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Nobility

FRANCIS THE FIRST was accustomed to say, that when the nobles of his kingdom came to court, they were received by the world as so many little kings; that the day after they were only beheld as so many princes; but on the third day they were merely considered as so many gentlemen, and were confounded among the crowd of courtiers.—It was supposed that this was done with a political view of humbling the proud nobility; and for this reason Henry IV. frequently said aloud, in the presence of the princes of the blood, We are all gentlemen.

It is recorded of Philip the Third of Spain, that while he exacted the most punctilious respect from the grandees, he saluted the peasants. He would never be addressed but on the knees; for which he gave this artful excuse, that as he was of low stature, every one would have appeared too high for him. He showed himself rarely even to his grandees, that he might the better support his haughtiness and repress their pride. He also affected to speak to them by half words; and reprimanded them if they did not guess at the rest. In a word, he omitted nothing that could mortify his nobility.


Editor’s Notes

 ¶ This article is abridged from its original in early (1790s) editions of the Curiosities, in which D’Israeli continued the opening paragraph thus:

These monarchs appear to have entertained the levelling spirit of modern revolutionaries; yet if we are all alike gentlemen, what is to become of so many ingenious genealogies?

Also, a third paragraph formerly concluded the piece:

Voltaire writes, “Persia has one thing in common with China and Turkey, to be without nobility. In those vast dominions, the sole nobility is that of employment; so that worthless men can reap no advantage from the merits of their ancestors.