Sun King cross-dressing brother steps out of shadows

Vlahos, as Philippe, alongside George Blagden, who stars as Louis XIV
Vlahos, left, as Philippe, alongside George Blagden, who stars as Louis XIV

TV series was right – there was more to Philippe, Duke of Orléans, than historians once believed Dr Jonathan Spangler tells Scheenagh Harrington

The final series of the lavish period drama Versailles, currently showing on BBC Two after been screened in France on Canal Plus, offers a glimpse at the antics of bed-hopping, power-hungry French monarch Louis XIV – but also shows the life of his younger brother, Philippe Duke of Orléans.

Brought to life in the Franco-Canadian series by Welsh actor Alexander Vlahos, Philippe is portrayed as a scheming, sexually voracious and ambitious member of his brother’s court.

Born in 1640, Philippe was the second son of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, and inherited the title of ‘fils de France’, while his elder brother Louis became dauphin.

He was raised at court in a claustrophobic atmosphere, thanks to his mother, who was regent until Louis came of age and, in 1648, was the one who placed the crown on his brother’s head at the coronation.

Portrait_painting_of_Philippe_of_France,_Duke_of_Orléans_holding_a_crown_of_a_child_of_France
A portrait of Philippe, Duke of Orleans

Philippe was soon flexing his own political muscles and grew into a more-than adept leader, distinguishing himself in the 1677 Battle of Cassel against William III, Prince of Orange.

Years later, he championed the arts, supporting the likes of Molière and assembling an internationally important art collection.

He died on 9 June, 1701, following a stroke. The previous evening he had argued with, and dined alongside, his brother. Upon hearing of Philippe’ ...

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