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The King Invites

Performing Power at a Courtly Dining Table


Daniëlle De Vooght

This book was awarded the «Joop Witteveenprijs 2012».
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the role of the monarchy in Western Europe was redefined. Together with the absolutist sovereigns, the historian’s interest in courts and court life in the nineteenth century seems to have vanished.
This book investigates what happened to the institution of the monarchy in the nineteenth century. More specifically, it examines whether the nineteenth-century Belgian monarchs can be described as influential, or even powerful. The volume also deals with another hiatus in history writing, namely food at nineteenth-century courts. The author addresses these two issues by examining the Belgian king and queen’s dinner guests, as well as the food that was served at the palace. She considers questions such as who was invited, who got to share a table, how did the guest lists evolve over time, was the food adjusted according to the guests and how did the food evolve?
A social network analysis of the dinner guests and a qualitative analysis of the court food are used as tools to tackle these questions. In this way, this book deals with issues that touch upon the very core of society’s development: power, hierarchies, status, imitation, segregation and distinction.


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PART II THE KING INVITES 103 CHAPTER 4 Dining at the Belgian Court Although Belgium emerged as an independent monarchial nation with rather strong parliamentary control, both Leopold I and II wanted to be strong rulers. Therefore, they embedded themselves in a well-built (international) network. For example, King Leopold I was related (through marriage) to the British Queen Victoria, who reigned between 1837 and 1901, and to the last king of France, Louis-Philippe, who reigned between 1830 and 1848. In 1875, King Leopold II married off his seventeen-year old daughter Louise to a member of the Hungarian branch of the Coburg family, consequently connecting the Belgian court to the Habsburg empire and widening – and strengthening – the network surrounding the king. This search for relationships did not only originate at the kings’ side. Letters in the Royal Archives actually show that it was a reciprocal process, involving not only aristocrats. Moreover, these letters also demonstrate that being present at a courtly festivity was a valued means to enter the king’s circle of acquaintances. In 1886 for example, the lord chamberlain received a letter from Mr Van der Kelen Bresson, an industrialist, saying the following: Je prends la liberté de me recommander à votre bienveillance pour obtenir mon inscrition sur la liste des personnes que sont admits aux fêtes de la Cour. Je puis à l’appuis de cette demande invoqué certains titres que j’ai l’honneur de vous soumettre à votre appréciation.1 [sic] A year earlier, the lady-in-waiting received the following letter from Mrs...

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