The Secret Language of Fans – Inside Rundale Palace

Rundale Manor – The Baltic Versailles


Entering Rundale Manor

Try to imagine living in a time when you’d arrive by horse & carriage to this magnificent palace. You’re there to see the Duke of Courland. Or the Duchess. Perhaps you’re there for tea, or for a waltz in the ballroom. One of the first rooms you may enter is the Golden Hall, filled with gold and marble. It’s similarity to the French Versailles has lead this manor to be dubbed “The Baltic Versailles.”

Golden Hall Rundale Palace Baltic Versailles

Golden Hall

Touring Rundale Palace


Period-costumed characters in Rundale Manor

Taking a tour with three guides dressed in period costume as they lead you through  sitting rooms, parlors, staterooms, and the private chambers of royal family gives you a sneak peak into Victorian grandeur.

The palace was originally built in the 15th century, but was completely torn down in 1772.  It was rebuilt using the stones, bricks and mortar of the original manor but was demolished in 1812 during the Franco-Russian War. Then in the 1880’s, the palace was restored, only to be destroyed again in 1919.

Finally, in 1938, the building was given to the State Historical Museum and has since been returned to its earlier state. Restoration of the palace was completed in 2014 and the rooms are absolutely stunning.

Rooms inside Rundale Palace

One gorgeous room after another… after another… after another

The Ballroom

The white ballroom provides a stunning backdrop to emphasize the colorful dresses and jewels the women wore to events at the palace. As I watched our guides demonstrate a traditional Latvian dance, I agreed that the ornamental white decor made it all the more magical to be there.

I liked the human moment of watching two people dressed for the occasion, indulging in a few moments of the gaiety of the time. It made it easier to imagine the Duke and Duchess as real people surrounded by guests delighted to be there.

Pomp and circumstance aside, the heavily-costumed guests to the palace were just people. Their dress and strict decorum make them seem two-dimensional, but as we wandered into the billiard room, we got a much more scandalous version of the people at the party.  They were making suggestive moves toward each other; moves that we wouldn’t recognize in society today, but boy — moves I would have watched for if I’d been a guest at the palace back then!

Flirting with Fans

We were each given a fan fashionable to carry at the time and then — we were taught how to use them!

Victorian accordian fans

Ornamental fans

Use them? Was there more to it than just simply opening them and fanning our faces with a flick of the wrist?

Oh, yes. There was more. So much more. As soon as we all had our fans, we gathered around our two knowledgeable hostesses and learned the coquettish language of those ornamental fans.

Oh, how I’d love to go back in time and try my hand at subtly flirting with fans! I would love to be a fly on the walls of those long ago rooms, watching sly signals flying between lovers, easily intercepted by anyone who had their eyes open for such behavior. How I’d love to whisper secrets to my allies behind our pretty feminine fans.

The Secret Language of Fans

What are the fans saying? So much!

  • A partially open fan held against her heart signals to a woman’s paramour that she has noticed that he likes her.
  • If she touches the closed fan to the corner of her lips, she’s saying “I love you.”
  • If she touches the mostly-closed fan to her chin and then over her shoulder, chances are that she’s facing her lover and her husband is behind her. She’s telling her lover that her husband is watching.
  • If a woman is tapping her closed fan against her rings, she is telling her lover that she is waiting for a gift.
  • If she puts her fan against her right ear, she’s signalling that he should meet her later.
  • If she is tapping her fan against her skirt as she walks, that means she wants her lover to follow.

Oh, can’t we bring these Victorian customs back into practice? Can you just imagine?


Rundale Palace is filled with stories of marriages and annulments, children born, fortunes made and lost, and the politics of a country often at odds with the battle for its control. Fascinating stuff, for sure.

But if I were alive in that time, my interests would have remained inside the palace; not concerned with worldly politics, but over-consumed, I’m sure, with the domestic politics of the people surrounding me. A lot more fun, if you (furtively) ask me. Even more fun if you know how I respond.


So many secrets inside Rundale Manor

*A huge thank you to Magnetic Latvia for this fantastic tour. All opinions are mine.

Wouldn’t you love to spy on the secret language of fans for an evening?


16 responses to “The Secret Language of Fans – Inside Rundale Palace

  1. I’m not one for such subtle games, haha. I prefer to be blunt, even if it’s awkward. I don’t know how I would have survived back in the day…

    • Oh my gosh. I would have been flicking my fan in so many different ways that I’m sure it would be nonsensical. I’d love it! Even more than flirting myself, I’d love to watch all the secret messages happening around me.

  2. That was a fun tour, Juliann. I’m chuckling about fan language. The one lady certainly seemed to be dressed for play. 🙂 –Curt

  3. Knowing how women back in the day used their fans, I’ll probably never be able to see a period film the same way again! I don’t know that I would be “daring” enough to flirt with fans myself, but I certainly would be keeping my eyes peeled! Feels like it would be an old-fashioned, alternative version of eavesdropping. 😉

    • Yes! Eavesdropping on private messages. It would be so much fun to watch! I’d love to try it myself, but it could be like the old joke of someone at an auction raising their arm to scratch their nose and having it be mistaken as a bid, haha. Who knows what my jumbled fan messages would say?

  4. I love it that gold digging is built into the code. I could never figure out earrings for guys in high school when I was growing up. Left ear, right ear, both ears. It seems like it changes constantly. I bet you could use fans to perfect table talk in Euchre.

  5. I learned to appreciate fans when I was living in Spain with my family especially in the summer riding the metro – it is a necessity and I love the culture and art around these little inventions. Also being a francophile, a culture built on code, it is always interesting to see how other cultures utilize these tools!

  6. I love the white ballroom – so gorgeous! Also, the fan language is so interesting – I didn’t know any of that at all. I have a feeling I would have definitely messed up my signals and start all kinds of drama.

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