Nine Firsts Accomplished in France in the 1700s

Louis XIV. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The 1700s included such events as Louis XIV dying of gangrene and his 5-year-old grandson succeeding him on the throne as Louis XV. There was also the Treaty of the Hague signed by France and its allies that ended the War of the Quadruple Alliance. When Louis XV died on 10 May 1774, Louis XVI became king. It was under Louis XVI that France recognized the American colonies and waged war against the United Kingdom in the Americas. Unfortunately, for Louis XVI he was beheaded and so was his wife, Marie Antoinette. More tumult occurred with the Coup of 18 Brumaire when General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French Directory and replaced it with the French Consulate. However, these events were not the only interesting events that happened in France in the 1700s. There were also nine interesting firsts accomplished in France in the 1700s. They included a couple of balloon firsts, firsts related to art, medicine, and inventions, a story of mythical beast, and the idea of mass conscription. Continue reading

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Mother: Letizia Ramolino

Napoleon Bonaparte's mother
Napoleon’s Mother, Letizia Ramolino. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s mother, Letizia Ramolino was a sensible, pragmatic, domineering, and no-nonsense mother, and even after Napoleon became Emperor, she still acted like his mother. To demonstrate, once when Napoleon presented his hand for her to kiss, she flung it at him and presented her own hand instead. Although Napoleon and his mother had their differences with one another, Napoleon still respected her and once said of her, “She has always been an excellent woman, a mother without an equal; she deserved all reverence.”[1]

Perhaps, Napoleon felt that way based partly on what his mother Letizia once wrote about her early life, marriage, and children: Continue reading

Madame Tussaud’s Mentor: Philippe Mathé Curtius

Philippe Mathé Curtius. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Philippe Mathé Curtius was a doctor living in Bern, Switzerland. He was also a bachelor and hired a domestic servant, who was the widowed mother of Anne-Marie Grosholtz (the future Madame Tussaud). While living in Bern, Curtius became interested in providing anatomical models for medical students and began to create miniature flesh-tinted models from wax for study purposes. These tiny anatomical replicas initially sparked local interest. News also spread about Curtius’s realistic wax models, and among those who learned of his wax models was the French Prince of Conti, a cousin to Louis XV and a celebrated art collector.

When the Prince of Conti visited Bern, he decided to see Curtius’s models for himself. He was so impressed that he proposed a financially beneficial patronage to Curtius but required Curtius to move to Paris. The offer was appealing enough to cause Curtius to renounce the medical profession, pack up his belongings, and settle in Paris in the Rue St. Honoré. When Curtius left Bern in 1765, he also left behind Marie and her mother. However, when Marie was about six years old, she and her mother joined Curtius in the bustling city of Paris. Continue reading

Positions Within Marie Antoinette’s Household

Painting by Heinrich Lossow. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Marie Antoinette’s household, referred to in French as La Maison de La Reine, included not only servants but also a number of noblewomen. Obtaining a position within the Queen’s household was an honor, and positions were highly coveted because it allowed those who held them to have close access to the Queen. Even the most minute details were assigned to someone. For instance, there was the train-bearer who carried the Queen’s train or held her mantle or pelisse. 

Those who served in the Queen’s household had certain perks. For instance, some of the Queen’s ladies had access to her discarded clothing. Candles, even if unused, were also divided among the ladies of the bedchamber. It was profitable to obtain the candles because it allowed “four of [them to receive] 50,000 livres a year each.”[1] Continue reading

Marie Sallé: First Female Choreographer of the Ballet

Marie Sallé Dancing in Costume. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Marie Sallé was the first female choreographer of the ballet, having started her life as a ballerina. In fact, Sallé became one of the two most popular female dancers of the 18th century. The other popular ballerina was Mademoiselle Marie Camargo. Because of their dancing abilities Voltaire immortalized the pair in the following couplets:

“Ah! Camargo, que vous êtes brillante!
Mais que Sallé, grands dieux! est ravissante.
Que vos pas sont légers, et que les siens sont doux!
Elles est inimitable, et vous êtes nouvelle:
Les Nymphes sautent comme vous.
Et les Grâces danset comme elle.”[1]

