Category Archives: In the media…

Let Them Eat Cake

‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’ or ‘Let them eat cake’, is a famous quite generally attributed to Marie Antoinette in popular culture and she is said to have uttered it after being told that the people of France had no bread. However, there is no evidence that Marie Antoinette ever said this. In fact, there is every proof that she never said it.

So when was it first attributed to Marie Antoinette? 1843- 50 years after her death and in the Victorian Era, notorious for historical inaccuracies. The Victorians were also the ones who decided that all rumours concerning the Tudors were true and laid the basis for the majority of widely believed historical inaccuracy today. Most modern historians would ever trust the things that Victorian historians made fact. Also, considering all of the gossip and pamphlets against her at the time of her reign and downfall I think if she did ever say it there would be an almost certain public outcry and much propaganda attacking her for the quote.

When was the phrase first introduced? It was written in book six of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, written in 1765 (when Marie Antoinette was 9) and finished in 1769, before she was even in France. Rousseau doesn’t specify who said the quote, merely saying ‘some great princess’. As there are many inaccuracies in the Confessions anyway, it could be said that the quote never existed at all.

Does the quote fit Marie Antoinette’s character? Certainly not. We have much evidence that Marie Antoinette was a very charitable person. When some people were crushed to death at a display during her wedding celebrations, she visited the relatives of the victims and offered support. She very often gave food and money to the poor and if any particular cases in which she could help in were bought to her attention she’d be more than willing to help and would offer much support. She devoted much time to charity and this makes the quote very unlikely for her to have said.

Concerning the bread shortages which occurred during her reign (1775 and 1788), she wrote in a letter to her family (where she could have been entirely honest about events) that ‘It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness’, which certainly doesn’t support the ‘let them eat cake’ thoughts of things.

There is no evidence that the quote belongs to Marie Antoinette and it would be lovely if  popular culture stopped attributing it to her. It’s become part of her identity today and really darkens her character. As Antonia Fraser states in her biography of Marie, ‘It was a callous and ignorant statement and she, Marie Antoinette, was neither.’

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Filed under 18th Century, French Revolution, In the media..., Misjudgment debate

The Final Eighteen Months of Queen Marie Antoinette

I realised when looking at comments on my earlier post, https://womenofhistory.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/maligned-by-history/ that we really do pick out the negatives of the life of Marie Antoinette and exaggerate them greatly until we have a completely negative image. What does this mean? We ignore the positives. I can’t blame anyone- it’s so easy to become hypnotised by the propaganda. Well, here’s my account of the final eighteen months of the life of Queen Marie Antoinette and I hope it will show her in a positive and sympathetic light. It starts in the midst of the French Revolution…

