Monday, 28 July 2014

Bright Smiles!

White teeth were just as much an ideal for the courtiers at Versailles as it is to most people today. Consequently, there was a lot to gain by developing new methods and a seemingly never-ending demand. At this point in history it was seen as inevitable that you would lose at least a couple teeth or that they would turn black...

Most ladies at court would often conceal their mouths using their fans and you will have to look hard for a portrait of a courtier smiling with their teeth showing, at least from the first part of the 18th century. No one wanted to have a smile broken by a missing tooth or two but the alternatives was horrific. During the first quarter of the 18th century false teeth would be made of wood or bone if you could afford it which would then be wired together and placed in the mouth. There was a somewhat breakthrough in 1728 when Pierre Fauchard (called the father of modern dentistry) managed to create false teeth out of enamel which looked exactly like natural teeth - the courtiers were delighted! He also tried to emphasize the importance of some dental hygiene rather than pulling the teeth out.

French dental set. The item in front of the box is an ivory and tortoise-shell
tongue scraper

Louis XIV was no stranger to tooth-problems. He suffered from continuous tooth-aches and decided to have the teeth of his upper jaw pulled out - the dentist, however, botched it and managed to extract a substantial amount of the King's jaw. Perhaps the King's doctor would have fared better had he not refused to perform the surgery because tooth-pulling was considered a "mechanical" job and as a doctor he was above that! Eventually, in 1712 Louis XIV appointed a dental specialist to his medical team. His successor, Louis XV, went even further and made his dentiste a nobleman.

Normally, dental hygiene was limited to tooth picks which the courtiers in their usual style had made of exotic materials such as ivory. Toothpaste did not emerge until 1780 and often contained strange if not dangerous ingredients such as burnt alum and dragon's blood!

Dental instruments of the late 18th century

As if loosing your teeth was not bad enough most people had a horrible breath due to said teeth rotting. Those of the higher classes would combat the oral odours by chewing on cloves, orange peel, honey or perhaps cinnamon. If you were more dedicated to your dental hygiene you could use tooth powder which would be rubbed onto the teeth using a piece of cloth.

Progress might be made within dentistry but it was the lifestyle of the courtiers that decided the fate of their teeth. Never had there been so much sugar at court than now and a diet filled with pastries, crystallised fruit and sugar-filled coffee did not help matters.
Still, the French court had the advantage of presiding over the land that invented dentistry; even the word "dentiste" appeared in French before any other language. It was also a Frenchman who was summoned to Vienna by Empress Maria Theresia to correct the teeth of the young Marie Antoinette. It was the future Queen's portraitist Madame Vigée-LeBrun who would eventually challenge the tradition of always painting a closed mouth when she in 1787 revealed a self-portrait of where a line of white teeth could be discerned.

Madame Vigée-LeBrun's self-portrait

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Rouge à la Mode!

The rose-red circles on a pale face is one of the best known features of the cosmetics of the 18th century. It was used to highlight the whiteness (really white) of the skin.

Sadly, for a fashion-conscious woman of Versailles, rouge was often made from toxic materials; for example the nuance "vermilion" was contained mercury while "creuse" had lead in it. Therefore, it was not uncommon for women to suffer from skin problems and in the worst cases it could even lead to death. Still, by 1781 it was estimated that French women went through 2.000.000 pots of rouge every year!

The rouge were in powder-form and arrived in decorative boxes - the lady would apply it to her face with the use of wet wool or more commonly a brush. She would normally make actual circles or streaks on her cheeks that would reach the lower eye-lashes. It was common to apply one layer of a darker colour first, then a slightly lighter tone on top of that.
The ladies at Versailles were among the few who could afford rouge made from cochineal insects (carmine) from as far away as South America! Some rouges were even scented with a flowery note. As the demand for rouge rose so did the supply which meant that soon rouge could be quite cheap. To keep the prestige of the trend the noble ladies ordered their rouge in ornate boxes which were sometimes worth more than the actual rouge.

18th century rouge box with brush

The court at Versailles was renowned - and notorious - for the fashionable red circles which were imposed on every new princess arriving from abroad including Marie Leszczynska and Marie Antoinette. The latter wrote to her mother of her daily rutine:

"I apply my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world!" 

