Court Etiquette

“There was such a crowd; for though they claim to admit only those with invitations, nevertheless every box was full”
Orazio Busino, Chaplain to the Venetian Ambassy, 1618
Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue

The court masque was a spectacular entertainment which many at court would want an invite to – there are records of people trying to gain admission without a ticket and being turned away at the door. Court masques were invitation only events by the end of Charles I’s reign. These were highly sought after, and the invitation of ambassadors to certain masques could reflect the political situation at the time.  There is a wealth of records which show the chaos of trying to get into a masque.

Did you know?

Masques became so popular in the reign of Charles I, that they began to use turnstiles as a way to control the crowd numbers!

“At the 6th hour of the night, his majesty appeared with his court, having passed through the apartments where the ambassadors were waiting, and he graciously brought them along with him, that is to say, the Spanish and Venetian ambassadors, it not being the turn of the French ambassador, because of his and the Spaniards disputes over precedence.”
Orazio Busino, Chaplain to the Venetian Ambassy, 1618
Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue
Masque at the House of Sir Henry Unton
Masque at the House of Sir Henry Unton

According to court rules Ladies and Gentlemen of the court could not speak in acting parts (this changed later in the 17th century). Dancing was acceptable for a courtier and it was Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones who developed the two-part masque, with the anti-masque and masque proper. The anti-masque allowed for the use of professionals who could take on speaking roles, presenting a world of chaos and vice. The courtiers, dressed in extravagant costumes, would transform this world and dance for the audience.

Precedence within the masque was important. Dancing would be ordered by rank, not preference, certainly when the dancing began. Reverences and honours (bowing and curtsying) would be made at the start and end of dances – men would remove their hats to do this; something they also did in the presence of monarchs.

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