French Funeral Etiquette and Mourning in the Late 1800s

French silk mourning dress, ca. 1880. Courtesy of Met Museum.

French funeral etiquette and mourning in the late 1800s involved numerous rules. For instance, the French operated under a law that a deceased person’s corpse could not be retained by the family for more than three days after death because ice was scarce. and the ice-box was unknown at the time. Thus, “three days [was] consequently the outside limit of time that the law of hygiene and the rules of common sense [could] allow [for] family affection.”[1]

One of the first things relatives did after a loved person’s death was notify authorities. This meant they needed to go to the mayorality in the arrondissement or quarter where the deceased person lived. Once authorities were notified, the mayor then sent an official physician to examine the corpse and determine the exact cause of death. Relatives were then expected to have a “so-called act of decease drawn-up.”[2] To create this official document, relatives had to provide important information such as “the age, domicile, married or unmarried condition of the dead person, &c.”[3] The mayor then fixed the day and hour for the funeral while also hopefully accommodating and coinciding with the wishes of the deceased person’s family.  Continue reading

Marriage Etiquette in France in the Late 1800s

French wedding ensemble from 1864. Courtesy of Met Museum.

Marriage etiquette in France involved many rules. For instance, when a Frenchman decided he wanted to marry, he did not go directly to the parents and ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage. That would have been a major faux pas. Instead his best friend was charged with the delicate task of asking the parents, and if they agreed, the prospective bridegroom then arranged a meeting with them. This first meeting was all business and involved “the dowry, and the almost equally important one of the young man’s fortune, expectations, etc.”[1] Continue reading

Various 19th Century French Etiquette Rules

19th Century French Etiquette
Google Screen Capture. Public Domain.

Nineteenth century etiquette rules were important in France. This resulted in the writer of one nineteenth century article on politeness in schools noting that politeness was considered “a matter of education as well as nature.”[1] Moreover, some people in the nineteenth century considered the French the most polite people in the world. That was because of their willingness to embrace etiquette, follow its rules, and say “S’il vous plaît” or “Merci.” Continue reading

French New Year’s Etiquette Visits in the Late 1800s

French New Year's etiquette visits
Courtesy of Clipartix.

The French loved etiquette and etiquette was applied to such things as courtship, marriage, and death. The French also had etiquette rules when it came to the New Year. It was observed with calls and visits that were made to relatives and certain officials. In fact, according to one twentieth-century etiquette expert, “Not to receive a New Year’s call, or, if distance prevents, a visiting card, is the indisputable, the recognized indication that sender and addresses are henceforth to be strangers.”[1]

In general, visits occurred over the month of January. People called on their grandparents and superiors on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, they visited their parents and immediate family members. The first week of the New Year was devoted to visiting other family members, the second week to visiting intimate friends, and the remainder of the month was used to call on acquaintances. Continue reading

On French Customs and Manners by a Scotsman

Tobias George Smollett, by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, ca. 1764, French Customs, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Tobias George Smollett, by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, ca. 1764, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Tobias George Smollett was a Scottish poet and author best known for his eighteenth century novels, which included The Adventures of Roderick Random and The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. Smollett was also a great traveler with strong opinions. In the mid 1700s he went abroad with his wife and did so not only for pleasure but also because he was ordered to go by his physicians. He also traveled for one other reason: A “deliberate intention of making as much money as possible out of his Travel papers.” The result was Travels through France and Italy, a book published in 1766 composed of lively travel letters and written by Smollett with wit and acerbity. In addition, wherever he traveled he quarreled: He quarreled with innkeepers, postilions, and fellow travelers. He also held foreigners in contempt and derided their customs, their social status, and their faith.

One letter dated October 12, 1763, mentioned the manners and customs of the French. Here is a portion of it (almost) verbatim: Continue reading

French Mourning in the 1700s

Louis XV and French Mourning
Louis XV, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The French King Louis XV issued an ordinance and reduced mourning time by half in 1716. He also “settled the particular manner in which mourning should be observed.” One rule settled was when one king mourned for another monarch, the monarch was to wear the color violet, and it was worn for three months. But her majesty was to dress in mourning “like her subjects.” On the death of a potentate, who was not the father of her majesty, or of any queen, who was not her mother, mourners were obliged to dress in mourning for twenty-one days. Interestingly, the only person who never wore mourning was the chancellor, “because he is detached, by his situation, in some measure, from himself, as the principal representative of justice.” Continue reading