Kings, Court and Civil Servants

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 7th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published June 4th, 2013)

King Louis XVI became the Face of the Ancien Régime during a Period of Great Debt from Decades of War

“It’s good to be the king.”  For you can pretty much do anything you want.  Right up to the point your subjects go French Revolution all over your ass.

“It’s good to be the king” was a constant refrain in the classic Mel Brooks movie History of the World: Part I.  During the French Revolution the people arrested King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.  And sent them both to the guillotine.  Even though Louis was not really that bad of a king.  Certainly not like Mel Brooks portrayed him in his movie.  He even tried to modernize France with Enlightenment ideals.  And made America’s independence from Great Britain possible.

Louis had some faults.  But it was more bad timing.  Being the face of the Ancien Régime during a period of great debt from decades of war.  High taxes.  And the occasional famine.  The people had suffered for a long time.  In large part thanks to Louis’ predecessor.  Who fought a lot of wars.  And ran up a lot of debt.  While losing most of New France to Great Britain.  Losing a source of wealth and income just as the bill for all those wars were coming due.

Court was where all the Movers and Shakers Gathered

King Louis XIV (aka, Louis the Great; aka, the Sun King) ruled for 72 years and 110 days.  One of the longest reigns in European history.  He believed in the divine right of kings.  Which stated kings answered to no one but God.  Louis XIV created one of the most powerful absolute monarchies in Europe.  He transformed the Palace of Versailles into one of the largest and most lavish palaces in the world.  And moved his court there.  Where it remained
until the French Revolution.

The king’s court was an extended household.  Where the king’s blood family lived.  And all the bureaucrats that helped him run his personal life.  And his kingdom.  For not only is it good to be the king it can be very exhausting to be the king.  Officials took care of business at court.  World leaders sent their ambassadors to court to handle their international business.  And officials from around the country went to court to settle domestic business.  Court was where all the movers and shakers gathered.  And the Palace of Versailles was home to a lot of treaty writing.

This required a large palace to accommodate these people.  And a lavish one to impress them.  To make their image abroad more glorious.  These people needed spaces to live in.  And food to eat.  As did the king.  Who had the finest quarters.  And when he got up in the morning he did not make his own bed.  One of the thousands of his servants attended to that.  For running one of the world’s largest palaces took a lot of servants.  And a lot of organization.

It is Good for your Career to be Close to, and Loyal to, the Person who holds the most Power in the Land

As households grew larger nobles and royals established household offices.  And a big part of these larger households and courts was feeding the people.  Kitchens had a pantry for foods and a buttery for beverages.  A pantler ran the office of the pantry.  And a butler ran the office of the buttery.  Beneath these were other offices.  At the top in charge of managing the household was the chamberlain.  Some of these were positions with a lot of responsibility.  But, surprisingly, some other positions people probably wouldn’t want today were even more powerful.

The cup bearer was very intimate with the king.  And was someone the king trusted with his life.  For the cup bearer served the king drinks at the royal table.  With there always being someone who wanted to kill the king someone had to make sure that didn’t happen through poison in the king’s cup.  Sometimes, just to be sure, he had to drink from the king’s cup before the king did.  To prove it was poison-free.  Making the cup bearer one of the closest confidants of the king.

Then there was the groom of the stool.  The most intimate of the king’s servants.  Who spent time with the king while he was on the toilet.  And de-soiled the king’s bottom after a royal poop.  Only the most trustworthy people could be the groom of the stool.  For no one was closer to the king.  Who knew the king’s secrets.  Because he heard them directly from the king.  And people feared him.  For he could tell the king anything they said or did.  Making this one of the most coveted positions in the king’s court.

When the United States won their independence from Great Britain the king was no longer sovereign.  The people were.  So the king’s court became our civil servants today.  But they don’t physically wipe the president’s bottom these days.  Today they just kiss it.  Figuratively, of course.  Because despite the changes it is still good for your career to be close to, and loyal to, the person who holds the most power in the land.


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