Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV

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Overview

The Duke of Saint-Simon (1675-1755) was by all accounts, including his own, a sensitive, self-obsessed, ill-tempered man. A courtier and phenomenal chronicler of court life under Louis XIV, he produced the monumental work Memoirs, running to thousands of pages, in which the intrigues, personalities, activities, and gossip of life at Versailles are recorded in acerbic detail. Drawing heavily on these Memoirs, renowned historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, with the collaboration of Jean-François Fitou, offers a fascinating and detailed portrait of life under Louis XIV, focusing on the fundamental issues of hierarchy and rank in this tightly controlled universe.

Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV, expertly translated by Arthur Goldhammer, is a historical essay about court life, built with the wide range of tools Le Roy Ladurie so expertly employs: ethnography, history, literary criticism, and historiography. He recreates a world in which man is most definitely born unequal and circumscribed entirely by purity of bloodline, which nonetheless directly preceded the birth of democratic thought and political action. Locked into a virtual caste system, courtiers formed within their ranks cabals, factions, and groups bonded by common ideological principles in order to survive the political order of the court. Thus Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV is not only about Saint-Simon's place in this constellation but also the constellation itself and how understanding it forces us to a reevaluation of the idea of "political class" in France during the Old Regime.

From adultery and marital mésalliances to intense religious debate and fervor, and including a biographical sketch of Saint-Simon and more than 30 illustrations of court life and its members, Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV will delight those interested in French history as well as instruct those interested in political history. Le Roy Ladurie's The Beggar and the Professor was hailed as a study that added "color and texture to our understanding of the Renaissance and Reformation," according to the New York Times Book Review. With Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV, the same can now be said of his contribution to our understanding of the eighteenth century.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226473208
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie is a professor at the Collège de France and a member of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques. He is the author of numerous books, including Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error; The Mind and Method of the Historian; and The Beggar and the Professor, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.

Jean-François Fitou is the deputy prefect of Langon, France.

Arthur Goldhammer is an award-winning translator who has translated books by Georges Duby, Jacques Le Goff, and Jean Starobinski.

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Read an Excerpt

Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV


By Jean-Francois Fitou

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2001 Jean-Francois Fitou
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226473201

Hierarchy and Rank

This chapter will take up the problem of rank and hierarchy at the royal court of Versailles in the period 1690-1715. It will also deal with what might be called the "post-court" of the Regency period (1715-23). Our basic source will be the Memoirs of Saint-Simon, at times supplemented by other, independent sources, such as the letters of Liselotte, also known variously as the Princess Palatine and Madame (wife of Monsieur, brother of Louis XIV). Liselotte and the petit duc never saw each other's texts, which remained unpublished until after their deaths. Hence, we are dealing here with two truly independent sources, all that any historian concerned with objectivity could hope for. From the writings of these two authors, one has at least some access to the ideology of a relatively limited circle, a subset of the royal court. By ideology we mean a "set of ideas and values defined to a certain extent socially," or more simply, a "system of ideas and values."

Our goal is different from that of Louis Marin in his book Le Portrait du roi, which was inspired by the work of Ernst Kantorowicz. Marin's analysis focused on the king's body. This is a relevant object of study, but of limited value for the questionswe wish to raise. Despite the fact that the monarch was fundamental to the system of aristocratic centralism, one cannot understand the ideology of the residents of Versailles in terms of the king's body alone. It was at most a focal point, but no more than the head of a needle compared with the rest.

Another work that we encountered in the course of our research was Christian Ehalt's book on "forms of expression under absolutist rule" at the Habsburg court in Vienna. Ehalt deals mainly with problems associated with the theatricalization of power at the Habsburg imperial court. He is interested in the processes of "curialization," modernization, and rationalization whereby erstwhile warriors were turned into aristocrats. His ideas are interesting and rich but need to be fleshed out. Indeed, any court, whether imperial or royal, involves not only questions of power but also questions of status largely independent of power. What is more, Ehalt, following Norbert Elias, tends to exaggerate the degree to which the high nobility was demilitarized, a process he sees as civilizing and rationalizing. In fact, courtiers from the leading families in Louis XIV's entourage were still to some extent warriors, and the monarch expressly desired that courtiers retain a military role. Some participated in duels. More significantly, many served when young as musketeers and later as officers in the bloody wars that ravaged Europe from 1688 to 1713. Their curialization was thus not purely and simply a modernizing transition toward nonviolence (as Elias would have it). Curialization was a unique phenomenon, which deserves to be studied in and of itself.

