As is emphasized in "Madame Etiquette" precedence was a major part of the courtier's life at Versailles and consequently the rank you possessed was of vital importance. Rights, privileges and hope of further advancement all depended upon the rank you held; and they all came from one place: the King.
Here are the different ranks of nobility, (for further information of each title check the individual pages found on the front page) note that the titles mentioned beneath are not of the royal family:
- Duc (Duke)
- Marquis (Marquess)
- Comte (Count)
- Vicomte (Viscount)
- Chevalier (Knight)
You might encounter other lists that name the title of Comte over that of Marquis but that is from the time of the French Empire, not the Ancien Regime.
At Versailles the hierarchy was not always so simple - quite the contrary. Questions such as where a foreign dowager Queen ranked or whether the children of a former King ranked lower than a present King was to be solved if the world of etiquette was to function. Eventually, this is how the final hierarchy of the French court looked:
Of these categories the first and the last contains so numerous positions that it is necessary to elaborate them further. First is the royal family:
Second, is the rest of the nobility. These were generally referred to as "non-titled" simply because they were not peers of the realm like the Ducs.
By birth, by office or by lettre?
There were three ways of becoming a part of the nobility:
First, by birth. Naturally, the children of nobles would themselves become nobles even though it was only the eldest son who would inherit the title.
Second, by office. If the King appointed someone for an office it was not uncommon for the recipient to receive a title of nobility either immediately or after 20 years of service when he had proven himself.
Third, by letters patent. The King could grant anyone a title of the nobility through a letter patent.