Sophie Blanchard: First Female to Fly a Balloon Solo

Sophie Blanchard: First Female to Fly a Balloon Solo
Sophie Blanchard, Public Domain

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

An American Plot to Save Marie Antoinette From the Guillotine

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette, Author’s Collection

On a slightly misty day on 16 October 1793 the Queen Marie Antoinette was guillotined. However, before it reached that point, there were a variety of plots to save the Queen. One plot to save Marie Antoinette is legendary and may or may not be true. It involves a home built in Maine in 1774 located on Jeremy Squam Island (now called Westport Island) but relocated one winter to the shores of Edgecomb. The plot also supposedly took effect in 1792 while Marie Antoinette was imprisoned at the Temple.

The plot is alleged to involve a number of colorful characters. One character was James Swan. Swan was a financier, a Scotsman, and a member of the Sons of Liberty. Moreover, he had participated in the Boston Tea. He emigrated from Fife, Scotland, to Massachusetts in 1765 and, in the late 1780s, moved to France. While living in France, he developed a successful trade business. The business involved exporting shipping masts and spars to France and importing French goods that were then sold in Boston. Continue reading

10 August: A First Hand Account (Part 2)

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Public Domain
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Public Domain

Scottish born John Moore continued to record his observations about the 10 August storming of the Tuileries Palace in 1792. He made the following notations in his journal on 11 August, which are provided below almost verbatim:

When the King and Queen entered the hall of the National Assembly, they were accompanied by the Dauphin, their daughter, and the Princess Elizabeth, and attended by the ministers and some members of the municipality of Paris. Continue reading

10 August: A First Hand Account (Part 1)

10 August 1792
Dr. John Moore, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Scottish born John Moore obtained his medical degree in Glasgow, served with the army in Flanders during the Seven Years’ War, and eventually settled in France, where he was attached to the household of the British ambassador. In 1792, he accompanied James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale, to Paris and witnessed the revolution. Among the events he witnessed was the storming of the Tuileries Palace by insurgents on 10 August 1792, which became known as “10 August.” His observations on 10 August were published in the Chester Chronicle and said to be an extract taken from his book, Journal During a Residence in France. His account for August 10th is provided below and is almost verbatim: Continue reading

A French Balloon Duel

A Duel In The Bois De Boulogne, Near Paris, Courtesy of Wikipedia
A Duel In The Bois De Boulogne, Near Paris, Courtesy of Wikipedia

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

Exposition Universelle of 1855

Exposition Universelle: Palais de l'Industrie, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Palais de l’Industrie, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Paris hosted five World Fairs. The first of these World Fair’s occurred in 1855 and was called the Exposition Universelle. It came about after Britain hosted the 1851 Great Exhibition of Works of Industry of all Nations. Napoleon III hoped to outdo England’s famous exhibition with its Crystal Palace that was used to house the exhibition. He also hoped to increase France’s reputation and popularize his political role in the world. Although Paris’s Exposition Universelle was not a financial success, it did become a political success in that it legitimized the Second French Empire and put Paris on the map as an international city. Continue reading

Duel of Madame de Polignac and Marquise de Nesle

Duc de Richelieu and Madame de Polignac, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Duc de Richelieu, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Louis François Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, better known as the Duc de Richelieu, was Louis XIV’s godson. He was also known as a man with loose morals who enjoyed numerous lovers, including the novelist Claudine Guérin de Tencin’s two sisters — Marie Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans, Duchess de Berry, and her younger sister Charlotte Aglaé d’Orléans — and their first cousin, Louise Anne de Bourbon.

Because the handsome Duc de Richelieu was the Adonis of the day and prone to womanizing, he often found himself involved in various disputes that resulted in duels. However, the duel Richelieu may be best remembered for was not fought by him but rather fought over him. It occurred between two of his lovers, the Marquise de Nesle, daughter of the Duc de Mazarin, and her sister-in-law, Madame de Polignac. Continue reading

Burning of the Ballroom at Napoleon’s Marriage Celebration

Napoleon and Marie Louise in 1812, Napoleon's marriage, Public Domain
Napoleon and Marie Louise in 1812, Public Domain

On 1 July 1810, a fête was held in honor of Napoleon’s marriage to Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma and daughter of Francis II of Austria. The fête was given by Prince Joseph Schwarzenberg, a subject of Francis II, to honor Marie Louise. It was held at the Austrian Embassy on the Chausée d’Antin and to accommodate guests, a spacious timber planked ballroom “was erected, of very slight frame-work … and protected by a cloth awning [gauze, muslin, and other light stuffs] richly covered over.” Furthermore, to light the area, there were an immense number of “lustres” suspended from the ceiling, and, in addition, candles were sprinkled about to increase the illumination.

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Robert Brothers and the First Balloon Flight of Over 100km

Robert brothers
September 1784 Flight Lifting Off From the Gardens of Tuileries, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

The first flight of more than 100 km (about 63 miles) took place on Sunday, 19 September 1784. It was conducted by two brothers — Anne-Jean Robert and Nicolas-Louis Robert — known collectively as Les Frères Robert (Robert brothers). Their aerostatic experiment, as it was called, launched from the royal gardens of the Tuileries Palace. It was a widely acclaimed event and attended by thousands of spectators. One report about the event was published in the Derby Mercury on 30 September 1784 and titled, “Paris Intelligence. Areostation.” The article is provided below, almost verbatim.

The third aerostatic experiment of the brothers Robert, … was attended with complete success. Mons. Vallet, to whom the brothers committed the charge of filling the Globe, began the business on Saturday afternoon. He employed new apparatus, constructed on the most ingenious and simple principles; by means of which the balloon was amply filled in three hours. The operation would not have required more than an hour and a half, if the workmen had been accustomed to the new method. Continue reading

Bernadette Soubirous and the Healing Waters of Lourdes

Bernadette Soubirous, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Bernadette Soubirous, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Bernadette Soubirous was the daughter of a miller and laundress born on 7 January 1844. She lived in Lourdes in the south of France, and, on 11 February 1858, at the age of fourteen, she, her younger sister, and a friend were gathering wood in an area near some poplars. At one point they came to stream and to prevent wetting her stockings, she stopped to remove them and sat near an alcove or niche.

As Bernadette bent down to take off her stockings the wind suddenly whipped up. She was so startled she looked up, but the poplars were not moving with the wind. Bernadette was puzzled. She bent down again to take off her stockings and again she heard the wind. This time when she looked up she “would have uttered a loud cry if she had not been choked with fear. She trembled in all her limbs, and fell to the earth dazzled, completely overcome by what she had seen.” Continue reading