Origins of April Fools’ Day or France’s April Fish

April Fools' Day or Poisson d'Avril, from Crunch Hearts
Postcard Celebrating Poisson d’avril, from Crunchy Hearts

The first mention of 1 April and foolishness reputedly began with Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales published in 1392. However, his brief mention did not result in April Fools’ Day, and despite the origins of the holiday remaining somewhat obscure, one of the most popular versions of how the holiday originated is attributed to France.

What is known is that the holiday appears to have been mentioned in 1508 by French poet Eloy d’Amerval who referred to “poisson d’avril.” Poisson d’avril literally translates to “April Fish.” However, poisson d’avril actually means April fool and is “explained by the fact that the sun in April crosses the zodiacal sign of the fish” and because, in France, the mackerel (known as poisson d’avril) was “easily caught [in April] by deception, singly, as well as in great shoals.” Continue reading

13 Tips for Regency Travelers in Paris

Regency travelers
Military Review in 1810, in front of Palais des Tuileries, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Paris, called by some people the sphere of the world, was a popular tourist destination in the Regency Era. Part of the reason for its popularity had to do with the wide range of sights and activities available there. Regency travelers could visit the Louvre, drink coffee at one of the many cafes in the Palais-Royal, or stroll through the Tuileries Gardens. They could also attend a horse race, listen to an opera, enjoy a carnival, attend the theatre, or spend time shopping. Because Regency travelers were so prevalent, one nineteenth century writer published thirteen tips to help the continental travelers avoid problems and enjoy their time in Paris. Here they are (almost) verbatim: Continue reading

Louis-Charles, The Dauphin and Louis XVII

Louis-Charles, the Dauphin and Future Louis XVII, Author's Collection
Louis-Charles, the dauphin and future Louis XVII. Author’s collection.

Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy, was the second son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI and born on 27 March 1785 at Versailles. He was baptized the same day as his older brother, Louis-Joseph, and because Louis-Joseph was Dauphin, Louis-Charles’s course in life was set so that “he might do ‘that which was right in the sight of the Lord.'”[1] However, Louis-Joseph died on 4 June 1789, from tuberculosis and this meant that at tender age of four Louis-Charles inherited the title of Dauphin.

Among the descriptions written about the new dauphin was one that described him in the following manner:

“[He was] well-shaped and graceful; his forehead broad and open, his eyebrows arched; his large, blue eyes, fringed with long chestnut lashes … his complexion, dazzlingly fair, was blended with a brilliant bloom; his hair, dark chestnut, curled naturally, and fell in thick ringlets on his shoulders; he had the vermilion mouth of his mother, and, like her, a small dimple on the chin. His physiognomy, at once noble and gentle, recalled the dignity of Marie Antoinette, the amiability of Louis XVI.”[2] Continue reading

21 Nicknames of Napoleon

Nicknames of Napoleon Bonaparte, Author's Collection
Napoleon Bonaparte, Author’s Collection

Nicknames have always been popular. They serve as substitute for a person’s proper name and are sometimes used affectionately or at other times as a form of ridicule. Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution, was the recipient of both types of nicknames. One of the first nicknames he acquired was “Nabulio,” which mean little meddler. This affectionate nickname was given to him by his family and referred to the mischief he reputedly caused. Napoleon later acquired many other nicknames. Among the many nicknames that he acquired are twenty-one (list below), as well as a brief description of how he obtained each one. Continue reading

Places of the French Revolution: Tuileries Palace

Tuileries Palace in the 1700s, Public Domain
Palais des Tuileries in the 1700s, Public Domain

The Tuileries Palace (Palais des Tuileries) stood on the right bank of the River Seine and was home to many French monarchs, from Henry IV to Napoleon III. It began its existence in 1564, when it was built by Catherine de Medici in the tile yards (tuileries), from which the palace took its name. According to the plan, created by Philibert de l’Orme, one of the great masters of the French Renaissance, it “was to be a true palace of the French kings, with a royal facade, the most beautiful gardens, and the most magnificent courtyards.” Continue reading

