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
The first hot-air balloon flight occurred in June of 1783, and the first hydrogen balloon flight happened on 27 August 1783. The hydrogen balloon had been created and launched by Professor Jacques Charles and and two engineering brothers — Anne-Jean Robert and Nicolas-Louis Robert — known collectively as Les Frères Robert (Robert brothers), who invented the lightweight, airtight gas bag.
Before their hydrogen balloon lifted off in August, the scientist Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier noticed the basket underneath the balloon. He made a proposition to the King. Rozier stated that he wanted to go up with the balloon, but Louis XVI was so horrified, “he nearly lost his appetite, and absolutely forbade so a rash a venture.”
Because the French King, Louis XVI, had been intrigued by the idea of balloon flight, he held a grand fete to celebrate a lift off at Versailles that was planned on 19 September 1783. This hot air balloon 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
Freemasonry membership in France included French nobles and many military men, but the largest portion of membership was the bourgeoisie who liked the idea of being members because they appreciated Freemasonry’s motto of equality. Those excluded from joining included Jews, actors, employees, workers, and servants, as well as women.
Fortunately for women, sometime in the 1730s or 1740s, the idea developed to create a mixed-sex form of Freemasonry known as Maçonnerie d’Adoption or “Masonry of Adoption” or “Rite of Adoption.” One person later wrote that the reason men allowed females to join was because the practice of Freemasonry was “a practical means of giving to their wives and daughters some share of the pleasures which they themselves enjoyed in their mystical assemblies.” Moreover, the Freemasonry assemblages included “commendable fidelity and diligence … [and were] distinguished by numerous acts of charity.” Continue reading
Duels were a popular way to settle insults in the eighteen century. One famous duel involved Louis XVI’s younger brother, the Count of Artois, and his cousin, the Louis Henri of Bourbon-Condé (known as the Duke of Bourbon). The incident began with an insult during a masked ball on Shrove Tuesday in 1778.
Madame Carrillac had been mistress to the Duke of Bourbon, but she left the Duke for the Count of Artois. In addition, the Duke’s wife, the Duchess of Bourbon had feelings for the Count of Artois. One night at a masked ball the Count offered his arm to Madame Carrillac, and the Duchess of Bourbon, who was upset about Madame Carrillac, recognized the Count and Madame Carrillac. She then began following the pair spewing sarcastic remarks at Madame Carrillac. Continue reading
Seeing dead bodies for free became an entertaining fad in Paris in the nineteenth century, but before it was a fad, one grammarian of the seventeenth century, defined morgue as an old French word that meant “face.” With that in mind, it was claimed that prisons formerly had small rooms near the entrance where “prisoners were first locked up in order that the goalers might take a good look at their morgues or faces, and recognize them in case of escape.” In addition, supposedly the word morgue came from the French word morguer, which meant to stare, have a fixed gaze, or look at solemnly, and, thus, the word morgue came to have its more modern meaning as a place to store corpses and as a place where the living identified the dead. Continue reading
Balls were a popular diversion in Paris in 1801, and an English traveler to Paris attended a public subscription ball held by a society known as le salon des étrangers in December 1801. The ball was held in a popular hotel in the Rue de la Grange Bateliere, which is today in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. The Englishman noted attendees included not only Frenchmen but also “most of the foreign ambassadors, envoys, &c … and many of the most distinguished persons of both sexes in Paris.” Frenchmen were admitted by ballot, and foreigners were introduced by a member and paid the annual subscription rate of five louis to attend. Continue reading
Parisian fortune-tellers were plentiful in eighteenth century France, and many fortune seekers visited them during the French Revolution hoping to learn if they would keep their head or not. One man wrote that when he visited the Pont Neuf, fortune-tellers regular used a deck of cards to predict a person’s future. However, a deck of card was not the only way a person discovered his or her future. Some fortune-tellers used a long pipe and placed one end in the ear of the fortune seeker and the other end near the fortune-teller’s mouth. The fortune-teller then explained in a quiet voice the fortune seeker’s “futurity … [and promised] lavish wealth and prosperity at the moderate price of deux sous.” Fortunes could also be obtained by the fortune-teller reading the dregs of a person’s coffee cup.
Yet, perhaps, what was more interesting than fortune-tellers using cards, pipes, or coffee dregs to predict the future, was how the fortune-tellers were able to accomplish it. Their abilities and success caused more than one curious person to investigate the field of fortune-telling closely. It also resulted in three stories about Parisian fortune-tellers in the eighteenth century. Continue reading
Hunting was a popular sport in the 1700s, and there is at least one record of Marie Antoinette attending a hunt. It occurred in the Forest of St. Germain in Laye, an area that lies about 20 kilometers West of Paris and is located in a meander (bend) in the River Seine. Several Englishmen were invited to attend the boar hunt. One of the English hunters recorded his observations. He summed up the entire event as a “bore” noting that “there was a great deal of hard riding, but no sportsman-like feats performed.”
The Englishman also reported that it was the first time that he laid eyes on France’s Queen, Marie Antoinette. He described her as “an Imperial model of female beauty: rich and royal were her charms.” Besides wearing the uniform of the hunt, Marie Antoinette also sported an excess of gold lace and an abundance of white ostrich feathers that stuck out of her hat and looked so regal, he claimed she was “entitled to the epithet of the Queen of Women, and une belle parmi les belles.” Continue reading
Frenchmen were well-known for defending their honor by dueling. In fact, according to one historian, during an eighteen-year period within Henry IV’s reign, more than 4,000 French aristocrats were killed because of dueling. During a twenty-year period in Louis XIII’s reign, 8,000 pardons were granted for “murders associated with duels.” So, with all the duels, perhaps, the most bizarre duel that ever occurred between French happened in 1808 when Napoleon Bonaparte was Emperor.
The duel was not an ordinary one as it was to take place midair with each man firing from his own balloon. However, the reason for the balloon duel was ordinary. It originated over a celebrated opera dancer at the Paris Opera named Mademoiselle Tirevit. She was being kept by Monsieur de Grandpré but became involved with Monsieur le Pique. Both men laid claim to Tirevit’s heart, and it was decided the only way the men could resolve the situation was with a balloon duel. Continue reading