Friday, 18 January 2019

Up, Up, And Away: Hot Air Balloons At Versailles

Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier had invented a whole new way of movement for otherwise land bound animals: upwards. The idea was very close to the same hot air balloons used today: a basket attached to a piece of fabric which was lifted by the use of fire. The Academie Royale des Sciences were intrigued and requested that the experiment be repeated - in front of the king, queen and court. Simon Schama estimated that 100.000 people had turned out to watch the historic event. Astronomers, scientists and foreign dignitaries stood ready as did countless servants, bourgeoises and peasants.

19 September 1783 was chosen as the critical date. Montgolfier had used fabric of a combined weight of 400 kgs and measured 18 meters x 13 meters. The design was left to a friend of his, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, who chose to honour their sovereign. Thus, a blue background contrasted with two golden intertwining "Ls" for Louis, as well as the zodiac signs and golden suns. The contraption was placed on a platform in the courtyard and over 30 kgs of straw and wool was used to create the fire needed for the balloon to take off. 

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Illustration of the ballon taking off from the marble courtyard
- in the back, the chapel can be seen

Lifting such a weight for more than a few seconds was a feat in itself but the stakes were further raised when it was decided that the balloon would carry live cargo. Animals were considered to be ideal for the experiment and consequently an odd group of a sheep, a duck and a cockerel (although some sources claim the duck was a fox) were placed in the basket. Appropriately, the sheep was named Montauciel (the words "mont au ciel" meaning climb to the sky). Plenty of spectators were gathered and waited for the first cannon which was to go off at one in the afternoon. At this point the kindling was lit and once the fire was going the ropes were cut. The second blast was to announce the actual ascent of the balloon which took place some ten minutes after.

The undoubtedly confused animals reached 600 meters above the ground before they slowly began descending due to a tear in the balloon. That was actually a problem that the Montgolfiers had experienced before just days prior. When the basket finally hit the ground again, a full eight minutes had elapsed and the odd company had travelled three and a half km. All the animals were alive but  probably scared. A veterinarian announced that besides a small injury to the rooster's wing everyone had escaped without harm. According to some, the balloon had landed so gently that it had not even broken the limbs of the trees nearby. Louis XVI immediately made them honoured members of his royal menagerie. Others claim that it was Marie Antoinette who bestowed the name on the sheep and took it with her to the Petit Trianon. According to Frédéric Richaud, Montauchiel died there at a ripe old age.

Engraving from 1784 of Rozier's flight over Versailles

For those who had witnessed the ground-breaking achievement it was truly a marvel. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun admitted in her memoirs that she had had tears in her eyes when she saw a balloon rise above the Tuileries in 1785.

The event sparked completely new coiffures - as basically everything did at the time. The coiffure à la Montgolfier featured a small balloon in imitation. Fans, too, were soon adorned with similar images of people frolicking in hot air balloons. Sèvres soon followed suit and manufactured porcelain with soaring balloons. Marie Antoinette was gifted a pair of chairs by the furniture maker Georges Jacob with balloons skillfully carved into the walnut tree. Others could celebrate the balloon-mania with new curtains featuring similar balloon motifs.

Later that year - on 21 November - the first man was sent up in a similar balloon. Pilâtre de Roizer took that title and performed his feat in front of the Dauphin and Louis XVI including scientists from the Academie and the visiting Benjamin Franklin.

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Depicting both a coiffure à la Montgolfier and a
"balloon skirt" - puffed up to match

It would not be the last time that a hot air balloon was to set off from Versailles. The materials were cheap which made it more available than otherwise. The next took off on 23 June 1784 and was named after the queen: Marie Antoinette. The name was aptly chosen considering that it was commissioned by the Princesse de Lamballe. The occasion was a visit from the king of Sweden and Rozier was once again aboard.
The Duc de Chartres also wanted to experience his world from above and ordered his own manufactured. His balloon was elongated, though, and he went up with two other men. He was not the only nobleman to risk a trip to the skies. The Marquis d'Arlandes decided that experience was the best companion and chose none other than Rozier for his flight. He did note, however, that the fire had resulted in several holes in the fabric that made up the balloon.

