Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Macrocephaly of Louis de Bourbon-Condé

The son and heir of the infamously insane Henri Jules de Bourbon-Condé was all set to inherit his father's title upon his death. Unfortunately, that is not quite the only thing he inherited. Like his father he appears to have slipped into madness towards the end of his already short life. But it was another factor - a far more visible one - that attracted the whispers of Versailles. Louis suffered from macrocephaly - a condition which leaves the sufferer with an abnormally large head. This was only further highlighted by the prince's very short stature. The contrast between his short frame and his large head was too obvious not to notice.

It was not the first time the court of France had seen examples of deformities involving the head. The difference was that the previous examples had been used more for entertainment. François I and Louis XII both had the same court jester who suffered from the opposite condition: microcephaly (having a smaller head than usual). His name was Triboulet and lived during the latter part of the fifteenth century to around 1536. Luckily for Louis, his birth rank protected him from having to make his living as a royal fool - although it most likely did nothing to protect him from the snickering of his co-aristocrats. 

Billedresultat for louis iii de bourbon conde
The few official portraits of the prince diplomatically
omitted showing the macrocephaly

Macrocephaly in itself can have a very different impact on the patient's life. Some have quite normal lives and suffer little to no further health issues. It would appear that Louis had few other bodily defects but - as mentioned - his mental health deteriorated. However, this could easily have come from his father.
His skin-tone was noted to be not quite the pearly white otherwise prescribed by aristocratic beauty standards at the time. Instead, it was yellowish - some sources claims that it had a rather orange hue. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Sudden Death of Louvois

François-Michel Le Tellier was primarily known simply by the name of his marquisate of Louvois. He served Louis XIV as Minister of War and did so with unscrupulousness and ruthlessness. Naturally, this way of carrying on is bound to result in enemies - and Louvois certainly had his share.

Louvois died suddenly on 16 July 1691; the official cause of death was considered to be apoplexy but the suddenness caused immediate speculations of poisoning. It was well-known that the marquis always had a pitcher full in his office which only fueled suspicions. Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate was certain that he had indeed been poisoned and even named the culprit: his physician, Seron. According to Madame this particular doctor had confessed to poisoning his master on his own deathbed. 
Madame also mentions that some rumours had it that Madame de Maintenon were responsible. Despite the unwavering dislike of Madame for La Maintenon, she completely dismissed it. 

Others were not so quick to clear the king's mistress of the charge of murder. It was no secret that Madame de Maintenon and Louvois were hardly on good terms; on the contrary, the could easily be classed as enemies. One particular theory claimed that Louvois had convinced Louis XIV not to publicly announce his marriage to the rather low-born Maintenon. Madame de Maintenon was allegedly furious and not long after Louvois suspiciously died.

Billedresultat for louvois

The Duc de Saint-Simon had an even more daring theory. While he agreed that the minister had definitely been poisoned he disagreed as to the culprit. Rather than pointing the finger at the deceased's doctor he pointed a great deal higher: to the king himself. Although poison was not truly the style of Louis XIV, the Sun King had been rapidly losing his regard for his former dear minister. Once he was informed of his death the king made no attempt at hiding that he did not consider it a great loss. He even counted Louvois amongst three that he had been fortunate enough to be rid of in that particular year.
However, it is unlikely that Louis XIV would actually have had him poisoned. The main reason is that he simply did not need to. As an absolute monarch the king could simply have dismissed him and exiled him further if he was completely tired of him. 

Another account has it that a Savoyard servant was arrested following Louvois' death but was quickly released on the king's express order. This particular theory was probably based more on political thought since Savoy and France's relationship was at a low.
Several reports mentions that Louis XIV cut his meeting with his minister short because the latter appeared to be quite ill. This is little help when it comes to deciding if poisoning had taken place. On one hand it could be the external signs of an already deadly disease but on the other it could be the first signs of the poison taking effect. 

There were those who contemplated if Louvois had committed suicide. His influence over the king was a shadow of what it had been and it was widely expected that the king would soon rid himself of his uncompromising minister. Perhaps the dread of becoming a virtual nobody was too much for Louvois?

As was customary, an autopsy was performed on the deceased. This took place on the 17th July and according to the Marquis de Dangeau all the doctors agreed that there was no sign of poisoning. However, not everyone agreed with this. The Duc de Saint-Simon, for one, remarked the exact opposite and affirmed that evidence of poisoning was certainly found.
Whether or not Louvois was actually poisoned will never be known for certain. It can only be remarked that it is quite ironic that the man who had control of the Chambre Ardente - which was in charge of persecuting courtiers on cases of poisoning - would himself die a suspicious death.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Dangerous Doctors in the 18th Century

For this particular post I have been joined by bestseller-author Eleanor Herman whose book "The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medications, and Murder Most Foul (St. Martin’s Press, June 2018.)" has been praised by a wide variety of US reviewers including Washington Post Book World and The New York Times Book Review. The following is the work of Herman.