Actually, the court of France was the only one that really engaged in the usage of rouge on a larger scale which resulted in many a comment from foreign visitors. The Scotsman Tobias Smollett was very much against it exclaiming: "this horrible mask destroys all distinction of features."
Even gentlemen used rouge though on a lesser scale than their ladies.

Billedresultat for 18th century rouge
Madame de Pompadour applying
rouge with a delicate brush

There was quite a lot of symbolism connected with the usage of rouge. First of all, it was to indicate health (believe it or not) as well as modesty - or even sexual arousal! Then there was the symbol for those who cared to think twice about it: the flow of blood to the cheeks could be seen as a reference to the blood of the nobility, that is to say a higher class.
It was a trend for the young and beautiful. The Comtesse de Genlis stopped using rouge when she turned 30 years old because she knew that "old women" who wore rouge were talked ill of.

Madame Adélaîde
During the 18th century the trend spread from the aristocracy to the rising middle-class and bourgeoisie in France. With the French revolution rouge almost disappeared from the toilette of high-strung ladies because it was associated too much with the nobility and extravagance. Those bourgeois-women who wanted to follow the trend but did not have the purse to follow it used more natural sources which were far better for the health. These materials were safflowers, sandalwood and safran; they would also prefer a pinker tone to the deep scarlet of the nobility.

There were different types of rouge:

  • In powder-form where the powder could be mixed with grease or the more exclusive rose water in order to make it easier to apply with a brush.
  • Then there was au crépon where a piece of cloth or handkerchief was dyed with for example carmine which would be made moistened and dabbed onto the face.
  • Finally, there was liquid rouge which would be based on vinegar and would leave a longer-lasting colour

Friday, 25 July 2014

War of the Spanish Succession

The War of the Spanish Succession lasted from 1701 to 1714.

France                                                                                                 vs.                                                                                     Austria
Spain (loyal to Philip V)                                                                                                                                                       Preussia 
Bavaria                                                                                                                                                                                         Hanover
Mantua                                                                                                                                                                                Great Britain
The Dutch Republic
Spain (opposed to Philip V)

With the death of Charles II of Spain who died without a male heir two contestants claimed the throne of Spain. One was Philip V, who until then had held the title of Duc d'Anjou at the French court; he was also the grandson of Louis XIV. The other was Archduke Charles from the house of Habsburg. In fact Charles II had actually proclaimed Philip V to be his successor but as often before no one seemed to care about the monarch's will once he was actually dead. 
The situation would seem rather easy to solve if it had not been down to the fact that Philip's Spanish grandmother, Maria Theresa, who was the wife of Louis XIV and sister of Charles II had renounced her rights to the Spanish throne on condition of a massive dowry of 500.000 - but the dowry was never paid. This meant that her renunciation was viewed as invalid because Spain had never fulfilled her part of the agreement. The mother of Archduke Charles was also a sister of Charles II and she had also renounced her rights upon her marriage to Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor. However, since Maria Theresa was the eldest sister she was given the advantage which was made even greater by her missing dowry.

Duc de Villars (far right) leads his troops in the Battle of Friedlingen which the
French won

Trivia - the French court and the War of the Spanish Succession 
  • Louis XIV had an army of just above a quarter of a million men - 255.000 to be more precise
  • In 1709 Louis XIV was approached with peace conditions that were very hard on France; in response he issued a public request for support from his people to help him keep France's dignity - 90.000 men enlisted 
  • There were five French noblemen - besides the King - who were generally in charge: The Duc de Villars, Duc de Vendôme, Duc de Boufflers, Duc de Villeroi and the Comte de Tessé.
  • Louis XIV had to agree to end the war due to financial chaos in France 
  • The winter of 1709 was one of the most severe seen in ages and devastated the King's treasury and his peasants
  • The Battle of Blenheim (illustrated below) was the first mayor military defeat of the French in over 40 years

Battle of Blenheim in 1704
Out of the three treaties designed to end the war two are more important: the Treaty of Utrecht and the Treaty of Baden.

The Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713 and is really a line of agreements of peace between France and Great Britain, Savoy, the United Provinces (The Dutch Republic) and Portugal. 

The Treaty of Baden was signed in 1714 and finalised the peace by bringing France and the Holy Roman Empire to peace.