In 1794 the Montgolfiers' invention suffered the fate of many other brilliant inventions: it was used for war. At the Battle of Fleurus in 1794 it was used to sneak a peak on the combined British-Dutch forces.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle of Spain

On 11 June 1726 a girl was born to Philip V of Spain and Elisabeth Farnese. At the time of her birth there was little hope of a match with France; just a year prior her elder sister - Mariana Victoria - had been sent back to Spain as a rejected bride for Louis XV. Nevertheless, in the world of dynastic marriages things can quickly be forgotten and Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle was as much an Infanta as her elder sister had been. 

By 1739 the shipwrecked Spanish-Franco betrothal had actually worked in favour of Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle. This time it was not Louis XV's marriage but his son's that was in question. A match was decided between the Spanish Infanta and the French Dauphin for several reasons. One, neither nation had an interest in hostile relations with their neighbors. Second, it was feared that the earlier slight might result in just such hostilities and Louis XV wanted to make up for past wrongs. Thus, he married his eldest daughter, Louise Élisabeth, to the Infante Felipe and betrothed his son, Louis Ferdinand, to Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle.

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Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle as Dauphine

In mid-December 1744 Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle stood bride at her proxy wedding in Madrid. The winter delayed her departure for Versailles a bit and it was not until February 1745 that she arrived at the heart of France. There is plenty of reason to suspect that she was more agitated than normal. Her own sister had after all been discarded even after arriving at Versailles. Several lavish celebrations followed the ceremony; one was the notorious Ball of the Yew Trees which saw the first court appearance of Madame de Pompadour. 

The courtiers were not impressed by her looks. She was often described as being "not pretty" but her lack of looks was made up for by her personality. There was general agreement that she was extremely kind and amiable. Having been brought up at the rigid Spanish court it was hardly surprising that the new Dauphine was a pious woman with a serious streak. Some read her as being haughty.

As mentioned, her looks caused some stir. The major tipping point was her hair which was red - not one of the favoured colours of the time. As with the majority of redheads, she was naturally very pale which was definitely in her favour but her features were not considered to be good. Most of her portraits shows a young woman with remarkably small and narrow eyes and a long nose.

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Jean Louis Soulavie claims that her ambitious mother - Elisabeth Farnese - had intended for Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle to take control of the Dauphin. However, as the relationship wore on the two became very close and that plan - whether Marie herself was invested in it or not - went completely forgotten. 

Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle soon encountered marital problems of the same nature as Marie Antoinette would some 25 years later. The marriage was not consummated. However, the new Dauphine was determined to adapt to her new surroundings and very quickly became a valued member of the family. Both Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska were charmed by her and - more importantly - so was Louis Ferdinand. Her husband and herself agreed that the king's liaisons were immoral and neither cared much for Madame de Pompadour.

Unlike the new royal maitresse-en-tître, the new Dauphine was not out-going. Instead, she was rather shy which made the public life at Versailles trying. Her conditions were soon to improve, though. By September her relationship with Louis Ferdinand had improved tremendously and their marriage was consummated. Shortly after, Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle was pregnant. She gave birth on 19 July 1946 to a daughter which came as a disappointment. However, there were soon other problems. The birth had severely weakened the young woman's health and she rapidly deteriorated. Quite possibly she suffered from puerperal fever. Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle died at just twenty years old on 22 July.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

L'Herisson - the Hedgehog

"Imagine, if you can, a hedgehog lying on top of my lady's head, and, what is more, considered to be beautiful!"

These words give both a clear indication of the "hedgehog" as well how ridiculous some of the ladies of Versailles found it (according to Joyce Konzelman at least)

Léonard invented a great deal of coiffures during his reign as one of Versailles' foremost hairdressers. One of them was nicknamed "the hedgehog" or l'herisson. The name was derived from the abundance of curls that made up the hairdo. Curls upon curls were piled on top of each other in tiers; some curls were left to fall freely against the back of the neck. To keep the entire structure from falling, an abundance of hairpins were needed. Finally, the locks could be powdered (however, this was not a must) and a ribbon would be tied around the entire concoction.

The Princesse de Lamballe, 1789, sporting a

This particular hairstyle can only have been hard on the natural hair of the wearer. To achieve the desired "spikes" - curls - the hair would have to be frizzed, warmed and curled. Some sources places the number of tiers at three but that number could be added to if so desired. As if a three-tier hairstyle was not intimidating enough a cap could be added at the very top - one can only imagine that a stepping stool must have been needed to place it there!

