Fortune favours the bold, but can they hold on to success once they reach it?
Fame, fortune and influence can come quickly and unexpectedly in times of fast technological development! Every day the Internet’s unprecedented reach assists in raising Social Media Monarchs, Blog Wizards, Artistic Geniuses or Political “Passionados” from obscurity into the light of celebrity or to the golden affluence of wealth. However, few of those who make the journey from being unknown, to becoming a public figure, are prepared for the attention that their new status brings. The unpolished conduct and vocabulary of these sudden heroes constantly betray that they are, in fact, newcomers to the table of success, and that they lack the social currency to allow them to play the game well.
Celebrity is a two-edged sword that only does this one thing: it puts you in the spotlight. If your background has conditioned you to grab that sword by the blade rather than by the handle, it will influence how your opportunity to use this chance develops. Some lucky people have the skills of bel portarse– “beautiful conduct” to transform themselves into a fixed star of refinement, dignity, and social engagement. Others are forced to choose the path of attention-seeking through starbursting themselves across the sky in a self-consuming blaze of scandals, dodgy reality-tv and flaunty shopping sprees. Success can become one’s ruin if it is not handled correctly and, alas, today there are precious few mentors for those recently crowned by fame and fortune.
While it is true that success reveals, and mercilessly magnifies someone’s qualities, the opposite is also true: a consistent display of good character traits heralds that the person is a worthy candidate of elevation to influence and prosperity. And true again: those who are ignorant of the virtues of proper conduct may be permanently prevented from seizing any favourable opportunities, regardless of their competency and many talents.
Noble is as noble does: learn the art of princely manners!
It is popularly held that one cannot acquire that elusive quality called “class” unless born into a certain social stratum or unless one comes from a family of old money. Thankfully, all the ancient writers of conduct books and etiquette manuals agree that this is not true! Indeed the whole literary genre of the Specula Principum – “Mirrors for Princes”, from classical to modern times, reveals that not even emperors, kings and princes could rely solely on noble blood or fabulous opulence to point them in the right direction. Princes, and I will use this word in the gender-neutral general meaning of “ruler” throughout this book, have always struggled with the simultaneous blessing and curse of wielding power and enjoying fame.
TheMirrors for Princes, and similar handbooks on manners and self-representation,provided curriculums or at least offered reflections on what it means to behave “princely”. These books were filled with ancient wisdom, advice on etiquette, some shining examples of heroes past and present and, often, words of caution against ruling too selfishly. Being a prince was a dangerous and difficult affair and it required the most rigorous training in order to succeed in the vocation.
Today, as in the days of old, true princes are far and few between. Contemporary royal families no longer rely solely on inter-marriage between bluebloods, but more often let commoners into their circle. This new tendency for royals to marry outside their own echelon brings the need to institute fast-track training programs for the new in-laws. However, these courtly curriculums cannot reach the same depth of understanding as that of someone who is noble born and princely bred.
These are the good news: if even princes themselves, with all their mystic lineages and golden crowns, must learn to behave “princely”, then anyone willing to study could achieve the same results! This book, a contemporary Mirror for Princes researched from the best sources, will give you tools to move through social life with all the confidence and dignity of a prince. If you study, practice and reflect on the material you will develop that quality of effortless elegance that the renaissance writer Baldassare Castiglione, author of the Book of the Courtier (1528) , calls“sprezzatura”.
Dancing master, researcher and prince
In the old days it was the dance and fencing masters who were responsible for teaching elegance and manners to the sons and daughters of the nobility. Etiquette training at the time taught that it was the control of base and physical impulses that set nobles apart from commoners. The regimen included fencing, dancing, riding, playing instruments and acquiring a familiarity with the culture and protocols of the elite. All these activities aimed to resist gravity’s downward pull on the body, as well as transcending the physical and psychological hardships that was the reality of the vast majority. Thus, being noble came to mean the same as being “refined”, “studied” and “sophisticated”.
Physically this translated into an upright position of the spine, an open chest, a lifted chin and carefully measured movements of the limbs. In contrast, the common folk would seem bent and crooked, with little control of their bodily functions. Manners, from the old French maniere – ”sort” or“method” or “custom”, became a means for the ruling class to distinguish themselves from the rest of the population. Over time, knowledge of these elite “customs” became an identity marker as well as a propaganda tool to legitimize an aristocratic system that kept power and resources within the governing clique.
Although etiquette and knowledge of body language was a vital part in my own training as a professional dancer, it was only much later that I started researching the history of manners, and specifically the Mirror for Princes genre, more thoroughly.
Now, since I come from a family of caterers and professional party planners, I have attended literally hundreds of parties, weddings and similar social functions. Knowledge of table manners and correct social behaviour, together with a honed attentiveness to the guests’ needs, form the cornerstones in the event planner’s trade. I was very lucky to be given these tools at an early age, and all those years of serving in the family business provided rich opportunities to observe the activities of the socially adept…
…as well as the awkward mishits of the inept.
Then, in December 2014, I found myself in a situation where my previous training to achieve elegance of movement, and my family’s transmitted knowledge bank of etiquette and professional hospitality, suddenly wasn’t quite enough. With my fortieth birthday around the corner, I had already started my transition away from the field of dance and choreography a few years earlier, and now I had a fresh master’s degree in contemporary performance art.
Armed with my diploma and a sense of adventure I set out on the, still fairly new, field of artistic research. My latest area of interest involved investigating how my childhood fascination for fantasy literature, roleplaying games, magic and European history would translate into a ceremonial and symbol-heavy live art.
In an arts grant application I Freudian typed, that is unintentionally misspelled, the name of the city district where I grew up. The district’s mundane name is Lorensberg but my butterfingers’ late-night stumbling over the computer keyboard alchemically transformed it into Lorenzburg. This seemingly innocent accident has since proved to be one of the most golden opportunities in my artistic career! Lorenzburg, or the Most Serene Principality of Lorenzburg, quickly developed from harmless typo to a large-scale community art platform in the shape of a contemporary fairy tale realm. The project was lucky to be supported early on by substantial grants from the local Arts Council as well as from the municipality of Karlstad. Since then I have dedicated most of my research and creativity to developing this “micronation” by initiating super-local projects and by representing the nation as its prince. This is when I discovered that working full time as a prince requires far more, in terms of tact and knowledge of etiquette, than even I already possessed.
And so began an extensive research into conduct books, obscure medieval treatises, Mirrors for Princes and authentic renaissance self-help books on the art of being a gentleman. It is my great honour to share some of that research in this book.