In order to describe the queen's private service intelligibly, it must be recollected that service of every kind was honor, and had not any other denomination. To do the honors of the service, was to present the service to an officer of superior rank, who happened to arrive at the moment it was about to be performed: thus, supposing the queen asked for a glass of water, the servant of the chamber handed to the first woman a silver gilt waiter, upon which were placed a covered goblet and a small decanter; but should the lady of honor come in, the first woman was obliged to present the waiter to her, and if Madame or the Countess d'Artois came in at the moment, the waiter went again from the lady of honor into the hands of the princess, before it reached the queen.
It must be observed, however, that if a princess of the blood, instead of a princess of the family, entered, the service went directly from the first woman to the princess of the blood, the lady of honor being excused from transferring to any but princesses of the royal family. Nothing was presented directly to the queen; her hand kerchief or her gloves were placed upon a long salver of gold or silver gilt, which was placed as a piece of furniture of ceremony upon a side-table, and was called gantière. The first woman presented to her in this manner all that she asked for, unless the tire-woman, the lady of honor, or a princess, were present, and then the gradation, pointed out in the instance of the glass of water, was always observed.
WHEN a foreign princess was married to the heir presumptive, or a son of France, it was the etiquette to go and meet her with her wedding clothes; the young princess was undressed in the pavilion usually built upon the frontiers for the occasion, and every article of her apparel, without exception, was changed; notwithstanding which, the foreign courts furnished their princesses also with rich wedding clothes, which were considered the lawful perquisites of the lady of honor and the tire-woman. It is to be observed that emoluments and profits of all kinds generally belonged to the great offices. On the death of Maria Leczinska, the whole of her chamber furniture was given up to the Countess de Noailles, afterwards Maréchale de Mouchy, with the exception of two large rock crystal lusters, which Louis XV ordered should be preserved as appurtenances to the crown. The tire-woman was entrusted with the care of ordering materials, robes, and court dresses; and of checking and paying bills; all accounts were submitted to her, and were paid only on her signature and by her order, from shoes, up to Lyons embroidered dresses. I believe the fixed annual sum for this division of expenditure was one hundred thousand francs, but there might be additional sums when the funds appropriated to this purpose were insufficient. The tire-woman sold the castoff gowns and ornaments for her own benefit: the lace for head-dresses, ruffles, and gowns was provided by her, and kept distinct from those of which the lady of honor had the direction. There was a secretary of the wardrobe, to whom the care of keeping the books, accounts of payments, and correspondence relating to this department, was confided.
The tire-woman had, likewise, under her order a principal under-tire-woman, charged with the care and preservation of all the queen's dresses: two women to fold and press such articles as required it; two valets, and one porter of the wardrobe. The latter brought every morning into the queen's apartments, baskets covered with taffety, containing all that she was to wear during the day, and large cloths of green taffety covering the robes and the full dresses. The valet of the wardrobes on duty presented every morning a large book to the first femme de chambre, containing patterns of the gowns, full dresses, undresses, etc. Every pattern was marked to show to which sort it belonged. The first femme de chambre presented this book to the queen, on her awaking, with a pincushion; Her Majesty stuck pins in those articles which she chose for the day: one for the dress, one for the afternoon undress, and one for the full evening dress for card or supper parties, in the private apartments. The book was then taken back to the wardrobe, and all that was wanted for the day was soon after brought in, in large taffety wrappers. The wardrobe-woman who had care of the linen, in her turn, brought in a covered basket containing two or three chemises, handkerchiefs, and napkins; the morning basket was called prêt du jour: in the evening she brought in one containing the nightgown and nightcap, and the stockings for the next morning; this basket was called prêt de la nuit: they were in the department of the lady of honor, the tire-woman having nothing to do with the linen.
Nothing was put in order or taken care of by the queen's women. As soon as the toilet was over, the valets and porters belonging to the wardrobe were called in, and they carried all away in a heap, in the taffety wrappers, to the tire-woman's wardrobe, where all were folded up again, hung up, examined, and cleaned with so much regularity and care that even the cast-off clothes scarcely looked as if they had been worn. The tire-woman's wardrobe consisted of three large rooms surrounded with closets, some furnished with drawers, and others with shelves; there were also large tables in each of these rooms, on which the gowns and dresses were spread out and folded up.
For the winter, the queen had generally twelve full dresses, twelve undresses, called fancy dresses, and twelve rich hoop petticoats for the card and supper parties in the smaller apartments. She had as many for the summer. Those for the spring served likewise for the autumn. All these dresses were discarded at the end of each season, unless indeed she retained some that she particularly liked. I am not speaking of muslin or cambric gowns, or others of the same kind; they were lately introduced; but such as these were not renewed at each returning season, they were kept several years. The chief women were charged with the keeping, care, and examination of the diamonds. This important duty was formerly confided to the tire-woman, but for many years had been included in the business of the first femmes de chambre.
From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, 14 Vols., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. V: Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, pp. 281-285.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.
This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997