The overall result was that Philip V was accepted as King of Spain under the condition that he formally renounced his claims to the French throne. France got to keep everything she had conquered but had to accept Great Britain's territories of Newfoundland and Rupert's Land - they also had to give Acadia to the British. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Precious Pear Pie

From the table of Louis XIV

Ingredients (for 6 people)

375 g shortcrust pastry

1.5 kg pears
150 g caster sugar
30 g pine nuts
60 g raisins
1 organic lemon
4 pinches of ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk

1. Flour a work surface and divide the pastry dough in half: one for the bottom crust, the other for the top.
Prepare the filling. Soak the raisins in lukewarm water. Carefully wash and brush the lemon before peeling it with a paring knife as thinly as possible. Chop into small pieces and boil twice. 

2. Drain and add to a syrup you will have prepared in a small saucepan from 50 g of sugar and 10 cl of water. Gently boil for around 10 minutes until obtaining a still-fluid mixture containing the lemon peel. Meanwhile, peel the pears and cut them into small pieces. Put the pears, pine nuts, drained raisins, candied lemon peel, remaining sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl, mix well and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place half the pastry dough in a pie dish and fill with the pear mixture. Cover with the other half of the dough, sealing the edges and brushing with the egg yolk diluted in tablespoon of water. Make a hole in the centre, keeping it open with small cardboard funnel.

4.Bake 1 hour, checking from time to time. When the top is golden brown, you can loosely cover it with aluminium to keep it from burning. Serve warm or cool.

Cuisine de la Cour

Here I present to you recipes that would have been presented to the royal family and occasionally their guests at Versailles. Since I am not exactly a culinary master (to say the least) I will leave it to the experts which is why I have mostly copied the recipes directly - god knows what would happen if I were to leave out anything!


Main Courses

Precious Pear Pie

Monday, 21 July 2014

Grand Fête of 1674

In 1674 France had managed to capture the region of Franche-Comté and Louis XIV wanted to celebrate in true Versailles style. Fêtes were to take place between 4th July to 31st August - five great parties in all.

The King wanted especially to highlight the new alterations and additions made to the gardens so a large part of the festivities took place outside. The festival was to honour music and plays. The play "Alceste" was performed in the Marble Courtyard in the very heart of the palace on the first day of the festival. For the purpose a fountain was erected in the middle of the staged but carefully packed so that they sound of the water would not drown out the exquisite music.

"Alceste" is performed in the Marble Courtyard on 4th July

On the 11th July the court turned its' gaze to the Porcelain Trianon where "L'Eglogue de Versailles" by Lully was played out on a stage designed by Carlo Vigarani. The stage featured a small pool of water and satyrs and fauns adorned the fences. The walk back to Versailles was made pleasanter by the many flowers with their overpowering scents. By 9 o'clock that evening dinner was served in the grove "Salle de Conseil" which was illuminated by 150 candles.

Even the Grotto of Thétis was used as a background for "Du Malade Imaginaire" by Molière and Charpentier which was performed on the 19th July. That day also brought sailing on the Grand Canal. Throughout every one of the fêtes flowers played a major role; they were either displayed in expensive vases or woven into garlands.

"La Malade Imaginaire"

The 28th July was dedicated to the abundance of nature. While the guests were entertained with "Fêtes de l'Amour et Bacchus" they were treated to cascades of fruit, ices, wines, liqueurs and jams under the heavy fruit trees. Once again Carlo Vigarani had designed the stage for the play which was flanked by two pilasters of Justice and Bliss in bronze. The last act opened up the sides of the stage and choirs dressed as shepherds appeared while about fifty satyrs overran the stage. The King made his magnificent entrance and just when he appeared fireworks erupted over the skies of Versailles. This time dinner was served in the Marble Courtyard where the guests dined to the sounds of violins and oboes.

Racine's play "Iphigéne" took place in front of the Orangery on 18th August. Later that day the entire royal family went down to the newly finished Apollo Fountain where a big display of fireworks lit up the rows of lilies and statues of the King which flanked the Grand Canal. Le Brun had created an obelisk with the King's emblem of the Sun. The firework consisted of no less than 5000 rockets.

Dinner on 28th July in the Marble Courtyard

It soon became common knowledge that the fêtes had been dedicated to Madame de Montespan, the new favourite and rival of Louise de La Vallière. The entire splendid festival came at its' price; Louis XIV spent the staggering sum of 117.000 livres which amounted to 1/3 of the sum spent on the construction of Versailles that year!