Léonard first created this style for Marie Antoinette but she was quickly copied by her ladies. One of her imitators was the Princesse de Lamballe who could not resist intertwining a few artificial flowers into her tower of tangles. She would even appear in a portrait of 1788 wearing the hairstyle. Considering that the style first saw the day of light 1778, it can be said to be one of the more persisting styles of the day.

Some chose to dial it down a notch which saw the rise of the "half-hedgehog". The entire concept was to introduce something new and different from the towering hairstyles that had dominated the years from 1773-78. Thus, a "half-hedgehog" was considered short in comparison.

Both men and women could style their hair à l'herisson. The male version included the same mass of curls but the back featured a pigtail in the back.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Last Courage of the Princesse de Monaco

Born into the Choiseul-Stainville family, Françoise Thérèse de Choiseul-Stainville had become Princesse de Monaco by marriage in 1782. Actually, both Françoise and her husband, Joseph, had been absent from France but Françoise returned to Paris in late 1793. Her object: to see her daughters again. Her return to Paris caused some stir amongst the new government. Her father-in-law, Honore of Monaco, had managed to get them to recognize some of his status as a foreign prince and Françoise was thus put under surveillance rather than immediately arrested.

However, it was not to last. Julia Kavanagh relates that she found a sanctum at the house of a friend but feared that (should her situation become dire) she would only expose her friend to harm and consequently left. In the depths of the 1793-94 winter she was arrested on charges of conspiracy; as it happens, all members of the princely family of Monaco still in France were arrested. At first she taken to the gloomy La Petite Force where she spent some time before being transferred to another prison.  She was not to linger too long here either before being finally transferred to the prison of Saint-Pélagie.

It was while she stayed at Saint-Pélagie that she met with another bearer of the title of princesse - the Princesse de Crèquy. The two appears to have taken some comfort in each other's presence; the memoirs of the Princesse de Crèquy certainly testifies to the "great resource" she found in the young Françoise Thérèse. It is thanks to Crèquy's account that we know of the great spirit Françoise Thérèse kept during her imprisonment.

Françoise Thérèse

Not everyone thought her presence so comforting, though. Before long she was denounced which led to a quick "trial" - and an even quicker death sentence. There was but one issue: Françoise Thérèse  claimed to be pregnant. French law did not permit pregnant women to be executed until after the delivery which meant a short breathing space for the Princesse de Monaco. 
However, she could not breathe too easy yet. First, the judges wished to be assured that she was indeed pregnant. This meant that the dignified Françoise had to undergo an examination; considering the conditions of both medical practitioners and the prison it cannot have been a pleasant experience.
A fellow blogger - Madame Guillotine - mentions that this examination was undertaken by a doctor Enguchard, an apothecary Quinquet and a presumed midwife Madame Prioux. 

The result was that they found her not to be pregnant. Françoise herself knew that she had not been with child; she even gives an explanation of her deceit. According to a letter by her written following the examination, she lied to give herself one more day for a very modest purpose: she wished to cut her own hair rather than have the executioner's crude knife do it. It was her wish that it be given to her children - without bloodstains. 

There is another element that I think should not be overlooked. Not only was she willing to undergo a most probably humiliating examination for her children's sake; she was also willing to cast shame on herself. While she was in Paris, her husband was not and had not been recently enough to father a child - therefore, any child must be the result of an illicit affair. Françoise refused to reveal the identity of this man - how could she have done otherwise considering that he did not exist? - and thus risked her reputation. 

By using a broken window pane, Françoise got what she wished. She cut her hair and sent it to her children's governess with a last message for them. She had requested a bit of rouge; in her words, if she was to "turn pale" no one would notice.

On the morning of 27 July 1794 her judges signed the final death warrant. The nature of the revolutionary trials meant that she would be executed that same day.

Shortly before her execution she was transferred to the Conciergerie - the same prison Marie Antoinette had spent her last days in. These were the last days of the great terror; the very cart that was to take her to the scaffold was one of the last. Françoise showed exceptional courage on her final morning. When she was led down past the cells she said her last farewells to her fellow-prisoners; she wished them a better fate than hers before being led into the street. With determination she bade a porter convey her hair and message to her children; she had managed to conceal the package in her clothing. She even found the strength to support a fellow condemned woman with the phrase: "Courage! Only crime can show weakness!"

Françoise Thérèse would need all the courage she could muster. Not only was the cart delayed on route to the execution site; she was also the last to mount the steps. Consequently, she had to witness the bloody spectacle fully knowing that the same fate awaited her. Nevertheless, she showed no fear when her turn came. She was 27 years old.

