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Social Classes

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General InformationEdit

Although the nobilty was the most conventional and most significant class that lived at court there have been several other groups which were involved in this microcosm: The rich bourgeosie seeking for advantages and social recognition at court and of course the staff (servants, soldiers and merchants). People of all ranks gathered at Versailles for several different reasons. Whether you want to be rich and struggle for honour or whether you want to be among the commoners trying to earn a living is left to you.

Here you will get a brief overview of all classes represented in the roleplay.

NobilityEdit

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. Furthermore, without a police force or a standing army, the king relied upon his noble subjects to ensure order in the kingdom. Louis XIV's reign was consequently marked by cooperation with, rather than control over, the aristocracy. Similarly, 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.

The vast majority of the French nobility did not live at Versailles. Only the grands, the highest-ranking French nobles, were in residence. Even at the peak of noble attendance, the ten thousand court nobles represented only 5 percent of the hereditary nobility. Attendance was on a system of quarters that entailed residences of three months, twice a year. The privileged among this number were granted rooms within the chateau itself (which contained 220 apartments and 450 surprisingly small rooms); the less fortunate lived in the town of Versailles or were forced to travel back and forth to Paris each day. At the palace, the Sun King provided a continuous whirl of ballets, operas, fêtes, plays, and thrice-weekly gambling nights. While Louis XIV prevented members of the hereditary nobility from participating in affairs of state, courtiers did have more to do than attend entertainments, for many held offices in the royal households.

The primary duty of every courtier, however, was to attend the king. Accompanying the king conferred prestige but, even more important, allowed nobles to gain access to royal patronage. To secure the allegiance of his nobility and to prevent anyone else from gaining too much influence and power, Louis XIV distributed all royal patronage personally—no chief minister had control over the treasury, the distribution of estates, or the assignment of lucrative church posts or military commands. Those nobles who did not attend court seldom received any reward. Louis was known to say, when solicited for a favor on behalf of a noble who did not come to Versailles as often as the king liked, "I do not know him."

Louis XIV subjected his courtiers to a strict etiquette that governed their comportment, manners, and dress. This precisely graded code meted out privileges according to a noble's position in the court hierarchy. It determined, for example, who was allowed wear a hat and when, and who could sit in the presence of the royal family. The sociologist Norbert Elias has famously argued that the intricate rules and rituals that governed the members of Louis XIV's court facilitated the creation of the modern centralized state. The ordered society of Versailles became the European ideal of the well-run state.

Louis XIV performed the role of sacred kingship like an actor who never broke character. He calibrated his movements, gestures, and expressions at all times. The activities of his day—waking, dressing, socializing, eating—all followed a regimen so exacting that his every gesture took on a ritual status. This ceremonial elevated the status of the monarch at the same time that it limited access to him. The lever, the king's ceremonial awakening, serves as an example. During this daily "kingrise," six strictly designated sets of noblemen entered the royal bedchamber to dress the monarch. The highest-ranking noble present received the greatest privilege, that of handing the king his shirt. Courtiers vied to attend the lever (or its evening counterpart, the coucher) because it provided an opportunity to ask favors of the king. Those excluded could importune the monarch only as he traveled in his ritualized orbit from bedchamber to chapel to council chamber over the course of the day.

Without a monarch dedicated to the public performance of monarchy, the court of Versailles could not function so effectively as an instrument of rule. Through force of personality (and a renowned capacity for hard work), Louis XIV created a court that was simultaneously an irresistible social center for the high nobility and a seat of government for his ministry. This system, however, was largely dependent on the personality and abilities of the ruler. Louis XIV tirelessly performed the rituals of kingship, but neither Louis XV nor Louis XVI was willing to maintain such strict ceremonial. They also proved less able to divert members of the high nobility away from affairs of state or to maintain as effective a control over their ministers and state policies. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the court of Versailles, which had once been a celebration of divinely appointed monarchy, instead came to represent a center of despotism.

The nobles at court had regular wages at court for several court offices. However, the main source of income were the gues paid by the subjects living on their land dependeding on the amount of land owned by the landlord and the people living on it (see VCS for further information regarding the income system).

ClergyEdit

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The clergy at Versailles, represented by the Maison Eclésiastique du Roi, was led by the Grand-Aumônier de France (usually a Cardinal or high dignitary of the church). The clergy was the first state during the old Regime, and almost all the members of the high clergy were members of noble families.

It is important to remember that the courtiers dedicated a high percentage of their social life to religious service (roughly 60%). The clergy also played a major role in the politics of the country as they held high offices, for instance the last first minister was the Cardinal de Fleury, and the Contrôleur Général des Finances was Monsieur l'Abbé Terray in 1772.

The Maison Eclésiastique du Roi was in charge of the Chapel of the King, as a result the royal family and the court were instructed and guided in their religious duties by these dignitaries (Prayers in the presence of the king and the rest of the royal family, blessing of the food, celebrating royal weddings, baptisms and confirmations). It was composed by, the Grand-Aumônier , who was the 'personal' priest of the king and then, by precedence, the Premier-Aumônier of each member of the royal family. These were followed by the Confisseur du Roi, the Predicateur du Roi and a lot of ordinary almoners.

Almost all of them were priests or abbots, but some were also bishops and even cardinals.

The duties of the church in France during l'Ancien Régime were as follows:

  • Supporting internal order.
  • Running schools.
  • Running hospitals.
  • Providing social services for the poor and needy.
  • Managing extensive property holdings throughout France.

Money Nobility / Haute BourgeosieEdit

Already in the reign of Louis XIII a new social class had emerged. A group of filthy rich and ambitious financiers and business men trying to make their way up to their rightful place. Thanks to the nobility which was always in need of credits at the time and the extending rights for tax farmers - usually financiers in charge of tax collection - the bourgeosie was able to gather large fortunes; naturally the purchase of land, titles and honours was part of this rise. In spite of their efforts to win the favour of the honourable aristocracy they were despised and never formally recognised by the leading class. However noble families were frequently obliged to marry off their sons to the nouveaux-riches even though they would have wished to avoid this most horrible humilialtion.

The bourgeosie which attends the court of Versailles is known for its wealth: They are mostly financiers and rich merchants working for the king whose only objective is to gain recognition...if possible by intermarriage with a noble family - by which they were in fact despised. Apart from lending money some bourgeois families even managed to gather immense political influence: A nouveau-riche was for example a member of the Conseil d'État of the king.

Lower ClassEdit

At Versailles the Lower Class of France was represented by the servants of the various households. This social class performed different duties at court. They would serve their masters in any way possible and manage his everyday life, they would naturally assist him at meals (there were exceptions for royals who were assisted by other nobles according to the etiquette), the coucher and the lever. In addition to that they often served as messengers delivering letters and invitations. Other duties people in the Maison Donestique du Roi performed at Versailles included the stables and the kitchen. There was for instance a large number of cooks.

The lower class also had access to military posts; for security reasons only the Swiss Guard was permitted to operate at Versailles. However, the king had special gardes du corps (bodyguards) for his own security.

Both groups will be paid regular (roleplay) incomes by their masters or the king in Louis d'Or

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