Louis Vuitton Malletier, left home at age 14 and headed for Paris. There he became apprenticed as packer and trunkmaker, having learned the skills of carpentry from his father. Within ten years, Vuitton gathered enough experience to make himself an expert box and luggage builder, and, in addition, he learned how to expertly pack clothing for well-to-do women traveling on long voyages. This helped him to become the exclusive packer to Napoleon III’s wife, the Empress Eugenie.
With all his expertise in packing and trunkmaking, Vuitton opened his own shop in Paris in 1854 on Rue Neuve des Capucines. In 1858, Vuitton noticed that a London based company, H.J. Cave, had an Osilite trunk (a strong light trunk) that could be stacked. This was important because at the time traveling trunks were designed with rounded tops to help with water run off and could not be stacked. Seeing the Osilite trunk inspired Vuitton to create a stackable trunk, which became such a hit, it inspired other luggage makers to copy Vuitton’s design and style. Continue reading →
Francis Henry Egerton, 8th and last Earl of Bridgewater, (known as Francis Egerton until 1823), was a first-class British eccentric. One newspaper noted of him that “no one has higher claims to a distinguished place in … history than Mr. Egerton.” Part of their illustrious opinion of him may have had to do with the fact that an immense fortune enabled “him to gratify the most extravagant caprices that ever passed through the head of a rich Englishman.”
Examples of his eccentricities varied, but one rather memorable event involved a book he borrowed from a friend.
“He carried his politeness so far as to send it back, or rather have it [conducted] home in a carriage. He [gave] orders that two of his most stately steeds be caparisoned under one of his chariots, and the volume, reclining at ease in milord’s landau, [arrived] attended by four footmen in costly livery, at the door of its astounded owner.” Continue reading →
Maria Theresa was Marie Antoinette’s mother, but before she became a mother, she was a child herself. She was born to Emperor Charles VI and Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel on 13 May 1717 at the Hofburg Palace. Her older brother, Leopold John, had been born on 13 April 1716, but he died when he was seven months. Thus, there was great rejoicing in the kingdom when a healthy baby girl was born. (She was also the oldest of three girls, her younger sisters were the Archduchess Maria Anna and the Archduchess Maria Amalia, who lived to be only six years old.)
Because of the loss of Leopold John and the difficulty of having children, Charles VI took steps to provide for a male-line succession failure with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, a document which abolished male-only succession. The sanction allowed Maria Theresa or any of Charles VI’s other daughters to succeed over the children of his elder brother and predecessor, Joseph I. Moreover, Charles VI “felt the importance of securing his beloved daughter’s undisputed title to the throne,” even though he remained disappointed Maria Theresa was not a boy and knew the male line would die with him. Maria Theresa also recognized her political importance, and it was said from an early age she “seemed one of nature’s queens, born to reign and subdue.” Continue reading →
The French National Guard (called la Garde nationale by the French) was a militia that existed from 1789 until 1872 and was separate from the French Army. It favored the middle class and served both as a military and policing force. According to one newspaper, a French politician and diplomat, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, better known simply as Talleyrand, often told a story about how the National Guard originated.
According to Talleyrand, he and Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, a French Roman Catholic abbé, clergyman, and political writer, were walking through the gardens of Tuilieres prior to the French Revolution breaking out. Opposite the gate at the place de Louis XV (later the place de la Révolution and later renamed place de la Concorde), a little beggar girl, leading an old woman on crutches, approached Sieyès and solicited alms from him. He presented her with a sou, which in her zeal to seize, she dropped. Continue reading →
Paris hosted five World Fairs. The first of these World Fair’s occurred in 1855 and was called the Exposition Universelle. It came about after Britain hosted the 1851 Great Exhibition of Works of Industry of all Nations. Napoleon III hoped to outdo England’s famous exhibition with its Crystal Palace that was used to house the exhibition. He also hoped to increase France’s reputation and popularize his political role in the world. Although Paris’s Exposition Universelle was not a financial success, it did become a political success in that it legitimized the Second French Empire and put Paris on the map as an international city. Continue reading →
It was common for the English to travel to France. One nineteenth century English traveler kept detailed notes about his 1822 trip and experiences as he traveled from Calais to Paris, France. He also noted the reason for his trip was “to give a true picture of France and Frenchmen: if my countrymen and fair countrywomen will believe the report of a plain but close observer, they may derive a useful warning against the follies and vices of a nation which they have, perhaps, been taught to envy, and learn to appreciate the honest bluntness of an Englishman, the liberty of the subject, and striking comforts of John Bull’s society.”
Here is one section about his trip and “the humanity and economy of the French character.” (It is almost verbatim but with sections rearranged for easier and clearer reading): Continue reading →
Louis François Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, better known as the Duc de Richelieu, was Louis XIV’s godson. He was also known as a man with loose morals who enjoyed numerous lovers, including the novelist Claudine Guérin de Tencin’s two sisters — Marie Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans, Duchess de Berry, and her younger sister Charlotte Aglaé d’Orléans — and their first cousin, Louise Anne de Bourbon.
Because the handsome Duc de Richelieu was the Adonis of the day and prone to womanizing, he often found himself involved in various disputes that resulted in duels. However, the duel Richelieu may be best remembered for was not fought by him but rather fought over him. It occurred between two of his lovers, the Marquise de Nesle, daughter of the Duc de Mazarin, and her sister-in-law, Madame de Polignac. Continue reading →
Many places in France hold memories of the French Revolution. Among the places perhaps most associated with the revolution is the Bastille. The impregnable Bastille was originally built as a fortress and metamorphosed into a prison. It was located on the left bank of the Seine and served as a lightning rod for French revolutionaries who viewed it as a symbol of Louis XVI’s tyranny and monarchical despotism and who, as a result, stormed it on 14 July 1789. Continue reading →
Although one of the first references to bluestockings appeared in 1638, the term bluestocking did not became common until the 1700s. The term was applied to literary ladies and conferred on a society of literary persons of both sexes. Literary societies in England had been influenced by French salons, where conversation was famous. Moreover, these societies were equivalent to the Frenchbas bleu from the 1500s that applied to French literary women.
One of the most active promoters of England’s bluestocking society was Benjamin Stillingfleet. He was a distinguished botanist, translator, and writer. He was also a tutor, and he and William Windham — Stillingfleet’s relative and pupil — set off on the Grand Tour in 1737. In 1740, while they were in Geneva, they formed a community said to be “dedicated to the pursuit of literary discussion and play-reading.” This was partly why some people have claimed that Stillingfleet was the first bluestocking. Continue reading →
George Pocock was an English schoolteacher who became interested in kites and began experimenting with them. His interest gradually progressed to him using kites to lift small items and then light loads. By the 1820s, Pocock was experimenting with kites that could lift people. This resulted in Pocock rigging a chair in 1824 that lifted his daughter into the air, and, later that same year, his son also ascended in a chair above a cliff outside of Bristol.
Having concluded that kites were capable of lifting humans, Pocock then turned his attention to using kites to pull loads. He began attaching a small number of kites to carriages and, in 1826, patented the “Charvolant.” The Charvolant consisted of two kites on a single line that was 1,500 to 1,800 feet long and was capable of pulling a carriage with several passengers at a fairly fast speed. Thus, the kite carriage was born. Continue reading →