On the very last evening the festival took to the waters - or more specifically the Grand Canal where the courtiers set out in their boats accompanied by boats of musicians. This night also saw the illumination of the entire Grand Canal!

The Grand Canal is illuminated

Stage by Vigarani

Carlo Vigarani designed this stage which was to be used for the production of Molière's "Du Malade Imaginaire" which was performed outdoors in front of the Grotto of Thétis.

The Pyramid

Design for the fountain called the Pyramid which was placed in the Parterre du Nord (1669-1672), probably by François Girardon. 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Young Gentleman's Attire, 1778

Jeune elegant en habit mouchete avec une veste blanche, 1778

The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island

Louis XIV wanted to mark the court's removal from Paris to Versailles in a manner fitting his prestige. To accomplish this a virtual army of carpenters, artists and actors were brought in from Paris to bring to life what became known as the Pleasures of the Enchanted Island which consisted of a cavalcade of fêtes at Versailles lasting from 7th to 13th May 1664. The King put an immense pressure on both Molière and his troop of actors "Comédiens de Monseigneur le Duc d'Orlèans" - the actors were only brought in a week before they were supposed to perform. And Molière himself was given no extra time to prepare. In fact he was under a brutal deadline and had to abandon his project of having the play "La Princesse d'Elide" performed in prose. The entire festival was orchestrated by Carlo Vigarani who earned the admiration of his all-mighty master.

Publicly, the King dedicated the show of magnificence to his mother, Anne of Austria, and his wife, Marie Theresa - in reality it was in honour of the King's first maîtresse-en-titre Louise de La Vallière.

600 people were invited to watch the 25-year old Sun King roll out his magnificence but there was not enough room indoors (neither was the palace actually finished) so the festivities took place outside. Even the weather seemed to favour the King and during the entire length of festivities the court was bathed in soft sunlight. The days were to illustrate the story of the sorceress Alcine who kept the heroic Roger (played by the King) and his knights prisoners in a dungeon. This was the first time the French court had ever seen the combination of wonderful music and fantasy come together - and they were awed. So much in fact that the display which had originally been designed to last for three days were prolonged to almost an entire week.

The first days saw the King leading an entourage of knights on horseback; the King's horse's harness was studded with gold and gemstones and the King himself wore a bright-red costume. The knights were gentlemen of the court: the Duc de Noailles as Ogier the Dane, the Marquis de Villequier as Richardet, the Comte de Lude as Astolphe - even the Marquis de La Vallière participated! The cortège rode to the spot that know exhibits the Apollo Fountain where the palace of Alcine had been erected for the occasion. That night the entire garden was lit with thousands of candles while the courtiers watched a ballet inspired by the Seasons.
The next night brought on another ballet presented by Louis XIV; the ballet was the brain-child of the combined efforts of Molière and Lully with the title "La Princesse d'Elide". The courtiers were astounded and completely captivated by the many mythological creatures singing alongside shepherds. The third evening brought another splendid display when the carefully constructed palace of Alcine was illuminated by fireworks and just when the courtiers were clapping at the colourful display, an artificial whale emerged on the Grand Canal followed by two whale calves carrying Alcine and her servants.

The days that followed were packed with lotteries, horse-races, games, candle-light dancing and endless amounts of champagne and crystallised fruit. Each night 4.000 candles were lit in the gardens - the King wanted to make sure that his guests did not miss a single detail. The King took his court to see his menagerie of exotic animals as well. The courtiers were certainly well entertained; each night brought on a new spectacle and Molière unfolded his genius with productions of La Fâcheux and Le Mariage Forcé. Mock-battles were played out and masquerades added to the fantastical theme.

It was not until the 12th that festivities came to an unexpected halt when Molière's "Tartuffe" scandalised the devout party surrounding Anne of Austria - the King had been very much entertained by the play but was forced to ban it. Nevertheless, Louis XIV had succeeded in completely dazzling his court and by far out-shining Fouquet who had dared to display a great extravagance and paid the price for it.

When the court returned to Fontainebleau it was awestruck, the age of Versailles had begun.

The Four Seasons being played out


The Chariot of Apollon which was presented on the first night by the knights and Roger

Exotic animals on display - notice how the palace is missing the two wings
Upon the death of the Duchesse d'Orlèans in 1671:

"Cousin, there is a place vacant. Would you like to take it?"

