For many years I have travelled to France, never having the opportunity to visit Versailles. With my sites set on uncovering some of its wonderful past and the traditions originating from this great city (as it relates to my teaching of etiquette), I couldn’t wait to see where it all began.
Versailles, 17th century France.
Louis XIV, also known as The Sun King or Louis the Great had been the King of France from 1643 until his death in 1715. His reign lasted 72 years and 110 days and is the longest of any sovereign in history. During his time, France had become the center of universe and Versailles, the undeniable center of France. – most specifically the Chateau de Versailles, which the King had built. It was envied and admired by everyone around the world and people looked to it for inspiration – from art and culture, food and wine, to fashion and elegant manners.
THE PALACE AND THE HALL OF MIRRORS
The Hall of Mirrors, the most famous room in the Palace, was intended to illustrate the potent power of the absolutist monarch Louis XIV. The Hall of Mirrors pays tribute to the political, economic and artistic success of France. It is a place where the grandeur of the French monarchy comes to life. It was a room that commanded your attention. King Louis XIV loved attention and used the hall to host lavish balls, diplomatic receptions, and extravagant banquets for the French Royals. It was a place to see and be seen! It was the ultimate stage to showcase the prestige of the royal court. It was this precise opulence of this room, amongst others that drove the Sun King to establish a code of conduct (etiquette) for arriving guests who were often quite careless in these surroundings ruining everything from the furnishings to the lavish gardens.
ETIQUETTE IS LABELLED
King Louis’ first move in the battle against the careless behaviour at the palace was to put up signs or labels with directions to be followed. For example, in the
gardens he planted signs that read, “Abstain from walking on the grass, Do not step on flowers…” Unfortunately, these signs weren’t as effective as he had hoped and he later drew up an official decreet that prohibited anyone was walking beyond the signs.
Even after the death of the King, and the return home for many of the aristocrats who had made a home in Versailles, the new rules that had been acquired lived on as a way of life and began to spread. This set the stage for the basis of manners which continues to live on today. Vive L'Etiquette!