No one likes going to the doctor, but we should all thank our lucky stars for modern medical treatments. Past medical practices were often either deadly, gross, or a horrifying combination of the two. 

We all know that doctors used to bleed their patients, incorrectly believing that bleeding would remove the body’s “evil humours” that supposedly caused disease. Even George Washington was accidentally murdered in 1799 by his doctor who took 2,3 liters (80 ounces)—that’s 35 percent of his blood—in twelve hours to cure his cold. 

Billedresultat for 18th century blood letting
A well-to-do lady being blood-let

In 1712, an epidemic—probably measles—struck Versailles. Louis XIV’s grandson and heir, Louis, Duc de Bourgogne, his wife, Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, and their elder son, the five-year-old dauphin, sickened, though they may have recovered if the doctors had not bled them nearly dry; thus, weakening the body’s natural ability to fight the illness. Three-year-old Louis (later Louis XV) was saved by his governess, Madame de Ventadour, who hid with him in the palace for several days to prevent the doctors killing him.

Ironically, the wealthy stood a greater chance of suffering death by doctor, as fatal physicians were expensive. Those too poor to summon a doctor relied on bedrest and chicken soup and had better odds of recovery. Many popular medical treatments were equally as dangerous as bleeding, and some were a great deal more disgusting! 

Let’s look at ten treacherous treatments that were used during the Versailles-era: 
1. For rashes and other skin disorders, physicians prescribed ointments of mercury, which absorbs easily through the skin and causes birth defects, kidney and liver problems, fatigue, irritability, tremors, depression, paranoia, mood swings, excess salivation, black teeth, and death. 

2. Doctors often used feces—bursting with bacteria, parasites, and infection—in medications. Horse feces was ingested by those with lung ailments. Rat droppings were eaten to ease constipation. Those suffering from nose bleeds were advised to thrust hog’s dung—still warm—up the nose. Human excrement—dried and powdered, was blown into the eye to cure ailments. 

3. To cure constipation, doctors recommended giving a pound of quick-silver at a time to a puppy, collecting it when it came out the other end, boiling it in vinegar, and drinking it. Being poisonous, it had the desired effect. 

4. Dead pigeons, roosters, and other birds, cut in half, were applied still bleeding to the heads and feet of sick people to draw out their evil humors, and sometimes left there putrefying for days. 

5. Physicians rubbed syphilis victims all over with mercury several times a day and placed them in tents to inhale mercury, which sometimes killed them on the spot. If it didn’t kill them, the poison might force the bacteria into remission, though the side effects were black saliva and teeth, deafness, tremors, and loss of parts of the jaw. 

A German illustration of a 17th century book
on treatment of syphilis using mercury

6. Royals and courtiers regularly consumed human fat, brain, skull, organs, and blood in their medications, obtained fresh from the nearest executioner. They thought they were consuming the remaining life force of the dead person, a potent rejuvenator. 

7. Catholics believed saintly body parts could effect a cure; moldy bones and leathery bits of skin were placed beside the patient to transmit holy healing energy. The Spanish court, however, went a bit overboard with this. Entire desiccated corpses were put into bed with sick members of the Spanish royal family. We can imagine a princess waking from a fever to find a skull with a hank of black hair on it sharing her pillow. 

8. Many women survived delivering their babies but died of infection soon after, killed by their doctors thrusting dirty hands and crusty instruments into the birth canal, which we now know is a wide-open germ receptor. Physicians did not wash their hands or their instruments between patients, spreading disease and deadly bacteria. 

9. Lice infestations were seen as beneficial. In 1650, English physician Robert Pemell wrote, “If lice be only in the head, in many it preserves their health, because they consume much excrementious humors.” 

Billedresultat for 18th century lice
A louse - so acceptable to Mr. Pemell

10. A cure for serious illness was to put the patient into the hollowed-out belly of a freshly slaughtered ox, horse, or mule, as the heat from the carcass was believed to draw out the evil humors. When that carcass cooled, the patient was dragged into another one still hot. An odd treatment, but then again, if he survived that, he could probably survive anything. 

For those of you who prefer their information delivered in a more visual manner than by text alone, Eleanore Herman has also produced three videos, that you ought to take a look at. It is a series of videos that cover the many ways people through history has gotten in touch with poison; from the banquet table to cosmetics and the purposeful use of poison to get rid of an unwanted person.  


