Sunday, April 9, 2017

Snuff and Etiquette at Versailles

Smoking was popular as well! – The active ingredient in intobacco was named “nicotine” after the French diplomat, Jean Nicot. Nicot introduced snuff tobacco to French Queen, Catherine de Medici, and the French Nobility.

After a French ambassador to Portugal returned to France with an addictive plant discovered in the New World, it caused a sensation in the French Royal Court. French diplomat and scholar, Jean Nicot, had been introduced to tobacco in Lisbon. There, it was being crushed into powder and was used as the remedy for a variety of maladies, ironically including cancer. Snuffing became a popular activity in Paris after the Queen Mother herself, Catherine de Medici, was introduced to snuffing tobacco by Nicot. He had demonstrated the inhalation of powdered tobacco, as a way to cure  de Medici's frequent headaches. It was later named the genus of tobacco cultivars “Nicotiana,” by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in Nicot's honor. The active ingredient intobacco was also named “nicotine” after the French diplomat.

Snuffing remained popular, and addictive, with the French Royals and Nobility. By the 18th century, snuff boxes were as socially important as fine pieces of jewelry. Anyone who was anyone needed
 to have a variété´ of these boxes. And as fashions changed frequently, so did the styles and designs of snuff boxes. At Versailles, showered with extravagance upon her marriage to Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette was gifted with 52 gold snuff boxes. From all accounts, Marie Antoinette was more likely to carry a box of bon bons on her person, than a snuff box,  but she is said to have been responsible for the French standardization of the modern-day handkerchief.

Prior to the arrival and ultimate popularity of snuff tobacco in Europe,the handkerchief had become simply another object of fashion. Snuff brought the handkerchief back to its original purpose, and was indispensable for cleaning orange-brown, snuff-stained noses and fingers. White handkerchiefs were hardly appropriate for such a task, so snuff users began to employ large, colorful handkerchiefs to hide those stains. The handkerchief, up to that time, had come in many shapes; square, triangular, etc... According to legend, Marie Antoinette remarked that the square-shaped handkerchief at Versailles was the most pleasing, as well as the most convenient to use. The remark is said to have prompted Louis XVI to make mandatory that all handkerchiefs produced in France to be square in shape.

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