Conspicuous Privacy: Charity in Versailles under Louis XIV

The Danish National Research Foundation Centre for Privacy Studies, University of Copenhagen, and Centre de Recherche du Château de Versailles cordially invite submissions to our joint symposium and publication.

Submit your application



Charity has always played an important role in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible commands the rich to pay attention to the needs of the poor and help, but it also teaches that those who give should be discreet, not flaunt their charitable acts. In Matthew 6.4, we read: “that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

In Ancien Régime France, however, nobles vaunted their charitable acts, often in intricate performances with detailed mise-en-scène. An ultimate example of such lavish demonstrations of charity was the Mandé Royal, an age-old ceremony where the king would wash the feet of 13 poor children.

Performances of charity served to fulfill the religious duties of affluent people, but they also contributed to consolidating and reinforcing their claims to political power. The efficacy of charitable acts was co-constituted by both religious commitment and political interests, and charity worked its purpose inasmuch as it was performed for the sake of poor subjects and noble peers alike.

There is an apparent paradox between the normative privacy of charitable acts, and the public flaunting of these acts that happened in reality. This paradox raises some interesting research questions:

  • What justifications did specific charity givers use to justify publicity of their charitable acts?

  • How did nobles decide on what charitable acts to sponsor?

  • How did nobles demonstrate to others that they were giving to charity?

  • What historical evidence is there for private charitable acts?

  • Who was deemed worthy of receiving help?

  • What were the conditions attached to this help?

  • Did poor and rich ever share the same space during a given act of charity? How did this come about?

  • What physical infrastructures were there to support acts of charity?

Abraham Bosse, Les Oeuvres de Miséricorde (1650)

To investigate the relationship between privacy and charity, we invite submissions of research on historical primary sources from the town or palace of Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, documenting acts of charity. We welcome analyses that consider these charitable acts in their multiple dimensions, and we encourage interdisciplinary approaches that examine the religious, political, spatial, and social features of these charitable acts.

Submit your application containing a 300 word abstract as well as a 200 word biography in this link. The deadline is June 30th, 2019 23h59 (CEST). Selected participants will be expected to submit a 6000 word paper for circulation by September 15th, 2019, one month in advance of the event. On the day of the symposium, each presenter will have 20min to summarize their work and discuss with the other participants.

Papers will be considered for publication. Selected papers will go through peer-review and be published as special issue of a journal, in English and French (when needed, professional translation services will be sponsored by the Centre for Privacy Studies). If you cannot be present on the day of the symposium, you may still submit your application to be considered for the publication only.

Address of the symposium:

Centre de recherche du château de Versailles
Château de Versailles - Grand Commun
1 rue de l’Indépendance américaine
RP 834 – 78008 Versailles
Date: 14 October 2019

Picture Credits: Abraham Bosse, Les Oeuvres de Miséricorde (1650)
Source Metropolitan Museum of Art, License CC0 - Public Domain