Court Etiquette: normative texts and customs

This area of research aims to formalise the unwritten customs of the French court in order to understand the evolution of etiquette in the modern era as it developed, improved and/or declined.

Although the word etiquette has today taken on an accepted meaning that might appear clear and well defined, it quickly becomes clear that this notion is far from self-evident. In addition to the fact that people often confuse “ceremonial”, “protocol” and “etiquette”, the latter term was only used rarely at the time, and often with very different meanings. Whether in Richelet”s dictionary or Furetière’s, the lexicographers took it in what was essentially a legal sense. In fact, in France, the word related to elements of judicial procedure. However, the dictionary of the Académie Française (starting with its 1718 edition and in the last definition it gives of the word) recalls the familiar use of this word in Spain [1] in the sense of “what must be done daily in the King’s Household, and in the principal ceremonies”.
Bernard Hours in his study on the court of Louis XV describes the historical authenticity and origins of French etiquette [2]. It goes back to the Burgundian court of Philippe le Bon in the 15th century when “it referred to a written formula setting out the timetable of the prince and his court.” [3]. From then on, there was an effort to retain the customs in order to perpetuate them. As situations developed, so did etiquette and each new code was recorded to establish a precedent.

This line of research aims to formalise the unwritten customs of the French court. In fact, in contrast to the many systematic studies carried out particularly on the Hapsburg court in Madrid and those on the court in Vienna, French etiquette has always been universally viewed according to the customs and rituals of the court. The main objective here is to understand the evolution of etiquette as it developed, improved and declined. To address these issues, several themes and lines of enquiry must be considered:

  • The definition of etiquette;
  • The origins and emergence of etiquette;
  • The nature of etiquette in relation to court ritual;
  • The circumstances in which etiquette was applied (large household, ceremonial occasions, rituals) and etiquette according to topography, and vice versa;
  • Etiquette as a political tool, or a means to control or civilise
  • Who determines or arbitrates on matters of etiquette?
  • Are courtisans the protagonists, driving force or victims of etiquette?
  • A Europe-wide expansion of etiquette.


Scientific directors: Mathieu da Vinha (Centre de recherche du château de Versailles) and Raphaël Masson (château de Versailles).

Committee: Alice Camus (CRCV) ; Delphine Carrangeot (université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, centre de recherche ESR-DYPAC) ; Nicole Lallement (CRCV) ; Bénédicte Lecarpentier-Bertrand (université Paris-Est Créteil Val-de-Marne) ; Pauline Lemaigre-Gaffier, (université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, centre de recherche ESR-DYPAC) ; Benjamin Ringot (CRCV).

Project Team: Marie Carlin (CRCV) ; Samuel Halopau (CRCV) ; Sandrine Jauneau (CRCV) ; Alexandra Pioch (CRCV) ; Isabelle Pluvieux (CRCV).


  • Online database enabling comparisons between the norm and customary practices (normative sources and chronicles) for a better understanding of the different seasons of the court.
  • Publication of a document listing a selection of sources and a bibliography relating to Etiquette (non-exhaustive):
Sources and bibliography

End notes

[1The absence of the current definition of the word “etiquette” in contemporary dictionaries in no way means that the word was not used in this sense in the language. We have evidence of this in a letter by Madame Palatine dated 3 February 1679 in which the Duchess of Orléans explained that she had never been able to get used to this “insipid etiquette”.

[2See Bernard Hours, Louis XV et Sa Cour, Paris, PUF, coll. “Le Nœud Gordien”, 2002, p. 77-98.

[3Ibid., p. 78.

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Château de Versailles
Conseil général des Yvelines