On the matter of court ranks and hierarchy--that "ceremonial and festival of abstractions," as Yves Coirault has put it--one may wish to consult J.-P. Labatut's recent thesis. For more concrete images, one can turn to the engravings of Abraham Bosse, who was already acutely attuned to these matters during the reign of Louis XIII. See in particular his Noblesse francaise a l'eglise and Ceremonies de l'Ordre du Saint-Esprit.

But let us return to our two authors, Saint-Simon and Liselotte. Although the letters of the Princess Palatine, or Madame, are not nearly as well written as Saint-Simon's text, they have the advantage of being more concise, of saying more in fewer words. Take, for example, a letter written at Versailles on 27 December 1713. In this very dense text, which we reproduce in full in the notes and analyze below, Madame lists the various degrees of rank within the royal family as well as outside or "below" it.

At the head of the royal family was of course the king. Then came the "sons" or "children of France," including "le Grand Dauphin," also known as "Monseigneur," son of Louis XIV, and the king's brother, "Monsieur," son of Louis XIII. Next came the "grandsons of France": the sons of Monseigneur, such as the duc de Bourgogne and the duc de Berry, as well as the sons of Monsieur, such as Philippe d'Orleans, whose grandfather was Louis XIII. Immediately below the grandsons of France came the "princes of the blood," Conde and Conti. They were the king's cousins several times removed, because both they and Louis descended from a common ancestor, Charles de Bourbon, the grandfather of Henri IV. Finally, rounding out the royal family, came Louis XIV's bastards: the duc du Maine and the comte de Toulouse were the Sun King's illegitimate sons by Mme de Montespan. This little group, with its own hierarchy, was of course situated above plebeian dukes and peers, and it vexed Saint-Simon no end to see himself and others of his rank preceded by royal bastards. Madame's letter also alludes to various material and symbolic indicators of rank: whether or not one was allowed to eat with the king; how much time one was allowed to spend with him; whether or not one was permitted to be served by certain of one's officers in the monarch's presence; whether or not one was allowed to ride in the king's carriage; and so on. We also learn of certain intrigues that altered this basic hierarchy without overturning it. For example, the status of royal bastards improved slightly, much to Saint-Simon's dismay. In her 1713 letter, however, Madame was not particularly worried about the promotion of the king's illegitimate offspring. They still ranked far below the princes of the blood, whom she and her children still outranked both legally and in terms of privilege. What Madame could not stomach, however, was the idea that her granddaughter should rank below the married princesses of the blood. This meant that not only her own blood but even more the blood of her husband--of Monsieur as well as Madame-- was being devalued or "debased" as a direct result of intrigues initiated by Madame la Duchesse, an illegitimate daughter of Louis XIV who had married a Conde, that is, a prince of the blood, and who formed part of a cabal around the king's son. This duchess now and then wielded enough influence to slap the granddaughter of the Princess Palatine in the face and get away with it. Here, then, we have an example of the way in which cabals interfered with rank.

Other texts detail the postures associated with each rank (that is, whether or not one was allowed to sit in any given situation). As a sidelight, bear in mind that in the Catholic mass people used to sit, kneel, or stand depending on what stage, or "rank," the ceremony had reached. From Madame we learn that at the court of Louis XIV, her son, the duc de Chartres and future duc d'Orleans, a "grandson of France," enjoyed the right to be seated in the presence of a queen of France and to ride in her carriage. These seemingly anodyne actions were forbidden, however, to "mere" princes of the blood, a Conde or Conti. As distant cousins of the king, they were already at some remove from the royal line and were therefore denied the privileges granted to a grandson of France such as the duc de Chartres. Once, however, Louis XIV invited a Conde to sit on the rear seat of the royal barouche, a privilege normally reserved for his dogs. This miraculous event was never to be repeated, however.

