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

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

Three Popular Palais-Royal Restaurants of the 1800s

Dining out in Paris. Public Domain.

Between 1770 and 1789 hundreds of restaurants opened in Paris, and, by 1825, it was claimed there were some nine hundred of them in the city. The word restaurant was for many years specific to Paris. However, by the late 1700s, the word had come to represent any eatery and could include an inn, cookshop, or eating house. Despite this blurred and uncertain meaning, some of the best restaurants of the 1800s could be found in the heart of Paris at the Palais-Royal, once owned by Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. Among these restaurants were three that were said to be excellent. They were the Trois Frères Provençaux, Véry’s, and Véfour’s. Continue reading

The Asylum Pitié-Salpêtrière in the Georgian Era

Salpêtrière in 1822. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

On the eve of the French Revolution, what had originally been a gunpowder factory and arsenal became the largest hospital and asylum in Europe. It was called Pitié-Salpêtrière. Professor of History Mark Micale noted that “this remarkable hybrid institution housed for over two centuries every imaginable form of social and medical ‘misfit’ from the lowliest sectors of Parisian life.”[1] Because of it strange mixed population, the French writer Albert Camus once referred to it as a “frightful sewer.” Continue reading

Princesse de Lamballe’s Shell Cottage: Chaumière des Coquillages

The Princesse’s Shell Cottage at Rambouillet. © G.L. Walton.

The Princesse de Lamballe’s shell cottage, known in French as chaumière des coquillages, was built for her by the Duke of Penthièvre between 1779 and 1780. The Duke was her father-in-law and father to her dead husband, the Prince of Lamballe. The Prince had died of syphilis on 6 May 1768, and her father-in-law, who had lost his wife years earlier in 1754, insisted that the Princess come and mourn at his fine estate in Rambouillet, France.

Rambouillet’s close proximity to Paris and Versailles (about 30 miles southwest) allowed it to serve as an occasional seat of government. Moreover, it was a picturesque spot used by the Duke and the Princess to escape the formality and etiquette of Versailles. It was also the perfect spot to relax as Rambouillet’s forests were populated with game and thick with verdant green glens. Continue reading

Napoleon’s Rooms at Longwood House

Napoleon's rooms at Longwood
Longwood House. Author’s collection.

After Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo, he was exiled to St. Helena where he resided at Longwood House. Longwood had originally been a farm that belonged to the East India company and then converted into the country residence of the Deputy-Governor. It became the residence of Napoleon from 10 December 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821.

Although inadequate, a new house was not begun until Napoleon had lived on St. Helena for about three years. Building of the new house began in October 1818, but Napoleon would never occupy it. A French atlas maker and author named Comte Las Cases wrote about Napoleon’s accommodations at Longwood House in late 1815. He provided this description: Continue reading

Thirteen Well-known People Buried at Montparnasse Cemetery in the 1800s

Montparnasse Cemetery. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Because of health concerns, cemeteries were banned inside Paris beginning in 1786 when the Cimetière des Innocents closed. In the early nineteenth century, new cemeteries began to open and replace the closed ones. Among the new cemeteries were Montmarte Cemetery in the north, Père Lachaise Cemetery in the east, and  Montparnasse Cemetery in the south.

Montparnasse Cemetery opened on 25 July 1824. It was created from three farms that initially consisted of 30 acres and was originally known as Le Cimetière du Sud (Southern Cemetery). Continue reading

Madame Elisabeth’s Château Montreuil

Portrait of Madame Élisabeth, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Portrait of Madame Élisabeth. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Madame Élisabeth was the younger sister of King Louis XVI and sister-in-law to Marie Antoinette. In her youth, Madame Élisabeth spent many wonderful days at an estate called Montreuil. In 1783, the estate belonged to the Princess de Guémenée who served as governess to the King’s and Queen’s children between 1775 and 1782. But the Princess de Guémenée resigned and was forced to sell Montreuil because of her husband’s financial issues and bankruptcy.  Without Madame Élisabeth’s knowledge, the King then bought the estate for her as a birthday present when she turned 19.

Marie Antoinette wanted to surprise Madame Élisabeth and suggested they drive out to see the estate one last time as news had leaked that it had been sold. Once there, Marie Antoinette surprised Madame Élisabeth by remarking, “Sister, you are in your own house. This is to be your Trianon.”[1] However, the birthday gift came with one caveat: The King would not allow Madame Élisabeth to sleep over night at the estate until she turned 25, and, so, each day she traveled faithfully from Versailles to her little piece of heaven called Montreuil. Continue reading

Château de Bagatelle

Château de Bagatelle. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Château de Bagatelle, located in the Bois de Boulogne, initially existed as a small hunting lodge for the Maréchal d’Estrées and was designed for brief stays while hunting. Later, the daughter of  Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé owned it. Her name was Louise Anne de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Charolais, and she occupied it for twenty years. When she died on 6 April 1758, she left it to her nephew, Louis-François-Joseph de Bourbon-Conti, who was the last Prince of Conti, and, in 1770, the Prince de Chimay became the owner. Continue reading

Petit Ranelagh or the French Ranelagh

Petit Ranelagh or the French Ranelagh
Ranelagh Gardens Rotunda in London. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Petit Ranelagh or the French Ranelagh, sometimes called the Garden of the Ranelagh, has an interesting history. It began in 1773 with a barrier guard and a lodge keeper named Morison (also sometimes spelled Morisan). He had an inn in the Bois de Boulogne and obtained permission from the Prince de Soubise, who was the governor of the Château de la Muette, to erect a building in imitation of the one built by the first Earl of Ranelagh in London, which had been built on the banks of the Thames between 1688–89 and was called Ranelagh Gardens. Continue reading