A Rat Problem in France in the Early 1800s

Rat problem
Brown Rat, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1828, there was a tremendous problems with rats in Montfaucon. The rat problem was located in an area that neighbored the villages of Pantin and Romainville and is today located in the eastern suburbs of Paris. Part of the rat problem was attributed to a slaughter-house located in the area owned by a man named Dussaussois. Authorities conducted discussions about moving the slaughter-house because they thought moving it might eliminate or reduce the rat problem. However, residents in the immediate area argued against it. They believed moving the slaughter-house a great distance from Paris would result in dangerous consequences if the rats were suddenly deprived “of their accustomed sustenance.” Continue reading

The Hope Diamond, Its Curse, and the French

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, First Owner of the Hope Diamond, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The deep sapphire blue Hope Diamond, also known as the “Tavernier Blue,” “Le Bijou du Roi” (the King’s Jewel), or “Le bleu de France” (“the Blue of France”), is an enormous 45.52 carats. This diamond, described in the 1900s as a “good sized horse chestnut” but shaped like a pear, was supposedly discovered in India in the seventeenth century. Exactly who discovered it, who owned it, and where it was found is unclear.

The diamond’s first known owner was a French merchant-traveler named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. He obtained possession of the diamond in the mid-1660s, although no one knows whether he purchased it, stole it, or obtained it by deception. According to Tavernier, the diamond was discovered in the Kollur Mine in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which at the time was part of the Golconda kingdom.

Continue reading

On French Customs and Manners by a Scotsman

Tobias George Smollett, by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, ca. 1764, French Customs, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Tobias George Smollett, by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, ca. 1764, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Tobias George Smollett was a Scottish poet and author best known for his eighteenth century novels, which included The Adventures of Roderick Random and The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. Smollett was also a great traveler with strong opinions. In the mid 1700s he went abroad with his wife and did so not only for pleasure but also because he was ordered to go by his physicians. He also traveled for one other reason: A “deliberate intention of making as much money as possible out of his Travel papers.” The result was Travels through France and Italy, a book published in 1766 composed of lively travel letters and written by Smollett with wit and acerbity. In addition, wherever he traveled he quarreled: He quarreled with innkeepers, postilions, and fellow travelers. He also held foreigners in contempt and derided their customs, their social status, and their faith.

One letter dated October 12, 1763, mentioned the manners and customs of the French. Here is a portion of it (almost) verbatim: Continue reading

Moustache, The French Army Poodle

French army poodle
Poodles, Author’s Collection

Moustache, or as he was sometimes called Mous, was a black French poodle who some people claim took part in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. His feats became legendary and many people wrote about his exploits, sometimes exaggerating or fictionalizing them. Between the exaggeration and fiction it has become nearly impossible to know the precise truth, and so this post probably incorporates elements of both.

Moustache’s story begins with his birth in September 1799 at Falaise, in Normandy, France. Six months later he was the pet of a grocer living in Caen who treated him kindly. One day when out for a stroll, Moustache happened upon a parade of grenadiers who had just returned from Italy. “They were brilliantly equipped—their spirits were high—and their drums loud.” Enthralled by the noise, the excitement, and their marching, Moustache supposedly “joined the grenadiers … [before] they had marched an hour [away from town].” Continue reading

A French Balloon Duel

A Duel In The Bois De Boulogne, Near Paris, Courtesy of Wikipedia
A Duel In The Bois De Boulogne, Near Paris, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Frenchmen were well-known for defending their honor by dueling. In fact, according to one historian, during an eighteen-year period within Henry IV’s reign, more than 4,000 French aristocrats were killed because of dueling. During a twenty-year period in Louis XIII’s reign, 8,000 pardons were granted for “murders associated with duels.” So, with all the duels, perhaps, the most bizarre duel that ever occurred between French happened in 1808 when Napoleon Bonaparte was Emperor.

The duel was not an ordinary one as it was to take place midair with each man firing from his own balloon. However, the reason for the balloon duel was ordinary. It originated over a celebrated opera dancer at the Paris Opera named Mademoiselle Tirevit. She was being kept by Monsieur de Grandpré but became involved with Monsieur le Pique. Both men laid claim to Tirevit’s heart, and it was decided the only way the men could resolve the situation was with a balloon duel.  Continue reading