The Sex of Chevalier d’Eon

Chevalier d'Eon
Chevalier d’Eon dressed as a woman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The sex of Chevalier d’Eon (or if you want his actual name Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont) was of great interest to people in the eighteenth century. D’Eon claimed that he was born female but had been raised as a boy so that his father could inherit from his in-laws. When he was older, he joined the dragoons and habitually wore a dragoon’s uniform, even though rumors constantly circulated that he was a woman. There were also rumors that he had assumed the role of a woman while operating as a spy in Russia.

“Some faint rumours had spread at various preceding periods, that M. D’Eon was a woman, and, in addition to certain feminine appearances in his voice and person, still stronger surmise was indulged, especially at Petersburg, on account of the total indifference, and even aversion as to all affairs of gallantry constantly exhibited by D’Eon towards the females of that voluptuous court, where amorous intrigue is well known to have mixed itself on most occasion with political events.”[1] Continue reading

Benjamin Franklin’s Popularity with French Women

Benjamin Franklin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Benjamin Franklin’s popularity with French women happened long before he was appointed Ambassador of France. When he landed on French soil in December of 1776, having set sail on 26 October as agent of a diplomatic commission, women (and probably men too) wanted to catch a glimpse of the experimenter with lightning and the defender of the American cause. When they did, they were not disappointed.

Women in particular thought the 71-year-old Franklin was electrifying as they had never met anyone quite like him. He had a rustic appeal when he appeared wearing his marten fur cap, the same one that he had worn to protect himself as he crossed the freezing waters of the Atlantic. In the fashion capital of the world, Franklin stood out. He stood out even more so, when he appeared in his cap at the court of Versailles that was known for its strict court protocol. Continue reading

The French Republican Calendar: How Time was Different

French Republican Calendar for the month Vendemiaire. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The French Republican Calendar, also sometimes called the French Revolutionary Calendar, was a calendar created and implemented by the French Republic during the French Revolution from late 1793 to 1805 (and for 18 days by the Paris Commune in 1871). The French Republican calendar came about because the government wanted to distance itself from anything associated with the Ancien régime and religion. Thus, the government decreed on 24 November 1793 that the common era would be abolished.

The new Republic also instituted changes resulting in a new social and legal system, a new system for weights and measures, and a new calendar. The new calendar was influenced by Enlightenment ideas and created using the fundamental blocks of natural constants, multiples of ten, and Latin and ancient Greek derivations. They also decided that new French era would commence on 22 September 1792 (one day after the Convention abolished the monarchy) and they used the Roman Numeral I to indicate the first year of the republic. Continue reading

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France: Her Life at the Temple and Her Release

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France. Courtesy of EstimArt.

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France was the oldest child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. During Louis XVI’s reign she was known as Madame Royale, a style customarily used for the eldest living unmarried daughter of a reigning French monarch. Marie-Thérèse was also the only child of the King and Queen’s to reach adulthood as her siblings died while young.  

Like her father, mother, aunt, and brother, Marie-Thérèse was imprisoned in August of 1792 at the Temple, which had been built by the Knights Templar in the twelfth century and started out as fort. New headquarters emerged in the thirteenth century in the form of a fortress called enclos du Temple. The Temple originally contained buildings necessary for the order to function and included two towers: a massive one known as the Gross Tour (great tower) and a small one called Tour de Tour de César (Caesar’s Tower). Continue reading

Marie Antoinette’s Breguet Pocket Watch No. 160

Reproduction (No. 1160) of Marie Antoinette’s Pocket Watch. Courtesy of Breguet.

The story of Marie Antoinette’s Breguet pocket watch begins when Abraham-Louis Breguet, arrived from his native Switzerland in Paris. Breguet’s father had died and his mother remarried a watchmaker named Joseph Tattet. Tattet had a showroom in Paris and tried to get Breguet to take up watchmaking, but he resisted.

