Monday, June 17, 2013

Tobacco under King Louis XIV of France

In 1648, at the young age of 10, Louis XIV was already King of France,

Henri Testelin

But it is at the age of 23 that he decided to rule as an absolute monarch.

Louis XIV en 1661 par Charles Le Brun.

On April 6, 1672, after two years of preparation of his troops at the Fort of Saint-Germain-En-Laye

Decorated stems and clay pipe bowls excavated from Fort Saint-Sébastien, 1669-1670

Louis XIV declared war to Holland and led an army of over 280,000 soldiers to battle.

Louis XIV at the siege of Maastrich by Adam François van der Meulen, 1673

The costs of the campaign dramatically depleted the country's treasury, so Louis XIV asked Jean Baptiste Colbert, his controller-general of finances, to find new sources of revenues.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1666 by Philippe de Champaigne, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The demand for tobacco was fast growing at the time. A century after its introduction in France, it was wildly popular for its medicinal properties, distributed by pharmacies and used as an ingredient in a variety of syrups, balms, ointments, as well as a snuff. 

Snuff-box with portrait of Colbert owned by  Etienne Baluze, Colbert's librarian.Le Louvre Museum, Paris

In 1674, Colbert placed tobacco sales under the control of a "tobacco farm" (Ferme des tabacs). Seven years later, he extended the monopoly to the fabrication of tobacco products.

"FERME GEN. DU TABAC" Ferme générale du tabac
"BAILDE G.FILS DIEP." Bail de G. Fils pour Dieppe, fleur de lys and radiating sun characteristic of Louis XIV.
Guillaume Fils is the designated operator for the Ferme from 1715 to 1718. Those seals were placed on shipments of tobacco from warehouse to retailers.

Contrary to Catherine de Medicis, Louis XIV abhored tobacco. As a result, any member of the Court in Versailles had to hide to smoke or snuff tobacco.

Title page for Dom Juan with illustration of the statue at the feast. From posthumous works of Molière, 1682. In Act I Scene I, Sganarelle (with a Tobacco-box in his Hand): Let Aristotle and all the Philosophers in the World say what they will, nothing is like Tobacco; 'tis the Darling of all Men of Honour, and he that lives without Tobacco is not worthy of Life. It not only gladdens and purges Man's Brain, but it likewise puts him in the way to Virtue and one learns with it to become an honest Man. Don't you see that as soon as ever one takes it, with what an obliging Manner one uses everybody, and how glad one is to give it on all sides, be one where he will? We don't so much as stay till 'tis ask'd for, but prevent People's wishes; so true it is that Tobacco inspires all those that take it with Sentiments of Generosity and Virtue. The play was first staged in 1677.

One who dared to smoke his pipe in the King's presence was famous French naval commander and privateer, Jean Bart,

who had been raised into the nobility on August 4, 1694 after his victory over the Dutch navy in the battle of Texel.

Painting of the battle by Eugène Isabey, 19th century, Musée de la Marine.

One day, while waiting in the King's anteroom in Versailles, he lit his pipe to the horror of the members of the Court then present. When Louis XIV, alerted by the smell of tobacco smoke, entered and gently scolded Jean Bart for his audacity, Jean Bart responded: "I knew that your Highness would forgive a humble servant who would risk his life for his King for an old habit he acquired while serving his King".

The campaign against Holland played an equally important role in spreading the use of pipes in the French Army as the soldiers picked up upon the pipe smoking habits of the native population.

The French artillery corp, the bombardiers was created by Louis XIV in 1668. Note the seated bombardier smoking a pipe. Printed ca.1880, Paris by Firmin Didot for Racinet

Quick to realize the benefits of tobacco as a thirst and hunger suppressor,


Discours du Tabac, 1668, by Baillard

and as a morale booster in a pipe.

Discours du Tabac, 1668, by Baillard

Louis XIV ordered the distribution of tobacco to the troops on a regular basis, and very soon almost every French soldier had his pipe and his lighter. It is, as a matter of fact, during the war that the habit of smoking spread the most, especially when the war was in cold and humid countries. 

It is during that same campaign that Louvois, the Secretary of State for War,

François Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois

made it clear that he was as much concerned about the supply of tobacco as food for the troops.

While Louis XIV never changed his mind about tobacco, an etching from the turn of the XVIIIth century shows that pipe smoking had a growing appeal for members of the Court...

In its proceedings of 18 August, 1693 and 11 December, 1694, the Hotel de Ville of Rouen recorded that 400 to 500 workers were employed in the manufacturing of pipes for smoking tobacco.

Map of Rouen by Jacques  Gomboust, King's Engineer, 1655

In the Armorial général de France, published in 1696,

 an emblem represented the Communauté des Pipiers de Rouen.

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