The Morning Star: Monsieur and the ballet de cour

Much has been made of the dancing skills of Louis XIV, who performed in so many of the ballets given at his court between 1651 and 1669, but what of his brother Philippe duc d’Orleans known simply by the honorific title ‘Monsieur’? In the ballet, as in life, he was not allowed to overshadow the Sun King. Monsieur made his first appearance as a dancer in the Ballet de Cassandre, in which Louis XIV also made his debut. While the thirteen-year-old Louis took two dancing roles, Philippe (aged eleven) danced only as a Page de Cassandre. Later that same year he danced as a Fille (Young Girl) in the Ballet des Festes de Bacchus. At this time (and for many years to come) female roles were almost invariably danced by boys and men. Louis XIV himself danced female roles on several occasions, the last being in the 1666 Ballet des Muses when he was in his late twenties.

Monsieur’s notable roles included L’Estoille du Point du Jour (The Morning Star) in Le Ballet de la Nuit in 1653, in which he heralded the appearance of the King as Le Soleil Levant (the role that made Louis, definitively, the Sun King). In 1656, when he was sixteen, Philippe appeared in the Ballet de Psyché as Talestris, Reine des Amazones (Talestris, Queen of the Amazons) with four male courtiers as his fellow female warriors. The customary verses written to celebrate his performance and printed in the ballet’s libretto declared ‘like a true and perfect Amazon, you combine beauty and courage’. After 1656, Monsieur’s appearances in ballets de cour became less frequent, although he did dance in several of these increasingly extravagant productions during the early 1660s.

Following their marriage in 1661, Philippe’s wife Henriette d’Angleterre (sister of Charles II, King of England and known as ‘Madame’) began to take a leading role in court entertainment. She appeared alongside her brother-in-law Louis XIV in a number of ballets. In 1666, Monsieur again took the role of L’Estoille du Point du Jour – this time reflecting the glory of Madame, who appeared as Venus. Below is a list of Monsieur’s dancing roles (spellings generally follow those in the original libretti). At the moment, I do not know why he did not appear in so many of the ballets in which his brother Louis took leading roles as a dancer.

Philippe d’Orleans. Print by François de Poilly I, after Jean Nocret. c 1660. © Trustees of the British Museum

Philippe d’Orleans. Print by François de Poilly I, after Jean Nocret. c 1660. © Trustees of the British Museum

Monsieur’s Dancing Roles:

1651       Ballet de Cassandre (Page de Cassandre)

1651       Ballet des festes de Bacchus (Fille)

1653       Ballet de la Nuit (Galant; L’Estoille du Point du Jour)

1654       Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (Pescheur de Corail; Un Amour)

1654       Ballet du Temps (L’Esté)

1655       Ballet des Plaisirs (Paren des Mariez; Courtisan)

1656       Ballet de Psyché (Talestris, Reine des Amazones; L’Hymen)

1661       Ballet des Saisons (Vendangeur)

1662       Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux (L’Hymen)

1664       Ballet des Amours Déguisés (Amour déguisé en Dieu Marin)

1665       Ballet de la Naissance de Vénus (L’Estoille du Point du Jour)

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