Madame also addressed the burning issue of what types of seats could be used in what circumstances. The same question preoccupied Saint-Simon, who was not always as clear or as calm as Madame in his discussions of armchairs versus chairs with backs versus just plain stools, which served as physical symbols of the court hierarchy. Here is Madame on the subject (1 October 1699):

The king was unwilling to accept any compromise in the matter of the ceremonial. The duc de Lorraine insisted that he was entitled to be seated in an armchair in the presence of Monsieur and myself, because the emperor had allowed him one. The king replied that the emperor had one ceremonial and he had another. For example, the emperor permits cardinals to sit in armchairs, whereas cardinals may not be seated in the presence of the king.. . . Monsieur is willing to allow a chair with a back, and the king agrees, but the duke insists on being treated like an elector, and this the king will not allow. Monsieur proposed doing as the king of England does. That monarch insists that we not be given chairs, while we insist on having them. Therefore, when we are present he sits only on a stool.. . . But the king would not hear of this, and so as not to be compelled to insult the duke, we have put aside our plans to travel to Bar.
In this case the marks of distinction are clearly ordered: electors (whose votes selected the emperor and who therefore shared in his glory) were entitled to an armchair; the duc de Lorraine, who was not an elector, was entitled only to a chair with a back but wanted more; and for other high dignitaries, especially female dignitaries, there was the plain stool. Table 1.1 conveniently summarizes the answer to the question, Who was allowed to sit in the presence of whom, and on what?

Under certain circumstances in the presence of Louis XIV, only the queen of France in partibus--that is, Mme de Maintenon--was entitled to an armchair. This was considered an outrage, but the king's abuse of his authority was covered up by invoking reasons of health. The vulgum pecus, including the dauphin, were denied this honor. Away from Versailles, however, anarchy reigned, especially at Marly and the Trianon, where courtiers and mere hangers-on sat anywhere and any way they pleased.

The use of such material symbols of rank extended much lower in the hierarchy, all the way down to the level of the dukes and peers. We see this in an affair that greatly agitated the dukes, even if it seems ridiculous to us: the Affaire du Bonnet, which pitted the dukes and peers against the premier president of Parlement. Saint-Simon was obsessed with questions of rank and their symbolic expression, and indeed, more generally, with questions of social architecture and its symmetries. For him, failure to respect symbols could have dire consequences. In 1718, when the Provincial Estates were convoked at Dinan, the marechal de Montesquiou, commander-in-chief of Brittany, remained seated in his sedan chair when it was expected that he would first ride and then march at the head of the Breton nobility. To Saint-Simon's way of thinking, this open disrespect for the second order may well have contributed to the discontent that culminated in 1720 in a conspiracy of Breton aristocrats whose rebellion the government was then compelled to put down. The duke also recounts another incident whose alleged consequences were far more serious (although his allegation is inaccurate). In 1688, the king ("who was now without a mistress and much given to building") noticed that one of the windows in the newly reconstructed Trianon seemed narrower than the others. He pointed this out to Louvois, who at first denied that it was so. In the end, Louis XIV had his way, but Louvois, according to Saint-Simon, was so furious at his master that he dragged him into the War of the League of Augsburg.

Symbols that once attached only to higher ranks sometimes devolved to lower ranks as well, but such mutability only underscored the immutable principle of hierarchy itself. It was like the inflation of currency, which affected the value of a particular coin without diminishing the economic importance of monetary instruments generally. For example, the Princess Palatine was, by virtue of her marriage, a daughter of France. In a special dispensation, Louis XIV authorized her to keep four ladies-in-waiting as opposed to the two previously allowed. The right to a foursome of companions then passed to one granddaughter of France, the duchesse de Berry (the wife of one of the grandsons of France), and then to another (the duchesse d'Orleans), and ultimately to the princesses of the blood.