Eventually, however, Breguet decided to try watchmaking, and when he did, he astonished Tattet. Breguet’s watchmaking abilities also captured the attention of his mathematics teacher, Abbot Joseph-François Marie, who was also a tutor to the Count of Artois’ sons, the Dukes of Angoulême and Duke of Berry. In fact, it was through Abbot Marie that Breguet was introduced to King Louis XVI and eventually became a leading horologist and watchmaker of his time. Continue reading

What was it like to be a Prisoner in the Bastille in the 18th Century?

The Bastille. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

To be a prisoner in the Bastille in the 18th century was different from being a prisoner under King Louis XIV in the 1600s. In the 1300s, the Bastille was a fortress with only two towers built to defend Paris’ eastern approach from the English during the Hundred Years War. More towers were added in the 1370s until there were a total of eight with the looming towers being between five to seven stories high and the tallest one no more than seventy-three feet tall. Continue reading

One of the First Feminists Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the first feminists, Olympe de Gouges, began her life in 1748 when she born Marie Gouze in Montauban, Quercy in southwest France. Her mother was Olympe Mouisset and her legal father, Pierre Gouze, was a butcher, but she claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of Jean-Jacques Lefranc, Marquis de Pompignan. She was forced in 1765 to marry a man she felt great repugnance for and did not love. He was a caterer and minor official named Louis Aubry. In 1767, around the time he died, she moved with her son, Pierre, to Paris where her sister Jeanne was living.

Whether the name Gouges was a variant spelling or not is unclear. However, what is clear is that Jeanne sometimes signed her name Gouges, and Olympe also adopted Gouges as her surname instead of taking her father’s or husband’s last name. As a single woman intent on surviving in Paris alone, her own surname helped her to establish her independence and identity. Continue reading

Breastfeeding or Nursing with Wet Nurses in the Eighteenth Century

Visit to the Wet Nurse by Belgian painter Basile de Loose. Public domain.

Breastfeeding or nursing with wet nurses in the eighteenth century was a common occurrence. That was because by medieval times the idea of breastfeeding was often regarded as too menial a task for royal women and they began to use wet nurses. Other reasons for the use of wet nurses was that mothers sometimes were unable to produce enough milk, died during child birth, or suffered some physical ailment. There were also some women who claimed breastfeeding was time consuming or they argued that it ruined their figures. Sometimes a woman’s husband might not support her breastfeeding activities, or sometimes a woman wanted to quickly get pregnant again and thought it would happen faster if she didn’t nurse. Continue reading

The House Napoleon Owned as a Private Citizen

Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Napoleon owned one house as a private citizen and that house was situated at no. 6 rue Chantereine, which is also the place where some people say he met his future wife Josephine. The story is that after Parisians were ordered to give up their swords, Josephine’s son Eugene went to Napoleon and appealed to keep his father’s sword because his father had been guillotined. Eugene’s appeal so touched Napoleon, he asked to meet the boy’s mother and went to her home.

Although there are several other versions of how Josephine and Napoleon met, what is most important is that after they met, Josephine thoroughly captivated Napoleon. He was so captivated he began to visit her frequently. She was leasing a house in a fashionable district of Paris known as the Chaussee d’Antin located at no. 6 rue Chantereine. The street was so named because chantereine translates in French to “singing frogs,” and there were reportedly many croaking frogs that lived in the nearby marsh. Continue reading

The Legendary French Drummer Boy Joseph Bara

Jean-Joseph Weerts “Portrait de Joseph Bara.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The legendary French drummer boy Joseph Bara was raised to the status of hero in the 1790s. His story begins with his birth on 30 July 1779 to a woodranger and a domestic servant, both of whom worked at the Palaiseau estate of the Condés. Unfortunately, while Bara was still a youth, his father died, and, so, when the French politician Lazare Carnot appealed for men and created the conscription called levée en masse to raise any army, Bara’s mother enrolled him as a volunteer in the army at the tender age of twelve. He was then attached to a unit that fought counter revolutionaries in Vendée, and, it was during this time that he was killed. A General J.B. Desmarres gave a written account of his death to the Convention that stated:

“Yesterday this courageous youth, surrounded by brigands, chose to perish rather than give them the two horses he was leading.”[1] Continue reading