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HistoryVersailles through the centuries

New Year’s Day gifts in Versailles during the Ancien Régime

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Royal gifts

Each start of the year was the occasion for the King, the Queen, the princes and princesses of royal blood and the members of the royal family to distribute New Year’s Day gifts to people of the Court as a sign of their gratitude or friendship.

Usually on New Year’s Day the King was quite generous and distributed numerous gifts including gold snuffboxes previously ordered by his household administration, the Menus-Plaisirs, from leading Parisian goldsmiths. The duc de Luynes  in his Memoirs tells of one of these distributions by Louis XV on Monday 4 January 1740: “Yesterday, Mme de Vintimille  showed us a gold inlay box that the King gave her for New Year’s Day on Thursday, the day before. The King asked her a lot of questions: if she had ever received a New Year’s Day gift; if she wanted to receive one. After that they sat down at the table, and during the supper the King gave the duc de Villeroy the snuffbox which he immediately handed to Mme de Vintimille.”

Louis XVI kept a daily record of his personal outlays in his diary . So it is very easy to find out who benefited from his New Year’s Day gifts. His young sister, Madame Elisabeth (1764-1794), appears almost each year along with Marie-Antoinette as the beneficiary of the greatest generosity of Louis XVI. From 1780 to 1783, the king spent the colossal sum of over 148,864 pounds on jewellery intended for Madame Elisabeth on New Year’s Day. The goldsmith Ange-Joseph Aubert delivered diamonds, necklaces, rings, gold snuffboxes, etc.

Gifts were not given on Christmas Day like nowadays. During the Monarchy, the Court received gifts on New Year’s Day and at Easter.

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