LOUIS XIV [to Mademoiselle] 
"The people like spectacle. In this was we hold their minds and hearts, sometimes more firmly than through rewards and benefactions."


Significant Earrings

Having the love of the King was no easy matter especially not in a court packed with beautiful, young women all more than willing to become his new mistress. Madame de Montespan certainly knew this and combined with her jealous nature was to make a mortifying discovery in the final years of the 1670's.

The King's maîtresse-en-titre had noticed that the beautiful, red-headed Anne de Rohan-Chabot, Princesse de Soubise was making a very fine figure at court. The Princesse de Soubise was - of course - married and to a man who had a habit of getting her pregnant annually. However, the Prince de Soubise was not the only one attracted to Anne. Louis XIV had noticed her perfect complexion and lush hair and had become rather infatuated with her much to Madame de Montespan's frustration. But the maîtresse was convinced that nothing was going on as of yet.
The observant Montespan had also made another observation: the Princesse de Soubise would wear the same emerald earrings quite often at court. Eager to keep her royal lover she went so far as having the King followed! It became clear to her that the Princesse used the earrings as a signal to the King that the Prince de Soubise would be in Paris and therefore out of the way, making it possible for the couple to indulge in a private rendezvous.

The discovery brought on a rage from the fiery Montespan who was then assured by Louis himself that the affair was over. It was not though but did not last long afterwards. Thankfully for the King Madame de Montespan never learned of it.

Anne de Rohan-Chabot, Princesse de Soubise

Saturday, 19 July 2014

There is a carriage in the courtyard!

Arriving with style was - and still is - essential to courtiers trying to make an impression. But, oh, the embarrassment if one was to make an error and in such a public place too! A big no-no was arriving after the King and Queen had gone to bed or before they had risen. And that is not to mention if you even had the right to drive into the courtyards at all. There were quite clear and simple rules of who were allowed to do just this:

  • The King and Queen
  • The Dauphin and Dauphine
  • The Children of France
  • Foreign sovereigns and princes
  • Cardinals 
  • Ambassadors
  • Ducs and their peers
  • Comtes and their peers
  • Grand Officers of the Crown
  • Officers of the Dauphin, Dauphine, Queen and Children of France
So, not even if you were an Earl or Baron would you be permitted to enter the royal courtyards. And after all, there is more style in arriving at the front stepping out of your personal carriage than having to walk across the courtyard with your expensive ball gown.

The King's Entertainments

The Menus-Plaisirs du Roi - directly translated to The King's Lesser Pleasures - were responsible for the entertainments at court down to every detail. It was quite an old part of the monarchy dating back to 1483. The "Menus" refers to nothing more exciting than everyday objects such as chests, beds, canopies, portraits etc, everything that could be used. To a court as pleasure-loving as the French this was an invaluable part of the household!

The entertainments in question was everything from masquerades and balls to operas and gambling parties. It became so extensive a department that an entire building was dedicated to storing the props and objects that would be used for the Menus-Plaisirs (L'Hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs) - this building was created in 1741-48. Here one could find theatre props, costumes and even sledges for winter. Originally, Louis XV had hired a few rooms in the town of Versailles for storage of the objects used for the celebrations of the birth of the Dauphin but after some years he had the Hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs built instead.
This Hôtel was also the place for sculptures and other works of art which meant that some of the greatest artists of the court had spent some time in the Hôtel. Later, the Hôtel would play a far more serious role when it became the frame of the Estates Generale in 1789 only a short period of time before the royal family was dragged off to Paris. It was also here that Robespierre was elected President.

The purpose might seem trivial to us but it employed quite a lot of people. Gardeners, carpenters, architects, actors and many more were all hand-picked by the King and expected to be ready by a specific date.

First Gentlemen of the Chamber

There were four First Gentlemen of the Chamber who were each appointed on a yearly basis. Whenever the Grand Chamberlain was absent these First Gentlemen would assume his duties and had the right to ride in the King's carriage. They would personally hand over the list of those who could be admitted to the King to the Ushers and as such must have been rather sought-after men. Naturally, they were all to be of noble birth. Ever since 1757 the First Gentlemen were also responsible for the administration of the actors and the Italian Comédie.

