Saturday, 14 November 2015

Smoke and Ash: Tobacco hits Versailles

Ever since the beginning of the massive colonisation exotic goods flooded the European market. Tobacco was one of these and as the foremost in fashion France was no exception. Louis XIV, however, was not pleased. He detested snuff but not even he could prevent it becoming popular with his courtiers in the 1650's. It should be said that snuff had been a trend with the French court since the reign of Louis XIII so it was hardly new altogether.

Ladies smoking pipes

Smoking tobacco was hitherto seen as a remedy against pain but it quickly became clear that it could be used for far more than just that. One of the more common ways of using this drug was to inhale it in powder form through the nose! It is estimated that around 90 % of the tobacco used in France before the French revolution was used in this manner. Surprisingly enough, quite a few of the French Princesses took up this vile habit. According to the Duchesse d'Orlèans (nicknamed Liselotte) it made them look as if they had rubbed their fingers in the gutter. As she wrote to her sister:

"It is better to take no snuff at all than a little; for it is certain that he who takes a little will soon take much and that is why they call it "the enchanted herb" for those who take are so taken by it that they cannot go without it."

The problem with this was that although gentlemen might get away with this practice it was certainly not acceptable for a lady. Likewise was smoking a pipe considered unladylike.
Even at Marly Louis XIV could not escape the heavy smoking. The Duc de Saint-Simon recollects an incident where several Princesses were caught smoking pipes which had disturbed the King who had gone to bed.

The problem for Louis XIV was that although he truly hated the habit he could not ban it. After all, the taxes were too dear to miss out on. Instead the Sun King contended himself with banning the practice in his Grand Apartment.

Billedresultat for versailles snuffbox
Gilded snuffbox featuring a portrait of Louis XVI, 1778

The trend appears to have continued into the 18th century and it quickly became obvious that here was another way of emptying the aristocracy's pockets. Not only through the tobacco itself but by beautifully and expensive snuff boxes decorated with enamel, gemstones and gold. Another popular way to use tobacco - or rather the smoke - was through enemas...

It would seem that the dislike towards smoking was not as strong with Louis XV as it had been with his predecessor. He would often offer elaborately decorated snuffboxes to dignitaries as presents. Marie Leszczynska's wedding to Louis XV in 1725 saw the creation of an exclusive snuffbox made of amber. It was priced at 1200 livres and was sent as a present to the Queen of Poland.

This snuffbox was given by Louis XV to Cornelis Hop,
ambassador of Holland in 1726. It cost 7270 livres and
is currently the oldest snuffbox held by the Louvre. It
is made entirely of gold and contains the portraits of
Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska

Other such gifts has been registered: one was given to the ambassador of Poland on 27 April 1733 when he came to announce the death of the King of Poland. The snuffbox also had a portrait of the King and Queen and the cost was 10.680 livres. The other was given on 13 January 1766 to the ambassador of Spain. It featured a portrait of the King surrounded by diamonds - to the cost of 23.601 livres!

When Marie Antoinette arrived in 1770 a part of her wedding gifts were no less than 52 golden snuffboxes. The tradition of giving snuffboxes continued with Louis XVI.

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