Saturday, October 18, 2014

Of Etiquette and International Vanities

Charlemagne was served at his repast by subject kings.

On Brussels, there is a very striking picture on this subject. It is the men of the future contemplating the baubles and vanities of the present. They are drawn of gigantic size. In their hands they hold little cannons, stars and garters, flags, and the other insignia of courtly and military glory. How these big men look, to be sure! How keen is their sense of the ridiculous! You feel how hearty is their laugh over such evident petty absurdities! It may be the artist believed that a time would come when such things would be seen in their true light. All we know is that at present that time has not arrived, and that Mr. Marshall's title is, to say the least, a little premature.
Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, the holder of jousts and tournaments, the inventor of court courtesy...
For instance, there is the matter of ceremonial, respecting which Dutch and German writers have written at infinite length. It is as old as the hills. Cyrus beheaded two satraps because they omitted to place their hands under their sleeves when they saluted him. Hadrian had a royal household. Charlemagne was served at his repast by subject kings. The subject is divided by learned writers into five main sections; precedence of states, royal honours, diplomatic ceremonials, maritime ceremonials, and etiquette. 

This latter seems to have become developed in Europe in the time and under the reign of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, the holder of jousts and tournaments, the inventor of court courtesy, who sought thereby to adorn his house with more glories than kingly monarchs then presented, as a consolation, perhaps, for not possessing their title. His grandchild, Mary of Burgundy, carried the new ideas to her husband Maximilian, and from Austria they passed on again with constant augmentations and freshly devised subtleties to France and Spain. In the latter land it reached its climax. The study of etiquette was three centuries ago the essential study of a Spanish gentleman. 
Maria Anna of Neuburg, Wife of Charles II of Spain, 1690, who fell off her horse, caught her foot in the stirrup, and was thus indecorously suspended in the presence of forty-three courtiers, who gazed in anguish, but stood still, as it was against etiquette for them to aid in such a case...
As an illustration of the extent to which it was carried, our author gives the story of the wife of Charles II., who fell off her horse, caught her foot in the stirrup, and was thus indecorously suspended in the presence of forty-three courtiers, who gazed in anguish, but stood still, as it was against etiquette for them to aid in such a case, and the proper person happened to be somewhere else. A passer-by rushed to the rescue; he received several doubloons for his useful service, but was condemned to banishment for his unpardonable indiscretion. And then there was Philip III, roasted to death because the nobleman whose duty was to put the fire out was away hunting in Catalonia. 
Comte de Maurepas filled the Queen's heart with joy by saying, "Madame, I have the honour to assure your Majesty that the game of piquet was deep mourning." 
French etiquette was almost as absurd as that of Spain. Arm-chairs, backed chairs and stools were, as Voltaire says, "important objects ofpolitics and illustrious subjects of quarrels." Even the King himself was not free from the etiquette of acting according to regulation. If he condescended to visit a courtier ill in bed, etiquette constrained his Majesty to be down too. Louis XIII visited Richelieu in this way at Tarascon, and Louis XIV did the same when he went to see the Marschal de Villars after he was wounded at Malplacquet. One of the queens did not dare play cards one night because the Court had heard that day of the death of some German Prince that nobody had ever seen. And (Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux) Comte de Maurepas filled her heart with joy by saying, "Madame, I have the honour to assure your Majesty that the game of piquet was deep mourning." 



From "International Vanities," By Frederic Marshall, Author of "French Home Life," 1873