Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Etiquette at Versailles

Paris Atelier explains the elaborate rules of etiquette at the French court which drove Marie-Antoinette to distraction. (Her family had been very informal, as royals go.) Here are a few of the rules:
*People who wanted to speak to the king could not knock on his door. Instead, using the left little finger, they had to gently scratch on the door, until they were granted permission to enter. As a result, many courtiers grew that fingernail longer than the others!

*A lady never held hands or linked arms with a gentleman. It was in very bad taste and nearly impossible because a woman’s skirts were so wide. She was to place her hand on top of the gentleman’s bent arm as they strolled through the gardens and chambers of Versailles. Ladies were only allowed to touch their fingertips with the men. Imagine that! Funny with all of the scandal that went on!

*The king and queen always had a fauteuil (armchair) to sit on. In their presence, no one else was allowed an armchair, unless you were also a monarch.

*A chair with a back but no arms was allowed for those closest in rank to the king, such as his brother or children.

*The tabouret, a padded stool was awarded to those holding the rank of duchess. Lesser ranking nobility would be expected to stand.

* Only ushers were allowed to open doors. If you desired to leave the room, you had to wait for the usher to open the door.


Catherine Delors said...

Thanks for the link, Elena! Isn't Judith's blog wonderful?

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it is. Thank you, Catherine, for introducing me to it!

Anonymous said...

Could one surmise that this was an indication of "straining a gnats and swallowing camels"? To only touch fingertips while embarking on affairs; to obsess over furniture while ignoring integrity? I don't mean to point to any one person (and I am convinced that many Royals were quite holy) but when society-at-large insists on such frivolous details, it would seem as though the bottom is about to fall out.

I've long pondered etiquette, and it would seem that it was initially a means of living charity (or should have been). When any element of charity becomes unhinged from virtue, it quickly becomes useless -- or a simply form of vanity.

elena maria vidal said...

"Straining a gnats and swallowing camels" is certainly how Marie-Antoinette saw it, which is why she tried to simplify things as much as was in her power. Yes, I agree, GSK.Now, we have gone to the other extreme.

May said...

Yes, it seems that too much emphasis on forms and etiquette is counter-productive.

By the way, I wanted to let you know that my blog is now open to the public.

elena maria vidal said...

Great, I'll add it to my blogroll!

Gareth Russell said...

What a delightful and entertaining post! I particularly enjoyed the anecdote concerning the princesse de Conti. Truly comedic.

I remember when my director pointed for "The Audacity of Ideas," a play I wrote not too long ago, that recreating a set that was faithful to Versailles' etiquette, let alone architecture, would have been frankly purgatorial!

elena maria vidal said...

I can only imagine! Your play sounds wonderful!

May said...

Thank you, yes, please do! I have also added Tea at Trianon to my list of links.