The court of Louis XIV was ordered according to a very strict hierarchy. At the very top was, naturally, the monarch himself, and right below him “the children of France”; i.e. the children of a monarch. These included the legitimate children of the king, as well as his brother the Duke of Orléans, aka Monsieur, who was the son of the former king, Louis XIII, and therefore also a “fils de France” (son of France). Next were the “grandchildren of France” – the children of the children of France. Around 1700, this included the three sons of the Grand Dauphin (the only legitimate son of Louis XIV) the dukes of Bourgougne, Anjou and Berry as well as the children of Monsieur. That the latter would be given this status wasn’t obvious, but Louis, by granting them such privileges as were associated with that rank, made it clear that the rights of blood extended over several generations.
Outside of the actual family and right below the petit-fils de France (the grandsons of France as described above) were les princes de sang (the princes of the blood), who were of a cadet branch of the Bourbon family. Below them were the royal bastards. The highest ranks of the nobility therefore ranked right below the illegitimate children of the king.
This fact infuriated several members of the nobility, most notably the Duke de Saint-Simon whose Memoirs are one of the most quoted sources on Louis’ reign. You might say he had a bit of a thing against bastardy in all forms and he was more or less obsessed with rank, always rating different families according to titles and the ancientness of their blood, and jealously guarding his own privileges.
So why did matter? Well, rank was expressed all the time, in every little trifling activity. For example, it decided where and how you might celebrate mass in the presence of the king, if you might ride in the king’s or queen’s coach etc. The most obvious thing, however, was the seating arrangements. Continue reading »