January 10, 2013

At seven we play cards till nine


The ceremonial rituals of daily life at Versailles were demanding, thorough and incredibly important. The 2006 film Marie Antoinette did a nice job recreating these rituals in a glimpse, as a montage of the dauphine waking up, being dressed, and later dinning with her husband. (see video below!)

As a means of recognizing one's rank, traditional rules of etiquette were followed regardless of any inconvenience they may have caused. There were minor rites, and major rites, but all had to do with ensuring privilege. 



This way of life at Versailles extended beyond dressing and dinning to leisure activities.  Take for instance, playing cards.  Marie Antoinette once wrote to her mother that it was part of her week-day routine to to play cards for up to two hours each evening.

Card games held at the palace were a big attraction, and many would turn up dressed and ready to play.  Evening card games were popular throughout Europe and as the royal family participated, it became an attractive past time among the ladies and gentlemen at court. 

Reproductions of 18th century playing cards (by Pimpernel clothing)
Although there were games open to many ladies and gentlemen, the highest tables were not. The highest card tables were those held in the rooms of the Queen or the Dauphine as well as those of Madame Adelaide. In a letter to her mother, Marie Antoinette mentioned that "when it is fine weather, I go out and walk, and then the card-playing is not in my rooms but in those of my aunts."  The players at a table were based on who hosted the game. So if Marie Antoinette hosted a game, only her inner circle of associates could play.


But the games were anything but intimate. Visitors could attend the game to look on and watch its progress.  It would be surprising if the members of court playing at these tables did not find the stream of onlookers distracting. To make matters worse, the strangers watching the game could actually place bets on the players!

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