The Princesse de Monaco was not to have a lofty burial site. She was stripped of her clothing and dumped into a mass grave at the Picpus cemetery. 

Monday, 7 January 2019

Noble Enemies of Rose Bertin

The woman who would become known as Marie Antoinette's "minister of fashion" was introduced to court and quickly became a household name. Her extravagant creations caused heads to turn; unfortunately, the creator's own head appears to have been turned by her sudden rise to the highest echelons of French society. Before long her haughtiness became legendary and earned her the enmity of a score of aristocrats. 

The Baronne d'Oberkirch was outraged at the middleclass woman's behaviour. In her memoirs, the Baronne describes her as "thinking herself equal to the princesses". 

Rose's behaviour were such as many at court had never seen the like before. One notable instance was when she ran into a certain Julie Picot in the Hall of Mirrors. Julie Picot had worked for Rose Bertin and had used her position to gather clients for herself - and slander her employer. By this point the two were no longer on speaking term and when Bertin discovered that Picot had been allowed into the queen's apartments she was furious. In a fit of rage, Rose spat in her face. The two were separated by the guards and Rose was fined for her misdemeanor. Some of the aristocratic onlookers were simply amused; others thought it was a proof of the baser characteristics of her social class.

Indeed, her sense of equality with those around her was shown in rather brazen acts. When the Duchesse de Cossé - then acting dame d'atours - was presented with the bills for some clothing delivered to Marie Antoinette, the duchesse refused to pay thinking them too exuberant. In an act of defiance Rose Bertin went straight to the queen instead. By-passing a duchesse in such a rude manner could only have made her even more unpopular in the strictly hierarchical Versailles.

The political views of the milliner caused more enmity to brew - on both sides. For the monarchists it was not merely the fact that she was not an aristocrat; that could be accepted (but not forgotten) if she had acted with more humility. It was far more the fashions that she provided to Marie Antoinette. The most daring piece was the chemise à la Reine which was far too plain for a queen of France - at least in the eyes of the supporters of the Ancien Regime. While some pointed the finger of blame at the queen herself, others chose the less risky course of blaming her milliner. 

The lower classes watched with a mixture of envy and disdain. To them, it seemed that she merely encouraged a spendthrift nobility, thus adding fuel to the fire.

Even those who were more socially equal to Bertin agreed that the "minister of fashion" had lost touch with her background. The infamous writer Théveneau de Morande said of her "nothing can equal the impertinence and arrogance of this lady since she has been admitted to intimacy of the queen..."

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Rose Bertin

Bertin certainly did all she could to make sure that no one forgot whom she also supplied. Her business cards and salons were soon covered with the words "supplier to the queen"; not even those who avoided her could be safe from her bragging of her "intimacy" with Marie Antoinette. Apparently, she enjoyed mentioning it often - and loudly - to most people she met; besides she was quite often at Versailles.

As Rose Bertin's visits with the queen became a fixed point in the court timetable, her ego led her to even turn away customers. A friend of the Vicomtesse de Fars - the wife of a lawyer - had consulted the salon of Bertin in the absence of the maestro herself. She had put down a large payment of 200 livres for a hat in a certain new style. Once she returned to her own residence, the would-be customer soon heard a knock and was greeted by a servant of Bertin's carrying a note. In it she was informed that the fashion mogul had no time for the wife of a lawyer since she was busy with the ladies of the court! One can only imagine the indignation of both the scorned customer and her more aristocratic friend.

Other reports details how Rose Bertin herself treated customers in her shop. A gossip magazine (and being such it should be taken with a grain of salt) from 1778 tells of a noble woman who went to her shop where she found the fashion maker reclining on a chaiselong. Without even getting up, Bertin merely nodded her head although etiquette demanded that she curtsy. Nor would she serve her herself; instead, she called one of the shop-girls and tasked her with showing "that lady" some of her new hats.
A rather similar account of a different date have Rose Bertin merely looking up and down a well-to-do lady before redirecting her to another shop-girl's attention.

By January 1787, news spread that send a smile across the faces of her enemies: the fashionista had gone bankrupt. This was not the end of her career, though, as her name was still famous throughout Europe. Some even attributed the notice of bankruptcy as a ruse on behalf of Bertin herself. In her defence, the upper class was notorious for being extremely tardy in their payments - if they ever paid at all.