Monday, March 14, 2016

Etiquette of French Nobility

Along with the demands of the exacting rules of court etiquette, there came a feeling of entitlement and narcissism. There was a sense that as a noble, one was possessed of greater intelligence, more refined sentiments and in general more deserving of the best life had to offer.

French Nobility


Nobility in France was hereditary, passed down through the male line. Being of noble birth had its privileges, such as being exempt from paying taxes, having the sole access to certain offices, coveted positions within the civil and military administrations of France, and all of the commissions in the army. 

There was a sense that as a noble, one possessed greater intelligence, more refined sentiments and, in general, that being of noble birth meant one was more deserving of all the best that life had to offer. Your position at the French Court was dependant on how well you recognized and defended etiquette. Personal feelings became irrelevant because the symbolic place held by a person actually mattered more. The attention you received from the place you held in the order of precedence, devolved from the treatment of others around you.

In general, there were 3 ways to become a noble:
1) By birth ~ The father must be of noble blood, known as Noblesse d'épée (Nobility of the sword), also known as Noblesse de race ("Nobility through breeding"). Noblesse uterine ("Nobility of the female line"), was for titles that were matrilineal (held through the mother's line) and could be inherited by female heirs; this was found in some families in the former independent territories of Champagne, Lorraine and Brittany. Illegitimate children could be ennobled by letters patent from the sovereign. The king’s illegitimate offspring were automatically noble, and therefore needed no ennobling. but they were still illegitimate, and needed to be legitimated, accomplished by naming only the father, and not the mother.


2) By holding certain offices ~ Noblesse de robe (Nobles of the Robe or Nobles of the Gown) were French aristocrats whose rank came from holding certain judicial or administrative posts, either by purchase or appointment, such as in the King’s household, or in the French Parliament.

3) By a royal decree ~ Chevalier an otherwise untitled nobleman who belonged to an order of chivalry; earlier, a rank for untitled members of the oldest noble families. Later distinction was that a Knight (Sieur) went through the dubbing ceremony (touched with a sword on the head and shoulders by the King), while the lesser rank of Chevalier or Knight Bachelor received the rank without the ceremony.

Écuyer (Shield Bearer) was the lowest specific rank in the nobility, to which the vast majority of untitled nobles were entitled; also called valet or noble homme in certain regions.

Gentilhomme (Gentleman) was the lowest non-specific rank indicating nobility


The following were the titles of nobility, the order of their importance and precedence:

1) Duc
2) Comte
3) Marquis
4) Vicomte
5) Baron

These titles, as well as the names of the family derived from, and the properties they were attached to, could each only be carried by one person. However, the presence or absence of a title was not in itself a test of nobility, because there were generally many more family members than there were actual titles to go around.

One you had reached the threshold of nobility, there were still more degrees of nobility that affected one's rank: How long had your family been noble? How many of your paternal and maternal grandparents’ lineages were noble? The oldest nobility was traced to the “Mists of Time,” back in the early recorded history of France.

Of those already blessed enough to claim the ties of nobility, some could also claim peerages. These peers originated from the twelve dukes who were raised in the 12th century above the other dukes by the King as his direct vassals. 
There were two kinds of titles used by French nobles: some were personal ranks and others were linked to the fiefs owned, called fiefs de dignité.

There were ecclesiastical peers, which ranked ahead of lay peers. For lay peers, the order of precedence was determined by date of peerage’s creation- except as it applied to Princes of the Blood, they gained precedence over the other peers, regardless of peerage creation date, because of their claim to royal blood. –Sourced from books and several online nobility websites, including Wikipedia, www.nobility.org and 
www.heraldic.org


Etiquette Enthusiast Maura J Graber is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia