There are many anecdotes about the woman known as Madame de Staël. Born Anne Louise Germaine Necker in Paris, France, but of Swiss origin, Madame de Staël’s father was Jacques Necker, a prominent Swiss banker and statesman who also served as the Director-General of Finance under King Louis XVI of France. Her Swiss mother was named Suzanne Curchod and was a no-nonsense woman who had no regard for practical jokes.
Madame de Staël and her father had an extremely close relationship. Part of their closeness was because they were compatible intellectually and had many traits in common, but they also loved the ridiculous. Their love the ridiculous is demonstrated by the following anecdote that happened one morning.
During breakfast, Madame de Staël did everything to get her father’s attention without her mother seeing, but not matter what she did she was unable to obtain even a glance from her father. Fortunately, Madame Necker was called out of the room. While she was absent, Madame de Stael’s threw her napkin through the air, her father caught it, and tied it around his head. He then began dancing around the table. Madame Necker’s footsteps put and ended to their fun as both Necker and his daughter “hastened back to their chairs like truant school-children, forgetting to observe that they were betrayed by the father’s wig, [still sitting on top of his head].” Continue reading →
The pioneering French midwife, Angélique du Coudray, gained fame in the 1700s. She was born in 1712, the same year as the King of Prussia (Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great) and the Enlightenment writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Little is known about Coudray’s early years. However, at twenty-five she graduated from the College of Surgery École de Chirurgie in Paris and completed her three-year apprenticeship that allowed her to become an accredited midwife.
Soon after Coudray’s graduation, schools began to bar women from gaining instruction in midwifery. Surgeons also began to expanded into the birthing field and this further reduced the medical community’s willingness to train female midwives. Women were upset and began to petition that they be allowed to receive proper instruction to become midwives.
Coudray was among those who supported female midwives. She argued that if proper training was not given to female midwives, midwives would continue to practice untrained and might cause harm to their patients. Moreover, she declared that without training, there would be shortage of midwives. Continue reading →
In France in the 1700s, there was great opposition to a person getting a smallpox inoculation. Part of the problem was doctors could not ensure the inoculations worked because of too many variables. For instance, to create an inoculation, doctors collected pus or scabs from someone infected with smallpox and then introduced this infected matter into a person by scratching the surface of the skin (usually on the person’s arm). If the person was lucky, the inoculation worked, and, if unlucky, the person developed a full-fledged case of smallpox. Continue reading →
In my book, “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante,” one of the things I talk about is Marie Antoinette and donkey riding. It all began after Marie Antoinette arrived in France, became bored, and developed a strong desire to ride horses. Her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, was an excellent horsewoman, and as Marie Antoinette’s new husband, the Dauphin and future Louis XVI, loved to hunt, Marie Antoinette thought that riding horses might be way to spend more time with him.
When Marie Antoinette voiced her desire to ride horses, she was immediately met with opposition. Among those opposing her riding horses was the Austrian diplomat named the Count of Mercy-Argenteau, but better known simply as Mercy. Mercy was the person who had cemented Marie Antoinette’s marriage to the Dauphin, and when he arrived in France with Marie Antoinette, Mercy found himself in a position of power. He could impress the Empress by revealing everything that Marie Antoinette was doing, thinking, or feeling, and then influence Marie Antoinette in the ways that her mother wanted. Continue reading →
Princesse de Lamballe was born in Turin, Italy, on 8 September 1749, the 251st day of the Gregorian calendar, which was a Monday. What many people remember about the Princesse is her beheading and the horrid way in which she died. However, there are many other interesting facts about the Princesse that you may or may not know, and I have selected twenty-five below:
Princesse de Lamballe was a favorite of Marie Antoinette. In fact, because of their close relationship, Marie Antoinette revived a position known as Superintendent of the Household. One of the benefits of this position was the Princesse could determine who had access to the Queen.
Freemasonry was one way the Princesse spent her free time. If you are interested in learning more about free masonry in France in the 1700s, click here. Continue reading →
Although preceded by other women in the air, Sophie Blanchard was the first female to fly a balloon solo. She got into ballooning because of her husband, pioneer balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard. The story goes that Jean-Pierre was passing through the village of Trois-Cantons, near Rochelle, saw a pregnant woman working in the field, and told her that if her child proved to be a girl, he would marry the girl when she turned 16.
Jean-Pierre was already married when he made the promise to Sophie’s mother, and likely had already abandoned his first wife, Victoire Lebrun, and his four children. On 25 March 1778, Marie Madeleine Sophie Armand was born. Jean-Pierre kept his marriage promise, but exactly when Jean-Pierre and Sophie married is unclear. The earliest is 1794, but the most frequent date given coincides with Sophie’s 1804 ascent. Continue reading →
Singing was a popular activity in the 1700s. One writer noted that when there was a large group of singers, the worst singer was often the person who got the greatest pleasure from the activity. To ensure people got the most pleasure out of singing, numerous song books were published. Among them was one that maintained when a person was in society, it was the person’s duty to be “conformable and good-humoured.” To accomplish that, there were nine singing rules for 18th century singers. Continue reading →
Prior to the eighteenth century ventriloquism was often thought to be related to some spiritual force. The study of ventriloquism and France’s Royal Academy of Sciences did not come together until the Academy decided to study the subject in 1773. What piqued the Academy’s interest about ventriloquism was a well-known ventriloquist named Monsieur St. Gille.
St. Gille was a grocer who lived near Paris at St. Germain-en-Laye. Apparently, he possessed “astonishing powers” when it came to ventriloquism. The Abbé de la Chapelle heard so much about St. Gille’s marvelous powers, he decided to visit him and discover how St. Gille was able to produce such phenomena, and for that reason he called upon St. Gille. Continue reading →
The first hydrogen balloon lift off occurred 27 August 1783 by the Montgolfier brothers — Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. A few weeks later the first manned flight occurred, and because the French King, Louis XVI, had been intrigued by the idea of balloon flight, he held a grand fete to celebrate the lift off. The event was held on 19 September 1783 at Versailles, and in attendance for the lift off was the King and the Queen, as well as thousands of spectators.
Before the balloon lifted off, the scientist Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier noticed the basket underneath the balloon and made a proposition to the King. He wanted to go up with the balloon. Louis XVI was so horrified that Rozier wanted to go up in the balloon, “he nearly lost his appetite, and absolutely forbade so a rash a venture.” So, when the balloon lifted off from the Versailles courtyard it carried no humans. It did however have a duck, sheep, and rooster as its passengers. The flight lasted just 8 minutes, covered 2 miles, and obtained a height of about 1,500 feet. Continue reading →
Court etiquette at Versailles was one of the most important factors in Marie Antoinette’s life. To get through a day meant the Queen had to adhere to excessive etiquette, regulations, and protocols, and these began from the moment she opened her eyes. Marie Antoinette disliked much of the pomp and circumstance associated with her position as Queen, and this was one reason why she often fled to her beloved Petit Trianon, a small homey palace given to her by Louis XVI shortly after he became King. At Petit Trianon, the Queen did not have to suffer the same strict etiquette applied at Versailles, and, in fact, she was often seen strolling through the gardens incognito, wearing a muslin dress and sporting a floppy hat.
To understand what a regular day at Versailles might entail and how etiquette ruled the Queen’s life, I have provided a daily schedule that Marie Antoinette might typically follow: Continue reading →