Princess Palatine told us that Louis XIV would set himself a definite number of words to use for every occasion; let us say fourteen at breakfast, twenty at cards, sixty during the High Council, and so on. He was not particularly pleased with his younger brother, Duke d’Orleans, Princess Palatine’s husband, whom he found somewhat garrulous. Not only the king weighed very carefully everything he said, but he also made the courtiers listen carefully, for everything he said mattered.
The atmosphere wasn’t always as formal. During the game of cards, the exigencies of etiquette were off. Princess Palatine writes, “When they play here, it looks scary: one yells, the other hits the table so hard that everything shakes in the room, the third one uses the language you hear at the stables…” Even the god-fearing wife of Louis XV, Marie Leczinska is known to lose prudence at cards. Marie-Antoinette plays obsessively, sometimes in spite of Louis XVI’s efforts to keep her game under control. The reserve and the passions of the Court is what made its fame and charm.
Louis XIV, at least in Saint-Simons descriptions, functioned as a machine-king: it didn’t matter if you were a hundred leagues away from Versailles, with a calendar and a watch you could tell exactly what he was doing. The Court revolved around the Sun King. This mechanism was best revealed in the writings of Montesquieu: the French king was not as rich as the Spanish king; but his treasure was in the vanity of his subjects, as inexhaustible as the gold mines of Spain: A favorable remark made by Louis XIV mattered more than any treasure; the right to a stool in the presence of the queen was equivalent to a big promotion.
The Court elite was the few chosen individuals to accompany Louis XIV to Marly, or the hand-picked guests to watch the Madame Pompadour’s performance in Louis XV’s Small Apartments. Louis XIV explained to his daughter-in-law that he was going to give a party, and she would dance there, ” We are not regular individuals. We belong entirely to public; therefore, do you duty and try to look like you are enjoying yourself.”