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Etiquette in France
Manners & Movements

Messieurs

Male movement in this period was primarily influenced by the high-heeled shoes worn; the poses and many steps were like those in a ballet, an art highly respected by Louis XIV, who prided himself on his perfect legs and on his own ballet performances. Fencing was the other major activity that affected male movement. Therefore movement based on certain ballet positions and fencing stances that gave it grace, simplicity, and, if practised correctly, a classic and structured beauty. It is a complete mistake to assume that the heavy beribboned costumes of the late 17th century betoken fussy and frivolous movement. In fact, the contrast between the simplicity of the movement and the frivolity of the costume trim gave this period its dignity, grandeur and theatricality. 

There are three important stances for the courtier: The first, a simple and rather heroic posture not acceptable in the presence of one's superior, was the second ballet position, with feet about a foot apart and slightly spread while the hands rested gracefully on the hips. 
The second was the third enclosed ballet position; that is, feet perpendicular to one another with the weight on the rear foot and with the heel of the front foot at the hollow of the rear foot. Since the front foot bore no weight, the knee was slightly bent. Hands were placed between the folds of the coat or the waistcoat if it were partially unbuttoned, or one hand rested lightly on the sword and the other on the head of the high walking stick.
The third was to have the enclosed foot open sideways, bearing no weight and with the toes pointed out. The hat was placed under the arm that was on the same side as the foot that took the weight; the head turned toward the free foot; and the other arm rested easily but low on the hip. 

One always walked with "toes handsomely turned out". Pointing the toes forward with each movement, with the heels raising the body up and forward, was very important in capturing the calculated beauty of movement that was so much admired. In fact, the feet remained in an almost ninety-degree relationship to one another as the courtier stepped forward, carefully pointing his ribboned, high-heeled shoes as he moved. 

The appropriate movements for removing the broad-brimmed hat were as follows: The arm was brought to shoulder level and then the elbow was bent as the hat was grasped firmly, lifted from the head, and allowed to fall easily to the side with the head hole to the front. The head itself did not move, and the hands never covered the face. If the hat were large and thus not easily lifted away from the wig, the other hand was sometimes used to help remove it or put it on again. The hat could be worn or carried under the arm at all times except in the presence of the King. 

In sitting, one foot was usually placed well ahead of the other with the toes turned out, and a little tap was given to the sword hilt on its baldric under the coat in order to flip the skirts of the coat out of the way. Seldom did the man push fully back in the chair; he sat squarely in it or a bit to one side and kept an alert yet relaxed pose with one arm usually overlapping the chair's arm as if to dominate the chair and the scene that he surveyed. 

The walking sticks of the period were rather high and topped with ribbons and usually equipped with a loop through which one passed the hand. Many elegant poses were possible, but almost always the stick was held at arm's length away from the body to widen the pose and give controlled dignity to the ballet stance. The walking stick was used to achieve an unaffected grace and interesting variations in movement and pose rather than an excessive dignity.
Another male accessory was the handkerchief, which was large, beautifully trimmed in lace, and held between the index and second fingers with the four corners falling down the back of the hand. 

Probably the most important ritual movement from this period is the courtly bow. In many ways, mastering the "best" bow is more a matter of personality and an instinctive feeling for the movement of the costume than it is a matter of following precise rules. Though there were numbers of variations, three of the most important ways of bowing can be abstracted: 

The first is to step back with knees bent and then bow with the hand swept over the heart. Then the body is straightened up and the hand dropped, bringing the front foot back to the third position.
The second is to place the feet in the third position, heel to the hollow of the rear foot; the body is drawn up again; and the hand is put to the heart as if to say "My heart is yours". Then a step back is taken while bowing as suggested in the first bow, bringing the hand down in front of the body with palm uppermost as if to say "I lay at your feet". Finally, the body is straightened up by bringing back the front foot to the third position, with the hand sweeping up at the side so as to conclude the process with a flourish.
The third involves bowing as described with a hat carried under the left arm. While completing the bow, the hat is taken into the right hand and swept back and down low at arm's length on the right side of the body. There is a pause for a second before the body is straightened up and the hat returned to under the left arm.
In addition, the bow en passant was used during receptions and balls to acknowledge people when one did not wish to pause for a conversation. It consists of bowing from the waist while dragging one foot from behind to in front of the body without stopping the onward movement of the walk.

Mesdames

Female movement was also like that of a trained ballet dancer, graceful and vital with the centre of motion at the waist, which was both flexible and yet firmly controlled at all times. The gown often had to be lifted and set down again; this was accomplished by making a graceful sweeping curve, not by merely picking up and dropping the skirt. A grand manner had to be adopted in walking in order to carry the heavy looped-up skirts and the high head-dresses of the later French Baroque style. A lady learned to walk in high-heeled shoes with a firm but graceful step rather than an unsteady mincing one. In dancing, the skirt was firmly picked up on one side or even on both sides, and the insides of the wrists were always turned out when the lady was in repose so as to display the lines of the hands and arms to the best of advantage. In addition, when sitting on the grand furniture of the period, the lady had to gracefully ensure that her skirt was smoothly placed under her while she sat straight and tall, conveying a combination of queenly authority and feminine charm. 

