On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Courses de testes et de bague faites par le roy et par les princes et seigneurs de sa cour en l’année 1662, engraved by François Chauveau (1613-1676) and Israël Silvestre (1621-1691), text by Charles Perrault (1628-1703), Paris, Imprimerie Royale, 1670 ; acc. No. 3178

Ten Lords a-leaping

The prints here depict a ‘carousel’. The images however do not depict festive fairground rides, but elegant Lords on horseback, galloping and leaping. This is because in the seventeenth century the term did not refer to the merry-go-round but to an equestrian display or tournament in which groups of riders, divided into quadrilles (troops) distinguished by their costume, competed to spear a ring or bring down a papier mâché head whilst at full gallop. These events were brought to Europe during the Moorish invasion of Spain in the 8th century, later establishing themselves in Italy and then France by the late 1500s.

 Carousels reached their height of popularity in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV, after which they were no longer held. The first and most impressive was held in Paris in 1662, to celebrate the birth of his heir. It was commemorated by the publication of this festival book, Courses de Testes et de Bagues. It was lavishly illustrated with 104 plates and described in detail the costumes of the riders and horses. It was published in both French and Latin, so it could be circulated outside France. Louis XIV was particularly proud of this publication and had his own copy hand-coloured.

The decorations and costumes worn by the courtiers conveyed symbolic and heraldic meanings in line with the general theme of the event. Each courtier had a device (an emblem and a motto) that represented his character in the carousel. Louis XIV appeared as the head of the Roman quadrille, in the costume of a Roman emperor. His device was a sun and it was from this moment that the king adopted it as his universal emblem.[1]


[1] Exhibition: ROYAL SPECTACLE: Ceremonial and Festivities at the Court of France, Waddesdon Manor (26 March- 26 October 2014), curated by Selma Shwartz and Rachel Jacobs


12 Days of Christmas calendar