On April 20th 1792 France declared war on Austria. Prussia allied with Austria. In June, the Jacobins begun to become more and more radical and started to favour the idea of a republic in France. This was dangerous for King Louis XVI, so he replaced his Jacobin ministers with more moderate Feuillants. On 20th June, a large crowd invaded the Tuileries and demanded the return of the Jacobin ministers. The king was forced to don a liberty cap and toast the health of the people. On July 25th, Austria and Prussia issued the Brunswick Manifesto, a document threatening to invade France if any harm should come to the royal family. It reached Paris on 28th July. On 29th, Robespierre called for the removal of the king. Between August 3rd and 10th, Parisians petition the Legislative Assembly to suspend the powers of the king, but they do nothing. On August 10th the Monarchy fell after Sans-culotte militants invaded and pillaged Tuileries, forcing the Legislative Assembly to suspend all royal power and place to royal family under the protection of the National Assembly. Under pressure from the Sans-culottes, on 11th August, the National Assembly voted to call the election of a National Convention by universal male suffrage to replace itself and write a new constitution. The Assembly authorised the arrest of all those suspected of being an enemy of the Revolution and banned all royalist newspapers. On 13th August the royal family were imprisoned in the Temple Tower. September 2nd to 6th saw the September Massacres. About 1500 people were taken from the prisons of Paris and executed. Amongst them was the best friend of Marie Antoinette. Princesse de Lamballe, whose head was paraded around the city. Marie Antoinette fainted on hearing the news of the death of one of her closest friends. On 20th, the French army defeated the Prussians at Valmy. The Legislative Assembly is dissolved and replaced by the by the National Convention. On 22nd, the abolition on the Monarchy was completed by the National Convention. France was now a republic and discussions for a new constitution began. On October 11th the National Convention appointed a largely Girondin committee to create the new constitution. On December 11th the Treason trial of Louis XVI begun. Ten days later the English House of Commons encouraged war with France to help protect Louis. But it was too late. By 17th January 1793 the French had found their king guilty of Treason and condemned him to death. He was allowed one last supper with his family when he urged his son not to seek vengeance. On 21st, the king was taken to the guillotine and was executed as a traitor to his own country. Thus, Marie Antoinette was restyled by the Convention as ‘Widow Capet’, as ’Capet’ was often mistook as the family name of the French Monarchy. At this time she refused to eat and her health was in rapid decline. In February and March there were riots in Paris, but not over the death of a king, but because of a desperate food shortage.  On February 1st, France declared war on Great Britain and the Netherlands and on March 7th on Spain. Catholic and Royalist revolts began in western France. On March 10th, the Revolutionary Tribunal was created to try enemies of the Republic. On 21st surveillance committees were created to identify suspected enemies of the Revolution or traitors to the nation. In April Robespierre proposed a new version of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which restricted property rights and established society’s duty to achieve the well-being of all citizens. On June 24th, the Convention approved this far more radical Constitution to be ratified by national referendum, but immediately suspended it for duration of national emergency and war and it is never put into effect. During this, the fate of Marie Antoinette herself was being decided. Some believed that her death was necessary, others that she should be exchanged for French prisoners of war or for a ransom from the Holy Roman Emperor. At the start of July, the Dauphin, Louis Charles, was ordered to be separated from the royal family. But when the commissioners came on the night of the 3rd, Marie Antoinette would not let them take her son, even after the commissioners threatened to kill her. It was only when, two hours later, that the guards threatened to kill her daughter, Marie-Thérèse, that she handed the child over. Then Louis Charles was put under the protection of Antoine Simon, a drunkard shoemaker, and was imprisoned  on the floor below his mother and sister in the Temple Tower. Here he suffered beatings and torture and was forced to drink large quantities of alcohol. He was taught by Simon to curse royalty and the aristocracy and to blaspheme. He was frequently threatened with the guillotine which caused him to faint. He was told that he had fallen from his parents’ favour and that they did not want him, although they were both still alive. And Marie Antoinette, much to her dismay, could do nothing to help her son. On 13th, Charlotte Corday assassinated the Jacobin leader, Jean-Paul Marat. She was sent to the guillotine aged just twenty-four on 17th.

Things were going no better for Marie Antoinette. I think this quote pretty much sums her life up:

‘I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children. My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long.’

 On 2nd August 1793 Marie Antoinette was taken from her sister-in-law, Madame Elisabeth, and her daughter, Marie-Thérèse, to the Conciergerie Prison. She was a former Queen, yet she was still Prisoner No. 280. There were various attempts to rescue her from her prison, but Marie Antoinette refused them all. A journalist and Politian had promised readers the head of Antoinette.’ It seemed that events were turning that way. On 5th September, the Reign of Terror began with Robespierre declaring terror the ‘order of the day.’ It would claim an estimated 18500-40000 lives. France was becoming an ever more dangerous place to be. Marie Antoinette was finally tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal on 14th October. Unlike the king, who had been given time to prepare a defence, the queen was given less than a day to prepare for her trial. The whole event was a sham, probably intended to humiliate Marie Antoinette further. Most of the charges, if not all, were rumours and untrue. Amongst the charges were orchestrating orgies in Versailles, sending millions of livres of treasury money to Austria, plotting to kill the Duke of Orléans, incest with her son, declaring her son king and orchestrating the Diamond Necklace Affair and the massacre of the Swiss Guards in 1792. The charge of incest with her son is probably the most memorable. This was testified by Louis Charles himself after his training by Simon. In the trial, Marie Antoinette protested to the charge of incest emotionally, making a desperate appeal to the women of the audience who she felt would sympathise with her. She was right, and the same women who had stormed her palace in 1789 now supported her. Throughout the trial, she had remained composed, but when she was reminded of the charge of incest, she replied, ‘If I have not replied it is because Nature itself refuses to respond to such a charge laid against a mother.’ She had the female audience with her, but ironically, the jury was all male. Another point of the trial that Robespierre would be disgusted by was when the Marquis de La Tour du Pin de Gouvernet, was brought forward as a witness to the charges that Marie Antoinette had been involved in plans to end the Revolution by military means, the Marquis bowed low to the queen and continued to call her ‘Your Majesty’ or ‘Her Majesty’ despite the judges insisting she be called ‘Widow Capet.’ However, the outcome of the trial had been decided before it had even begun by the Committee of Public Safety. Marie Antoinette would never be found innocent. On 16th, she was found guilty of all charges and condemned to death, as her husband before her, by the infamous guillotine. As she was escorted back to her cell, the nuns in the Prison for adhering to their Catholic faith reached out their hands to her and begged her to pray for them when she entered Heaven. Lieutenant de Busne offered her a glass of water and his arm as she walked down the steep stairs, holding his hat as a sign of respect for the former Queen. In her cell again, she was given a candle, ink and paper, with these she wrote her final letter. This was to Madame Elisabeth, it started:

It is to you, Sister, that I am writing for the last time. I have just been sentenced to death, but not to a shameful one, since this death is only shameful to criminals, whereas I am going to rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the firmness which he showed during his last moments.

I am calm, as one may well be when one’s conscience

is clear, though deeply grieved at having to forsake my poor children. You know that I existed only for them and for you, my good and affectionate sister. You who, in the kindness of your heart, have sacrificed everything in order to be with us – in what a terrible position do I leave you!

The letter never reached Elisabeth. She also wrote a brief note in her prayer-book. It was 4:30am.

A seventeen year old called Rosalie Lamorlière had been assigned to wait on the Queen and had developed a deep affection for her mistress. It was now around 7am. Rosalie begged Marie Antoinette to eat the soup she had prepared. She accepted, seeing the logic of eating, but could only manage a small amount. To her there was no point in eating when her end was so near. She was told that she was forbidden to die in mourning, and that she could not wear black to the guillotine. She was still mourning her husband, and reminding the crowds of his fate would surely provoke some sympathy. Also, she had been suffering from what was possibly a uterine fibrora and had been bleeding excessively. Other than black, she had only a simple white cotton dress. She was certainly far away from her extravagant and expensive wardrobe for which she had been famed. When she wished to change her chemise, which had been stained with blood, the gendarme officer who had replaced Lieutenant de Busne as he had been arrested for showing too much respect, would not leave the room or even face the wall. So Marie Antoinette crouched in a corner of her cell with Rosalie doing her best to shield her. She probably would have found this extremely embarrassing, as she hated any violation of her privacy.  With her cotton dress she wore a black petticoat and a bonnet adorned with black to show some respect to her dead husband and hoped that the black petticoat would be enough to hide the blood. The former Queen looked old beyond her thirty-seven years, the Revolution had aged her. At 10am, Marie Antoinette was found kneeling in prayer. The Court clerk and judges then entered and, as required by law, read her sentence. Then Sanson, the public executioner, entered and bound her hands behind her back and cut her hair. Some say that she made a small protest, as the king’s hands had not been tied until he reached the guillotine. But alas, the queen was not to receive the same respect as her husband. She was taken to the clerk’s office for the last formalities. At 11am, she left the Conciergerie and is taken to the front of the Courthouse leaving Rosalie sobbing and a single gold watch– a childhood present from her mother. Here, two horses pulling an open wooden cart awaited her. Louis had been taken to his death in a closed carriage. It was yet another blow to her dignity. She would be treated, not as the former queen that she was, but as a common criminal. However, the security is large, with 30000 men called to prevent any escape. She was handled roughly onto the cart. There a sworn priest (that is, a priest that had sworn alliance to the Constitution) accompanied her. Yet again, there was a cruel comparison to the execution of her husband, as Louis had a priest of his own choice. Her shame was displayed to the many crowds. As she had promised Elisabeth in her last letter, she refused the services of the priest and treated him as a stranger. Sanson and his helper also sat in the cart, holding their hats in respect for the woman who was once their queen. As she passed the people, some spat, cried out insults, laughs. But there was also a subtle, stunned silence. The extravagant queen had gone. There were no lavish feathers or jewels; just white. People remarked on how calm she seemed as she sat very straight in the cart, her face morphed into dignified acceptance. Others comment on an air of hatred and bitter insolence. As she passed the artist Jean-Jacques David made his famous sketch. It this, some saw an awful, ugly woman full of spite, others a heroic dignity. She would be as controversial in death as she had been in life. At about 12pm, the cart finally reached its destination of the Place de la Revolution, where the Tuileries Palace could be seen. At one point, it is said that she looked up at it and her eyes filled with tears and her lips quiver, but soon she was composed and calmly stepped from the cart and climbed the steps to the scaffold and the guillotine. As she stood looking up at the guillotine, the priest turned to her and said: ’This is the moment, Madame, to arm yourself with courage,’ to which she replied ’The moment when my ills are to end is not a time when courage is going to fail me.’ Walking to the guillotine, she stepped on Sanson’s foot accidentally, and thus spoke her last words, which can be translated as: ‘Pardon me Sir, I meant not to do it.’ She was then strapped into place and lowered under the blade. At 12:15pm on 16th October 1793, the blade fell. And so ended the life of one of the most remarkable women France had ever seen.

