Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Etiquette Run Mad in Royal Courts

“This is ridiculous!” Kirsten Dunst as a young, Marie Antoinette

 “Etiquette Run Mad,” 1879
We, in this easy mannered republic, can have a little conception of the tyranny which etiquette has exercised in all the great courts of the world, and the imposing part it has played in the adjustment of grave national questions. Here, all our citizen kings can attend a reception at the White House without invitation, and with no forms of courtesy beyond those of ordinary good breeding. We feel only a sense of the ludicrous when we read of the fume and passion into which courtiers used to fall when offered a stool instead of a chair, in some royal drawing-room; placed at a feast opposite the carver, or below one whom they assumed to outrank.
Etiquette must not be violated, though the heavens fall...
During the reign of Louis XIV, while a tremendous war was raging between France and Spain, the grand monarch and his favorite courtiers where amusing themselves with fétes and balls among the marvelous groves, lakes, and fountains of Marly. One morning, the Duke of Villeroy, hot and dusty, came spurring to court with army dispatches. News of a decisive battle was hourly expected, and everybody awaited the opening of the papers with feverish impatience. But, unhappily, the minister whose duty it was to break the seal and present them to the king, was absent for the day. They might contain news of the defeat, of instant necessities, and changed instructions, but no matter, etiquette must not be violated though the heavens fall, and the haughty Louis, though dying with anxious suspense, went on with his childish masquerading with serenest countenance. The courtier was obliged to skulk out of sight and affect not to exist till the return of the proper functionary, when he suddenly resumed himself and presented his dispatch is, as if he had just that moment arrived.
“Madame... THIS is Versailles.” Judy Davis as “Madame Etiquette”
When Marie Antoinette, that charming, though somewhat volatile young princess, came over from simple-mannered Vienna to be the bride of the dauphin, she chafed much under the tedium of French etiquette. Her daily toilet was an affair of the most elaborate ceremony. Had she ventured to wash her own face or clasp her shoe-buckles, the whole court would have stood aghast with horror. Here is an example, one of many, showing how cruelly the rich free life of the young princess was tortured and pressed into the iron mould of court ceremonial. On one occasion, a lady in waiting was about lifting the Royal chemise over the royal shoulders, when the door opened and a second lady, superior in rank, entered. So the uplifted garment had to pause in mid air till number two could take it, and this happened thrice before the shivering young creature could be got into her clothes!
Prince Charles and Henrietta of France

Earlier in the century, when England sent to arrange a marriage between Prince Charles and Henrietta of France, everything came to a halt on the mighty question, whether His Eminence, Cardinal Richelieu, should give his right hand to the embassadors, and how many steps he should advance in conducting them out of the room. A messenger was about to be dispatched to consult the king of England in this grave difficulty when it fortunately occurred to somebody that if the cardinal would receive in bed, etiquette would be suspended. Accordingly, he feigned sickness, went to bed, and without further diplomacy the marriage settlements were made.

Few things in the records of the olden centuries are more amusing than those which relate the entanglements of court ceremonial.

From Demorest's Family Magazine 1879

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia