Category Archives: Royalty

Bengal Tiger Eats Westerner, 1792

Man’s fascination with the gruesome is often rooted in power—who has it, who doesn’t. In the case of Tipu’s Tiger, the 18th century Indian automaton that terrified and thrilled Europeans after the defeat of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, it was an emblem of domination. Much like Louis XIV and his golden sun, Tipu Sultan cultivated an affinity to the almighty tiger, stitching its image on his standard, running its stripes along his soldiers’ uniforms, and placing its head on the hilt of his favorite saber. Even his gold and jewel ornamented throne bore the tiger’s shape.

Unlike his father Sultan Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan understood the importance of a fearsome image. His nickname, the Tiger of Mysore, was reinforced in his palace and beyond, but the depth of his representations weren’t understood by the west until the sack of Seringapatam in 1799 when many of his treasures were seized by the British.  Enter the object of Tipu’s amusement.

TIGER EATS WESTERNER WHILE PLAYING ORGAN MUSIC

Tipu's Tiger, Victoria and Albert Museum

Attribution: Victoria and Albert Museum

Like any good Indian Sultan, Tipu grew up hating the British East India Company.  Their expansion across his father’s kingdom was an affront that resulted in four Anglo-Mysore wars, the first two bannered by Hyder Ali, the third and fourth by Tipu Sultan.  It was during the Second-Anglo Mysore War in 1781, when his father suffered a loss of 10,000 men to the British General Sir Hector Munro, though, that a cruel fate was sown.  Eleven years after Indian blood had been shed, a hunt for deer commenced on Saugur Island.   Bengal tigers had a reputation among westerners for being vicious predators, but they were unpredictable, sometimes attacking, other times retreating.  Sir Hector Munro’s only son, Hugh Munro, was not lucky enough to come upon a retiring tiger.  He stumbled upon a beast to make Tipu Sultan proud and died from the mauling within twenty-four hours.

Many think the automaton Tipu’s Tiger specifically commemorated the event.  One of the charms of his automaton–if it may be called that–is that when you turn a crank, the tiger emits a bellow while the man cries in agony.  You can see Tipu’s Tiger played in the video below, though from what I can tell we’re hearing the organ play a tune rather than the wretched sounds of Hugh Munro’s earthly departure.

If you’re interested in the Mysore/British conflict, Youtube also has a few educational videos on Tipu Sultan and his infamous tigers. You can also see why Tipu was trending in January 2014.

Susan Ardelie is the author of Shadow Fire Lady, the first book in the Incorporeal Lords series, a historical paranormal romance.  

If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to follow Life Takes Lemons by email at the top right of the page.

Napoleon, Otherwise Known as Puss in Boots

Believe it or not Puss in Boots, or General Junot Taken by Surprise is part of Thomas Rowlandson’s collections of satirical prints about Napoleon.  Confusing, I agree, as Napoleon is found nowhere in the print.  Instead we see a young girl marching around in boots with a sword and a shocked General Junot, who has been stirred upright from bed, trousers in hand.

Puss in Boots, or General Junot Taken by Surprise  by Thomas Rowlandson (1811)

The story connecting Rowlandson’s print to the Emperor appears in the future Madame Junot’s memoirs, but occurred when she was just a girl and still called Martin de Permond.  Back then the Bonapartes were close friends of the de Permonds, and when Napoleon visited one day, he took the occasion to put on his uniform for the first time.  What resulted was a bit of girlhood fun and long-lasting grudge:

“I well recollect that on the day when he first put on his uniform, he was as vain as young men usually are on such an occasion.  There was one part of his dress which had a very droll appearance–that was his boots.   They were so high and wide that his little thin legs seemed buried in their amplitude.

“Young people are always ready to observe any thing ridiculous; and as soon as my sister and I saw Napoleon enter the drawing-room we burst into a loud fit of laughter.  At that early age, as well as in after life, Bonaparte could not relish a joke; and when he found himself the object of merriment he grew angry.  My sister, who was some years older than I, told him that since he wore a sword he ought to be gallant to ladies, and, instead of being angry, should be happy that they joked with him.

