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General Information

For many years, Versailles was seen as a gilded theater upon whose stage an all-powerful absolute monarch entertained a captive audience of domesticated aristocrats. Recent research has shown, however, that Louis XIV could not arbitrarily dominate his subjects. His rule was limited by the fundamental laws of the realm, tradition, and the practical difficulties of enforcing his will on an extended country of twenty million people.

The court of Versailles was a site of mutually satisfactory exchange between king and nobility. The king required the great nobles to attend court because he sought to ensure their loyalty. They came because they considered it their right and privilege and because they received social and material rewards for doing so. In this context the etiquette played a key role as it gave the courtiers a purpose beyong the politics of the time: Now titles and offices distinguished the nobles from each other more than they had ever done before. Versailles became the stage for the intrigues of a more and more isolated social group struggling for honour and wealth in a strict hierarchy.

Basic Rules

  • A higher ranked courtier is to be treated with the respect due to their position. They are mostly experienced and educated roleplayers. That does not mean that high ranked characters gain any power or control over other people. We would like to clarify the important difference between OOC (out of character) management (lead by the moderators) and roleplay prestige.
  • Please bow/curtsy to higher ranked courtiers as a formal court greeting (strictly speaking you would not be allowed to speak to this person first, except greeting). Though high ranked courtiers are expected to show the same level of politeness. Any act of indifference or contempt will not be tolerated, unless it has been previously arranged or is for rolepaly purposes
  • If you would like to take your leave, please formally ask for permission to do so or leave at least a little remark in public chat (such as "excuse me please, but I unfortunately have to go now, navré/e")
  • If you would like to enter a room with people inside of it please do not knock, courtiers at versailles developed a habit of scraping on doors to announce their presence. Enter if you receive permission to do so
  • In presence of the king courtiers are not allowed to greet each other as usual. In other words, do not show your back to him or any higher ranking nobles, this would be interpreted as a gesture of disrespect. You also may not talk to a member of the royal family first (except for the formal greeting).

Bearing and and Gesticulation

The correct appearance in society which also included gesticulation (particular references and gestures) was considered science mainly taught by various teachers in Paris. The reowned "Maitre à danser" written by Pierre Rameau, one of the most famous dancing teachers of Paris in the middle of the 18th century, is a significant account of this period. It is not only a dancing, but also an etiquette guide that told the reader how to stand, walk, and how to manage all sorts of everyday situations with grace. In the following we would like to share some of this (very detailed) knowledge.

Graceful Stance

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According to Rameau the head should be held straight without looking cramped. The shoulders should be pushed backwards in order to display the chest giving more grace to the whole appearance of the body whereas the arms are supposed to be held next to your body with your hands neither opened nor closed. Bend your legs and place one foot behind another. The left foot in front you you were ready to walk and enter any other position.

Decent Walk

The walk is supposed to recall a dance: Its elegance and grace.
You begin to walk, based on the previous stance, by stamping the left foot and leaning forward so that the right foot rises. In a smooth movement the right leg will extend and move in front of the left. Be sure that the distance between both feet is not bigger than the length of one's foot However the hells of the right foot should be placed in front of the toes of the left. Once your right foot has touched the floor the other one will push back your upper body. You now proceed as mentionned above. Always be sure to spread your legs outwards and bend your knees which keeps you from buckling your legs and crossing your steps which would be an immense mistake.
Maintain a neither fast nor slow walking speed. Otherwise it would look either careless or indolent. If possible one should avoid both extremes.

Greeting

A formal greeting for a gentleman included both the lifting of the hat and the formal and graceful référence (an art in itself) whereas the ladies' was thought to be less circuitous (since they obviously had no hat). The people of the 18th century distinguished between three different types of références (in other words bow/curtsy): Référence en avant, référence en passant and the more respectful référence en arrière. Each one was used at different occasions to show one's respect with much grace (a habbit that has been forgotten by most people nowadays).

