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.”

Mourning also involved more than commiserating over royalty. For instance, public mourning served as an outward sign of sorrow and came to express the degree of friendship or relationship that existed between the living and the deceased. Ceremonies were also attached to pubic mourning, although one 1786 writer noted that such ceremonies “have not been known very long.” Besides public mourning, there was personal mourning. Great mourning was attached to the loss of a father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sibling, or spouse and was called “full mourning.” Full mourning was further divided into three classes: woolen, silk, and half-mourning and mourning also had two distinct colors, white or black.

Black was the primary color chosen for the expression of this mourning, and the “silent herald of … sufferings.” The color black was “strongly expressive of the privation of life … [and] a symbol of the privation of light.” To further insure that mourning was done in a respectful way the Cabinet des Modes published an essay on mourning and their essay was then republished in 1786 in an English magazine to help the English “trace the analogy between our mourning and that of France.” The article provided the following information about mourning:

  • When mourning for a father or mother, it lasted six months: Six weeks were reserved for great and small weepers (weepers were badges of mourning worn in the 1700 and 1800s), six weeks for woolen without weepers, six weeks in silk, and six more dressed in half-mourning.
  • When mourning for a grandfather or grandmother, it lasted eighteen weeks: three weeks great weepers, three weeks small weepers, six weeks in woolen, and then six more weeks in half mourning.
  • When a wife mourned her husband, it lasted a year and six weeks: four and a half months “in cambrick [sic], the cloak, gown, and petticoat of French fluff, four months and a half in crape and woolen, three months in silk and gauze, and six weeks in half mourning.”
  • When a husband mourned a wife, it lasted six months: dress was the same as for a father or mother.
  • When mourning for a sibling, it lasted two months: woolen was the first month, fifteen days in silk, and fifteen days in half-mourning.
  • When mourning an aunt or uncle, it lasted three weeks: fifteen days in woolen and fifteen days in half-mourning.
  • When mourning a sibling, uncle, or aunt and coming into possession of their fortune, mourning was to be worn for six months.
  • When uncles and aunts mourned their nephews who were heads of the family, the same rules applied as for a father or mother.
  • When mourning a German cousin, it lasted fifteen days: eight in bordered ruffles and seven days in half-mourning.
  • When mourning an uncle or first cousin, according to Brittany, it lasted eleven days: six days in black and five days in black and white.
  • When mourning a second cousin, it lasted eight days: five days in black and three days in white.
  • The clergy denoted “full mourning by wearing a white band, a cassock, and a crape sash.”
  • In the military, mourning was “signified by a black crape bound round the arm, but when dressed in a full suit of black, they [were] distinguished by a gold dragan [sic] at the sword-hilt.”
  • Subjects appeared in mourning for a king, “in the same form as for a father or mother.”


  • The Spectator, No. 64, 1778
  • Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge, 1786

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