“‘You are nothing but a child–a little pensionnaire’, said Napoleon, in a tone of contempt. Cecile, who was twelve or thirteen years of age, was highly indignant at being called a child; and she hastily resented the affront by replying to Bonaparte:

‘And you are nothing but a puss in boots.’  This excited a general laugh among all present except Napoleon whose rage I will not attempt to describe.  Though not much accustomed to society, he had too much tact not to perceive that he ought to be silent when personalities were introduced and his adversary was a woman.  Though deeply mortified at the unfortunate nickname which my sister had given him, yet he affected to forget it; and to prove that he cherished no malice on the subject, he got a little toy made and gave it as a present to me.  This toy consisted of a cat in boots, in the character of a footman running before the carriage of the Marquis de Carabas.  It was very well made and must have been rather expensive to him considering his straitened finances.  He brought along with it a pretty little edition of the popular tale of Puss in Boots which he presented to my sister, begging her to keep it as a token of his remembrance.”

Fast forward years later when Napoleon is married to Josephine [she is forty], and General Junot and his sixteen year old wife Madame Junot are dining with the couple at Malmaison.  Old Nap has not forgotten the Puss in Boots slight of many years past, and had since developed what many thought of as a smarting wit:

Napoleon as First Consul by Jean-Antoine Gros (1802)

 

Napoleon as First Consul by Jean-Antoine Gros (1802)

“Madame Bonaparte that day wore powder for the first time.  It became her very well but the first consul [Bonaparte] did nothing but laugh at her, and said she would do admirably to act the Countess d’Escarbagnas [a diva countess in Moliere’s play who was subjected to provincial suitors, none worthy of her).  Josephine was evidently displeased at this and Bonaparte added, ‘What, are you afraid you will not have a cavalier?  There is the Marquis de Carabas[fictional nobleman/master of Puss in Boots],’ pointing to Junot.  “He will offer you his arm I am sure.”

The first consul had often before this called both Junot and Marmont the Marquis de Carabas, but it was always in perfect good humor.  It was, he said, on account of their taste for dramatic representation.  They, of course, merely laughed at the joke.  Madame Bonaparte, however, took it more seriously and betrayed symptoms of vexation.  This was not the way to please Bonaparte.  He took his glass in his hand and, looking towards his wife he bowed his head ,and said, ‘To the health of Madame la Comtesse d Escarbagnas.’

Empress Josephine by Andrea Appiani (1808)

Empress Josephine by Andrea Appiani (1808)

The continuance of this pleasantry brought tears into Madame Bonaparte’s eyes. Napoleon observed this and he was, I believe, sorry for what he had said.  To make amends, he again took up his glass and winking at me, he said:  ‘To the health of Madame la Marquise de Carabas.’  We all burst into a fit of laughter in which Madame Bonaparte joined but her heart was nevertheless full.”

Which brings us full circle to why Rowlandon’s Puss in Boots print is part of his Napoleon collection.  Mystery solved for today!   If any of you come across a Rowlandson print that wants explanation and doesn’t appear readily available, send it my way.  I might just be inclined to spent an afternoon looking it up.

Susan Ardelie is the author of Shadow Fire Lady, the first book in the Incorporeal Lords series, a historical paranormal romance.  

If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to follow Life Takes Lemons by email at the top right of the page.

Queen Henrietta Maria & Lord Minimus

In case you’re in need of a refresher or an introduction, the queen’s abbreviated bio is this:

Unpopular consort of King Charles I, youngest daughter of King Henri IV of France, catholic, subject of several Anthony Van Dyck’s paintings, and woman with “a strong penchant for private theatricals.” Also, keeper of Lord Minimus.

Who was Lord Minimus, you ask? Scroll to the Van Dyck with Henrietta Maria and the male figure who I, upon first glance, believed was a child. As far as records go, he was consistently described as a miraculously well-proportioned dwarf, which accounts for my momentary blunder.

But first a few lavish pictures of Henrietta Maria with her tight curls and early to mid 17th century get-ups.

20130619-180226.jpg

by Van Dyck (1632)

20130619-181330.jpg

Miniature by John Hoskins (1632)

20130619-192018.jpg

by Van Dyck (1638)

20130619-193007.jpg

With Sir Geoffrey Hudson (1633).

Comically known as Lord Minimus, Sir Hudson was the queen’s official court dwarf. According to Wikipedia, he killed a man in a duel via pistols on horseback (the challenged fellow dared bring a squirt gun and was thus shot dead), spent 25 years as a slave, and was 18 inches tall (yeah, right). An 1894 volume of The Strand says he was 3 feet 9 inches by 30; at two years he was 18 inches–much more believable. The Strand also states he was knighted as a joke, but he did hold a captain’s commission with the Cavaliers in England’s Civil War. He apparently had a boisterous, “peppery” personality, but he didn’t think much of being Henrietta Maria’s little man. That’s okay though; the formerly mentioned fellow he shot dead was his queen’s brother. The account was described in one of the queen’s letters wherein she stated she wished permission to “dispose of them [servants] as I please, in dispensing either justice or favour.” This was how slavery happened to Geoffrey. He was expelled from court and captured by Barbary pirates. Many years later he returned to England and was thrown into prison, possibly for being Catholic. The rest of his life has been described as: Lived where? Unknown? Died when? Unknown. Died how? Ring-a-ding. Unknown.

Beyond Henrietta Maria’s flair for unusual courtiers, if you’re interested in her epistolary life or royal relations in the 17th century, you can read her letters.

The Female Elements: Mesdames de France

When Louis XV commissioned Jean-Marc Nattier to produce portraits of four of his daughters representing earth, fire, water, and air, he furthered a notion of natural right that had cemented France as a superpower in continental Europe.  This ancient concept of earthly bodies ruling by order of celestial spheres is at once subtle and obvious in his daughter’s portraits.  For what, one could ask, is more elemental than a woman?  What is stronger than the elements but the will of mankind?

In strikingly similar styles, Nattier had painted Louis’ daughters before with Henriette as Flora and Adelaide as Diane.   The Frenchman was known for his allegorical depictions, a style that would go out of fashion by the end of the 18th century.  For this mid-century work, though, he was perfect.  Re-imagining the Filles de France as goddesses or mythological figures was something he could capture with with romantic efficiency, portraying Louis’ daughters as both naive, gentle creatures and powerful earthly beings.

Madame Henriette as Flora (1742)  Check out the sandaled feet!

Commissioned by Marie Leczynska as a pendant portrait to Madame Henriette as Flora; Adelaide, 13 years old (1745)

Unlike his predecessors, Louis XV’s grandfather, Louis XIV, presupposed that his tempestuous courtiers would best respond to his absolute rule if they were surrounded by natural symbols of his God-given power.  The Louis’s were masterminds at propagandizing and with the exception of Marie Antoinette’s Louis, their images carried splendidly in art as well as in person.  Since Louis XV’s daughters were his pride and joy until Madame du Barry sullied the scene, he understandably adored these portraits.

His eldest daughter and the premiere princess Louise-Elisabeth personifies earth in this series that once hung in the south wing of Versailles.  She had married by proxy the Infante Phillip of Spain in 1739 at the tender age of 12.  This was a distinction among Louis’ daughters.  One flew to the convent and the others never married.  The three single ladies following Louise-Elisabeth in age–Henriette, Adelaide, and Victoire–assumed the roles of fire, air, and water.

The Earth

Madame Louise-Elisabeth

As a mother, Louise-Elisabeth is the most voluptuous and fertile of the sisters.  Sitting on golden brown cloth and surrounded by a landscape, all but her stark white body and gown is earthen colored.  Her elbow rests upon a globe showing France and Spain (her husband’s home) along with the upper African continent.  Her posture is open and confident.  She drapes her left arm over grapes and other various fruits and flowers.  To the south of a plump peach, coins spill along the greyish-ivory glide of her dress. The steer handler in the background appears to be waving, perhaps declaring the riches birthed by the earth in the form of his bovine?  The only detail that seems curious to me is the pearl beading around her waist and arms and even in her hair.  Makes me wonder if the water element, in addition to earth, is a nod to her fecundity.

