The Vulgar Goblet of Francis I

May 13, 2012

I’ve always though of the renaissance French nobles as illustrative epitomes of bawdiness mixed with incomparable lascivious tastes draped in luxurious silk and velvet, never short of nightly lecherous affairs or adulterous depravations inspired by the Holly Pope’s own bed adventures. They seemed to me quite a colorful exponents of a highly artsy and bohemian world where culture tangled with unrestrained vices as naturally as the members of debauched lovers. So yesterday, when I ‘ve stumbled across this very delineative paragraph on the less innocent revels at Francis I’s court in my current reading revolving around Henry VIII’s second foxy wife, notorious Lady Boleyn, titled “Mistress Anne” by Carolly Erickson, my favorite biographer of the Tudors personalities, I knew I just had to reproduce it here.

It’s a juicy story about a vulgar goblet passed from hand to hand and table to table with a very specific meaning…

Everywhere they looked the courtiers saw reminders of sexual passion- even in the platters they ate from and the goblets from which they drank their sugared wine. One goblet in particular was handed around at the French court as a sort of touchstone of sexual sophistication. The goblet’s interior surface was engraved with copulating animals, and as the drinker drained it he or she saw, in its depths, a man and woman making love. It amused the prince who owned the goblet to have his servants present it to various women to drink from, so that he could watch their reactions. Some blushed, others whispered to one another in mild astonishment, still others tried to keep their eyes closed while they drank- while at the same time trying to ignore the loud laughter of the prince and the other men present.

Newcomers to court, or the youngest and most innocent women, Brantôme recorded, “maintained a cold smile just at the tips of their noses and lips and forced themselves to be hypocrites” about the goblet, realizing that they had either to drink from it- for the servants refused to serve them from any other- or perish of thirst. But those who had been part of the courtly circle for even a short time laid aside their scruples and drank from the titillating chalice  greedily enough. And often it was those who protested vehemently over the unseemliness of the goblet who were observed to take longer and deeper drinks from it than anyone else. “In a word,” Brantôme wrote, “there were a hundred thousand jokes and witticism tossed to and fro between the gentlemen and the ladies at table about the goblet,” and no doubt it served to when the appetites of all present for the love play that went on after the banqueting was over.

(Carolly Erickson, “Mistress Anne“, 1984)

Isn’t it charming?

 

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4 Responses to “The Vulgar Goblet of Francis I”

  1. Susan Ozmore Says:

    These little tidbits are so much fun. I enjoy your posts and your writing style. Thanks.

  2. Susan Abernethy Says:

    I’m happy to hear someone else loves Carroly Erickson as much as I do! Have you found Alison Weir yet? “The Lady in the Tower” gives a very thorough argument that Thomas Cromwell brought down Anne. Keep up the nice posts!


    • i think i have read it a few years ago, somewhere between the first and the second the Tudors seasons, and utterly loved it as it went hand in hand with my vision of anne and her the intrigue that destroyed her life. thank you for the feedback once again!


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