Monday, October 29, 2007

The Rules of Versailles

Diana Reid Haig, author of Walks Through Marie-Antoinette's Paris, offers some fascinating background about life at the royal palace on her informative website. (Via Marie-Antoinette Online)

The Rules of Versailles

In her memoirs, Mme. de la Tour du Pin, wife of the head of the château’s militia, wrote that life at Versailles had never been so, “pleasure-seeking as in 1789… Amid all these pleasures, we were laughing and dancing our way to the precipice… The word ‘revolution’ was never uttered. Had anyone dared to use it, he would have been thought mad…”

Though political unrest swept through France, life at Versailles continued as usual. Days revolved around scheduled ceremonies, and most traditions begun under Louis XIV continued until the end of the Ancien Régime. Some unusual rules of court etiquette were:

-- Knocking on doors was forbidden. Instead, in 1694, a rule was instituted that if entry was desired, the visitor should scratch on a door with the little finger.

-- Only ushers were allowed to open doors. If a visitor desired to leave a room, they had to wait for the usher to open the door.

-- A distinctive gliding walk was used by ladies at Versailles in which they never lifted the foot so as not to step on the train of the woman in front of them. Marie-Antoinette mastered this, and all her ladies were required to learn to walk without raising their feet from the ground.

-- People of different rank entered a room in order, princes first, then officers of the Court, and finally courtiers. The page opened both halves of the tall double door for a prince, but for lower ranked dignitaries, only one side swung open

-- Wall hangings at Versailles were changed twice a year for winter and summer. Between All Saint’s Day and Easter, the château’s tall windows were sealed with strips of tape to keep out cold air.

-- The royal Family was not allowed to pour a glass of water or reach for food themselves. Meals, refreshments, and items of clothing had to be handed or served to them, sometimes on silver trays, according to tradition. Mme. Campan famously tells a story of Marie-Antoinette impatiently shivering while waiting to be dressed as her petticoat is passed from one lady to another of higher rank.

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