Posted by: plbh88 | 23/06/2010

Pets and the People

Although my main focus in this project has thus far been the royal hunting dogs themselves and the people who kept and cared for them, I’m currently at the library exploring popular attitudes and reactions towards them that came from beyond the golden gates of Versailles in the hopes of giving my study further context.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, philosophes like Voltaire and Diderot and writers like Restif de La Bretonne poked fun at the attention lavished on aristocratic pets, including ostensibly utilitarian beasts like hunting dogs, in satirical texts (more on debates over animal “rights” and animal morality and the reaction of the French monarchy in another post). Others like Louis-Antoine de Carracioli directly criticized the disparity between the treatment of these animals and the poor. However, what I have recently been exploring gives these parodies and satires of court life a more global historic context that had significant political repercussions. These are the cahiers de doléances, the lists of grievances ordered by Louis XVI and drawn up in March and April of 1789. In these cahiers, the clergy, nobility, and third estate (everyone else from the bourgeoisie to the peasantry) enumerated their complaints and concerns by order. Interestingly, in addition to complaints over social privileges and taxation, several provinces cited animals in their lists.

Multiple provinces complain about the damage done to crops by dogs during noble hunts.  From Wimille, near Calais, came a demand for “the suppression of dogs that take so much bread and other expensive objects with money that could be used to assuage the poor.. and the levying of a considerable tax on dogs to make them rarer.” In Baume-les-Dames in Franche-Comté, the people extended this opinion to other creatures, stating that for “objects of amusement and luxury, we could impose 10 livres, more or less, for every dog, monkey and other animal of amusement [with the exception of dogs belonging to butchers and shepherds].” Although the cahiers should not be read as grievances exclusively against court pets,  as people other than courtiers owned them, we know that hundreds of them did exist at Versailles.  The fiscal solutions to the animal problem offered by these cahiers are intriguing; although the Revolution did not impose a dog tax, such a duty was levied in Great Britain in 1796, and not until 1855 in France.

The events that followed are also interesting to note.  The Almanach des honnêtes femmes is a 1790 periodical that proposed its readers anecdotes and a calendar of sorts that mocks the ecclesiastical year,  dedicating each day not to a saint but to a supposedly perverse lady of the court. It records the burning of  live dogs in front of the Hôtel de Ville of Paris- the site of public executions during the Ancien régime- for a crime “that morality prevents us from naming”. These canines now suffered from a stigma linking them to the feminine corruption and sexual depravity of the Ancien régime (the Almanach explicitly links dogs to the supposed sins of the duchesse de Villeroi and the baronne de St-Marceau, the latter preferring her dogs to male lovers and the former always surrounded by four lady’s maids and twelve dogs).

A 1797 history of the French Revolution by Louis-Marie Prudhomme relates the story of the dog of a condemned invalid, François Saint-Prix; it remained by the guillotine on the the Place de la Révolution, howling at the site of his master’s demise and even biting a revolutionary in November of 1793. The next day it was tried by the revolutionary tribunal, found guilty of biting a Jacobin and disturbing the peace, and bludgeoned to death at the foot of the scaffold.

Even artists were keen to include this change in attitudes towards animals and petkeeping. Gone were erotic images of women and dogs, such as those created by Watteau and Fragonard.  Revolutionary ceramics depict liberated birds sitting atop their cages, echoing similar representations of the people standing on the ramparts of the Bastille. A gouache by Le Sueur at the musée Carnavalet, the museum of Paris history in the Marais, depicts a sans-culotte mocking pre-revolutionary fashions and pointing towards an Ancien régime couple and an abbé holding a dog. The caption underneath reads “the abé [sic] holding the little dog makes him laugh heartily.” Another gouache in the same series shows “the new manner of explaining…differences in opinion” represented by two fist-swinging sans-culottes; behind them are two fierce dogs clawing at each other.

In effect, the Etat de la France, an annual publication of positions in various royal households (the king’s, the queen’s, the dauphin’s, etc.) and the accompanying expenses, can be said to confirm complaints over the cost of royal animal upkeep. The 1686 edition notes 70 dogs for stag hunting. 24 valets existed for the care of these dogs, in addition to 18 others who looked after those trained to smell out prey and all received between 100 and 400 livres a year in addition to room and board in the Grand Chenil. Jacques du Moulin, dog surgeon, received 150 livres a year; in case his services failed, Louis Chapelle was engaged for 75 livres a year to cure any sort of rage from which they might suffer. 40 other dogs existed to hunt wild boar, in addition to 14 greyhounds (who benefited from the services of captain Henri de Lambert and 4 valets (Pierre de L’Isle, Richard Dodemant and Melchior de Sétre de Préaux) whose salaries, together with food for the dogs, cost 2567 livres a year) and unspecified numbers of dogs for deer, rabbits, and other game.

Perhaps the most striking detail in any edition is the sheer number of dogs.  414 are noted for 1731.  Despite a count of only 344 in 1737, this number rose to 614 in 1758.

The 1674 edition designates “le Sr Jàque Antoine & Jean son fils en survivance” as valet des épagneuls, in charge of Louis XIV’s 30 spaniels used for retrieving birds and rabbits taken during shooting outings, with an annual salary of over 1930 livres as well as meals and shoes.  The Antoine familyheld this position into the next century.  In 1702 the “Sieur Jean-Antoine, to be succeeded by his son Laurent” occupied it, and by 1749 it had fallen to François Antoine.  Feeding Louis XV’s 18 spaniels and other expenses cost 1,383 livres that year, in addition to François Antoine’s annual salary of 547 livres for his own meals and shoes for other valets and another 200 for his own clothing.    

What did these dogs eat? In 1712 the duc de St-Simon records the daily delivery of dog biscuits (biscotin) by the royal pastry chef, referred to in the 1702 Etat de la France as the “Paticier du Roy” ; Louis XIV personally fed these to his favorite chiens couchants, dogs that located shot game during a hunt, himself in the Cabinet des Chiens after dinners.  For those residing at the Grand Chenil in 1686, a baker was paid an annual wage of 160 livres for the preparation “bread  for dogs” that hunted wolves. Other bakers supplied several packs with food at 60 livres a year. The thirty-fifth volume of the 1781 Encyclopédie recounts that the king’s hunting dogs were fed a pure barley bread twice a day that kept their “bod[ies] fresh and in good form.”

Although some of the animal-related costs at Versailles were eventually eliminated (in 1786 Louis XVI disbanded the captains and valets for greyhound care, the former receiving close to 2,500 livres a year, and as early as 1729 it was decreed that the position of valet de chien would continue until it the male line of the holder went extinct rather than pass on to someone else), the cahiers show that “animals of amusement” were indeed a cause for concern among the people on the eve of the events that would forever alter Versailles.  Yet, many positions related to royal hunting, especially those related to dog care, survived through the Revolution.  Although these were abolished by 1792, they were resurrected by 1804 under the First Empire and continued to be a part of every political regime until the Second Empire, with the exception of the Second Republic from 1848-1852.

Interesting, the cited excerpts from the cahiers are from provinces far from the Ile-de-France, which lends weight to the idea that the kinds of animals that were a part of court culture and society, notably the dogs that made up the king’s hunting packs, were an important enough part of the Ancien régime’s “public image” to merit notice and popular reaction throughout the kingdom.

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