Halloween Superstitions of the 19th Century

Halloween superstitions
Queen Victoria Celebrating Halloween. Public Domain.

There were many Halloween superstitions of the nineteenth century that were steeped in tradition. For instance, in Wales, bonfires were lit and white stones cast into the ashes to determine how long a person would live. If any stone was visible in the morning, it was claimed, the person who threw in the stones would not live to see another birthday. The same belief existed in the Scottish Highlands where a large-scale version of this was seen each year at Balmoral when Queen Victoria visited. She carried a lighted torch, and tossed it “upon the fire, in which a grotesque figure [was] burnt, whose supposed cries [were] presumed to be drowned by the sound of bagpipes.”[1]

Halloween was also the time when witches, warlocks, and fairies enjoyed revels. In Irish and Scottish folklore there was also the Phooka, “a large, dusky-looking create that sometimes took the form of a horse or pony, sometimes that of a bull, and not unfrequently of a huge bird like the roc, with fire gleaming from its eyes and nostrils.”[2] The Phooka lurked around on Halloween, crept noiselessly upon travelers, and slinked between their legs before throwing them to the moon, plunging them into a lake, or flying with them over mountains or remote realms. Continue reading

Marie Antoinette’s Cabinetmaker: Jean-Henri Riesener

Marie Antoinette's Cabinetmaker: Jean-Henri Riesener
Portrait of Jean-Henri Riesener seated at one of his writing tables, 1786, by Antoine Vestier. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marie Antoinette’s cabinetmaker, or ébéniste in French, was Jean-Henri Riesener. He was born in Gladbeck, Westphalia, Germany, on 4 July 1734 and moved to Paris in 1754. In Paris, he became apprenticed to another cabinetmaker named Jean-François Oeben, Oeben was the man who worked extensively for Louis XV’s mistress, Madame Pompadour, and he was the maternal grandfather of the painter Eugène Delacroix. Riesener also later married Oeben’s widow after Oeben died in 1763.

In January of 1768, Riesener received the title of master ébéniste. The following year he began supplying furniture to the Crown, and, in July 1774, he formally became ébéniste ordinaire du roi, “the greatest Parisian ébéniste of the Louis XVI period.”[1] The Chateau de Versailles describes Riesener’s extraordinary abilities in glowing terms: Continue reading

Polite Robber of the 18th Century: Louis Mandrin

Polite Robber of the 18th Century: Louis Mandrin
Louis Mandrin at Age 36, Author’s Collection

Louis Mandrin was a well-known French smuggler and highwayman during Louis XV’s reign. He was also extremely popular during his lifetime and considered the Robin Hood of France because he rebelled against Louis XV’s tax collectors. The tax collectors, called fermiers, collected taxes for salt (the gabelle), tobacco, and farming. The tax collectors had to pay a specific amount to the king, but they could exact what they wanted from the people, and as many were greedy, most people hated them.

Mandrin became legendary for his exploits. He also formed a gang, became its leader, and targeted unpopular tax collectors, which gained him loyalty and support from the local population as they too felt abused by the tax collectors. He also, supposedly, at least once, presented himself as a polite robber, and one nineteenth century English newspaper published an article about the robbery, which is provided below verbatim:

“In the year 1754 Mandrin made his appearance at the gates of Montbrison, and, being numerously escorted no one ever thought of offering the least resistance. He then took up quarters in the town, levied no contributions on the inhabitants, and maintained the strictest discipline among his troops; even ordering one of his companions to be shot for having stolen an object of trifling value. Continue reading

Principles of Politeness for the Georgian Gentlemen

Gentleman of the Georgian Era. Author’s Collection.

The term “gentleman” in the eighteenth century was described variously, and images of what a gentleman entailed was debated by writers. The famous English essayist, writer, and moralist Dr. Samuel Johnson commented that “any other derivation of this difficult word than that which cause it to signify ‘a man of ancestry’ is whimsical.”[1] Thus, he supported the idea that a gentleman was born as a gentleman and included both constituents of the English aristocracy: the peerage and the gentry. Other writers thought differently. The British literary and society journal called the Tatler begun by Richard Steele in 1709, asserted that “the appellation of Gentleman is never to be affixed to a man’s circumstances, but to his Behaviour in them.”[2]

Steele was onto something as this came to be the modern parlance for the term beginning in the early 1700s. Thus, based on Steele’s idea of gentlemanly behavior, one eighteenth century writer provided 35 politeness tips for the Georgian gentleman. I have summarized these 35 points in the following list:

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Madame Elisabeth’s Château Montreuil

Portrait of Madame Élisabeth, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Portrait of Madame Élisabeth. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Madame Élisabeth was the younger sister of King Louis XVI and sister-in-law to Marie Antoinette. In her youth, Madame Élisabeth spent many wonderful days at an estate called Montreuil. In 1783, the estate belonged to the Princess de Guémenée who served as governess to the King’s and Queen’s children between 1775 and 1782. But the Princess de Guémenée resigned and was forced to sell Montreuil because of her husband’s financial issues and bankruptcy.  Without Madame Élisabeth’s knowledge, the King then bought the estate for her as a birthday present when she turned 19.

