use. France had some of the best cartographers of the time and the maps dedicated to the Dauphin were some of the best and most interestingly decorated. Montausier is generally credited with assembling the Delphine collection of classical works specifically for Louis' education - hence the name.

The Grand Dauphin's studies were divided into three parts throughout the day. The first was between 9 o'clock in the morning and 11.30. The second began at half past one and continued until supper only interrupted by quick playtimes such as fishing. Finally, after supper the third study period began which lasted a few hours. The Grand Dauphin would then have a little time before being put to bed. This schedule was the same - even on Sundays - and was only interrupted for major ceremonial events.

In a typical lesson, Boussuet would read and explain a text or a subject which the Dauphin was then to write down in French - what he remembered anyways. This was then to be translated into Latin. Louis' education would be officially terminated when he was married in 1680 - at the age of 19.

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