When Napoleon Courted Désirée Clary

When Napoleon courted Désirée Clary (born Eugénie Bernardine Désirée Clary), he was about twenty-five. He met her while stationed in Marseille after his strategy proved successful at the Siege of Toulon in 1793. Désirée was the daughter a wealthy Marseille silk manufacturer and merchant named François Clary, who had four children by his first wife, and Désirée and eight other children by his second wife, Françoise Rose Somis (addressed as Eugénie). Continue reading

One Visitor’s Tale of Madame Tussaud’s 1883 Exhibition

Madame Tussaud. Author’s collection.

Heavy rain showers induced one Londoner who had been reading William Black’s Macleod of Dare to ponder about a better way to spend his time. When he looked out his window and saw wet streets and large splashing raindrops, instead of staying inside or following Black’s advice to enjoy an art pilgrimage to the National Gallery or South Kensington Museum, he decided to do something entirely different. Something that he had never done before.

What he decided to do was visit Madame Tussaud’s well-known establishment located on Baker Street. He hailed a hackney cab and gave this report of his visit that was published in November of 1883 in the Aberdeen Press and Journal: Continue reading

The Famous French Actor François Joseph Talma

Talma. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In 1904, a marble statue was erected in Poix-du-Nord by the sculptor Fagel to one of the greatest actors of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The actor’s name was François Joseph Talma. Another statue had been sculpted by Pierre Jean David and erected to Talma in 1837 in the vestibule of the Theatre Français opposite the great Enlightenment writer Voltaire.

Talma was born on 15 January 1763 in Paris. His father was a dentist, and, for a time, Talma practiced dentistry, but the stage was too big of a draw for him. It might have begun when he was young, as he had his first theatrical performance when he was eight years old. He played a part in the story of Tamerlane and was to close the play by announcing to Tamerlane the death of his son. Continue reading

Napoleon’s 13-year-old Friend Betsy Balcombe on St. Helena

Napoleon looking out to sea on St. Helena. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Napoleon’s voyage into exile ended on 15 October 1815 at half past ten when the Northumberland anchored at St. Helena. That night he slept aboard the ship and on the morning of the 17th, he traveled to Longwood House, the residence of the lieutenant-governor that was designated as Napoleon’s future residence. He seemed satisfied with Longwood but because it needed to be repaired, refurbished, and enlarged, he needed to stay somewhere else temporarily.

It was decided he would stay at the Briar’s homestead with William Balcombe, an English merchant and superintendent of Public Sales for the East India Company. William was married to Jane Cranston and they had two daughters and two sons: Jane (1779), Lucia Elizabeth “Betsy”(1803), Thomas Tyrwhitte (1810), and Alexander Beatson (1811). Jane and Betsy had been educated in England and taught the French language. Continue reading

The Early Days of Frenchman Emmanuel Barthelemy and the Last Fatal Duel in England

Friend of Emmanuel Barthelemy
Louis Auguste Blanqui. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Emmanuel Barthélemy was born in 1823 and came from Sceaux Hauts-de-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris. He had a magnetic personality and revolution in his blood practically from birth. He became a member of a society that existed during the reign of Louis Phillipe I known as the Blanquist, which was based on a theory by Louis Auguste Blanqui that socialist revolution should be carried out by a relatively small group of highly organized and secretive conspirators.

While involved with Blanqui, the hot-tempered teenager was arrested in 1839 for his involvement in a coup led by Blanqui and Armand Barbès with the Société des saisons (Society of Seasons). Barthélemy shot sergent de ville (a new national guard) in an attempt to kill him but didn’t succeed. He was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to forced labor as a galley convict. Some eight years later, in 1847, he was released from prison during a general amnesty. Continue reading

The Sex of Chevalier d’Eon

Chevalier d'Eon
Chevalier d’Eon dressed as a woman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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 the dragoons and habitually wore a dragoon’s uniform, even though rumors constantly circulated that he was a woman. There were also rumors that he had assumed the role of a woman while operating as a spy in Russia.

“Some faint rumours had spread at various preceding periods, that M. D’Eon was a woman, and, in addition to certain feminine appearances in his voice and person, still stronger surmise was indulged, especially at Petersburg, on account of the total indifference, and even aversion as to all affairs of gallantry constantly exhibited by D’Eon towards the females of that voluptuous court, where amorous intrigue is well known to have mixed itself on most occasion with political events.”[1] Continue reading

One of the First Feminists Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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 in 1765 to marry a man she felt great repugnance for and did not love. He was a caterer and minor official named Louis Aubry. In 1767, around the time he died, she moved with her son, Pierre, to Paris where her sister Jeanne was living.

Whether the name Gouges was a variant spelling or not is unclear. However, what is clear is that Jeanne sometimes signed her name Gouges, and Olympe also adopted Gouges as her surname instead of taking her father’s or husband’s last name. As a single woman intent on surviving in Paris alone, her own surname helped her to establish her independence and identity. Continue reading

Francis Tussaud: Madame Tussaud’s Son

Francis Tussaud, from his great-grandson’s book of 1920, “The Romance of Madame Tussaud’s.”

Francis (François in French) Tussaud was Madame Tussaud‘s son. He was born to her and her husband François on a Saturday, 2 August 1800. Two years later, Madame Tussaud decided to promote her waxworks in England, and she left her son Francis behind in the care of her husband, mother, and aunt, and took her 4-year-old son, Joseph, with her. Madame Tussaud eventually broke it off with her husband but continued to write to Francis, her mother, and her aunt from England.

Francis grew into a young man who had a strong desire to be an architect. However, his father must have thought otherwise because he obtained an apprenticeship for him with a grocer. The apprenticeship proved costly, and once François discovered this, he then found an apprenticeship for his son with a billiard table builder. For a time, Francis unhappily pursued that career, and, perhaps, that is why he finally joined his mother and brother in England. Continue reading

The French Feral Boy Victor of Aveyron and a Visit with Madame Récamier

French feral boy Victor of Aveyron
Lithograph from 1800 of Victor of Aveyron. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One famous French beauty and socialite was Juliette Récamier or Madame Récamier. She was known to hobnob regularly with aristocrats and the elite, and one day, in 1803, when she was hosting and mingling, a rather interesting incident occurred. It involved Jean March Gaspard Itard. He was a French physician at the National Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and he had been accompanied to Madame Récamier’s by a feral boy* whose case he had taken up and whom he named Victor of Aveyron.

The story of Victor begins when he was first spotted by woodsmen near Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance in the commune of Aveyron as early as 1794. Periodically, between 1797 and 1798, Victor was again seen. Stories differ as to whether he emerged from the forest on his own or whether woodsmen captured him with their nets. However, once he emerged from the woods, he stayed with numerous people, although he also ran away regularly and was recaptured. Continue reading

Tales of Charlotte Corday’s Head

Charlotte Corday. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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 and Philippe Egalite. However, that was not the end of the story, as years later Corday’s skull allegedly appeared in the possession of Prince Roland Bonaparte, grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Lucien.

The neighborhood where Corday was buried was supposedly “infected by the putrefaction of the bodies buried there,”[1] and because of that the cemetery was closed sometime after 1794. Around that same time a Monsieur Descloseaux bought the cemetery. Most of the bodies were moved, and the cemetery transformed into a pleasure garden. However, Corday’s body supposedly remained there, and, in 1804, Descloseaux claims he added a cross to mark the spot of her grave. Continue reading