Key area 1: “Foreign Courtiers at the Bourbon Court (1594-1789)”

The programme “Foreigners at the Bourbon Court of France (1594-1789). Strategies, Transfers, Suspicion” aims to examine the different types of foreign presence at the French court, and in doing so, to establish a cross-disciplinary subject for research, since the very idea of the foreigner introduces conflicting categories of people found at every level of society: those who are subjects of the French king and those who are not. This approach will highlight phenomena that a strictly Franco-French point of view would not necessarily reveal.

Our programme takes “Foreign courtiers” as its first thematic area, looking at all foreigners who, at some point or other in their court career, held a position at the French court, either by becoming part of the royal or princely households of France, by obtaining the status of “King’s pensioner” or by serving foreign princes or States at the French court.

Theme 1: Foreign identities at the Bourbon Court of France

This theme focuses mainly on those courtiers whose careers, and the condition of existing documents, enable us to conduct a systematic study that enable us to bring out the different identities associated with these foreign courtiers, whether these identities were real, claimed or ascribed, especially in terms of social position and the status they conferred. With this in mind, we are planning to study the careers of foreigners within the court, their duties and responsibilities, and the ranks they held as well as those they were refused.

Similarly, in addition to the various forms of socio-political, we also wish to bring out the great differences between the court setting in which they found themselves and the societies they came from. The kinds of setbacks, whether temporary or permanent, that foreigners could encounter in the face of their expectations, are good indicators of cultural differences. The same applies to the positions or ranks claimed and those actually obtained, and to the theoretical, legal status that they might assume, which would be related to their degree of recognition within the royal entourage and, in this respect, their role in the political organisation of the kingdom.

In addition, the opportunities the French court offered for creating new identities, even to the extent of appropriating noble status, reveal the ability of some foreigners to make use of the range of resources that geographical mobility afforded. A look at the changes the royal household was obliged to make, and the inevitable tensions aroused by the presence of foreigners, will highlight the court’s uniquely French characteristics.

Priority will be given in theme 1 to approaches along prosopographic lines, statistical analyses whenever possible, as well as studies into well-documented cases. This will not be limited solely to studies of noble office.

Theme 2: The Movement of Foreigners at the Bourbon Court of France

This theme aims to put the careers of foreign courtiers in France into a broader, geographical and social context. With that in mind, office at the French court will be taken as one particular stage in the European career of the courtier.

We will also study the family and social networks that governed both the movement of individuals and the transmission of cultural heritage, the result of matrimonial alliances arranged between European aristocratic dynasties, alliances that brought foreign families and dynasties to the French court in great numbers. There are many examples of children born to foreign courtiers in France and therefore of mixed heritage, and this alone merits special attention.

This study aims to shed light on and demonstrate the existence of these networks, and will be completed with a look at the intermediaries who facilitated these movements: individuals who took on the role of courtier, or ‘broker’ to use the terminology of Sharon Kettering. They were interpreters, official intermediaries between foreign courtiers and the French court and more broadly, individuals involved with the “economy of receiving foreigners” (D. Roche) at court, since we shall also examine the various ways these courtiers moved around: accompanying a Royal Progress or carrying out diplomatic missions. The practicalities and costs of receiving foreign embassies, whether routine or for a special occasion, will also be considered.

Theme 3: Ways in which courtiers were marginalised at the Bourbon Court

This last theme both broadens and shifts the perspective. It looks at the various forms of hostility that foreign courtiers might have encountered by examining speeches and statements (campaigns of denigration through texts and images) and collective acts such as riots against courtiers and diplomats whose foreign origins alone made them suspect. Rejection of the foreigner during times of political turbulence (the fall and assassination of Concini in 1617, the war against the United Provinces in the second part of Louis XIV’s reign, or the Seven Years War, for example), or against a backdrop of carefully manipulated public sentiment, was accompanied by the recurring image of an outsider seen not only as the antithesis of loyalty to the sovereign, but as having an identity that was demonstrably different.

At court, the forms of marginalisation, be it a refusal to accord certain offices or functions, the surveillance of foreigners or the treatment of refugees, regardless of their motives for taking refuge, reflected the fragility of positions that could at any time be called into question

Where these three themes converge

The question of the foreign presence at court also leads to an exploration of the social and political structures of a power base within the relatively limited confines of the palace and on the open stage of constantly renewed European exchanges. Interlocking hierarchies, identities, heritages and functions that gave impetus to the way the court functioned are concentrated in the figure of the foreign courtier more than any other. The three chosen topics: identities, movements and forms of marginalisation, are all facets of one problem, which sheds light on the endogenous and exogenous structure of the French court and reveals a wealth of information.


  • Study day “The Movement of Foreigners at the Bourbon Court of France”, 12 April 2013 (Versailles). Non-public study day.

Steering Committee

Scientific Coordination: Jean-François Dubost, Professor of Modern History at the Université Paris-Est Créteil Val-de-Marne.
>  Fanny Cosandey, Lecturer at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales,
>  Mathieu da Vinha, Senior research officer, Scientific Director of the Centre de recherche du château de Versailles,
>  Jeroen Duindam, Professor of Modern History at the University of Leiden, Netherlands,
>  Marcello Fantoni, Professor of Modern History at the Kent State University in Florence and European Director for Kent State University,
>  Caroline Hibbard, Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the University of Illinois, United States,
>  Leonhard Horowski, affiliated to the University of Münster and the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Germany.

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