Marie Antoinette wanted to surprise Madame Élisabeth and suggested they drive out to see the estate one last time as news had leaked that it had been sold. Once there, Marie Antoinette surprised Madame Élisabeth by remarking, “Sister, you are in your own house. This is to be your Trianon.”[1] However, the birthday gift came with one caveat: The King would not allow Madame Élisabeth to sleep over night at the estate until she turned 25, and, so, each day she traveled faithfully from Versailles to her little piece of heaven called Montreuil. Continue reading

Anecdotes of the Princesse de Lamballe’s Travels

Princesse de Lamballe. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The Princesse de Lamballe enjoyed traveling and went numerous places in and around France. Sometimes she traveled with the King and Queen’s court, her sister-in-law (Louise Marie Adelaide), or her adopted daughter (Madame de Lâge]. Sometimes these trips were for relaxation and sometimes they were targeted to help the princess’s health as she suffered from convulsive vapors and was said to faint at the slightest thing. For instance, numerous observers reported that she fainted from the smell of violets, at the sight of a lobster (even in a painting), or after hearing the famous castratro, Gaspare Pacchierotti.

The first anecdote is about a trip to the Fontainebleau Palace, which is located southeast of Paris some 43 miles away. It was a spot that King Louis XVI and his court traveled to annually, and during one of these annual trips in 1775, the Queen and the Princesse de Lamballe decided to relax by sailing on what the Queen called her Gondolas on a lake near the palace.

“[A] gondola window fell and hit the Queen, bruising her arm. The event so frightened the princess that she fainted, and when she awoke, she found the Queen solicitous for her welfare while everyone else tended to the Queen.”[1] Continue reading

11 Facts About Marie Antoinette You May Not Know

facts about Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette at the age of thirteen; by Joseph Ducreux, 1769. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marie Antoinette is often considered one of the most fascinating and interesting women of 18th century France. If you are familiar with her at all, you probably know that she was born on 2 November 1755 and was the fifteenth and second youngest child of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. She married Louis-Auguste (later Louis XVI) by proxy at age fourteen on 19 April 1770 and met him for the first time about a month later at the edge of the Forest of Compiègne.

When Louis XV died about four years later, Louis-Auguste assumed the throne as Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette then became Queen of the French. She and Louis XVI had four children — Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Louis-Joseph, Louis-Charles (Louis XVII), and Sophie — and only Marie-Thérèse Charlotte grew to adulthood. However, there are many other interesting things about her, and, so, here are 11 facts about Marie Antoinette you may not know. Continue reading

The Indictment Against Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette au Tribunal révolutionnaire. By Alphonse François From Painting by Paul Delaroche (1857). Courtesy of Library of Congress
Marie Antoinette au Tribunal révolutionnaire. By Alphonse François From Painting by Paul Delaroche (1857). Courtesy of Library of Congress.

An indictment against Marie Antoinette was drawn up by the Public Accuser of the Revolutionary Tribunal, Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville, on 13 October 1793. The indictment considered the Queen’s life, “from the epoch of her marriage in 1770, to the memorable era of the 10th of August, 1792.”[1]

Once the indictment was prepared, it was given to the Queen. At the time, she was imprisoned at the Conciergerie as Prisoner no. 280. She requested defenders, which was granted. She then selected lawyer Guillaume Alexandre Tronson du Coudray and the well-known and respected lawyer Claude François Chauveau-Lagarde. Because her trial was scheduled to begin the next morning on 14 October, her defense team had less than a day to prepare. 

The Norfolk Chronicle published the indictment, and it is provided below verbatim: Continue reading

French Folklore and Charles Perrault’s Tale of Bluebeard

Charles Perrault. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Charles Perrault was a seventeenth century French author and member of the Académie Française, and French folklore became synonymous with him because he was the person who laid the foundation for a new form of literary genre known as the fairy tale. Among the many fairy tales that he wrote was one called Barbe Bleue or Bluebeard. It was first published in 1697 and was intriguing enough to permeate literature of the eighteen and nineteenth centuries even though the story was written in the seventeenth century. 

Bluebeard was the story of a wealthy, violent, and ugly nobleman named Bluebeard because of his indigo blue colored beard. Bluebeard had married several times only to have his wives mysteriously vanish and his story began with him having once again “lost” a wife. Wishing to find a new wife, Bluebeard visited a neighbor who had three lovely daughters. Unfortunately, for Bluebeard the daughters were fearful of him because of his odd colored beard, and none of them wanted to become his wife. To convince the daughters that they have nothing to fear, Bluebeard hosted a sumptuous feast and regaled the daughters with charming stories and plied them with dainty treats. The daughters began to think that perhaps Bluebeard was not so bad, and, so, when he selected the youngest daughter to take as his bride, she willing went to live with him in his three-story castle in the countryside. Continue reading

Louis XVI’s Sibling: Count of Artois or Charles X

Charles Philippe of France was born 9 October 1757 at the Palace of Versailles. He was the youngest son of the Dauphin Louis and the Dauphine Marie Josèphe and was known throughout most of his life as the Count of Artois (Comte d’Artois). His father died in 1765 and his mother died two years later from tuberculosis. This left Charles and his siblings — Louis Auguste (the future Louis XVI), Louis Stanislas, Count of Provence (the future Louis XVIII), Clotilde (“Madame Clotilde”), and Élisabeth (“Madame Élisabeth”) — orphans. Because the Count of Artois was the youngest, it seemed unlikely he would ever become king.

The Dauphin Louis and the Dauphine Marie Josèphe, Public Domain
The Dauphin Louis and the Dauphine Marie Josèphe. Public domain.

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