File:Estampes par Nicolas de Larmessin.f182.Henri de Daillon du Lude.jpg
Henri de Daillon, Duc de Lude -
First Gentleman of the Chamber 1653-1669

François Joachim Bernard Potier, Duc de Gesvres -
First Gentleman of the Chamber 1717-1757 
François-Louis Lonsing, Portrait d'Emmanuel Céleste Augustin de Durfort, Duc de Duras (1741-1800), vers 1786, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux[1]
Emmanuel-Céleste de Durfort, Duc de Duras -
First Gentleman of the Chamber 1757-1789

Friday, 18 July 2014

Grand Chamberlain

The Grand Chamberlain was the highest post within the King's Chamber and was also one of the Officers of the Crown. This last distinction meant that certain privileges came with the post of Grand Chamberlain including the right to carry the King's banner in the army, sitting at the foot of the King during a Lit de Justice on a velvet cushion and during the coronation he was to put the royal coat and ermine on the King. During the coucher he presented the King with his nightshirt. He was also to be present whenever a duc, vassal, marèchal, governor or officer of the crown was to swear an oath of allegiance to the King.
The audiences of the King was also open to the Grand Chamberlain who was allowed to stand behind the King's chair. When the King died it was the duty of the Grand Chamberlain to wrap the body - personally - in the shroud.

These were the Grand Chamberlains of the Ancien Regieme:

Henry II, Duc de Guise - Grand Chamberlain
Godefroy-Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duc de Bouillon -
Grand Chamberlain 1658-1715

Emmanuel Théodose de La Tour d'Auvergne (1668–1730) while duc d'Albret.jpg
Emmanuel Théodose de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duc de Bouillon -
Grand Chamberlain 1715-28

Charles-Godefroy de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duc de Bouillon -
Grand Chamberlain 1728-47

Godefroy-Charles-Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duc de Bouillon - 
Grand Chamberlain 1747-75

Henri Louis Marie de Rohan, Prince de Guéméné and Duc de Montbazon -
Grand Chamberlain 1775-82

Godefroy-Charles-Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duc de Bouillon -
Grand Chamberlain 1782-89

The King's Chamber

The King's Chamber was the second-largest of the sub-categories next to the Boucher - it was also one of the absolutely most coveted since it provided quite close contact to the King himself. This department also consists of the King's wardrobe but since that in itself is quite a substantial subject it has its' own page. The servants of the King's Chamber were all male just like the Queen's Chamber servants were all female. It was these men and boys that performed the ceremonies of the levée (rising) and coucher (going to bed).

These are the people and posts that made up the King's Chamber:

Gentlemen of the Chamber
Valets of the Chamber
Children of Honour 

The Levee of King Louis XV - The Levee of King Louis XV
Levée of Louis XV

White Gown w. Blue Stylized Flowers

Robe à l'Anglaise of silk, Scottish

Silk tobine dress, woven with a regularly repeating design of stylized flowers, 18th century </br> © CSG CIC

Copper Mantua Gown

Austrian Mantua gown, 1760's


Riding Vest

Ladies' Vest from the 1740's, German

1740 Vest worn under a riding habit jacket? (Germanisches Nationalmuseum - Nürnberg, Bayern  Germany)

Red Silk w. White Flowers

British robe à l'Anglaise from the 1760's of red silk with a white floral print

La Bouche du Roi

La Bouche du Roi which translates into "the King's Mouth" was responsible for every meal served to the King. It was the largest sub-category of the domestic household and quite possibly the largest overall. The system was packed with posts on purpose; by giving the high nobility honours to strive after Louis XIV eliminated the threat of a conspiracy against himself as King - he became the only source of power. This sub-category even have sub-categories of its own covering everything from fruit to wine! So, the Bouche du Roi counted (some of the names are in French but are explained under each link) offices known as the "Ancient Offices" which had the highest honour:

First Maître d'Hôtel
Grand Panetier
Grand Échanson
First Écuyer Tranchant

When Louis XIV sat down to dine he was waited on by 36 male servants, guarded by 12 officers and watched by the entire court. The servants that employed the less prestigious posts would normally not be of the nobility and they would wear the King's livery. However, it was a much sought-after privilege to be the gentleman standing behind the King waiting with a glass of water for the King to lift his hand signalling he desired something to drink.

