Tuesday, April 7, 2015

19th C. Etiquette for French Weddings, Baptisms

French women depicted in a parlour, c. 1860 ~A young man who solicits a lady in marriage, should be extremely devoted and respectful; he should appear a stranger to all the details of business which the two families discuss...

Etiquette of Marriage


These two subjects (of Marriage and Baptism) have peculiar right to the precepts of politeness; for the first is the closest of the social relations, and both furnish occasions for the most brilliant fêtes. We usually make a profound secret of the preliminaries of marriage, because, in case of its being broken off, we are afraid of malicious interpretations; but, after the first words are exchanged, it is necessary to make it known in confidence to a few intimate friends, and those to whom we are under obligations. Afterwards, we give intelligence of it by letter to our relations.


A young man who solicits a lady in marriage, should be extremely devoted and respectful; he should appear a stranger to all the details of business which the two families discuss; he converses with his intended particularly of their future arrangements, her tastes, the selection of a residence, furniture, bridal presents, &c. Avoiding all misplaced familiarity, he calls her Miss until returning from church, on the day of marriage; he accompanies her in all assemblies, and shows himself a devoted suitor.


When the banns of matrimony have been published, it is customary at Paris for a bouquet-maker to come to adorn the bride, presenting her with a bouquet. This attention requires a remuneration.


The marriage is declared in two ways. We invite three or four days beforehand persons of our acquaintance to assist in the nuptial benediction, and we specify precisely the time and place where the ceremony will be performed. As to the legal act, which is performed by civil authority, we invite only witnesses and near relations.


If a person is invited to assist at the repast or fête which follows the marriage, we make express mention of it at the bottom of the letters of invitation.


We simply communicate the fact of the marriage to those who have been invited neither to the nuptial ceremony, nor to the entertainment. Propriety requires that the person invited to the marriage ceremony should come, or send an excuse if it is impossible to be present. A simple letter of announcement to uninvited persons, requires only a visit or two; the first of which is made by card.


Presents are usually the preliminaries of a marriage: those which the gentleman makes his intended wife, are called wedding presents; they consist of different articles of the toilet, a set of diamonds, etc... Some persons content themselves with sending a purse containing a sum of money in gold, for the purchase of these things: the young lady then spends it as she thinks proper. The married gentleman is moreover to make a present to each of the brothers and sisters of his intended.
At Paris, the married lady must receive a gift from her sisters and cousins, and that in the provincial towns, on the contrary, she must offer them some token.
The young lady, on her part, gives some present to her bridemaid: she often presents her with a dress or some ornament, and she receives in her turn from the other, a girdle, gloves, and a bouquet of orange flowers. Since we have spoken of marriage presents, we will add that at Paris the married lady must receive a gift from her sisters and cousins, and that in the provincial towns, on the contrary, she must offer them some token.

We will now pass to the ceremony: after the celebration of the legal act, which may be some days previous, the married couple, followed by their parents, commonly go to the church in the carriages which conducted them to the office where the legal act was performed; for at Paris, whatever situation in life the parties may be in, they never go on foot. The married lady goes in one carriage with her relations and the bridemaid; the gentleman in another carriage with his father and mother, or his nearest relatives.


The acquaintances of the two married persons, repair to the church at the appointed hour; the friends of the gentleman place themselves on the right, those of the lady on the left hand, on seats prepared beforehand.


The marriage train then advances in the following order; the lady gives her hand to her father, or to one who represents him; then comes the gentleman with his mother, or the lady who represents her, and afterwards the members of the two families follow in couples.


When the couple and their relations approach the altar, each of the persons present bows to them in silence; the relations place themselves in the same order as the acquaintances, and before the latter, in the front row, which should be reserved for them. The couple to be married are placed in the middle. Although it is polite always to present the right hand to the lady whom we conduct, or to give her the right when we are next her, yet the bridegroom takes the right of the bride, because, in this act, which is at once religious and civil, man ought to preserve the prerogative which the law both human and divine have conferred upon him; besides, as the bridegroom is to place the nuptial ring on the finger of the bride, it is more convenient for him to be upon the right hand than the left.