How to lift one's hat

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The hat hat was an essential part of every gentleman's everyday outfit and every réféfence would have been preceded by the lifting of the hat.
Be sure to assume a graceful posture as described above. Now you lift your right arm so that it is in line with your shoulders, open your hand and bend your elbow in order take your hat as shown in the following Whilst keeping your head held high, you grip the tip of your hat with your fingers ( it should have been slightly lifted by your thumb facing your forehead beforehand) and lifting it. Creating a half circle with your arm, you remove the hat from your head and hold it loosely by your side. This should be done in a fluent manner, without any pauses and without your arm or hat covering your face.
To put the hat back you proceed as before, but backwards. Only touch the tip with your fingers as mentionned above to push it on your head - that is to say touching the top of your hat would be inappropriate.
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How to wear your hat

When putting it on place the hat on the forehead above the eyebrows. Now push it backwards a bit with your hand touching the tip, but not too far. The hat should be slightly turned to the left which displays one's face much better. The button of the hat should also be stuck to the left side.


The different forms of référence for Monsieur

Référence en avant

You start by moving one of your legs - that are supposed to be spread - forward. Once this is done lower your upper body along with your head. All through this procedure the weight of your body is supposed to rest on the other foot which as a result is obliged to bend slightly. The more important the person, the lower you bring your upper body.
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Once you are done with your référence return to the basic stance with as much grace as before. Stamp your right foot in case you want to make a référence to the right or the left which will be of more importance when entering a room (see 2.3.4.).

Références en passant

When greeting a pedestrian passing by you proceed as before (see 2.3.3.1.1.) except that you draw a half circle moving the foot forward that is on your side of the path. So when greeting from the left side your left foot will glide forward. It is advisable to employ this form of greeting when taking a stroll in a park. When being at court it should be performed with much more grace. However, in the streets a gentle greeting suffits.
When taking a stroll the hat should be held below one's arm so it can be taken by the right hand in case you may run into someone high-ranking.
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Références en arrière

Joining a company/entering a room

4 Correct behaviour towards and in presence of the royal family

The members of the royal family were the highest ranking members of the court. Thus, they were also expected to attend several ceremonial duties that covered most parts of their day and were not likely to be met at tea parties or salons of other court ladies.
Nobles including Princes/Princesses of the blood were not allowed to address them (e.g. the King, Dauphin or Dauphine) directly. If someone ever happened to encounter a member of the Royal Family (this includes the children and grand children of the king and the queen) in one of the state apartments which could happen quite frequently he/she was to greet them according to the etiquette and pay their respects by lifting their hats (if you were a gentleman). Courtiers were however not allowed to address their Majesties/Royal Highness themselves unless they were asked a question. A simple remark from their royal Highnesses was already considered a mark of favour all courtiers were longing for! A famous example may be the reowned "There are many people in Versailles today" of Marie Antoinette directed to the royal mistress the Comtesse du Barrywho had been waiting for a word from the dauphine for a long time.

So if you ever meet a member of the royal family in the Château they will not necessarily start a conversation with you, esspecially if they do not know you (in roleplay). They might also be on their way to another ceremonial event; the schedule of the dauphine Marie Antoinette of Austria which began in the morning and ended at night was particularly stuffed.

5 Choice of words

Please refrain from using expressions like "k" or "okay" since they are not historically accurate. A simple "D'accord" instead would be more suitable.
We do not expect you to speak French fluently, however there are some particular expression that might be helpful to make you appear more educated and improve your character.

6 Fashion

Naturally, there has also been an etiquette for fashion advising the reader what to wear on particular occasions (Balls, state events, in the morning etc.).

A guide for both men and women can be found here:

Sources

"Maitre à danser", Pierre Rameau, Paris 1748
"Dictionnaire critique et raisonné des étiquettes de la cour", Stéphanie Félicité de Genlis, Paris 1818
"Marie Antoinette - The Journey", Antonia Fraser, London 2002
"Galantes Versailles", Sylvia Jurewitz-Freischmidt, München 2006

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