The numbers for these sub-sub-categories are taken from around 1680 rather than at the end of the Ancien Regieme because the monarchy had had to cut back a lot and I wish to demonstrate the full glory of the household. These are the main ones


Counting 30 employees the Gobelet was responsible for everything the King drank. It was run by 12 Head Chefs and an assistant chef, 5 assistants, 4 pages, 4 wine boys and 4 hackney drivers


Counting at least 82 employees the Cuisine-Bouche was responsible for the bulk of the food including meats and vegetables. To control that everything ran smoothly was 4 Masters and their 4 assistants. Then came the 4 kitchen garden chefs, 4 pastry chefs, a staggering 40 common assistants, 4 porters, 1 controller, 4 safeguards, 4 spear-boys (turning the roasts) and 4 pantry boys. Besides came the squires and those who should inform the kitchen of the King's wishes.


Counting at least 22 employees it was the Paneterie that delivered the baked goods. The employees counted 13 chefs, 4 assistants, 4 safeguards, 1 washer and many controllers.


Counting 32 employees the Fruiterie handled fruits - probably coming from the King's own gardens. There were 12 chefs, 12 assistants, 4 controllers and 4 regular assistants.

Still from the movie "The Taking of Power by Louis XIV"

The King's Household

Naturally, the King - being literally the centre of power - had the largest household. As Louis XIV settled at Versailles his household expanded over the years. To give you some exact numbers here is how large the King's household was into Louis XV's reign:

1663 - 831 people
1674 - 1139 people
1683 - 1868 people
1702 - 3309 people
1727 - 3644 people

To us it seems rather silly to have such a large household for one person but at the time it was vital for the new absolutism's foundation. The King was the embodiment of power in France and as such he was expected to be the master of the greatest household. Through these thousands of jobs the monarchy signalled it's strength and wealth. He alone employed 208 page boys and further 24 who ranked a bit over the common page boy.
The King's household was divided into three categories: domestic, religious and military. All of these categories had subsequent sub-categories to complicate matters further. Brace yourself for a long list of servants:

The Domestics
The Religious

The Military

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Court Gown 1786

Married Couple 1779

Court Costume

18th century fashion plate.

A Closer Look At: The Dames du Palais

Up until 1674 the Queen's household had counted several dame d'honneurs - amounting to a married lady-in-waiting - and demoiselles d'honneurs or filles d'honneurs which were young, unmarried girls in the Queen's service. However, they were replaced by the new position of Dame du Palais who had to be at least 12 years old - one can only imagine that the Queen had tired spoiled, young girls being placed in her care.
Overall, the job of a Dame du Palais was simply to keep the Queen company. They were to be constantly available to the Queen since they were a sort of assistant to her; a chore could be to fetch something for the Queen. However, it should be made clear that the Dames du Palais were not considered to be servants, they were of too high birth for such a "low" title - instead they were quality companions. Since the Dames were expected to escort the Queen everywhere they had to have what may be called a complete court education. Riding, dancing and playing instruments were skills that every Dame had to possess; furthermore the ability to supervise a household, handle expensive gowns and write in preferably a couple of languages were considered standard.

Madame de Prié - Dame du Palais to
Marie Leszczynska
Ever since the first appearance of the title "Dame du Palais" it had been decided that the Queen was to have 12 Dames du Palais - but by the time the royal family was taken from Versailles in 1789 Marie Antoinette had 19 Dames du Palais (the number is the year they were appointed to the post):

Marquise de Talleyrand (1740)
Comtesse Gabrielle d'Adhémar (1763)
Duchesse Louise de Duras (1767)
Duchesse Madeleine de Luxembourg (1771)
Duchesse Guyonne de Luynes (1775)
Marquise Colette de la Roche-Aymon (1775)
Princesse Adélaïde d'Hénin (1778)
Princesse Marie-Thérèse de Berghes (1781)
Duchesse Marie-Claudine de Fitz-James (1781)
Comtesse Marie Louise de Polastron (1782)
Comtesse Claude de Juginé (1784)
Princesse Louise de Tarente (1785)
Vicomtesse Gabrielle de Castellane (1786)
Comtesse Eugénie de Gramont (1788)
Comtesse de Henriette Maillé (1788)
Princesse de Cröy (1789)
Princesse de Solre (1789)
Comtesse de Luxembourg (1789)
Duchesse Gabrielle de Saulx-Tavanes (1789)

