Parisian Luxury Shoe Manufacturer Jean-Louis François Pinet

Late 19th century Pinet boots. Courtesy of Bata Shoe Museum Toronto.

Jean-Louis François Pinet’s career as shoemaker began almost from birth. He was born on 19 July 1817 in Chateau la Vallière commune to a shoemaker from whom he learned the trade. When his father died in 1830, Pinet went to live in the home of a master shoemaker, and, by age sixteen, he was working in Tours earning five francs a week. A few years later, in 1836, he was a declared an accredited journeyman shoemaker (compagnon cordonnier bottier du devoir).

During these early years, Pinet worked hard. He also saved his money and purchased his own tools so that he could become an independent shoemaker with his own atelier. He then left Tours for Bordeaux and then moved from Bordeaux to Marseilles, where he was appointed head of the Société des Compagnons Cordonniers (Workers’Association of Shoemaker Companions). However, by 1844, Pinet had settled in Paris. Continue reading

Bastille Day or Fête de la Fédération in 1792

Storming of the Bastille. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bastille Day or Fête de la Fédération was first celebrated in 1790. It was a day set aside to commemorate the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille that occurred on 14 July 1789. That event ushered in the French Revolution and each year thereafter people celebrated their patriotism for their new republic with a fete.

The second Fête de la Fédération happened in 1791 and was nothing like the first as it was said to have passed without hardly a notice. That was because that year, a few weeks prior to the celebration, the King and the royal family made their ill-fated escape attempt. Unfortunately for them, they were captured at Varennes and brought back to Paris. Continue reading

Severed Heads During the French Revolution

Cartoon or poster of the French Revolution: “Aristocratic Heads on Pikes.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Suppose you see a severed head dripping blood on a pike. What do you feel? Revulsion? Terror? Severed heads were often a common image associated with the French Revolution. Why were they so prevalent and how prevalent were they?

One of the first stories related to severed heads occurred two days before the storming of the Bastille on 12 July 1789. Madame Tussaud reported that protestors arrived knocking on the door of Philippe Mathé Curtius, her uncle and owner of a wax museum called the Salon de Cire. The museum was home to numerous wax figures that included a display of the French royal family dining or rather “exhibited in a ceremony called Grand Couvert [where] “the good  honest people from the country, after visiting the menageries to see the lions, tigers, and monkeys … hastened to the palace to see the king and queen take their soup.”[1] Continue reading

Empress Éugenie’s Magical Ring

Empress Éugenie's magical ring
The Empress Éugenie in the early 1850s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The wife of Napoleon III, Empress Éugenie, who was described as stunning in appearance, was noted to have many fine pieces of jewelry, but she was also reported to be extremely superstitious. For instance, one literary magazine noted that she possessed “unbound faith” in an amulet she wore and that she forced the Emperor to wear “a little flannel bag filled with camphor suspended round his neck”[1] to prevent him from “catching diseases,” such as cholera. There were also reports that she visited fortune tellers and that once when going incognito to a palm reader, she was told:

“Madame, your hand is so extraordinary that one of two things must be the truth; either my skill must be at fault for once, and I see impossible events, or you must be the Empress Eugenie, for no other hand could tell of such strange vicissitudes.”[2]

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Tuileries Garden Bird Charmers

Tuileries Garden bird charmer. Author’s collection.

Tuileries Garden bird charmers were street performers who appeared in the mid to late 1800s and enticed flocks of birds to come to them. Later, the bird charmers began appearing in other gardens or in public green spaces, such as the Champ de Mars. One of the earliest of the bird charmers at the Tuileries Garden was Edward du Peyron, “an old sub-prefect … [whose son] long continued his practices [of bird charming] in Diane Alley.”[1]

“[When Peyron arrived at the garden, ring-doves] left the branches of the tall chestnut trees and flew from the center of the grass plats, and … [sparrows] came in swarms from the smallest shrubs, and all followed him until he came to a standstill. The boldest at once alighted upon his shoulders, upon one of his outstretched arms, or one of his fingers, and took from his hand or lips, the food that he offered them, while the others arranged in a line upon the iron railings, or hopping about on the ground, or sustaining themselves in the air by rapid flaps of theirs, impatiently awaited their turn.”[2]

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Napoleon’s Brother: Lucien Bonaparte

Lucien Bonaparte by François-Xavier Fabre (1800). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Lucien Bonaparte was Napoleon’s brother and the third son of Carlo Bonaparte and Letizia Ramolino. He was six years younger than Napoleon and born on 21 May 1775 in Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. Lucien, like Napoleon, was educated on France’s mainland. He was educated at the College of Auton (in eastern France), a military academy in Brienne (north-central France), and a seminary in Aix-en-Provence (southern France).