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Girandole Grove

The Girandole grove was one of the first planned and executed according to the design of André Le Nôtre in 1663; thus it is one of the oldest parts of the palace gardens. By 1669 a fountain was installed - it is from the mouth of the fountain that the grove got its name. This particular part strongly resembled a girandole. Also the smaller jets of water sprouting from the edges of the basin to the centre adds to the illusion.
Water terms were installed in the grove but had not been intended to appear at Versailles at all. In fact, Nicolas Fouquet had ordered them for his estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Once the terms had been finished in Rome they were dispatched thither but when the minister fell out of favour with the king they were appropriated by the crown.

However, little of Louis XIV's Girandole Grove remained during the reign of Louis XVI. As early as 1760 construction was begun in the grove; by 1775 a new horse-tree avenue had completely replaced Le Nôtre's original design. Thankfully, restoration in 2000 means that it now has again taken the shape originally intended. 

Billedresultat for versailles bosquet de girandole
The centre mouth of the fountain

Relateret billede

Billedresultat for versailles bosquet de girandole

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Eating the French Way: Service à la Française

Service à la Française could easily be said to be a sort of buffet; most guests were standing and each composed their own plate according to their own tastes. Naturally, it would not be a truly French type of eating if there was no structure at all.

The dishes were brought in, in three services. First, the fish and the soups were served. Secondly, roasts and accompanying side-dishes. Finally, fruits and desserts would round up the dinner.

It was an excellent way of displaying the monarch's wealth. Louis XIV, for example, could boast of serving ices in the heat of summer; quite a feat in days without refrigeration. Likewise, exotic fruits showcased the king's far-reaching power. Pineapples were grown in the royal green-houses along with other delicacies not naturally found in France. 

At Versailles the department responsible for the king's meals (called the Maison de Bouche) were in charge of supplying the delicious dishes. However, the nature of how the food was laid out meant that servants were not needed to supply each guest with new food. Instead, the king's servants primary functions were to bring out the food and remove the dirty dishes. Glasses - once used - were placed on a table and would be taken to be cleaned. It should also be noted that the servants who were there were all male - females were not permitted to serve the royal table.

Billedresultat for service à la française
A perfect example of the symmetry of
the French service

As the Ancien Regime rolled on the service à la Française developed too. Once the fork had become a standard in royal dinners - which took quite a while since Louis XIV considered it too Italian - it was customary to place them neatly by the side of the plate. Also, forks normally had three teeth not four.
The setting itself was a perfect mirror of the love of symmetry that was so dominant in the baroque era. Thus, the dishes were set out in complete symmetry. Taste was, of course, an important aspect but the look of the dishes were almost equally important. Each dish was often elaborately displayed and flower displays often finished off the setting.

The service itself was outstanding. Silver and gold plates were wrought in more and more elaborate patterns. The heavy silverware of Louis XIV was mixed with more delicate porcelain during Louis XV's reign. Porcelain had the added advantage of keeping the dishes heated a little while longer. This was typically how dinner was laid out on the occasion of the appartements. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Portrait Gallery: Marie Josèphe

1747 by Jean-Baptiste Greuze
1756-60 by Maurice Quentin
de La Tour
By Anton Raphaël Mens
After Nattier
By Michel Aubert
By Jean-Martial Fredou
German print
1751 by Jean-Étienne Liotard
1749 by de La Tour
By Marie Victoire Jaquotot
After de La Tour
By de La Tour
By Nattier
1750 by Nattier
1747 by Daniel Klein
the Younger
After Nattier
By Nattier
1760 by Fredou
By de La Tour
As a child

Portrait Gallery: Louis XIV

As a child

Ca 1646
By Juste d'Egmont
With his wet-nurse by Charles
Attributed to Jean Nocret
By Claude Mellan
Unknown artist

As king

After Hyacinthe Riguad
By Charles Le Brun
By follower of le Brun

By Robert Nanteuil
After Lefebvre
By René-Antoine Houasse
Unknown artist
By Pierre Mignard
In armor
By Jean Ranc
1674 by van Meulen
By Charles le Brun
By Charles le Brun
Unknown artist
Unknown artist
By Jean-Baptiste Colbert
By Charles le Brun
By Riguad
By Jean Nocret
By Pierre Mignard
Attributed to Rigaud
Unknown artist
By Charles le Brun
Attributed to Nicolas-René
the Elder
By Robert Nanteuil
By Jean Ranc
By Pierre Mignard
By Pierre Mignard
Coloured drawing
1660 by Pierre Mignard
By Nicolas Larmessin
By Cornelius Vermeulen
Unknown artist
By Nicolas Larmessin II
By Jean-Marie Ribou
By Hyacinthe Riguad
By Antoine Trouvain
By Rigaud