Traveling around France I often ask myself those kinds of questions, “Could the right to excrete be a fundamental human right?” No, I am not trying to start any kind of revolution, just looking for a bathroom. That’s all… that’s all…. But this is not what this article is about. The stool I want to discuss is a small, often collapsible, piece of furniture you see everywhere when walking around Chateau Versailles. This is not about us getting a little tired after a whole day on our feet. This is about the most coveted privilege that marks a XVII and XVIII century French woman, the privilege to sit down in the presence of her monarchs.
When a room, or even a whole palace, is crammed with gentry, the situation is delicate: Who is subordinate to whom? The farther away from the top, the more delicate it becomes. The middle level is the most contentious: I am not a prince, but heck man, my family is as good as yours! To save himself the trouble of ever-going mediation, Louis XIV came up with this brilliant solution, “the right to a stool!”
This is pretty visible, simple and almost as natural an act as any to ease your behind onto one of these. Duchesses had a hereditary right to it. All the others however had to earn it! And that was not simple at all. Madame Montespan, Louis XIV’s most fertile mistress, had been offered her right to a stool, as a golden parachute retirement package when Madame Maintenon had already replaced her in the heart of the king. Ah! But she refused! This is a different matter. She went into exile instead. Fine. But you see, eight-nine kids later, the woman could finally rest a little.