Sunday, 27 November 2016

Court Honours

Generally, there were two main types of court honours: honneur de cour or honneur de Louvre. Both were bestowed by the King as a sign of good favour or simply because the courtier was entitled to it. These were attainable for anyone at court whereas foreign princes had other honours exclusively reserved for them.

Court Honours
Was initially intended to totally rely on the lineage of the courtier and before they could be granted a courtier had to apply to the royal genealogist who would then scrutinise the application. If he did not find that the required certain centuries of noble pedigree was fulfilled it would be denied. As could be imagined courtiers had few scruples when it came to achieving honours which made the genealogist especially vulnerable. Eventually, the level of threats and physical intimidation became so immense that the genealogist requested Louis XV for a body guard!

Despite the initial intend three categories of courtiers could obtain the honours of the court:

  • The old aristocracy who could provide proof of aristocratic heritage dating back to - at least - 1400. However, some courtiers were denied the court honours despite fulfilling this demand if the King found that their family had not been sufficiently involved in military support of the crown.
  • Descendants of Marèchals de France, the ministers or knights of the King's orders
  • Anyone whom the King deemed worthy

Having court honours meant different things depending on the sex of the recipient. A lady was entitled to a formal presentation to the King and Queen.
A gentleman was permitted to follow the King on his hunt and to get into one of the King's carriages. For both sexes it included the right to be invited to royal balls.

According to Francois Bluche no less than 942 families were granted the honours of the court between 1715 and 1790.  Of these only 462 were able to proof that their family had noble roots dating back to at least 1400 - the majority of the remaining families received their honours as a reward for loyal service to the crown (primarily through military exploits).
A great deal of these families were not inhabitants of Versailles and thus had to make their way there from their estates in the provinces. The mere fact that they did so proves how important being able to style themselves with court honours was.

In 1760 Louis XV published a decree which declared that no woman was to be presented to the King unless she had proven that her husband's family had belonged to the nobility for at least three generations.
Interestingly enough, the King could change a decision by the genealogist whether the latter had approved or rejected the application. Louis XVI was very interested in who were admitted to the honours of the court. He would often read the applications himself and his own comments can still be seen scribbled in the margin on the surviving applications.

Honours of the Louvre

Only those with the honours of the Louvre had the right to ride their carriages into the inner courtyard at the Louvre (and by extension any other palace where the King resided) - everyone else had to dismount at the previous gate and either walk or hire a sedan chair.
It was rather easy for those already in the courtyard to see whenever anyone with these honours approached since the honours included the right to hang velvet from one's carriage with the family's coat of arms.

Unlike the court honours the honours of the Louvre was reserved solely for the elite of the French court. These included:

  • Members of the royal family
  • Ducs and peers
  • Marèchals de France
  • Officers of the crown and their wives
  • Foreign princes 
  • Cardinals created after 1700
  • The papal legate
  • The Chancellor of France
  • Grandees of Spain after 1705

The rights that came with the honours of the Louvre also included a cushion to kneel on for Mass - which could be long and strenuous - as well as the honour of a seat in the Queen's presence.  Those holding the honour could also be expected to be called "cousin" by the King.

During the most important ceremonies - coronations, baptisms, weddings etc. - those with the honours of the Louvre were entrusted with the most essential tasks; these included handing the King his sceptre at his coronation.

From 1700 this was considered the most prestigious of the honours obtainable at court since it showed a clear distinction of birth from the old nobility and the new - often non-aristocratic - noblesse de robe.


  1. Would dukes who were not peers also be granted the honours of the Louvre as well?

    1. Yes, since Marie de Médici's time Dukes - peers or not - had that honour