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Ritual and politics in France before the Revolution

In May 1774, Louis XV died, triggering a sequence of rituals unseen in fifty-nine years. This book explores how these one-in-a-reign rituals unfolded fifteen years before the Revolution. From the deathbed of Louis XV, the book covers his funeral, the lit de justice of November 1774, and the coronation of Louis XVI and related ceremonies in June 1775, relating them all to the politics of the day. Threads of continuity emerge from this closely woven narrative to form a compelling picture of these ceremonies in the dynamic culture of 1770s France. Light is shed on the place of monarchy, the recall of the parlements and the conduct of the coronation. This study provides an overview of the current state of the field of ritual studies in English and French, situating ritual in relation to court studies as well as political history. It covers court life, the relationship between the monarch and the parlement, the preparation of large-scale rituals and the ways in which those outside the court engaged with these events, providing rich detail on this under-researched period. Written in a clear, lively style, this book is the ideal text for the non-specialist and, as each chapter deals with one ritual, it lends itself readily to undergraduate teaching of topics around monarchy, court society, ritual, and politics, including the Maupeou coup. More advanced students and specialists on the period will find new perspectives and information presented in an engaging manner.

The family has been central to Irish culture and society, evincing an anxious preoccupation with marital and familial relationships. This chapter examines two particular stories of single women, authored by men, to consider fictional stereotypes of singlehood and womanhood. William Trevor's short story 'The Ballroom of Romance', set in the 1950s, concerns a turning point in the life of Bridie, a single woman caring for her widowed father, labouring on the family farm, tending to cows and hens. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore begins with Judith, a woman in her early forties, settling into another, cheaper, boarding house in Belfast of the 1950s. Sociology is concerned with stories of people's lives and relationships. Sociological models of rural communities in the 1970s placed men at the centre of their analyses, married women and children at the outer perimeters, with unmarried women hovering at the limits of community.

in Are the Irish different?
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The conclusion reviews the findings of the main body of the book and sets them in a wider frame. It addresses their meaning and the broader meaning of monarchy in the context of the coming of the Revolution, recalling Louis XVI's journey to Normandy in 1786 and the attitudes of the deputies of the Estates General and the National Assembly towards the king. It brings together themes running through the work to position this book as part of the 'new court history' and of revisionist political history of France more broadly.

in Death and the crown
The coronation and the king’s healing touch

The royal healing touch for scrofula was performed by Louis XVI after his coronation for the first time in over thirty years. This chapter examines how the ceremony was organised and by whom, drawing on the record left by a Remois woman. It delves into the history of the ceremony and of healing by touch more generally, situating this ritual in the context of contemporary medicine in order to produce an explanation of the attractions of the ritual, which drew over two thousand people to Reims to be touched by the king.

in Death and the crown

Louis XV fell ill with smallpox at the end of April 1774. His deathbed attracted crowds to Versailles and was followed through public announcements and rituals in Paris. This chapter compares the king's conduct on two previous occasions when he had thought he would die, at Metz in 1744 and after the Damiens attack in 1757, and concludes that Louis XV – not ill-defined factions – controlled the conduct of his deathbed in 1774.

in Death and the crown

The transition of power from Louis XV to Louis XVI took place against a background of unresolved political tension over the Maupeou coup. The funeral of Louis XV in July 1774 required the attendance of the parlement – but which one? The unpopular appointees of the Maupeou parlement? Or the exiled members of the old parlement? The princes of the blood threatened to boycott the ceremony. Ceremony and politics were inextricably linked in the first days of Louis XVI's reign.

in Death and the crown

This chapter provides a new insight into the recall of the parlement of Paris, a key moment in the early reign of Louis XVI. Ceremonial considerations played a significant part in the timing and handling of Louis XVI's decision. The venerable ceremony of the lit de justice was exploited by the monarchy to make clear political points on the conditions of the recall and set the stage for the relationship between king and parlement during the new reign.

in Death and the crown
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Ceremony in history

The image of Louis XIV and his court overshadow our understanding of eighteenth-century France. Rethinking the court society is a vital part of revising our interpretations of absolutist government in this period: a new understanding of royal ceremony is one part of this. This chapter challenges the neo-ceremonialist understanding of French royal ritual in the light of French scholarship questioning the relevance of the 'two bodies' model to the French monarchy and highlighting Marc Bloch's idea of 'marvellous royalty'. The relationship between ceremony and power lies at the heart of these questions.

in Death and the crown
Preparing the coronation, 1774–75

The first of three chapters dealing with the coronation of Louis XVI, this chapter considers the preparations required at Versailles and in Reims, and the currents at work in imagining the monarch at this juncture in French history. Sentimentalism and ideas of virtue are central themes. Louis XVI's ceremonial entry into Reims prompted grand decorations offering a commentary on contemporary political events, crowned by an arch of bienfaisance.

in Death and the crown
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The coronation of Louis XVI, 11 June 1775

The coronation of Louis XVI, which took place on 11 June 1775, is described in detail in this chapter where it is considered as an amalgam of several smaller rituals each with its own provenance and meaning. Apparently transgressive gestures are granted positive meaning. The role of the queen in the coronation is considered, as is the meaning of tales of the king walking among the people after the ceremony.

in Death and the crown