Petit Ranelagh or the French Ranelagh

Petit Ranelagh or the French Ranelagh
Ranelagh Gardens Rotunda in London. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Petit Ranelagh or the French Ranelagh, sometimes called Garden of the Ranelagh, has an interesting history. It began in 1773, with a barrier guard and a lodge keeper named Morison (also sometimes spelled Morisan). Morison had an inn in the Bois de Boulogne. He obtained permission from the Prince de Soubise, who was the governor of the Château de la Muette, to erect a building in imitation of the one built by the first Earl of Ranelagh. The Earl of Ranelagh’s had been built on the banks of the Thames between 1688–89 and was called Ranelagh Gardens. Continue reading

Marie Antoinette’s White Hair

Pouf a la Belle Poule, Public Domain
Pouf a la Belle Poule. Public Domain.

Marie Antoinette’s hair was of intense interest to the French in the 18th century. In fact, the hairstyles she created and wore helped to establish her identity as a French queen. With the help of her hairdresser, Marie Antoinette created some of the most memorable styles, including one towering pouf that featured a French frigate, complete with masts and rigging, called Pouf a la Belle Poule. Eventually, however, the queen’s hair began falling out. Just as quickly as her towering pouf hairstyles had risen to extraordinary heights, short locks became all the rage when her hair was chopped off.

The Queen’s hair changed again after France found itself in the middle of a revolution. It was reported that suddenly the Queen’s strawberry blonde hair was white and that it became white practically over night. But the idea that a person’s hair can turn white over night, did not first happen to the French Queen. The first mention of someone’s hair turning white overnight was printed in the Talmud, where it was claimed that it happened to a 17-year-old Jewish scholar because of overwork. There were also apparently other cases of hair turning white over night, which were pointed out by one nineteenth-century doctor in the following description: Continue reading

The Actress La Clairon’s Ghost Story

La Clairon, Author's Collection
La Clairon, Author’s Collection

The girl born Clair Josèphe Hippolyte Leris became the famous French actress known as Mademoiselle La Clairon. Because of her fame, La Clairon wrote her Mémoires, a book that contained many interesting tidbits about her acting career. However, what seemed to generate the most interest from her book was “the celebrated history of the lady’s ghost.”

The ghost was “the spectre of a young Breton whom she had pitilessly left to die of love.” It seems the young Breton was so heartbroken when she refused to see him one last time, he vowed on his death-bed in 1743 to haunt her the remainder of her life. Supposedly, his vow came true because thereafter his ghost visited La Clairon in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected times and was claimed to be “perpetual.” Continue reading

Explorer, Naturalist, and Ornithologist Extraordinaire François Levaillant

Explorer, naturalist, and ornithologist extraordinaire named François Levaillant
François Levaillant. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Explorer, naturalist, and ornithologist extraordinaire François Levaillant was born on 6 August 1753 in Paramaribo, the capital of Dutch Guiana (Surinam). His father, originally from Metz, was a rich merchant and served as French Consul. His parents had a great interest in collecting objects related to natural history, and because of their interest, they frequently traveled to various parts of the colony taking him with them.

Initially, Levaillant began collecting insects and caterpillars. By the age of ten, he had a collection, which he arranged according to his own system in order to identify insects. Later when he focused on birds and used a similar system to identify them, giving only French names to species that he discovered and refusing to use the systematic nomenclature introduced by Carl Linnaeus. Thus, some of the names he used remain in use today as common names for birds. Continue reading

An Escape From the Guillotine During the French Revolution

escape from the guillotine
Guillotining of Nine Emigrants in 1793. Public Domain.

During the French Revolution, between 5 September 1793 and 28 July 1794, a period known as The Terror, it has been estimated that at least 40,000 people were executed, although official records cite 16,594 deaths. Those sentenced to be executed were usually guillotined the following morning after their trial. As was customary, the condemned were tied together, in sets of two, by the hands with a cord, and accompanied by a guard to the site where they were guillotined. Continue reading

The Insects That Defeated Napoleon’s Army

insects defeated Napoleon's army
Napoleon Bonaparte. Author’s Collection.

Napoleon was a great military leader and strategist. He rose to prominence during the French Revolution, led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars, and served as Emperor of the French. He also dominated Europe for more than a decade and fought against a variety of fluctuating European coalitions during the Napoleonic Wars defeating many of his opponents. As a result, he became known as one of the greatest commanders in history, but for all the praise Napoleon received he found that wherever his troops marched or sailed, his biggest opponent was often the smallest one. This powerful opponent was millions of tiny insects, and among the insects that battled and defeated Napoleon were the mosquito, the flea, and the louse. Continue reading

I’m Guest Blogging

Adrienne. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Today I am a lucky enough to be the guest of Stewart Ross at his fabulous blog, “Stew Ross Discovers.” Stew has written several books about France, including “Where Did They Put the Guillotine?” and “Where Did They Burn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar?” My guest post is about the Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette’s wife, Adrienne. Adrienne was the daughter of Jean de Noailles and Henriette Anne Louise d’Aguesseau, and she married Lafayette when she was 14 years old. Click here to read more.

Attempted Assassination of Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th Century

Attempted assassination of Napoleon Bonaparte
Illustration of the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Threats against Napoleon’s life were not rare. In fact, there were many assassination attempts. One failed royalist assassination attempt, known as the plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise, occurred on Christmas Eve in 1800. It resulted in a bomb blast and left Napoleon badly shaken but unscathed. Another failed attempt involved snuff. In this case, royalists infiltrated a group of workmen restoring Malmaison with a plan to switch Napoleon’s good snuff for poisoned snuff, but before they could bring their plan to fruition, it was discovered. The next failed attempt occurred in 1804 when royalists planned to kidnap Napoleon. However, instead of kidnapping him, the conspiracy was discovered and the conspirators arrested.

Despite all the failed attempts to kill Napoleon, one eager young lad decided he had the wherewithal to assassinate Napoleon after he became Emperor. Fortunately, before the young lad could carry out his dastardly deed, French Police discovered his intentions. The result of the police’s discovery resulted in a New York newspaper publishing an article about it in 1828. Here is their report provided almost verbatim: Continue reading

Vehicle Titles, Origins, and Descriptions of the 1700 and 1800s, S-Z

vehicle titles, origins, and descriptions of the 1700 and 1800s
Sedan Chair with Painted Panels Attributed to Charles Antoine Coypel. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were a huge variety of vehicles. Because there were so many, it sometimes became confusing as to their names, where they originated from, and the differences between vehicles. Thus, to help people understand vehicle titles, origins, and descriptions of the 1700 and 1800s vehicles, here is a list from S to Z.

Savanilla Phaeton – This was the name given a variety of Phaetons used in Bangkok, Siam.
Sedan Cab – A type of Cab invented and patented by Chauncey Thomas of Boston, Massachusetts. It was so named because it resembled the outlines of the Sedan Chair. Sedan Chairs were first introduced in England in 1635 and soon became popular in London. The intention was to “interfere with the too-frequent use of coaches, to the hindrance of the carts and carriage employed in the necessary provision of the city and suburbs of London.” Continue reading

Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the French Revolution”

Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the French Revolution"
Edmund Burke. Courtesy of Wikipedia. on the French Revolution.

Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman born in Dublin. He is remembered for his support of American revolutionaries and his objections to the French Revolution. In 1790, he wrote the pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France, And on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event. In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Paris. Some of his quotes from that pamphlet follow:

ABILITY: “Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to give us ground to presume ability.”

ANTAGONISM: “He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.” Continue reading