Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Royal Livery

Life at court may not have been the most hygienic but it certainly was colourful. Not only the courtiers in their lavish court costumes but the servants as well contributed to the colourful everyday. Most courtiers of a significant rank had their own livery in colours matching their emblem.
The King's livery between 1770-1780 was red, white and blue - the same colours as France's current flag - and was to be worn by all members of his household. Tony Spawforth suggests in his book "Versailles: A Biography of a Palace" that the colours of the King's livery was chosen as to echo the colours of the interior design of the palace with it's blue tiles and red bricks.

As with everything else the detail was the place to find meaning. There was no "standard"-uniform for a member of the King's household; it varied according to the wearer's rank within the household. A high-ranking servant would be sure to have braids of a finer material while lesser members had to make due with coarser cloth.
But still, this was the King's livery and they had to stand out. So, the fabric used for the uniform was strictly inspected and simply sent back if it did not meet the high standards - this happened in 1780 for instance. The details were equally luxurious. The braids were either of silk or linen, the button-holes embroidered and silver or gold adorned the buttons. It was in the braids that an observer could read the rank of a servant. There were two kind of braids which varied in size. The small braiding was for the lower-ranking servants such as page boys, gardener boys and generally junior member of staff. The grand braid was for the more important servants who were more on display such as coachmen, footmen, pages (note the difference between a pageboy and a page) and sedan chair carriers. This amount of finery also meant that quite a substantial sum was paid to maintain the livery of the King.

Grand Livery at Versailles for men in the King's employ between 1770-80
The King's livery 1770-80 - judging by the amount of braiding this was for a high-ranking servant

The Queen had her own livery too and in the same colours as the King. However, the colours were reversed so that the main fabric colour was red and the braids blue while the King's were the opposite. The question of livery once caused trouble for Marie Antoinette when she (financially sensibly) convinced her husband to buy St. Cloud in her name rather than have the expense of a governor. The issue lay in that servants wearing her livery was to be found at the front gates of St. Cloud which in the eyes of her enemies was a clear sign that she dominated the King.

Fig. 2 : Pierre-Denis Martin, Vue générale du château de Marly, prise de l'abreuvoir (détail), 1724, huile sur toile : 137 × 155 cm. Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, MV 741.
Notice the coachman and the riding servant in their liveries
The detail of "The Siege of Tournais and its' citadels" (beneath) show a man wearing livery similar to the one above. However, this painting is from 1745 which means that the colours did not change from Louis XV's reign to that of his successor - perhaps a slight design change?

Fig. 7 : Pierre Lenfant, Siège de Tournai et de ses citadelles, 14 mai 1745 (détail), troisième quart du xviiie siècle, huile sur toile : 275 × 248 cm. Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, MV 210.

It was also common that servants' livery changed depending on what royal château the royal household was staying at. For example the livery for Compiègne was green while blue was to be worn Choisy.

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