Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Voyagers to the East, Part XXI

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

In an earlier essay in this series, I described the employment of Brazilian Indians in a joyeuse entree - a ceremony of royal entry and submission - staged in 1547 by the French city of Rouen for King Henri II. Rouen may have been the first, but it was not the only French city to incorporate Indians into its joyeuses entrees: in March 1564 the city fathers of Troyes organized for King Charles IX a procession which featured a Native American chief mounted on a horse that was costumed "like a unicorn." A year later (April 1565), when Charles formally entered Bordeaux, its pageant included a procession of captives, among them an unspecified number of Brazilian and North American captives, who joined the citizens in submitting to the king. (Olive Dickason, The Myth of the Savage: and the Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Americas [Edmonton, Alberta, 1984], 213.)

Indians, in fact, appear to have been a "prestige good" in 16th-century France; association with them lent a certain exoticism to one's portfolio (so to speak). During his reign, King Henri II received several Brazilian Indian boys captured by the Tupinamba, whom he subsequently gave to prominent French nobles as gifts - or, more precisely, for their retinues. Several decades later, in 1602, Francois Grave du Pont gave several North American Indian boys to King Henri IV, first monarch of the Bourbon dynasty. Henri, in turn, gave at least one to the Dauphin as a companion, though the Indian boy died at Chateau St. Germain a year later. (Dickason, 212.) To the French, the prestige value of an Indian captive clearly outweighed his or her labor value. And I wonder: did the association of Indian servants with prominent French nobles play any role in shaping the French idea of the "noble savage"?

For the next entry in this series, click here.

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