Oct 13, 2014

Their Highness: Altesse des Vosges


Like the Duke of Normandy, at one point the Dukes of Burgundy were arguably more powerful than the King of France. This has never made any sense to me, since the Duke is supposed to be under the King. But then again, we had Bush and Cheney.

That and the seemingly endless list of Marquis, Lords, Marshals, Barons, Knights, Counts we encounter as we travel through France makes me curious: just what is the normal order of power -- the one where the Duke is actually less powerful than the King, that is?

As of a 1575 edict, which established income and estate limits for the titles, the hierarchy of regal power stands:
  • King
  • Prince
  • Duke (provincial governor, usually head of his own army)
  • Marquis (Count of a border region, helping to defend the boundaries of the kingdom, title since 1505)
  • Count / Earl (appointed by the King to govern a city and surroundings, but it also could be somebody in the King's entourage)
  • Viscount (Lieutenant of a Count)
  • Baron (a title that was invented later and of seemingly flexible  meaning, but in any event overseeing lots of property, in the style of a Duke or Count)
Chevaliers -- knights -- were noblemen who were members of a special order or sometimes just of ancient nobility. If you could trace your nobility to 1410 or earlier, it was considered extra powerful. Officially, titles were abolished during the revolution in 1789 and 1790. Napoleon restored them in shifts, in 1817 and 1824, even creating new hereditary titles not associated with property during that time and all the way up to 1870. At that point, France became a Republic once again, but kept the titles based on earlier laws and traditions.

Burgundy is home to the so many Dukes' palaces, there's actually a "route" you can follow to try to see them. My favorite castle for learning about royalty, however, is Bussy-Rabutin, otherwise known as Bussy-le-Grand, built from the 12th - 14th centuries in an early Renaissance style and then owned by Roger de Bussy-Rabutin in the 17th century. He was a general in the royal army under Louis XIV, and also a courtesan, philosopher, and writer. In 1659, he recited a scandalous, hysterical litany of the questionable morals at the court, intending to amuse the King. The King was not amused. He was exiled in the familial castle here in Burgundy.

In 1660, he wrote a satirical pamphlet which continued along the same theme. His mistress, the Marquise de Montglas, thought it was so funny, she had it secretly copied and distributed, ending in the arrest of de Bussy-Rabutin and his imprisonment for 13 months in the Bastille. He was then re-exiled to his castle for the last 17 years of his life, where he continued, not at all contrite, to mock the royal court by having more than 500 portraits painted on the walls, often with biting commentary.

This one, for example (lady on the left, below), reads "Gillonne de Harcour -- Marquise de Piennes at her first marriage, and, in the second, Countess of Fiesque: wife with an admirable air, an ordinary fortune, and the heart of a queen." Lucky for her he thought well of her.

King Louis VI is called "The Fat", but that's not just Bussy-Rabutin's wit. That is, in fact, how everybody refers to Louis VI.

Louis XIV is described as "King of France: the delight and the terror of human kind."


Altesse des Vosges is, as the name suggests, from the Vosges, in Alsace, at the Eastern France at the Swiss and German border. The orange rind cheese is a raw cows' milk cheese, soft and creamy.

It's made in the same area, and with very similar methods, to a Munster cheese, and it's a washed, orange-rind cheese; yet somehow, it's relatively mild and sweet, with only the slightest hint of stinky feet.


Altesse, of course, means "highness" -- literally (as in, how high something is). What's funny is that it is, physically, a very low, flat cheese. No highness at all.


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