The Fire

Madame Anne-Henriette 

Louis’ favorite daughter Henriette represents a Vestal virgin upholding the virtues of domesticity and home.  Her rippling dress, the color of silver smoke, echoes the swirls of smoke to her left where the fire burns on a marble altar decorated with swags and florals.  Her fingers rest thoughtfully on her chin while propped just to the center of her lap is a tome entitled Histoire des Vestales.  The statue in the background is Vesta, the goddess of the hearth whose virgins once spread the sacred fires to the homes of every Roman.  The goddess is commonly shown with her tools of a bowl of fire and a torch.

The Water

Madame Victoire 

I’m quite taken with Victoire’s eyes.  They large and watery with copious amounts of highlighter lining the bottom.  Her sisters must have been so jealous!  As a water nymph, Victoire is luminous from the tip of her nose to her pale bosom.  The scene is tranquil and, with the exception of the urn, almost slumberous.  A pair of swans swim in the backdrop, the reeds beside her sway on a gentle breeze.  The sole detail interrupting the gentle portrait is the urn gushing water.  I have read that the direction of the water, parallel to her hips, represents fertility.  As a single lady, Victoire spent her life childless, but maybe since she was the seventh child of Louis and Marie we can conclude abundance was the pride of this royal family? (though clearly not male Y chromosome abundance).  I do note that the earth and water sisters are wearing similar pearl headbands, which probably answers my earlier question about Louise-Elisabeth.

The Air

Madame Adelaide 

Adelaide’s portrait as Juno has the most movement of the four.  She looks like she’s sitting on clouds with her companion, the peacock.  The regal, if fierce, looking peacock is perched on the same brownish substance, a pink bow tied prettily around his neck.  The rainbow arching over Adelaide dances in the background, seeming to come closer to us the closer we look.

Along with the peacock and the upward trajectory of Adelaide’s posture, the focus adds a whimsical nature to the painting.  Any moment she might lose hold of the blue cloth and float away with it.  Why, though, is her gown tied in the back?  Juno was often depicted as wearing a goatskin cloak knotted around her neck.  So, either we are to assume Adelaide is donning the goat or it must be an extremely windy day and she can’t otherwise keep her naughty bits covered?  Doesn’t matter, I suppose.  She and the rest of her sisters are fetching as the elements and I can see why Louis adored these portraits.  I certainly do.

A Night at Chambord & Chenonceau

While visiting these châteaux you just have to wonder–what’s it like at night when you are NOT ALLOWED to visit?  What does it feel like to, say, slink around in the shadows, watching the royals sleep?

Okay, that’s creepy.  But you kind of want to know, don’t you?  When nobody else is around but ghosts, when all is dark and silent, what mood stirs beneath the moonlight?  An imaginary nocturnal visit to Chambord and Chenonceau, if you will . . .

Chambord

Louis XIV Ceremonial Bedroom

(I didn’t scale down the resolution – click away for the full experience)

The dude who (occasionally) slept here

Louis XIV – Charles le Brun (1661)

The Queen’s Bedroom

Marie Thérèse of Austria, wife of Louis XIV – attributed to Charles Beaubrun (1666)

Chenonceau

Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom

The Lady in White (aka Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, one time Queen of France) designed this room for her retirement from Court.  In grief after the assassination of her husband Henri III, she bedded down here for the remainder of her years.  The matte black walls and white motifs are symbols of mourning.  Take a closer look at the chandelier-esque stencil on the lower lefthand wall.  It’s actually a cornucopia of eternal tears.  Images of death abound: crosses surrounded by spades and picks, widow’s cordons, crowns of thorns, and the Greek letter lambda to represent Louise’s and Henri’s initials intertwined.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I thought this room was amazing when I visited Chenonceau. I’m sure the pious Louise wouldn’t approve, but it looks positively witchy to me.

