Palace Seating: How Do You Rank?


At Fontainebleau, as at many royal palaces, rooms are filled with rows of upholstered seating in various shapes and sizes. But apparently there were no cheap seats.  These folks must have spent a lot of time just hanging out with royalty in salons, hoping to curry favor.

As royal etiquette evolved over the centuries, a seat was not just a place to sit down. By the time of Louis XIV, a seat was a rigidly controlled indication of one’s rank in society. Seats had no nametags. There were no sections marked “Duchesses and above.” A person attending the King and/or Queen was just expected to know.   I’d have lived in terror that I might absentmindedly sit down in the wrong place and land myself in a dungeon, or worse.


Naturally, the pair of armchairs placed in the most desirable spot, like next to a fireplace in a chilly room, was reserved for royalty. And only the King and Queen rated footstools.


“Stools” of various sizes and heights–what we might call ottomans–were reserved for those high in rank.  But within each rank, there was a pecking order, with those currently most in favor getting to sit closest to the Queen.



Marie Antoinette, for example, could gather her most amusing ladies around her, close to the warmth of the fire–reason enough to get off as many good jokes as possible. The coveted seats needed to be wide and deep, to accommodate voluminous layers of skirts.


What about the guys?  Out of luck, I’m afraid. Gentlemen below royal rank were expected to stand at all times in the presence of royalty–unless they were invited into a private boudoir.

The first thing I look for when I enter a museum or palace room where I want to spend some time is a bench or chair designated for visitors.  Good thing I live in the 21st century!


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