Thursday, January 7, 2016

Louis XIV's Exacting Etiquette

Part of Louis XIV's daily routine? Visiting the apartments of his mistress, Madame Maintenon, where he remained until 10 o’clock p.m., the hour of supper. And the supper was the great event of the day.

A Complete Look at the Daily Routine in the life of Louis XIV, at the Palace of Versailles

At 8 o’clock in the morning two servants carefully entered the chamber of the King. One, if the weather was cold or damp, brought dry wood to kindle a cheerful blaze up on the hearth, while the other opened the shutters, carried away the collation of soup, roasted chicken, bread, wine and water, which had been placed, the night before, at the side of the royal couch, that the King night find a repast at hand in case he might require refreshment during the night.

The valet de chambre then entered and stood silently and reverently at the bed-side for one-half hour. He then awoke the monarch, and immediately passed into an anteroom to communicate the important intelligence that the King no longer slept. Upon receiving this announcement an attendant threw open the double portals of a wide door, when the dauphin and his two sons, the brother of the King, and the Duke of Chartres, who awaited the signal, entered, and approaching the bed with the utmost solemnity of etiquette, inquired how his Majesty had passed the night.

After the interval of a moment the Duke du Maine, the Count de Toulouse, the first lord of the bed-chamber, and the grand master of the robes entered the apartment, and with military precision took their station by the side of the couch of recumbent royalty. Immediately there followed another procession of officers bearing the regal vestments. Fagon, the head physician, and Telier, the head surgeon, completed the train.

The head valet de chambre then poured upon the hands of the King a few drops of the spirits of wine, holding beneath them a plate of enameled silver, and the first lord of the bed-chamber presented the monarch, who was ever very punctilious in his devotions, the holy water, with which the King made the sign of the cross upon his head and his breast. Thus purified and sanctified he repeated a short prayer, which the Church had taught him, and then rose in his bed.

A noble lord then approached and presented to him a collection of wigs from which he selected the one which he intended to wear that day, and having condescended to place it, with his own royal hands, upon his head, he slipped his arms into the sleeves of a rich dressing-gown, which the head valet de chambre held ready for him. Then reclining again upon his pillow, he thrust one foot out from the bed-clothes. The valet de chambre reverently received the sacred extremity, and drew over it a silk stocking. The other limb was similarly presented and dressed, when slippers of embroidered velvet were placed upon the royal feet. The King then devoutly crossing himself with holy water, with great dignity moved from his bed and seated himself in a large arm-chair, placed at the fire-side. The King them announced that he was prepared to receive the First Entrée.

None but the especial favorites of the monarch were favored with an audience so confidential. These privileged persons were to enjoy the ecstatic happiness of witnessing the awful ceremony of shaving the King. One attendant prepared the water and held the basin. Another religiously lathered the royal chin, and removed the sacred beard, and with soft sponges, saturated with wine and water, washed the part which had been operated upon and smoothed them with silken towels.

And now the master of the robes approaches to dress the King. At the same moment the monarch announces the he is ready for his Grand Entrée. The principal attendants of royalty, accompanied by several valets de chambre and door-keepers of the cabinet, immediately take their station at the entrance of the apartment.

Princes often sighed in vain for an admission to the Grand Entrée. The greatest precautions were observed that no unprivileged person should intrude. As each individual presented himself at the door, his name was whispered to the first lord of the bed-chamber, who repeated it to the King. If the monarch made no reply, the visitor was admitted.

The Duke in attendance marshalled the new-comers to their several places, that they might not approach too near the presence of his Majesty. Princes of the highest rank, and statesmen of the most exalted station were subjected alike to these humiliating ceremonials. The King, the meanwhile, regardless of his guests, was occupied in being dressed.

A valet of the wardrobe delivered to a gentleman of the chamber the garters, which he in turn presented to the monarch. Inexorable etiquette would allow the King to clasp his garters in the morning, but not to unclasp them at night. It was the exclusive privilege of the head valet de chambre to unclasp that of the right leg, while an attendant of inferior rank might remove the other. One attendant put on the shoes, another fastened the diamond buckles. Two pages, gorgeously dressed in crimson velvet, overlaid with gold and silver lace, received the slippers as they were taken from the King’s feet.

The breakfast followed. Two officers entered; one with bread on an enameled salver, the other with a folded napkin between two silver plates. At the same time the royal cup-bearers presented to the first lord a golden vase, into which he poured a small quantity of wine and water, which was tasted by a second cup-bearer to insure that there was no poison in the beverage.

The vase was then rinsed, and being again filled, was presented to the King upon a golden saucer. The dauphin, as soon as the King had drank, giving his hat and gloves to the first lord in waiting, took the napkin and presented it to the monarch to wipe his lips. The frugal repast was soon finished.

The King then laid aside his dressing-gown, while two attendants drew off his night-shirt, one taking the left sleeve and the other the right. The monarch then drew from his neck the casket of sacred relics, with which he ever slept. It was passed from the hands of one officer to that of another, and then deposited in the King’s closet, where it was carefully guarded. The royal shirt, in the meantime, had been thoroughly warmed at the fire. It was placed in the hands of the first lord, he presented it to the dauphin, and he, laying aside his hat and gloves, approached and presented it to the King. 

Each garment was thus ceremoniously presented. The royal sword, the vest, and the blue ribbon were brought forward. A nobleman of high rank was honored in the privilege of putting on the vest, another buckled on the sword, another placed over the shoulders of the monarch a scarf, to which was attached the cross of the Holy Ghost in diamonds and the cross of St. Louis. The grand master of the robes presented to the King his cravat of rich lace, while a favorite courtier folded it around his neck.

Two handkerchiefs of the most costly embroidery and richly perfumed were then placed before His Majesty, on an enameled saucer, and his toilet was completed. The King then returned to his bedside. Obsequious attendants spread before him two soft cushions of crimson velvet. In all the pride of ostentatious humility he kneeled upon these, and repeated his prayers, while the Bishops and Cardinals in his suite, with suppressed voice, uttered responses. He then attended mass in the chapel. At 1 o’clock he dined alone, in all dignity of unapproachable majesty. 

The ceremony of the dinner-table was no less punctilious and ridiculous then at the toilet. After dinner he fed his dogs, and amused himself in playing with them. He then, in the presence of a number of courtiers, changed his dress, and leaving the palace by a private staircase, proceeded to his carriage, which awaited him in the marble court-yard.

Returning from his drive, he again changed his dress, and visited the apartments of Madame Maintenon, where he remained until 10 o’clock, the hour of supper. The supper was the great event of the day. Six noblemen stationed themselves at each end of the table to wait upon the King. Whenever he raised his cup, the cup-bearer exclaimed aloud to all the company, “drink for the King." After supper he held a short ceremonial audience with members of the royal family and at midnight went again to feed his dogs. He then retired, surrounded by puerilities of ceremony too tedious to be read.

Such was the character of one of the most majestic kings of the Bourbon race. France, wearied with them, drove them from the throne, and placed Napoleon there, a man of energy, of intellect, and of action; toiling, night and day, to promote the prosperity of France in all its varied interests. 

The monarchs of Europe, with their united millions, combined and chained the democratic Kings to the rock of St. Helena, and replaced the Bourbon. But the end is not eve yet. In view of the wretched life of Louis XIV, Madame Maintenon exclaimed: “Could you but form an idea of what a kingly life is! Those who occupy thrones are the most unfortunate in the world”. — Harper’s Magazine.

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

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