Regarding photography in this post:

Creative Commons License

Napoleon’s Achy Breaky Heart: Milan, 27 November, 1796

Earlier this week I left you with Napoleon in Verona, depressed and a trifle desperate.  Today, he’s looking a little like this:

The Emperor Napoleon I by Vernet (*see note below if the fancy strikes you)

Josephine’s cavorting with Hippolyte Charles who incidentally does not have the makings of a weak chin.  I’m told this helps in the romance department.

To say the least, Monsieur Bonaparte is suspicious of his lady wife.  He’s gone from realizing his general awesomeness to seeing cracks reflected in his veneer.  And you see, it’s all Josephine’s fault.

The General Napoleon by Andrea Appiani

Our little bit of muslin is just too wonderful in her own right to pay attention to her new husband who, in addition to being short, is apparently “impecunious” and “irrepressible”.  Touché, darling.

Josephine Bonaparte de Beauharnais by Andrea Appiani, 1796

Years later on 19 December, 1805, Napoleon writes to her, “. . . I am still in Brüun.  The Russians have gone.  I have made a truce.  In a few days I shall see what I am going to be.   Deign, from the height of your grandeur, to trouble yourself a little about your slaves.”

On this day, however, this is what he has to say:

 (click to enlarge)

P.S.

*As a complete side note, the upside of the sad-faced painting by Vernet is that it comes in a melamine plate offered by the National Portrait Gallery.  It was also mentioned in December’s Oprah magainze, if that’s your thing.  The downside: it’s £12, double the price of the other melamine face plates.  But I suppose he was an Emperor and as such large and in charge so he has to have the biggest sized plate of the bunch.

Also

You’re going to have to forgive me about the ongoing post name in this series.  For some reason I had Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achy Breaky Heart in my head which is odd because a) not a fan of Billy Ray; and b) I hardly like country.  Hauntings of country songs past, I guess, but attributing Napoleon’s letters to Josephine a result of his achy, breaky heart has cured me of my problem.  Hopefully, I have not passed it on to all of you.

Napoleon’s Achy Breaky Heart: Verona, 13 November, 1796

Eight months prior to Napoleon’s beseeching and, by turns,  chastising letter from Verona, Marie Rose Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie, a thirty three year-old widow from Martinique, marries the then twenty seven year-old officer of the French Army.

The marriage is not a love match per se, but one marked by passion and enmity in equal measure.  Later they will share the affection of old friends, but on this November day Napoleon suffers beneath the rumors of Josephine’s affair with Hippolyte Charles, a handsome lieutenant in the Hussar regiment.

(click image to enlarge)

Problem is, the pre-Emperor Napoleon is intensely smitten with his sophisticated and vivacious wife.  “As for me,” he says, “to love you alone, to make you happy, to do nothing which would contradict your wishes, this is my destiny and the meaning of my life.”  His burning fire for all things Josephine, however, earns him much despair during the early years of their marriage.  He writes her letters of which she rarely answers.  He agonizes and pleads for the proof of her ardor and turns furious when he doesn’t receive it.  In many ways he is as fickle a lover as she.

Paranoid and oppressive, his romantic intensity later results in his own affairs, but throughout his life, he does exhibit a rare devotion to her that can never be felled by the chaos surrounding them.  Even after their divorce and his subsequent remarriage to the Grand Duchess Marie Louise of Austria, he writes her letters and shows concern for her well-being.  He even goes to his death with her name on his lips:  “France! . . . Armée! . . . Tête d’armée ! . . . Josephine!”

A Criminal Conversation: Grosvenor v. Cumberland

This is why I love the 18th century–in terms of scandals the period is full of absurdities and titillating anecdotes.  Take, for example, the Duke of Cumberland and his affair with Lady Grosvenor.

In 1770 Cumberland was brought before the Court of the King’s Bench for a “criminal conversation” or rather, a suit wherein a cuckolded husband sues his wife’s lover for monetary damages.  Evidence usually consisted of eyewitness testimony from servants or acquaintances and love letters–positively damning in Cumberland’s case.  He not only seduced a married lady, he behaved below his station, impersonating a squire in order to visit Lady Grosvenor incognito.  After fashioning himself “Squire Morgan”, he proceeded to act like an idiot to fully disguise his improprieties.  Given that he was the king’s brother, this behavior was doubly mortifying when proof of the amorous affair came to light.