Or take another case of symbolic "trickle-down": when Monsieur (a son of France) died, his son, the duc de Chartres and future duc d'Orleans, who was only a grandson of France, was permitted to keep the same officers, guards, and Swiss guards that his father had had. This transfer of signs of honor from one generation to the next was more than a symbolic gesture, however. In this case, the monarch also granted his young nephew Philippe enormous material and financial advantages by way of compensation for his having married a royal bastard.

The trickle-down phenomenon extended well below the summit of the social hierarchy constituted by the extended family of the monarch. Until the end of the seventeenth century, for example, velvet was found only in the jerkins and cloaks of the high aristocracy, not in the costumes worn by the nobility of the robe. Little by little, however, this custom "contaminated" the lower ranks as well. Caumartin, a state councilor and intendant of finance, was "the first man of the robe to venture to appear in a velvet jerkin and cloak." This happened toward the end of Louis XIV's reign. "There was at first a hullabaloo at Versailles. [Caumartin] endured it. People got used to it. For a long time no one dared to imitate him, but eventually nothing but velvet was good enough for the magistrates, and gradually it passed from them to lawyers, doctors, notaries, merchants, apothecaries, and even the more important procureurs." This of course made it necessary for people of higher rank to find other status symbols to distinguish themselves from people of lesser "estate."

In sum, what was involved in these hierarchies was not a notion of mere social difference but a complex, comprehensive, "holistic" conception of relations between individuals and groups. From her vantage point at the summit of society, Madame could take in the whole panorama of rank, from the children of France to the grandsons of France, the princes of the blood, the legitimized bastards, the dukes and peers, and so on, all the way down to the bottom of the social ladder. The men who organized processions in Toulouse did the same. They distinguished six categories: magistrates, liberal professions, members of commercial guilds, bourgeois and rentiers, artisans and craftsmen (grouped in eighty-one different guilds, all hierarchically ordered), and finally "unincorporated" resi-dents. These Toulousains may have occupied a less exalted place in society than Madame, but they shared her zeal for classification. The hierarchy of estates was not the only pertinent parameter, however. Money and power upset the neat order of the social hierarchy. Bechameil, a man of considerable means, might well be lampooned by one count and kicked in the pants by another. He was nevertheless the lover of a duchess, the father-in-law of a minister and a duke, and an enlightened collector. The king consulted him, and he rubbed shoulders with the "best" society.

Rank was not simply a consequence of a person's genealogical position in an all-encompassing hierarchy of families. It was rather like the vast blue cloak of the Virgin of Mercy, whose folds were ample enough to accommodate a range of qualities of the most diverse sort. The ancientness of a noble lineage was certainly a consideration, but so were the number of impressive alliances, or illustrious marriages, and the number of important state posts held by family members, and the number of fiefs and great estates held by the family, and so on. As Saint-Simon put it, "antiquity, retinue, fiefs, marriages, positions held for some time--all these bestow true grandeur on a family from as far back in time as can be known." Clearly, Saint-Simon held no brief for the idea that the nobles of France were all descended from the ancient inhabitants of Germania or from the warriors who invaded Roman Gaul between the third and fifth centuries. This was wise of him, even if he claimed that his own family was descended from Charlemagne, "at least on the distaff side."

That said, it remains true that rank was largely a matter of birth. This was especially true in the case of the second order, or nobility. With the first order, or clergy, things were not so simple. A man could be of common birth, like Dubois, and still become an archbishop or even a cardinal, a prince of the church, without being in any sense a prince.



Continues...

Excerpted from Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV by Jean-Francois Fitou Copyright © 2001 by Jean-Francois Fitou. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: Saint-Simon on the Aura of le Roi Soleil and le Bien-Aimé
Part 1: The Court System
1. Hierarchy and Rank
2. The Sacred and the Profane
3. The Pure and the Impure
4. Cabals, Lineages, and Power
5. Saint-Simonian Demography and Female Hypergamy
6. Renouncers and Jesuits
Part 2: The Regency System
7. The Liberal Regency: Autumn 1715 to Summer 1718
8. The Authoritarian Regency: Fall of 1718 to End of 1723
Conclusion
Appendix 1: On Norbert Elias
Appendix 2: On Pasquier Quesnel
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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