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 →
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.
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 →
Many famous fairy tales exist about giants and two of the most popular tales are “Jack in the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer.” However, in the 1800s there was a real person who was a giant. He was called the French Giant Louis Frenz but he also gained notoriety as Monsieur Louis.
The French Giant was born in 1801, and, at an early age, he decided to seek his fortune in England. His first exhibition in England supposedly occurred there in 1822 when he appeared at New Bond Street. It was there he naively confessed he had arrived in London to make a fortune and planned to return to France once he accomplished it. To earn this fortune, the French Giant usually exhibited himself between 11am and 5pm and between 7pm to 9pm. In addition, in 1825, he charged a shilling to see him, although servants and children got a reduce rate of half price. Continue reading →
Stéphanie Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin better known as Madame de Genlis was born on 25 January 1746. She was french writer and educator appointed to oversee the education of the children of Louis Philippe II, Duke of Chartres (later Duke of Orléans) and his wife Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon. The Duke appointed her gouverneur (not governess) of his sons in 1781. The position of gouverneur at the time was something given only to men, so the appointment caused a stir.
As gouverneur, Madame de Genlis was zealous to the point of being overbearing. Part of the problem was her educational techniques were uncommon. Moreover, all the other tutors quit because Madame de Genlis would not share her power and zealously implemented her ideas. (To learn more about her educational ideas and techniques, you can read my guest post at Naomi Clifford’s blog. It is titled Madame Genlis: A Most Unusual Educator). In addition, in order to popularize her educational ideas, Madame de Genlis included them in many of her novels, which amounted to over eighty. 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 →
Juliette Récamier was born Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Bernard in Lyon on 4 December 1777. She was the only child of Jean Bernard, the King’s counselor and a notary, and his wife, the former Marie Julie Matton. Juliette, as she was called, was described in personality and character as “tender-hearted, affectionate, charitable and kind, beloved in her home-circle and by all who know her.”
At the age of fifteen, Juliette married a French banker nearly thirty years her senior. His name was Jacques-Rose Récamier. However, Juliette’s marriage to the handsome Récamier was in name only because they never consummated their marriage, and she remained a virgin until at least age forty. One reason for the lack of consummation may be explained by what Récamier wrote when thinking about his impending marriage to Juliette: Continue reading →
Pierre André Latreille was a French zoologist who specialized in arthropods. However, he became known as the “foremost entomologist” of his time after he was imprisoned and discovered a rare beetle. His fascinating story begins when he was born on 29 November 1762 in the town of Brive. He was the illegitimate child of and unknown woman and Jean Joseph Sahuguet d’Amarzit, général baron d’Espagnac. A few years after his birth, he was orphaned, but luckily he was adopted by famous mineralogist, Abbé Haüy.
Haüy insured he got a good education and his education began at the Collège du Cardinal Lemoine in Brive. It was later continued in Paris when he was taken there at the age of sixteen. In school, he became interested in natural history and received lessons about botany from René Just Haüy. He also met Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the French naturalist who was an early proponent of evolution. In addition, because of Latreille’s interest in natural history, he visited the Jardin du Roi often and began searching for insects wherever he went. Continue reading →