A description of Lucien when was he was young was written by 15-year-old Napoleon to his uncle. Napoleon described Lucien thusly:

“He is 9 years old, and 3 feet, 4 inches, and 6 lines tall. He is in the sixth class for Latin, and is going to learn all the subjects in the curriculum. He shows plenty of good disposition and has good intentions. It is to be hoped he will turn out well. He is in good health, is a big upstanding boy, quick and impulsive, and he is making a good start. He knows French well, and has forgotten all his Italian.”[1]

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Princess Hélène of Orléans’ Potential Suitors, Wedding, and Trousseau

Princess Hélène of Orléans in 1885. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Princess Hélène of Orléans had an illustrious lineage. Born on 13 June 1871 in York House, Twickenham, she was the granddaughter of Louis Philippe I of France and the great-granddaughter of Louise Phillipe II (Philippe Égalité). Her father Prince Philippe, Count of Paris, was a claimant to the French throne from 1848 until his death, and her mother was the Infanta Maria Isabel of Spain.

Because of her lineage, Hélène had several well-known suitors. One suitor who fell in love with her was the eldest son of the future Edward VII and grandson of then reigning Queen Victoria. His name was Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, but intimates called him Eddy. Twenty-three-year-old Eddy and sixteen-year-old Hélène met in the summer of 1890, became acquainted, and fell in love. Continue reading

Nine Firsts Accomplished in Nineteenth-Century France

The Crown of Napoleon created in the nineteenth century, called “Crown of Charlemagne.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The late 1700s was a turbulent time for France, and the 1800s appeared as if they would be no better partly because inflation hit France and many people lived in poverty. The 1800s was also the period when Napoleon Bonaparte was declared Emperor and crowned himself at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Power shifts was another common occurrence in the 1800s as political power changed hands from Napoleon Bonaparte to the Bourbons to the Orleans and then to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who began serving as the first president of the Second French Republic in December of 1848. A year later, he was declared Napoleon III of France, and then he went into exile when the Second Republic gave way to the Third Republic. There was also the building of the Eiffel Tower, an iconic symbol for France whose foundation was laid on 28 January 1887 and opened to the public on 15 May 1889.

Besides Napoleon, political power shifts, and the Eiffel Tower, there were nine interesting firsts that occurred in nineteenth-century France:

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How the Prussians Captured Napoleon’s Military Carriage During the Waterloo Campaign

Wellington and Blücher. Public Domain.

One prized possession of Napoleon’s was his military carriage (sometimes called his traveling carriage). He loved it so much that he used it on many of his military campaigns and while exiled on Elba. In fact, when he left Elba the one thing he ordered his troops to take was his military carriage, which was carefully packed and shipped to Cannes.

When Napoleon faced down the British-led Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Prince of Wahlstatt at Waterloo, the military carriage was with him. It was also during the Waterloo campaign that Napoleon’s carriage was captured. Continue reading

Napoleon’s Pleasure-loving Sister Pauline Bonaparte

Pauline Bonaparte by Robert Lefèvre, 1803. Courtesy of Athenaeum.

Napoleon’s pleasure-loving sister Pauline Bonaparte had always been considered somewhat shallow. Perhaps, it was because she had been spoiled as a child and received no formal education. Nothing intellectual ever interested her. In fact, her interests were frivolous and mainly involved her appearance, which generated much excitement with the public each time she appeared:

“Whenever she went to the theatre, every opera-glass was turned towards her. Her entrance into a ball-room was greeted by a long murmur of admiration. Her attire was always carefully studied, and very beautiful … She inspired the wildest enthusiasm.”[1]

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