 Her story really is one of true tragedy and irony. Her end still evokes me to shed a tear each time I remind myself of it. I know she is one of the most controversial women ever to have lived but I challenge you not to find just a little sympathy for her and a shudder and the true ignorance and cruelty that we can give to others. I think dear Marie is one whose legend will never die and will always be seen differently in the eyes of each beholder.

Here is the sketch. What are your opinions on it?

File:Jacques-Louis David - Marie Antoinette on the Way to the Guillotine.jpg

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Filed under French Revolution, In the media..., Misjudgment debate, Mistreatment of women

Who’s been maligned..?

So you should remember a while ago I asked if you’d be so kind as to write the first thing that came to your mind when you thought of various women of history. I know it’s been longer than I first thought, but I’ve just put it all together and here are the results. They’ve been most interesting to take a look at…

And a HUGE thank you to everyone who participated and thanks so much to Claire at http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/ for including the popular stereotypes associated with the women. It was very good to compare!

Marie Antoinette

  • spent ridiculous amounts of money on gambling
  • Didn’t she say something about cake and wasn’t she a nymphomaniac?
  • excesses in spending and frivolousness
  • spent lots and lots of money
  • Young bride, spent lots of money
  • Victim of a sham trial.
  • French queen who wore purple shoes at her execution
  • a queen from years ago
  • Beautiful name
  • money

 

2. Katherine of Aragon

  • One of henrys wives and had a strong character
  • tragic pregnancy incidents
  • Henry’s ex wife
  • Devout Catholic
  • The boring wife.
  • A woman of faith and with an amazing strength of character.
  • Henry viii’s first wife
  • Henry VIII’s wife. Mother of Mary I
  • Divorced, beheaded, died!!
  • Henry viii

 

3. Kateryn Howard

  • another one of the wives and was Anne Boleyn’s cousin
  • Henry’s ‘rose without a thorn’
  • Anne Boleyn’s cousin
  • Flirty young girl, who liked fashion and to have fun
  • Tart.
  •  A young woman who had no idea of what she was getting into.
  • Henry’s last wife
  • Giggling and immature one on The Tudors
  • Beautiful
  • pretty

4. Jane Seymour

  • another wife and she was number 3
  • hard working, caring lady
  • Lady who cares / caring
  • Quiet shy lady
  • Either the boring meek and mild one or the woman who trapped Henry and played games.
  • A woman who made the best of the situation and tried to bring Henry stability.
  • Buried besides Henry viii because she gave birth to the heir to the throne
  • Mother of Edward. Died.
  • Good actress
  • Eddie
5. Margaret Beaufort
  • I think she became the countess of Richmond and derby
  • Henry viii’s granny
  • Henry VIII’s gran
  • Henry VIII grandmother?
  • An overbearing woman and the mother-in-law from Hell.
  • A strong woman with an incredibly strong will.
  • the red queen!
  • who’s that?
  • Don’t know
  • not a clue
 

6. Elizabeth Wydvillie

  • born in 1437 I think
  • the slandered queen
  • I think she was born in 1438
  • Henry VIII mother?
  • Witch, seductress.
  • Wife of Edward IV who tried desperately to protect her family after his death.
  • the white queen!
  • who’s that?
  • Don’t know
  • not a clue

7. Anne Boleyn

  • think she had 6 fingers on one hand
  • had 6 fingers in one hand
  • Was married to Henry VIII
  • Henry VIII second wife who was found guilty of treason, witchcraft, adultery and incest and was sentenced to death
  • Six fingered witch and whore.
  • A misunderstood and maligned queen with strength, courage, wit, magnetism and faith.
  • Henry viii’s second wife and one of your favourite people!
  • Love of Henry’s life and mother of Elizabeth. Clever.
  • feel sorry for her.
  • BE HEADED