Costume Ball - Louis XVI's reign

This fashion plate depicts a Court Lady's Costume during the reign of Louis XVI  at the Queens Ball representing a character from a play called the Battle of Ivry of (1774-1776)

Court Costume

Late 18th Century Fashion Plate from Galerie des Modes et Costumes (via EKDuncan - My Fanciful Muse: Marie Antoinette Style - French Fashions of the 18th Century)

Rose Suit

Man's court suit in rose silk with golden embroidery, the 1780's

Suit (men), 1780, Switzerland. Pink silver brocade with rich embroidery in gold. Consisting of Frockcoat, waistcoat and breeches. Silk embroidered. Swiss National Museum.

Green and Red Gown

Robe à la Française from the 1770's

A Closer Look At: The First Ladies of the Bedchamber

The responsibility of the levée and coucher lay with the First Ladies of the Bedchamber - this post was occupied by two women. For the First Ladies of the Bedchamber time was of the essence. It was them that the Queen would inform of when Her Majesty rose in the morning, got dressed, went hunting etc. So far so good but this was the light weight of the job. The First Ladies of the Bedchamber were responsible for all pensions and payments going out of the Queen's Privy Purse - a heavy task indeed! To make it even more delicate the First Ladies were given responsibility of the Queen's diamonds. It also befell the First Ladies to make introductions to the Queen.

At the time of Marie Antoinette the yearly payment for the First Ladies of the Bedchamber was 12.000 francs which was not much considered the standard of the times. However, there was one other way of increasing their income and that was through candles. All the candles in the Queen's rooms - that is the bedroom, the closets and the card-room - belonged to these ladies. The candles alone could bring in 50.000 francs!

Madame Campan - First Lady of the Bedchamber
to Marie Antoinette

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Closer Look At: The Lady of Honour & Mistress of the Queen's Wardrobe

Next in rank to the Superintendent was the Lady of Honour (dame d'honneur) and the Mistress of the Queen's Wardrobe (dame d'atour). During the period when there was no Superintendent it was these two who were responsible for all the duties that would usually befall the Superintendent. However, the Lady of Honour had duties of her own as well; these included sending out invitations in the Queen's name, managing the Queen's trips to Marly, Fontainebleau, Petit Trianon etc. They were also accountable for the changes of furniture as well as for the lace and linen for the Queen's bed and public toilette. The Mistress of the Queen's Wardrobe was responsible for not only the Queen's clothing but also her napkins, chemises and lace. During the absence of the Superintendent these objects had been replaced every third year but Louis XV was advised to change it into every fifth year for financial reasons. Basically, the Lady of Honour and the Mistress of the Queen's wardrobe would amount to a manager in our days.

Madeleine de Bonne, duchesse de Créquy
Duchesse de Crequy, Lady of Honour to Marie Thérèse

A Closer Look At: The Superintendent of the Queen's Household

The leader of it all was the Superintendent of the Queen's Household to whom every new member of Her Majesty's household would swear a solemn oath of servitude. The Superintendent had quite extensive privileges for example being able to nominate someone for a post within the Queen's household; she also had the final say in quarrels between members of the household. Furthermore, the Superintendent could also dismiss anyone she did not think fit. A Superintendent was considered important enough to have her own rooms at Versailles and was the only female employee save the Governess of the Children of France to swear an oath to the King. The post of Superintendent was for life making the decision all the more important since the Queen could not get rid of the one holding the position once it was given.

Inevitable a post of this magnitude must have been haunted by some unpleasantness which is definitely the case with the role of the Superintendent. Louis XIV actually placed two of his favourites, Olympe Mancini and Madame de Montespan, in this dominating position which can not have been easy for Marie Thérèse - especially since the humiliation was performed twice.
Marie Leszczynska was so fed up with the extent of these privileges that upon the death of her Superintendent, Mademoiselle de Clermont, she asked the King to leave the post unemployed. It remained thus until Marie Antoinette appointed the Princesse de Lamballe to the powerful post, something she was later to partially regret when she had somewhat tired of the Princesse.

Olympe Mancini - Superintendent to Marie Thérèse

Madame de Montespan - Superintendent (by
order of Louis XIV) to Marie Thérèse.

Mademoiselle de Clermont - Superintendent to Marie Leszczynska

                                                              Princesse de Lamballe - Superintendent to Marie Antoinette