The most important accessory for a lady of this age was the fan, which was used in the "battles" of love and conversation. The lady always handled it with technical proficiency, never fluttering it in a rapid or random way. The fan was usually held away from the body with very flexible movements of the arms, wrists, and shoulder socket. A typical movement of the fan is as follows: the fan is held in front of the body, not too close to the face, with the painted side facing outwards; then the arm is brought straight down in front of the body and to the side. With the fan toward the ground, the wrist is turned sharply so that the fan is turned up to its original position; then it is swung toward the body back into the starting position. All these movements have to run together into a rhythmic swing with deftness and elegance. When using the collapsible fans of the period, the fan is dropped open and then twisted into position with a quick turn of the wrist. The earlier non collapsible fan was wafted back and forth with movements of the wrist and forearm; the same was done with the collapsible fan. All movement was controlled and subtle - used to emphasise a point or to accent an idea rather than to create a picturesque effect. 

The curtsy was the basic movement of female reverence from the sixteenth century onward, and variations developed, based on the costume worn or the amount of reverence shown. Basically, the lady slid back on the instep of the right foot with the instep pressing the ground, behind and slightly to the left of the left leg; the instep of the sliding foot took the weight, and the lady gradually sank down sitting on the bent right leg, arms falling to the side, and head lowered. The important point was the crossing under of the sliding right leg, this movement being supported by crossed thighs. The lady then rose with her weight on the left foot since this foot did not move during the entire sequence of the curtsy. 

For entering a room, the curtsy en avant was in order. Here the lady paused on the foot that made the last step, slid the disengaged foot into the fourth position, or to the front, and bent the knees with weight equally distributed and without bending the body or shaking. The lady rose with the weight on the front foot. 

For leaving a room, the curtsy en arrière was appropriate. Stepping aside, the lady curtsied in the first or third position with the weight on the rear foot. A compliment in conversation might also be acknowledged in this way.
In walking, the curtsy en passant was made. To accomplish this, the lady positioned herself parallel to the person being greeted, made a step on the left foot and half turned to the person, and then bent her knees, bringing forward the right foot and coming up with the weight on the right foot. This was repeated to many different individuals in a group or receiving line. The lady might also have waved her fan gently while curtsying. In all of this, the gentleman led the lady, walking slightly ahead and turning slightly toward her.

Messieurs

Male movement in this period was primarily influenced by the high-heeled shoes worn; the poses and many steps were like those in a ballet, an art highly respected by Louis XIV, who prided himself on his perfect legs and on his own ballet performances. Fencing was the other major activity that affected male movement. Therefore movement based on certain ballet positions and fencing stances that gave it grace, simplicity, and, if practised correctly, a classic and structured beauty. It is a complete mistake to assume that the heavy beribboned costumes of the late 17th century betoken fussy and frivolous movement. In fact, the contrast between the simplicity of the movement and the frivolity of the costume trim gave this period its dignity, grandeur and theatricality. 

There are three important stances for the courtier: The first, a simple and rather heroic posture not acceptable in the presence of one's superior, was the second ballet position, with feet about a foot apart and slightly spread while the hands rested gracefully on the hips. 
The second was the third enclosed ballet position; that is, feet perpendicular to one another with the weight on the rear foot and with the heel of the front foot at the hollow of the rear foot. Since the front foot bore no weight, the knee was slightly bent. Hands were placed between the folds of the coat or the waistcoat if it were partially unbuttoned, or one hand rested lightly on the sword and the other on the head of the high walking stick.
The third was to have the enclosed foot open sideways, bearing no weight and with the toes pointed out. The hat was placed under the arm that was on the same side as the foot that took the weight; the head turned toward the free foot; and the other arm rested easily but low on the hip. 

One always walked with "toes handsomely turned out". Pointing the toes forward with each movement, with the heels raising the body up and forward, was very important in capturing the calculated beauty of movement that was so much admired. In fact, the feet remained in an almost ninety-degree relationship to one another as the courtier stepped forward, carefully pointing his ribboned, high-heeled shoes as he moved. 

The appropriate movements for removing the broad-brimmed hat were as follows: The arm was brought to shoulder level and then the elbow was bent as the hat was grasped firmly, lifted from the head, and allowed to fall easily to the side with the head hole to the front. The head itself did not move, and the hands never covered the face. If the hat were large and thus not easily lifted away from the wig, the other hand was sometimes used to help remove it or put it on again. The hat could be worn or carried under the arm at all times except in the presence of the King. 

In sitting, one foot was usually placed well ahead of the other with the toes turned out, and a little tap was given to the sword hilt on its baldric under the coat in order to flip the skirts of the coat out of the way. Seldom did the man push fully back in the chair; he sat squarely in it or a bit to one side and kept an alert yet relaxed pose with one arm usually overlapping the chair's arm as if to dominate the chair and the scene that he surveyed. 