8. Elizabeth I

  • she almost died of small pox in 1562
  • died of blood poisoning
  •  Died of poisoning (blood I think)
  • Daughter of Anne Boleyn, one of the great queens on England, ruled for over 50 years
  • Scottish/French cousin, kept imprisoned for many years and then was beheaded
  • Virgin Queen and Gloriana.
  • A woman who put her country first.
  •  greatest monarch ever-the golden age of Britain
  • Very powerful Queen. Proved women can rule.
  • Virtuous
  • red head

9. Lady Jane Grey

  • no idea who she is sorry
  • the nine day queen
  • Haven’t heard of her before
  • The 9 day Queen
  • Tragic victim.
  • Still a tragic victim but one who was prepared to fight for her crown.
  • was supposed to rule after Edward vii and was executed by queen Mary
  • Reigned a few days.
  • Nine day Queen
  • not a clue

10. Mary, Queen of Scots

  • she was crowned in 1543
  • Mary i’s cousin, i think
  • Crowned queen in 1543 I think
  • The foolish one who plotted.
  • A woman who followed her heart and who had a weakness for bad boys!
  • Elizabeth 1′s cousin
  • Queen of Scots that was locked in a Tower. Elizabeth’s rival.
  • Feisty
  • bloody

11. Mary I

  • no idea sorry
  • bloody Mary
  • Bloody Mary
  • Bloody Mary, burned many Protestants at the stake
  • Bloody Mary.
  • A woman who was psychologically damaged but who paved the way for Elizabeth’s reign and was a strong queen.
  • Elizabeth 1′s sister
  • Don’t know
  • Elegant
  • not a clue

12. Anne of Cleves

  • another boring wife of Henry
  • apparently smelly and ugly
  • Another wife of Henry
  • “The Kings Dear Sister” & “Flanders Mare”
  • Flanders Mare.
  • A pragmatist who made the best of her situation
  • henrys wife who he divorced because she was ugly
  • Henry conned into marrying her. Never really liked her.
  • Unlucky
  • divorce

13. Katherine Parr

  • another wife? I think and oh was there 3 Catherine’s??
  • surviving wife of Henry viii
  • Another wife
  • The wife that outlived Henry VIII
  • Old nursemaid.
  • An incredibly intelligent woman and published author who was clever enough to survive a plot against her. A good mother to her stepchildren.
  • another of Henry viii’s wives
  • Outlived Henry
  • Had the worst of Henry
  • survived

14. Elizabeth of York

  • and again no idea
  • no idea :/ sorry
  • haven’t got a clue sorry
  • don’t know
  • The Queen of Hearts.
  • A good woman, queen and mother
  • the white princess
  • Is that our Queen now?
  • Influential
  • not a clue

15. Catherine de’ Medici

  • never heard of her.. sorry
  • Haven’t heard of Catherine ” ”
  • Don’t know sorry
  • don’t know
  • I don’t know much about her I’m afraid. She’s one I’ve never really researched.
  • don’t know but is she related to the posh guy on the cbbc programme leonardo?
  • Never heard of her.
  • Never heard of her?
  • not a clue

 

Okay, so I don’t feel quite as bad about knowing hardly anything about Catherine de’Medici now! I’ll post some research that I do later on maybe..?

I think here are the main points that I’ve drawn from this little experiment ( and I know the things I’ve picked out aren’t for everyone and I apologize for that!):

  • People do judge on the bad moments people have
  • People pay more attention to bad than good
  • People know Henry’s Wives as just being another wife…
  • The Six Wives are known by their number and what Henry did to them
  • Our opinions are influenced by popular culture! Just because people appear in a way in TV and book portrayals doesn’t meant they really were like that!
  • Some women are, as they were seen at the time, known for being the mere mother or wife of someone
  • Most people seem confused by family trees…
  • People get confused between people with the same name
  • We are still victims of historical propaganda

Now, I suppose it’s only fair if I answer the questions too…

1. Marie Antoinette- Dignified and courageous to the bittersweet end

2. Katherine of Aragon- A woman with a great sense of faith and destiny

3. Kateryn Howard- Heart over head and just needed some love

4. Jane Seymour- So much controversy I’m not sure any more!

5. Margaret Beaufort- A woman who would always fight

6. Elizabeth Wydvillie- The woman who defended her honour only to be slandered

7. Anne Boleyn- Henry’s one true love

8. Elizabeth I- Put her country before all else

9. Lady Jane Grey- If only she wasn’t Royal…

10. Mary, Queen of Scots- Elizabeth’s complete opposite

11. Mary I- A woman who never forgot who she was

12. Anne of Cleves- Found herself with the wrong man

13. Katherine Parr- Wife, mother and Queen of great excellence

14. Elizabeth of York- Mother of a Monarchy

15. Catherine de’ Medici- The person we really should know far more about!

So once again thank you to everyone who participated (And I’m sorry if this is dodgy- it’s late!)