When the clergyman puts the questions to them, each should consult their relations by a respectful sign of the head, before answering the decisive yes.


The veil is held over the head of the bride by two children whose parents we wish to compliment. The business of the bridemaid who has presided at the toilet of the bride, is to designate their places at the religious ceremony in church; and afterwards, at the ball, is to supply the place of the bride, who can take no active part; it is usually one of her sisters or a most intimate friend who is chosen for this purpose.


The groomsman, for there should be one or even more, looks well to the list of those invited to the ceremony, to see what persons are absent, because it is the custom of married persons not to make the marriage visit to any one who has been guilty of this impoliteness.


The married gentleman must give presents to the attendants at the church, the poor, etc... After the nuptial benediction, the married couple again salute the assembly, and then receive the compliments of each one. There are some families in a more humble situation, where the married lady is embraced by all at the marriage ceremony; in those in a higher station in life, she embraces only her father, her mother, and her new relations.


The new husband gives his hand to his wife when returning from the church; nevertheless at dinner he should be placed between his mother and his mother-in-law, while his wife is to be seated between her father and father-in-law.


In case there is a supper, the married couple sit next each other.


The married lady opens the ball with the most distinguished person in the assembly; she retires privately, accompanied by her mother, and one or more near relations whom they wish to compliment.


The newly married couple make marriage visits in the course of a fortnight, in a carriage, and in full dress. They should make these visits alone. They leave their cards for those with whom they do not wish to be intimate.


Such are the received usages in the capital. In the provinces, many of the old and common customs are preserved, as the gift of a laced shirt bosom to the husband by his wife; wedding favors or ribbands for the wife, ribbands of two colors with which they decorate the young persons in the marriage suite, etc...

Baptismal font in Toulouse, France ~ When one has consented to hold the infant at the baptismal font, he should perform this duty in a becoming manner, and according to his own condition and that of the parents of the child.

Etiquette Of Baptism


We must invite several months beforehand the godfather and godmother of the child that is to be baptized. If the ties of blood have given you a right to this onerous duty, you cannot dispense with it. If not, you can seek a specious excuse.


When one has consented to hold the infant at the baptismal font, he should perform this duty in a becoming manner, and according to his own condition and that of the parents of the child.


A present should be given to the mother, and this present usually consists of confectionary. We must also give one to the godmother, a pair of white gloves and comfits; if she is a young person, she commonly receives a bouquet of white flowers in addition. If the godfather wishes to show her any attention, he can add to the presents an elegant and valuable object, such as a fan; but in that case it is good ton for the godmother to send in return some rich and tasteful present. She also has the honor of giving to the child a cap, and often a baptismal robe. To her also belongs the duty of putting the first dress on the child.
Persons of a very high class in order to free their friends from these expenses, send their domestics to present their children at the baptismal font. This is a most unbecoming custom!
The attendant and the nurse have also a present.


The officers of the church, and the poor, should each receive a gratuity proportionate to their condition. We simply put a piece of money into the hands of the humbler persons; but we present the clergyman with a box of presents in which is enclosed a piece of gold or silver.


Persons of a very high class in order to free their friends from these expenses, send their domestics to present their children at the baptismal font. This is a most unbecoming custom; it seems to consider this holy consecration as a slavish ceremony, and destroys at its source the sentiment of respect and affection, that a godson or daughter should inspire in those who have adopted them before God.


At whatever hour the ceremony is appointed, we go to the church in a carriage at the expense of the godfather. He and the godmother pass in first; then comes the infant borne by its nurse or a matron; then the father, who accompanies the other invited persons.


It is the custom in many houses to give, after returning from the baptism, an elegant entertainment, of which the godfather and godmother receive all the honor. Above all, they should give their godchild new year’s gifts while it is a child, and manifest their affection during the whole of its life.


From the 6th Paris Edition of  “The Gentleman and Lady's Book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment, Dedicated to the Youth of Both Sexes.” by Mme. Elisabeth Celnart, 1833 



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