Continue reading

The Tricorne or “Cocked Hat”

French Tricorne
French Tricorne of 18th Century, Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

The tricorne hat, which was initially called a “cocked hat,” became popular in the 1700s but was falling out of fashion by the 1800s and eventually evolved into the bicorne. The tricorne was actually an evolution of a broad-brim round hat worn by Spanish soldiers in Flanders in the 1600s. When its brim was pledged (bound), it formed a triangular shape. The triangular shape was the shape favored by Spanish soldiers. Thus, when war broke out in 1667 between France and Spain in the Spanish Netherlands, the triangular hat found its way to France. Continue reading

An 18th Century Bullfight and a Woman of Arles, France

Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait in 1887, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Vincent Van Gogh, self-portrait in 1887. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A gentleman by the name of Wilson Moore undertook a trip to Holland, France, and Italy in the late 1700s. During his trip he wrote letters, and, later, while at the table of Duke Humphrey, he decided to send “his work into the world,” by publishing a book that described his “rambles” and was based on the letters he wrote between 1791 and 1793. Among the interesting events that happened to Moore was a visit to the French city of Arles, a city situated on the Rhône River and famed for inspiring the paintings of the Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh.

Arles was also the spot where a bullfight was scheduled and where thousands of spectators arrived to watch Spaniard’s on horseback compete against wild bulls. Besides bulls, there were also plenty of beautiful women in Arles.

After arriving in Marseilles, Moore wrote a letter to Lady B., who was living on Harley-Street in London, detailing the bull fight and the beauty of Arles women. Part of that letter follows almost verbatim: Continue reading

5 People Marie Antoinette Disliked (or Despised)

A View of Hameau de la Reine. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marie Antoinette loved hot chocolate, towering hairdos, and flowers. She also loved the small château called Petit Trianon that Louis XVI gave after he became King. It was Marie Antoinette’s retreat where she could ramble through pathways dressed in muslin gowns and floppy hats and pretend she was a commoner. She could also visit the Hameau de la Reine (The Queen’s Hamlet) near Petit Trianon with its rustic gardens, dairy, and functional farm. Yet, despite all these things that Marie Antoinette loved, there were at least five people at court that she disliked (or despised). These five people included Anne d’Arpajon, Madame du Barry, Jacques Necker, Madame de Genlis, and the famous general of the American Revolution Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Continue reading

The Deaths of Jean-Marie Roland and Madame Roland

Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière and his wife, Madame Roland, were supporters of the French Revolution. In addition, Jean-Marie was also an influential member of a loose political faction called the Girondins. When the Girondins fell in 1793 during the Reign of Terror, Jean-Marie went into hiding in Rouen with two spinster sisters, the mademoiselles Malortie. The spinsters were sisters to his previous fiancée, who died unexpectedly.

While Jean-Marie was in hiding, Madame Roland was arrested, as were other Girondins and Girondin supporters. She was imprisoned at the Abbey of Saint Germain des Près that had inscribed over its door, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!”[1] This was also the spot where a wave of killings, called the September Massacres, had taken place between the 2nd and 7th of September in 1792. Continue reading

Count d’Artois at the Scottish Palace of Holyrood

Engraving of Count d’Artois. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

After the Bastille was stormed in July of 1789, Louis XVI’s youngest brother, the Count d’Artois, fled France with his family. They lived briefly in Italy and Germany before finally settling in Great Britain in 1792. There the Count became a leader of the French émigrés and was welcomed by King George III, who also gave him a generous allowance.

Although the Count d’Artois was welcomed in Great Britain, he wanted the Bourbon monarchy to rule in France. So, he outfitted an army on borrowed money around 1795 and became involved in a royalist uprising against revolutionaries in La Vendée. Things did not go as planned. He was beaten and returned to Great Britain defeated. However, before he landed in Great Britain, he was “advised that should he step ashore he would be liable to imprisonment for debt under British law if he did not meet the sum due.”[1] Continue reading