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Filed under General, Henry VIII, In the media..., Misjudgment debate, Mistreatment of women, Six Wives, The Unknown..., Tudor

Royal Wedding Bridesmaids!

You may have noticed that I’m a little obsessed with the Royal Wedding. Just because it’s now over does not mean we should just forget it though! Let’s keep the Royal Wedding Fever alive! Now everyone knows the darling Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but what for the more minor people involved in the ‘big day’?

Yes- I’m talking about the adorable little bridesmaids! And just to be polite (or because I am still so excited) I’ll include Pippa as well!

I’ll start with Pippa. Philippa Charlotte Middleton was born September 6 1983. She is the sister of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. (Sorry if I keep saying that- It excites me so much!) Like her sister, she also went into higher education in Scotland, attending the University of Edinburgh and studying English Literature. There she shared a house with Lord Edward Innes-Ker, a son of the Duke of Roxburghe and Lord Percy, the heir to the Duke of Northumberland. And who said the Middletons are commoners! In 2008, she was named by Tatler magazine as ‘the number one society singleton’, beating James Blunt and Princess Eugenie. She played the role of maid-of-honour at the Royal Wedding to perfection in my opinion and looked almost as stunning as the Duchess.

Next is eight-year old Margarita Armstrong-Jones. She is the only granddaughter of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. Her parents are the Viscount and Viscountess Linley. She is currently 16th in line to the British Throne. She has an elder brother, Charles. She seems a delightful child, being seen skip holding the hands of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Peter Phillips and acting as flower girl to HM the Queen on occasions. An article in the Daily Telegraph noted that she ‘displayed all the star quality of her late grandmother, Princess Margaret’.

The second of the bridesmaids is Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor. Legally, as the grandchild of a monarch through a male line, she is entitled HRH Princess Louise of Wessex, but upon her parents’ marriage it was declared that Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex did not want their children titled so. Thus, she is generally styled as Lady Louise Windsor. She is seven years old at attends St George’s School, Windsor Castle.

Next is Eliza Lopes. Now I have to admit that I’ve only just worked out who this girl is. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, has two children from her first marriage: Tom Parker-Bowles and Laura Lopes. Laura Lopes has three children: Eliza, born January 6 2008 and twins, Gus and Louis, born December 30 2009. Seeing as she’s still pretty young and tiny, we see how the Prince of Wales lifted her to see the crowds.

And of course there is Grace van Cutsem. Generally known now as ‘the frowning flower girl’. I think the three-year old little Grace was finding all of the noise a little too much. Unlike Eliza, she could just see over the balcony and for such a tiny little person I suppose the crowds must have looked truly huge and rather scary. And if you were there you’d know just how loud the roar was when the Duke of Duchess kissed and even more so the second time. So she just slouched on the balcony and put her hands over her ears. Don’t you just love little kids? Anyway, she’s thee daughter of a close friend of the couple and the god-daughter of Prince William.

I hope you enjoyed the wedding. I certainly did and the Royal Wedding fever is just refusing to die down! Now this blog is not meant to be a feminist blog although I generally do only write about women… But Prince William is male, right? I’m annoyed with myself for not knowing who the pageboys are but as soon as I look it up I’ll try to post it!

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Filed under General, In the media..., Modern Monarchy

Madame Tussaud.

