The Bouche du Roi, or Service de Bouche, was a part of the Maison du Roi -the King’s Household- which consisted of the military, domestic and religious entourage of the King. The members of the Bouche du Roi oversaw and were responsible for the Sun King’s meals and their preparation. It was the largest department within the Maison du Roi and lead by the Premier Maître d’hôtel, a office below the Grand Maître de France.
In Louis XIV’s time the office of Grand Maître de France was held by Louis de Bourbon, Comte de Soissons, from 1612 to 1641; Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, from 1643 to 1646; Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, from 1647 to 1654; Thomas-François de Savoie-Carignan from 1654 to 1656; Armand de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, from 1656 to 1660; Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, from 1685 to 1710, and Louis Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, who held the office from 1710 to 1740.
The Grand Maître de France and Premier Maître d’hôtel were in control of the departments that dealt with the food itself, its preparation and presentation. From tablecloth and candles, to oysters and candied fruit. Each department of the Bouche du Roi had several offices, several sub-departments with several offices, making it the largest in means of people involved. Positions within the Bouche du Roi were highly favoured, for they were seen as the most prestigious. Its members had the grand and important mission to hand the King wine, wipe crumbs away, or present him with most delicious things, while they were seen by the whole court… and as we know, who was not seen, might as well not exist at all….
The Bouche du Roi, under Louis XIV, consisted of twelve grand offices, which’s staff was reduced towards the end of his reign, and again in 1780 as the twelve offices were reduced to six. While the Grand Maître de France was actually in charge of the Bouche de Roi, it was the Premier Maître d’hôtel who ran the whole thing. He was the one who brought the King his breakfast, on which occasion Louis XIV would utter what he would enjoy to eat that day, and handed him a serviette after the King received communion at mass. When hearing the King’s wishes for his meals, it was also his job to remind the King if it was a feasting or special religious day. During the King’s supper, the Premier Maître d’hôtel stood behind and a little left of the King. If unavailable, his duties were performed by the Maître d’hôtel ordinaire.
The Maître d’Hôtel de quartier, a position not held by just one person, but several that served in turn, approved the menu for the Grand Couvert of the King, and the meals of the members of the Royal Family. Those with the office of Gentilhomme servant de la Maison du Roi, served the King, and possible guests, at the Grand Couvert. Those of the office of Huissier de la salle served as ushers. Officiers du serdeau de la Maison du Roi presented those that carry the dishes to the King with a possibility to wash their hands, and took care of dishes that may not be accepted, as well as those that have left overs on them. The Sommier de la Paneterie-bouche took care of objects needed for the King’s meal if the King was travelling.
The Grand Panetier was the King’s Cup-bearer, which tasted and served the wine to the King. The Grand Échanson was the one who changed the plates, cutlery and napkins. The Premier Écuyer Tranchant served the the dishes after the Premier Maître d’hôtel announced the kind of dish and it was presented. The Garde vaisselle de la Paneterie-bouche was responsible for the cutlery and tableware, which they made an inventory of in first every semester and from 1710 on every day. Should anything be damaged, it was the job of the Garde Meuble to have it replaced. The Sommier ordinaire pour le linge was responsible for the tablecloth. The Chef de l’Echansonnerie-bouche took care of everything involving beverages and poured them. He was assisted by the Sommier de l’Echansonnerie-bouche. The Coureur de vin followed the King when hunting, with a bag of red cloth trimmed with gold and decorated with the King’s arms, which contained serviettes, bread, biscuits, fresh and dried fruit, bottles of wine and water, as well as a cup for tasting them. The Conducteur de la haquenée performed the same functions as the Coureur de vin, but when the King was travelling or at campaign. He also took care of a pack horse carrying all the necessary items for the King’s meal in case the Echansonnerie and the Paneterie were late.
The Maître queux de la Cuisine-bouche took care of meat and poultry, while the Hâteur de la Cuisine-bouche was responsible for the roasted meats. The Potager de la Cuisine-bouche prepared soups, broths and sauces. The Pâtissier de la Cuisine-bouche du Roi prepared desserts, cakes and biscuits. The Porteur de la Cuisine-bouche made sure the kitchens don’t run out of wood and coal. The Huissier de la Cuisine-bouche guarded the doors of the Bouche du Roi and walked ahead of various processions involving the Bouche du Roi. The Avertisseur de la Cuisine-bouche served the King on campaigns. The Porte table de la Cuisine-bouche took care of the tables. The Contrôleur ordinaire de la Cuisine-bouche checked the deliveries.
The Garde vaisselle de la Cuisine-bouche monitored everything that was cooked for the King. The Bouteiller et faiseur d’eaux de la Table du Chambellan offered refreshments (tea, coffee, hot chocolate, liqueurs and fresh water in summer) to guests and the servants of the Enfants de France.
The Petit Commun cooked for the Tables d’Honneur and the Grand Commun for the members of the family of the King, which did not eat at the Tables d’Honneur or the King’s table. The Chef de la Paneterie-commun took care of the preparation and serving of the tables secondaires. The Sommier de la Paneterie-bouche watched the bread and table service of the tables secondaires during the trips to Fontainebleau and Compiègne. The Lavandier de la Paneterie-bouche provided the table-cloth for the Tables d’Honneur and tables secondaires in the Grand Commun. The Chef de l’Echansonnerie-commun was in charge of the wine served at the tables secondaires and the Ecuyer de la Cuisine-commun prepared the desserts. The Sommier du garde manger de la Cuisine-commun took care of the dishes of the Grand Commun when the Maison du Roi accompanied the court during the stays in Fontainebleau or Compiègne. The Huissier de la Cuisine-commun monitored the common kitchen. The Porteur de la Cuisine-commun carried water and wood to the kitchen.
The Fruiterie, as the name hints, took care of everything fruit and provided the candles, of white or yellow wax, for the Apartment of the King. La Fourrière provided wood and coal for the Maison du Roi and the King’s Apartment. The Boulanger du Roi provided all of the bread. The Marchand de vin supplied wines of various qualities for the Table du Roi and the tables secondaires of the Maison du Roi.
The Pourvoyeur supplied the meat, fish and seafood, while the Marchand de linge supplied the table-cloth for all tables. The Verduriers de la Cuisine-commun stored and distributed vinegar, verjus, herbs, green vegetables, onions and milk for the use of the common kitchen.
Thirty-six male servants, accompanied by twelve guards, waited on Louis XIV when he sat down for the spectacle that was his evening meal. The officiers de l’gobelet, were preceded by a huissier -usher- and followed by a guard. The courses were brought in by two guards, a huissier, the maître d’hôtel, the contrôleur clerc d’office, gentlemens of the Panetier, the cuisine écuyer de la garde-vaisselle, and another two guards. The cutlery was in the hands of a garde-vaisselle, the tables transported by the porte-tables, and the serdeaux took care of the dirty dishes after they were handed over by the gentlemen-servants.
In around 1680, the department Gobelet, those that were responsible for the beverages the King drank, had 30 employees. It was run by 12 Head Chefs and one assistant chef, another 5 assistants, 4 pages, 4 wine boys and 4 hackney drivers. The Cuisine-Bouche was 82 employees strong, including 4 Masters and their 4 assistants, 4 kitchen garden chefs, 4 pastry chefs, 40 common assistants, 4 porters, 1 controller, 4 safeguards, 4 spear-boys ( who turned the roasts) and 4 pantry boys, along with several others. The Paneterie had 22 employees and the Fruiterie 32, among them 12 chefs, 12 assistants, 4 controllers and 4 regular assistants.