During the reign of King Louis XVI, many Frenchmen disliked the King’s wife, Marie Antoinette. In fact, they often blamed Marie Antoinette for coercing her husband into making unpopular decisions. While Louis XVI often agreed with her and allowed Marie Antoinette’s to give gifts and rewards to her favorites, he did not allow her to coerce or sway his decisions when it came to matters of state.
Illustrative of this is a disagreement that occurred between the couple and was reported by Scots Magazine in 1776 and follows almost verbatim: Continue reading →
Born on 30 October 1757 at Saint-Berthevin, the legendary Jean Chouan was the nom de guerre of Jean Cottereau, a counter-revolutionary, insurrectionist, and staunch royalist. He was also a man of several nicknames, with “Chouan” a nickname given to him by his father (or it may have come from his imitation of the call of the tawny owl. However, he got the nickname, it meant silent one. There was also the less flattering nickname of “le Gars mentoux” or “le garçon menteur” (the boy liar).
Chouan is legendary because what is known about him was written by royalist partisan Jacques Duchemin des Cépeaux in 1825 at the request of Charles X. The story that Cépeaux reported has many unfounded facts that were further nourished by a small faction of Catholics and royalist-legitimist. Thus, Chouan’s actual role in history remains questionable and is likely more legend than fact.
Some facts that appear to be true are that Chouan’s father, Pierre Cottereau, was a lumberjack who felled trees, stacked and seasoned the lumber, and then made wooden shoes called sabots. His mother was a woman named Jeanne (nee Moyné) Cottereau. The Cottereau’s lived as tenants on a 20-acre farm located half-way between Saint-Ouën-des-Toits and Bourgneuf-la-Forêt in Mayenne, France. Chouan’s father was often absent and his mother was illiterate, which meant the children — Jean, Pierre, François, and René — were largely unschooled. Thus, when Chouan’s father died, Chouan declared himself a sabot maker, but unlike his father, Chouan was not as energetic or as skilled. Continue reading →
Reine Audu, a heroine of the French Revolution, was born Louise-Renée Leduc. She became a French fruit seller in Paris and first gained recognition in October of 1789, when she and others led the Women’s March on Versailles. The marchers were upset about the constant threat of famine and the high prices and scarcity of bread.
What started as a demand for bread soon took on a much more ambitious goal. Marchers decided they wanted several things: First, they wanted an assurance that bread would once again be plentiful and cheap; and, second, they wanted to replace the King’s guards with National Guardsmen, a group loyal to middle-class interests and under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette. Additionally, the marchers wanted Louis XVI and his court to reside in Paris so that the King would be nearer to the people. Continue reading →
The French actress Mademoiselle Clairon, better known as La Clairon, was the stage name of a woman whose real name was Clair Josèphe Hippolyte Leris (sometimes spelled Lerys). La Clairon was born about a month a half early on 25 January 1723 to François Joseph Desiré Leris and Marie Claire Scanapiecq. Her father was a sergeant in the Régiment de Mailly and her mother an ordinary working woman.
When La Clairon was twelve, she and her mother left Condé-sur-l’Escaut, Hainaut, where La Clarion was born. They settled in Paris. One person described La Clairon’s life with her mother in Paris, stating:
“The future queen of tragedy was at this time … a delicate sensitive child, with a confirmed dislike to needlework, in consequence of which she spent the greater part of her days ‘trembling beneath the blow and threats of her mother,’ whom she describes, rather undutifully, as ‘a violent, ignorant, and superstitious woman.'”
The first French celebrity chef Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême was born on 8 June 1784. It is rather surprising Carême achieved such wonderful success as his initial beginnings did not seem to indicate such an illustrious future. He was one of fifteen children, and, in 1794, at the height of the French Revolution, his father left him on the streets of Paris and told him to go and seek his fortune.
Hungry and in despair, Carême begged for shelter. The following day he was admitted into the service of a man who owned a cheap eating house or chop-house, and, at that point, he began working as a kitchen boy. Four years later, in 1798, he was apprenticed to Sylvain Bailly, a famous pâtissier with a shop near the Palais-Royal. Bailly immediately noticed Carême’s talents, and Carême quickly gained fame for the works that he created and displayed in Bailly’s shop window.
Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793. Three weeks after his execution, a revolutionary journal called Thermomètre du jour published an inaccurate account claiming the King was led to the scaffold with a pistol to his temple, the guillotine struck his neck instead of his head, and the King died without courage. Because the newspaper story was so inaccurate, the executioner’s account of Louis XVI’s execution was published.
Louis XVI’s executioner was Charles-Henri Sanson. Sanson’s reply to the editor of the Thermomètre du jour provided what Sanson called an “accurate” description of what happened. Sanson dated his account 20 February 1793, and here is that account almost verbatim. Continue reading →
All sorts of events were associated with dogs during the French Revolution and many stories exist. The French Revolution was a chaotic time not just for people but also for the dogs. Sometimes dogs suffered danger and sometimes they were the danger. They also helped to maintain prisoner morale, functioned as messengers, and sometimes served as watchdogs or comforting companions.
Of all the dogs that suffered during the Revolution, pedigreed dogs probably suffered the most. Pedigreed dogs were usually the pets of royalty or nobility, and when these people fled France, their pedigreed dogs, called lexicons, were abandoned. Some of these dogs became outcasts, some mourned the loss of their owners, and some were disguised to prevent them from being taken or destroyed. However, many lexicons were gathered up and burned at the Place de Greves, the spot said to be used for the “vilest malefactors.” Continue reading →
The salon hostess Sophie de Condorcet was born Marie Louise de Grouchy but known more frequently as Madame de Condorcet. She was a prominent and charming Parisian who maintained her own identity and remained influential before, during, and after the French Revolution. She was also known for her beauty, kindness, and indifference to a person’s social status or origins. Perhaps, this indifference was because she was born in 1764 to a page who worked for Louis XV named Francoise Jacques Marquis de Grouchy, and her mother was an intellectual named Marie Gilberte Henriette Fréteau de Pény.
Madame de Condorcet had been lucky enough in 1786 to marry a famous mathematician and social philosopher. His name was Marie-Jean Antoine Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet. They were a striking couple but nearly opposite, as demonstrated in the following description: Continue reading →
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was the man who made potatoes popular in France in the 1700s. His interest in potatoes began after he was captured during the Seven Years’ War and found himself imprisoned in Russia eating mounds of potatoes. Unlike Russians who were willing to eat potatoes, Frenchmen considered them hog feed, and, in fact, in 1748, the French Parlement forbade people from cultivating them because they thought potatoes caused leprosy.
When Parmentier returned to France in 1763, he began to use his degree as a pharmacist to conduct pioneering studies in nutritional chemistry. Remembering his imprisonment, he decided the potato had great nutritional value, as much as wheat. In fact, he considered the potato so valuable and nutritious, he began to consider how he might overcome the prejudices of the French public against the humble potato. Exactly how this came to pass, involves several stories. Continue reading →
Among the émigrés scattered all over Europe during the Reign of Terror was a man by the name of Marquis of Albignac. The Marquis had lost everything, both fortune and family. He survived living “in London on a trifling pension allowed him by the English government.” However, the Marquis possessed one thing, determination. He wanted to be more than a fashionable beggar surviving in England.
One night as the Marquis of Albignac sat dining on his scanty daily meal, he noticed a nearby table occupied by five or six young English gentlemen. They noticed him too. At length one of the young men addressed the Marquis impertinently: Continue reading →