Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Etiquette from Catherine the Great

Catherine II by Andrey Chorny  |  Treasures of Catherine the Great  |  Abrams, 2000
The following rules of etiquette were posted by Catherine the Great at her Hermitage and are reprinted from the 2000 exhibition catalog of Treasures of Catherine the Great:


1. All ranks shall be left outside the doors,
similarly hats, and particularly swords.

2. Orders of precedence and haughtiness,
and anything of such like which might result from them,
shall be left at the doors.

3. Be merry, but neither spoil nor break anything,
nor indeed gnaw at anything.

4. Be seated, stand or walk as it best pleases you,
regardless of others.

5. Speak with moderation and not too loudly,
so that others present have not an earache or headache.

6. Argue without anger or passion.

7. Do not sigh or yawn, neither bore nor fatigue others.

8. Agree to partake of any innocent entertainment
suggested by others.

9. Eat well of good things, but drink with moderation
so that each should be able always to find his legs
on leaving these doors.

10. All disputes must stay behind closed doors;
and what goes in one ear should go out the other
before departing through the doors.

If any shall infringe the above, on the evidence of two witnesses,
for any crime each guilty party shall drink a glass of cold water,
ladies not excepted, and read a page from the Telemachida* out loud.

Who infringes three points on one evening,
shall be sentenced to learn three lines from the Telemachida by heart.

If any shall infringe the tenth point,
he shall no longer be permitted entry.

* A poem of 1766 by Vasily Trediakovsky, relating to the adventures of Telemachus, son of Odysseus. Over-long, old-fashioned and heavy, the poem was perceived by contemporaries as the very model of bad poetry.


  1. they didn't call her great for nothing-she- the longest-ruling woman of Russia. how the world leaders could learn from the lady. pgt

  2. Hi, Gaye - One discerns from these rules a touch that is both light and firm!

  3. Love this - and just bought the new Catherine the Great book - now even more interested in diving in. I wonder what the punishment of a glass of cold water was - meaning that it wasn't wine?

  4. I completely agree! Have copied and sent this on to a couple of friends. Loved it!

  5. I'm always nervous about admiring Russian rulers and nobility--their enormities almost always turn out to be much greater than anything nice you can say about them. However, Catherine does seem to be about the best of the lot.

    Rule 10 is so vital that I'm glad she singled it out as a "felony" rather than a "misdemeanor". Rule 3 makes a lot of sense, both in terms of behavior and considering all the art treasures she acquired!
    --Road to Parnassus

  6. How very, well...democratic for such an imperial self ¿no dahhling?

  7. Hi Mark, My favorite: "nor indeed gnaw at anything". Did Catherine witness the gnawing of gold from her walls?
    Thanks for the Etiqute lesson. I'll take it to heart. Happy New Year! Gina

  8. A perfect balance of structure and entertainment! That picture just makes me want to wear pearls in my hair! LOL!

  9. Hi, Stacey - When I saw this, I too was interested to read more about Catherine. I hope you do a review of the new book!

  10. Hi, Valerie - We should all keep a copy! I've been to several gatherings where one or two of these rules have been transgressed ...

  11. Archguy, that was my thought exactly. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to watch the rules be enforced.

  12. Hello, HRH - When I read these rules, I thought that they came from someone who had witnessed all the worst of court life, and vowed, "When I'm in charge ..."

  13. Hello, Parnassus - I know what you mean about admiring people who, after all, were despots. I listened to an NPR interview with Robert Massie, who has written the Best Seller that Quintessence mentions, and he said that Catherine was positively adored by the people who surrounded her. I think this set of rules gives a clue to that loyalty. A review of Massie's book can be found here:


  14. Hi, Gina - People have never gnawed on any of my gold objets d'art — have they yours? This rule does make one wonder!

  15. Theresa, I think you'll need to have extentions to wear those pearls. Or you could do what Catherine did, and wear a wig made of silver threads. I'll bet that got hot!

  16. oh -thats just fascinating and I love the sense of humor displayed!

  17. Hi, Stefan - Now I wonder what contemporary American literature would work in a like manner as punishment?

  18. I got the book for Christmas, Mark. Lucky me! I have a feeling this is going to be one helluva read. :)

    I do like her rules already.

  19. Hi, Yvette - Sounds like you had a good Christmas! I received the Steve Jobs biography, and I'm looking forward to starting that. But Catherine will be next on my list!

  20. Hello Mark - can't wait to read the new book; her reputation goes before her. She looks a very imperious women but with a sense of playfulness about her. Her fantastic hair styling and decoration puts todays hair fascinators in the shade!!!

  21. Hello, Rosemary - Queen Victoria admonished her grand-daughters not to mix pearls and diamonds, but Catherine apparently believed more is more! And then a feather on top of that!

  22. She was quite a girl, it's true. I loved the Simon Sebag Montefiori book about Potemkin and her. A lot of her visiting friends were philosophers and writers, whom she appreciated the most, but she welcomed quite a few upwardly mobile favor-seekers (though she was always interviewing new boyfriends)and so I suppose she had something to correct in the behavior of all these types.

  23. Catherine was quite a gal. Many, many years ago and in Dallas, I visited the exhibit of her collections which was traveling around the country. The gilded carriage just said it all! You could so just see her sitting inside.

    1. Concerning Catherine's collections, she had very discerning taste. I looked at a collection of fine cameos that she collected, many which originally came with elaborately jeweled settings. Catherine had all the cameos remounted in plain gold bands so that the settings would not detract from the cameoes. Classy.

  24. I posted this particular blog on my Pinterest and Facebook page. Wouldn't Facebook be a nicer place if these rules by Catherine were followed!

    1. Yes, it certainly would!

      I enjoyed looking at your interesting and evocative photographs.