It has shocked me recently how many people do not know that Madame Tussaud was a real person yet think that Sherlock Holmes is true historical figure… Often people have heard of the real woman but know nothing at all about her and yes, there are a lot of people who think she was a Victorian. If you’re thinking that this is you don’t fret because you are certainly one of many. Say ‘Madame Tussaud’ to most people and they will tell you if they have been to the waxworks in London. Yes, Marie Tussaud did find the famous waxworks, but there is so much more to the story than that…

Anna Maria ‘Marie’ Grosholtz was born on 1 December 1761 in Strasbourg, France. Her father, Joseph Grosholtz was a German soldier and killed two months before Marie’s birth in the Seven Years’ War. Her mother took her to Bern, Switzerland, where she spent the first five years of her life where her mother worked as a housekeeper for Dr Philippe Curtius. Dr Curtius was a physician, wax modeller and artist. It is from him that the young Marie learnt the art of wax. In 1765 Marie and her mother moved to Paris with Dr Curtius. Marie enjoyed a great friendship with Curtius, calling him ‘uncle’ and I suppose he became the father-figure of her life. In 1770 (Marie Antoinette marries the Dauphin, Louis-Auguste, about now) Curtius opened a museum in Paris featuring life-sized wax models. Marie learnt much from her mother’s employer and met some of the great celebrities of the day including Benjamin Franklin, Francois Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In 1778 she created her first wax figure of none other than Rousseau. She later modelled Voltaire and Franklin.

Marie’s great talent was soon recognised and she was appointed by the Royal Family to be the art tutor to King Louis XVI’s younger and most adored sister, Madame Elisabeth in 1780. She was then invited to live at the magnificent Palace of Versailles. However at the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 she was called back to Paris by Dr Curtius. Curtius was actively involved in the Revolution, participating in the Storming of the Bastille and entertaining some of the Revolutionary leaders. Marie met some important figures, including Robespierre and Napoleon Bonaparte.

However, during the Reign of Terror Marie was arrested. She was imprisoned with Josephine de Beauharnais, later wife of Napoleon and more commonly known as simply the ‘Empress Josephine’. Marie’s head was shaved in preparation for execution by guillotine even before supporters of Curtius had her released. She was employed to make death masks of victims of the Revolution including Marat, Robespierre and even Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. She was given the grotesque task of digging though the Revolution’s mass graves to find heads of those that may be of interest and the masks were often paraded around streets as trophies. It couldn’t have been very pleasant, but it saved her life.

In 1794 Curtius died, leaving his whole collection of waxworks to Marie. In 1795 she married Francois Tussaud; they had two surviving children, Joseph and Francois. In 1802 Marie Tussaud moved to England with her eldest son, Joseph, then four years old. Due to the Napoleonic Wars, she was unable to return to France so travelled throughout Great Britain and Ireland with her growing collection. In 1821/2 her younger son joined her. In 1835 she opened her first permanent exhibition in Baker Street, London. In 1838 she wrote her memoirs. In 1842 she made a self-portrait, still on display in the entrance to the London museum. She died on 16 April 1850 aged eighty-eight- a remarkable achievement considering the times and how she came so close to death.

Madame Tussaud’s wax museums have grown to be one of the most popular London tourist attractions and has branches worldwide. A few of her sculptures still survive today and are on display. I’m not sure if I agree with the publicity of the museums but they carry her name and legacy. Although it does nothing to educate people about this most remarkable woman.

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Just how easy is it to be maligned by history?

Okay, so many of you will know I like to defend women who are often, in my opinion at least, misrepresented by popular culture and seem in the wrong light by the average person today.

I’m going to fire a few names at you and if you would be so kind I’d really appreciate it if you commented the first word or phrase that comes to your mind when you read it. I’ll do a follow up post soon with any comments to see what’s true and what’s not.

So here goes and a HUGE thank you to anyone who comments. (And I’ll use numbers so you don’t have to bother writing out their names)

1. Marie Antoinette

2. Katherine of Aragon

3. Kateryn Howard

4. Jane Seymour

5. Margaret Beaufort

6. Elizabeth Wydvillie

7. Anne Boleyn

8. Elizabeth I

9. Lady Jane Grey

10. Mary, Queen of Scots

11. Mary I

12. Anne of Cleves

13. Katherine Parr

14. Elizabeth of York

15. Catherine de’ Medici

Thank you to anyone who replies!

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The Last Queen- C.W. Gortner

I just finished reading this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a novel of Juana of Castile (Juana la Loca) telling the story of her life in her own words. It offers a more sympathetic approach to the Queen whose name has become legend. It takes you from the Conquest of Granada through to her imprisonment. It left me pretty speechless…

Okay, so it does take liberties, but doesn’t all historical fiction? I know hardly anything about Juana, so I wouldn’t know to pick out anything but the inaccuracies mentioned in the afterword.

Take a look, you can read a preview here- http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Queen-CW-Gortner/dp/0340962941/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1302352681&sr=8-1

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