People

The French Executioner Charles-Henri Sanson

The French executioner Charles-Henri Sanson was born on 15 February 1739 and served as the royal execution during the reign of King Louis XVI and High Executioner during the First French Republic. He administered capital punishment in the city of Paris for over forty years and executed nearly 3,000 people, including King Louis XVI. He…

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The Sex of Chevalier d’Eon

The sex of Chevalier d’Eon (or if you want his actual name Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont) was of great interest to people in the eighteenth century. D’Eon claimed that he was born female but had been raised as a boy so that his father could inherit from his in-laws. When he was older, he joined…

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One of the First Feminists Olympe de Gouges

One of the first feminists, Olympe de Gouges, began her life in 1748 when she born Marie Gouze in Montauban, Quercy in southwest France. Her mother was Olympe Mouisset and her legal father, Pierre Gouze, was a butcher, but she claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of Jean-Jacques Lefranc, Marquis de Pompignan. She was forced…

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Tales of Charlotte Corday’s Head

After Charlotte Corday’s execution for assassinating Jacques-Jean Marat, her body and guillotined head were said to have been buried in Ditch No. 5 of the cemetery of the Madeleine on rue Anjou Saint-Honore in Paris. Ditch No. 4 held the body of Louis XVI, and Ditch No. 6 would be readied shortly for Marie Antoinette…

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Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet: Their Relationship

In 1733, love came knocking at Voltaire’s door in the form of Émilie du Châtelet, the intelligent daughter of Louis Nicolas le Tonnelier de Breteuil. Through an arranged marriage, she had become the wife of an army man named Marquis Florent-Claude du Châstellet-Lomont. The Marquis was frequently absent and considered dull, formal, and cold. In…

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Jean-Baptiste Biot and L’Aigle Meteorite in 1803

Jean-Baptiste Biot was a French physicist, astronomer, and mathematician who had a fascination with meteorites. He was born in Paris on 21 April 1774 to a treasury official named Joseph Biot. Like many other Frenchmen, Biot was educated at the École Polytechnique, a prestigious school founded by Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge, during the French…

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The French Conjuror Val in England

The French conjuror Val made his first appearance in London in the spring of 1803 at Willis’s Rooms, charging an admission of seven shillings. Val, like other conjurors, performed tricks that usually involved some sort of sleight of hand and appeared to be magical. However, those who saw Val quickly discovered he was no ordinary…

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Pierre-Paul Sirven, the Sirven Affair, and Voltaire

Protestants were unpopular in France. Because of their unpopularity, they were frequently persecuted by Catholics for their beliefs, and French authorities often ignored the basic principles of law to prosecute them unfairly. One case of a Protestant being persecuted and prosecuted unfairly involves a merchant named Jean Calas. He was tried for torturing and murdering…

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A Satirical Description of Voltaire

François-Marie Arouet, simply known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a well-known eighteenth century French Enlightenment writer who became famous for his wit. He was also known for criticizing French institutions, religious dogma, and the Catholic Church. He was frequently thought of as fascinating and therefore “a great prince” wrote a satirical description of…

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