WWMAD: There are no small jobs, just small courtiers

Everyone who is anyone knows that on Sundays, Marie Antoinette answers offers guidance and advice in this very space. To have your own question answered, please email her at whatwouldmarieantoinettedo at gmail dot com.

My Queen,

I am a volunteer for a charity that I really, really support. I don’t, however, support the new volunteer coordinator who has been hired who does not know how to do her job. I’ve volunteered there for years and know that she is disorganized and not very suited for the job. She irritates me so much I’ve been loathe to come to meetings she plans or events if I think she will run them. I got an email from her telling me that the projects I coordinate have been reassigned to another volunteer. What do I do?
-The Reassigned

"Shall I pour this over your head, madame?" (This and other fashion plates available from The 18th Century Blog, http://18thcenturyblog.com/fashion-plates?page=2 )

Dear heart,
I say this with love. Your coordinator did what I only wish I could have back in Versailles. Let me explain.

Fancy people don’t usually do service jobs, but being an 18th century courtier was really like being a glorified servant. You stood while others sat. You held out handkerchiefs on golden platters. And you earned your livelihood. You see, truly well-born fancy people of my time could not have real jobs. They could not be doctors or lawyers. They were not allowed to have professions thanks to a system created by Louis XIV to control nobles who otherwise spent their time inciting civil wars. These nobles earned their monies through taxes, if they held land, and through pensions through service to the King. The more the King liked you, the more money you would likely get. The less he knew you existed, the more less likely you could put food on your family’s comically long dining table.

You can imagine how this went. Fancy people, with their own servants and country manors would come to Versailles and vie for menial tasks such as holding the King’s candle. Many nobles resented their roles at court and complained they had to go at all.

I hated the courtly rituals partly because of courtiers’ attitudes and slipshod work. Unfortunately for the Royal Family, complaining about work and generally doing a sub-par job became the height of fashion.

  • If I saw dust on my counterpane, the servants of the bedchamber would insist it was outside their jurisdiction. They even told me that my bed wasn’t furniture unless she was lying on it.
  • A piece of glass found its way into the meal of one of my children’s meals since the governess was too fancy to prepare the dish herself.
  • Someone swiped a fish destined for a dinner held in my honor. A Scottish gardener later ate it for his breakfast.

Some nobles were so humiliated by these jobs that they supported the revolution and the abolishment of the monarchy. What these courtiers didn’t expect was that supporting the revolution did abolish the monarchy, it also eliminated the need for court jobs, the only way they could support their families and lifestyles. It also made courtiers enemies of the people. Nobles either fled the country with no way to make a living, selling most all their possessions, or faced certain death by the guillotine. I’m going to guess that if they could have predicted futures filled with poverty, backbreaking work abroad or public beheadings that most of the nobles would have found a way to enjoy handing people handkerchiefs at the palace.

The moral of this story? If you don’t do your duties, you’ll soon be relieved of them. Not liking a job — or your boss — isn’t an excuse to do subpar work and complaining always makes you look small. Be grateful for your role and take pride in your work. No situation lasts  forever (Me and my courtiers know that fact firsthand) and it’s better to have strong work ethic than to whine like a siren. Regroup, work harder and maybe you’ll earn your responsibilities back.


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