Key area 2: “European Travellers at the Bourbon Court of France (1594-1789) – differing perspectives”

This is part of the research programme entitled “Foreigners at the Bourbon Court of France (1594-1789). Strategies, Transfers, Suspicion”.

It relies on the study of new or little- known accounts by travellers who visited the Bourbon Court. The studies will also include the French courtiers’ views of these travellers and how these visitors commented on their reception at court.

We are focusing mainly on those members of the aristocracy and princely families who undertook “pleasure trips”: journeys not linked to particular obligations or events (marriages, the signing of treaties, bilateral or multilateral political negotiations, etc.).

Four major themes will be tackled:

  • the practicalities of the journey,
  • how foreign travellers viewed the French court,
  • the curial journey as a political tool,
  • impact and cultural transfers resulting from these journeys.

An international and interdisciplinary team

In November 2011 the steering committee published a call for participation, which brought together a team of fifteen researchers:

>  Volker Barth, lecturer, University of Cologne, Germany: Incognito Visits made to the Bourbon Court in the 18th century
>  Gilles Bertrand, Professor at the Université Pierre Mendès-France – Grenoble II: The Model of Versailles standing the test of the Journey of Enlightenment (18th century)
>  Loïc Bienassis, project leader, Institut européen d’histoire et des cultures de l’alimentation / Université François-Rabelais de Tours: English Travellers to the Court of Louis XIII
>  Catherine Bulgakova, doctoral student, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia: The Visit of the Comte and Comtesse du Nord to Paris in 1782. The princely Russian couple at the Court of Louis XVI: the perception of the event by contemporaries and the political and cultural consequences
>  Florian Dölle, doctoral student, University of Hamburg, Germany: Versailles as described in the Journal of the Architect Christoph Pitzler (1657-1707)
>  Thomas Fouilleron, doctor, senior lecturer, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis: Pleasure Trips and Political Recognition. The Princes of Monaco at the Court of France (1642-1663)
>  Hanife Güven, Professor, Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi, Turkey / Free University of Brussels, Belgium: The Description of the Court of France by Y. C. Mehmet Efendi (1720-1721) and its reception in the Ottoman Empire: cultural divides and social issues
>  Andreas Kupka, Director of the Musée de la Citadelle de Jülich and President of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Festungsforschung, Germany: The Journey to France of the young Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine (1658-1716)
>  Laurent Lemarchand, Professor, Université de Rouen: Between Glory and Beauty: the evolution of the role and functioning of the French court during the Regency of Louis XV
>  Anne Motta, professeur agrégée, Université de Lorraine, Metz: Charles de Vaudémont (1649-1723) at the Court of Versailles
>  Dorothea Nolde, Professor, University of Bremen, Germany: Pleasure Trips in parallel with Diplomacy: Members of German Princely Families at the Court of France (17th century)
>  Cécile Peter, doctoral student, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne: Queen Christina of Sweden’s Visits to France: contrasting perspectives between now and then (1656-1658)
>  Sylvie Requemora-Gros, lecturer, Aix-Marseille Université: Sophia of Hanover, Princess Incognito at the “Noah’s Ark” Court (1679)
>  Vladislava Sergienko, lecturer, Lomonosov Moscow State, Russia: Russian Travellers: differing perspectives of a writer and a diplomat on the Court of Louis XVI in 1789
>  Christina Strunck, Research Officer, University of Marburg, Germany: The Court in Performance: Cross-cultural Curiosity in a Diary recording Alessandro de’ Medici’s Sojourn at the French Court (1596-1598)

The chronological and geographical context of the studies

The studies proposed focus mainly on the 17th century but also include the regencies and reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI:

>  Henri IV: Reign / Regency: 1589-1610 (2 studies)
>  Marie de Medici: Reign / Regency: 1610-1617 (1 study)
>  Louis XIII: Reign / Regency: 1617-1643 (3 studies)
>  Anne of Austria: Reign / Regency: 1643-1651 (3 studies)
>  Louis XIV: Reign / Regency: 1651-1715 (8 studies)
>  Philippe d’Orléans: Reign / Regency: 1715-1723 (3 studies)
>  Louis XV: Reign / Regency: 1723-1774 (1 study)
>  Louis XVI: v: 1774-1789 (3 studies)

Travellers originated from most of the western European countries, apart from the Iberian Peninsula and the Netherlands:


Current research agrees that in the modern era there was an aristocratic European court culture that relied on a shared set of values, patterns of behaviour, objects and symbols. Sharing does not necessarily mean uniformity: each court differed in its own way, by cultivating a lifestyle and etiquette that was influenced by the traditions and history of its country. Visits between courts offered great opportunities for studying the differences and similarities found in European court society. What form did these encounters between members of different courts take, these instances that brought out similarities and differences so strikingly?

Our studies will not be limited to how the travellers were received or how their stay at court unfolded, but might equally focus on the preparations for the journey: travellers gathered their information through reading and talking to other travellers, and they took experienced people along with them. In the case of official visits, the French court prepared to receive the visitor by deciding on questions of protocol and material matters if the traveller was to be accommodated at the expense of the king.

We shall also focus on the intermediaries whose help was sought by the traveller or the Crown. These were often people from the visitor’s own country who were well-acquainted with the world of the French court, like Madame Palatine who played an important role in receiving travellers from the Germanic Holy Roman Empire.

The studies might also relate to the objectives and consequences of a visit to the French court. The establishment of personal relationships and the possible alliances concluded (political or matrimonial) are part of this section, as are the cultural transfers that could result from it, either exported or imported. Some meetings have been immortalised, for example in engravings, medals and other commemorative objects that deserve our attention.

The impact of the political and religious context will also be taken into account, for example the status of the traveller: his rank, age, sex and his links with the royal family.

We should also note that not all of the aristocratic travellers in our study were officially received at court. Others had to join the crowd of visitors who flocked to the royal residences on a daily basis and who attended the festivities and daily ceremonies from a distance. The Crown became involved, aware of the importance of “court tourism” for promoting its image abroad, and gradually began to take part in it in an effort to take control of its own image. The methods and development of this mise en scene will be a subject of study, as will the perceptions of the travellers themselves.


Symposia “European Travellers at the Bourbon Court of France (1594-1789) – differing perspectives”, 31 January-1 February 2013, Institut historique allemand (IHA).

>  Publication of papers from the symposium of 2013 in our “Aulica” collection.

>  A special issue of the Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles is dedicatee to the critical edition of five sources of the modern era reflecting the reception of foreign visitors at the court of France.

Steering Committee

>  Prof. Jean Boutier, École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Director of the Norbert Elias Centre
>  Prof. Gudrun Gersmann, Director of the Institut historique allemand (IHA)
>  Dr. Bernd Klesmann, Head of the ‘Modern Times II (1650-1815)’ Department at the Institut historique allemand (IHA)
>  Prof. François Moureau, Director of the Centre de Recherche sur la Littérature des Voyages (CRLV) at the Université Paris-Sorbonne and of the Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne (PUPS)

Scientific Coordination : Caroline zum Kolk.

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