The walking sticks of the period were rather high and topped with ribbons and usually equipped with a loop through which one passed the hand. Many elegant poses were possible, but almost always the stick was held at arm's length away from the body to widen the pose and give controlled dignity to the ballet stance. The walking stick was used to achieve an unaffected grace and interesting variations in movement and pose rather than an excessive dignity.
Another male accessory was the handkerchief, which was large, beautifully trimmed in lace, and held between the index and second fingers with the four corners falling down the back of the hand. 

Probably the most important ritual movement from this period is the courtly bow. In many ways, mastering the "best" bow is more a matter of personality and an instinctive feeling for the movement of the costume than it is a matter of following precise rules. Though there were numbers of variations, three of the most important ways of bowing can be abstracted: 

The first is to step back with knees bent and then bow with the hand swept over the heart. Then the body is straightened up and the hand dropped, bringing the front foot back to the third position.
The second is to place the feet in the third position, heel to the hollow of the rear foot; the body is drawn up again; and the hand is put to the heart as if to say "My heart is yours". Then a step back is taken while bowing as suggested in the first bow, bringing the hand down in front of the body with palm uppermost as if to say "I lay at your feet". Finally, the body is straightened up by bringing back the front foot to the third position, with the hand sweeping up at the side so as to conclude the process with a flourish.
The third involves bowing as described with a hat carried under the left arm. While completing the bow, the hat is taken into the right hand and swept back and down low at arm's length on the right side of the body. There is a pause for a second before the body is straightened up and the hat returned to under the left arm.
In addition, the bow en passant was used during receptions and balls to acknowledge people when one did not wish to pause for a conversation. It consists of bowing from the waist while dragging one foot from behind to in front of the body without stopping the onward movement of the walk.

Mesdames

Female movement was also like that of a trained ballet dancer, graceful and vital with the centre of motion at the waist, which was both flexible and yet firmly controlled at all times. The gown often had to be lifted and set down again; this was accomplished by making a graceful sweeping curve, not by merely picking up and dropping the skirt. A grand manner had to be adopted in walking in order to carry the heavy looped-up skirts and the high head-dresses of the later French Baroque style. A lady learned to walk in high-heeled shoes with a firm but graceful step rather than an unsteady mincing one. In dancing, the skirt was firmly picked up on one side or even on both sides, and the insides of the wrists were always turned out when the lady was in repose so as to display the lines of the hands and arms to the best of advantage. In addition, when sitting on the grand furniture of the period, the lady had to gracefully ensure that her skirt was smoothly placed under her while she sat straight and tall, conveying a combination of queenly authority and feminine charm. 

The most important accessory for a lady of this age was the fan, which was used in the "battles" of love and conversation. The lady always handled it with technical proficiency, never fluttering it in a rapid or random way. The fan was usually held away from the body with very flexible movements of the arms, wrists, and shoulder socket. A typical movement of the fan is as follows: the fan is held in front of the body, not too close to the face, with the painted side facing outwards; then the arm is brought straight down in front of the body and to the side. With the fan toward the ground, the wrist is turned sharply so that the fan is turned up to its original position; then it is swung toward the body back into the starting position. All these movements have to run together into a rhythmic swing with deftness and elegance. When using the collapsible fans of the period, the fan is dropped open and then twisted into position with a quick turn of the wrist. The earlier non collapsible fan was wafted back and forth with movements of the wrist and forearm; the same was done with the collapsible fan. All movement was controlled and subtle - used to emphasise a point or to accent an idea rather than to create a picturesque effect. 

The curtsy was the basic movement of female reverence from the sixteenth century onward, and variations developed, based on the costume worn or the amount of reverence shown. Basically, the lady slid back on the instep of the right foot with the instep pressing the ground, behind and slightly to the left of the left leg; the instep of the sliding foot took the weight, and the lady gradually sank down sitting on the bent right leg, arms falling to the side, and head lowered. The important point was the crossing under of the sliding right leg, this movement being supported by crossed thighs. The lady then rose with her weight on the left foot since this foot did not move during the entire sequence of the curtsy. 

For entering a room, the curtsy en avant was in order. Here the lady paused on the foot that made the last step, slid the disengaged foot into the fourth position, or to the front, and bent the knees with weight equally distributed and without bending the body or shaking. The lady rose with the weight on the front foot. 

For leaving a room, the curtsy en arrière was appropriate. Stepping aside, the lady curtsied in the first or third position with the weight on the rear foot. A compliment in conversation might also be acknowledged in this way.
In walking, the curtsy en passant was made. To accomplish this, the lady positioned herself parallel to the person being greeted, made a step on the left foot and half turned to the person, and then bent her knees, bringing forward the right foot and coming up with the weight on the right foot. This was repeated to many different individuals in a group or receiving line. The lady might also have waved her fan gently while curtsying. In all of this, the gentleman led the lady, walking slightly ahead and turning slightly toward her.

France
French History | French Royalty | Aristocratic Etiquette

Louis XIV's Day

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English Coins 1660-1715 | Charles II | James II | William & Mary | Queen Anne

Food & Drink Stillifes | Meals | Tableware | Recipes | Ingredients
Duke of Marlborough's Blenheim Palace

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