It’s been almost a year now since Versailles first aired in France and since then it aired in several other countries worldwide, currently in America. During this year, I have met quite a lot of people who had one particular issue with one of the characters. That issue can be partly blamed on the show itself, for it is not explained in it very well…. actually, it is not explained at all.
It is the usage of the word Chevalier as substitute for a first name. Every time I see this, I can not control myself and have to correct it. (Sorry, for that.) I can’t help it and since I can not help it, I might as well explain the whole thing here. Shall we?
The whole issue circles around the Chevalier de Lorraine. In the show, he is just called that and his actual name is, as far as I remember, not mentioned. It is Philippe de Lorraine. He is the Chevalier de Lorraine, that is his title, but it is not his name.
It is actually quite simple. Chevalier is the French word for Knight, thus not a first name. It is a title and when used in addressing someone of that title, the Chevalier, the Knight, has to be used. If you translate that title into English, he is the Knight of Lorraine. Why don’t they call him by his name on the show? Probably to avoid him being confused with the King’s brother. The way they use the word Chevalier in the show is perfectly fine, but it has given many the impression that it is actually his name.
He is also not the only Chevalier around. Rohan is one too. Using the title of Chevalier is something that was very common for what was called a Prince étranger, a foreign Prince. Those were members of a family that had ties to a ruling house outside of France. As in, they are from smaller family branches. Those Princes took the title of Chevalier to because it was deemed more humble than boasting a Prince in their title. By itself, a Chevalier is the lowest ranking title of nobility one can have, but title does not always equal someone’s rank. A Prince étranger, even with the title of Chevalier, still has the rank of a Prince. Our Chevalier de Lorraine comes from the Guise branch of the Ducal House of Lorraine and his rank of Prince étranger makes him entitled to be addresses as Altesse, Highness. So, the most proper way to address him would be ‘His Highness Monsieur the Chevalier de Lorraine’.
Rohan, although the show displays it differently, is of the same title and rank as the Chevalier de Lorraine. In the Prince étranger ranking of who is from the more important and prestigious Prince étranger family, the Chevalier de Lorraine actually outranks the Chevalier de Rohan. Latter is referred to as ‘My Lord’ in the show, for whatever reason, which actually makes no sense. (Unless he became English suddenly.) Rohan is also portrayed as being of a higher rank, which, as we see, is nonsense. Both Chevaliers are of the same rank, with Lorraine coming from the ‘better’ family, thus being more influential. The show is not always correct in addressing, for example, both Madame and Monsieur are called merely Highnesses, when they are actually Royal Highnesses. The difference between those two is, that a Highness can by any Prince or Princesse, while a Royal Highness is, as the name hints, a member of the Royal Family. Both, Madame and Monsieur, are entitled to this form of address since their birth.
Let’s get back to the Chevalier de Lorraine, he is one of many Chevaliers of 17th century France. What makes him a special Chevalier is the whole Prince étranger situation. Not every Chevalier is a Prince étranger, but if you meet a Chevalier, the chances are high that you are actually speaking to a Prince of a foreign Ducal or Princely house. Interesting side information here, some of those Prince étrangers were called cousin by the King, although they were not very closely related to the Bourbons, the Chevalier de Lorraine was one of them.