The “injured” party, Richard, 1st Earl of Grosvenor

Rumored to be involved in his own affaires de coeur, Lord Grosvenor intercepted the couple’s letters and copied them so he could have the pleasure of reading them in Court. Cumberland and Lady Grosvenor were also unlucky enough to have been caught in flagrante delicto, the details of which were cast into the gleeful public eye.  The shocking transcripts of the trial were the delight of London and prompted an interest in other high society sex scandals, including the Worsley criminal conversation of 1782.

In the case of Grosvenor v. Cumberland, Lord Grosvenor prevailed, his dignity bruised but his pocketbook amply padded for his troubles.  Cumberland ended up paying £10,000, an average sum for debauching a peer’s wife.  As a member of the royal family, he did have the unique benefit of the Lord Chamberlain forbidding the subject from being discussed in any public venue.  One can imagine this only fueled gossip in private withdrawing rooms though.

Modern Criminal Conversations
To my suprise, my lawyer husband advised me that criminal conversation, a.k.a. alienation of affection, still exists today.  In the U.S., it has been abolished in 43 states and the District of Columbia.  What’s left: Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.  I dipped my toe in legal research and found awards up to 1.4 million!  That’s painful for a little bit of bise bise on the side.

In England, the year of 1857 brought an end to formal revenge on rakes with abolishment of the civil action.  Criminal conversations were the most common in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  If you’re interested, the famous case of Worsley v. Bissett is covered in illuminating detail in Hallie Rubenhold’s Lady’s Worsley’s Whim (UK) /Lady in Red (US).  I did a post a while back on the Fleming sisters, Lady Worsley being one of them, with links to the trial transcripts.

The Secret Diary of a Princess: A Review

All week I have sneaked in moments to read Melanie Clegg’s The Secret Diary of a Princess and I must say it was worth every minute of lost sleep.  I adored Clegg’s interpretation of Marie Antoinette, and considering that this is a review and not a gush fest, I’m going to try my best to forgo repeating just how much I think every Antoinette fan should read it.

What I loved:

Clegg really made Antoinette’s early life come alive for me.  The voice was so authentic to Antoinette’s spirit I fancied I had in my possession her long-lost diary and was gaining private insight into the misunderstood queen.  For me, this emotional engagement was huge.  Although life at Versailles and Antoinette’s reign, in particular, has always fascinated me, I usually experience dissonance between my disliking the queen and my appreciation for her as an historical character.  Her personality is full of contradictions, which generally keep my attention, but unlike her mother, history has seldom regarded her as intelligent or a master of strategy.  She was instead a leader of fashion, a spendthrift without regard for consequence, and all around girly girl.

Clegg’s novel offers a closer look at the makings of France’s infamous queen.   If you’ve wondered how Maria Antonia, an awkward, uneducated girl who was never supposed to be a queen of France, became the belle of the fashionable world, this secret diary is a marvelous imagining of Antoinette’s inner thoughts while remaining firmly rooted in research.

1769, Joseph Ducreux

As any fan of the genre knows, historical fiction first and foremost needs to be more than a recitation of facts and events.  Clegg happily succeeds in this.  Her simple yet descriptive style transported me from the palaces of Schönbrunn and Hofburg, where Antoinette spent her childhood and adolescence, to her first steps into the glittering court of Versailles.

Today Antoinette seems quintessentially French, but in her time she was thought never fully Austrian or French.  This lacking is what defines her. Austria was home, but also a place of harsh instruction and intense pressure.  On the one hand we have Antoinette’s life of silk gowns, mischief, and loving sisters and on the other, a plague of early deaths coupled with the emotional austerity of her mother, Maria Theresa.  Despite the juxtaposition of the royals’ distinct personalities, a real sense of family resonated throughout novel.  I adored Antoinette’s sisters Amalia and Christina and sympathized with Antoinette’s feeling that she lacked consequence in such a large family.  As she says early on,

“I am not witty like my sister Christina or funny like Elizabeth or interesting like Amalia or clever like our eldest sister Marianna or sweet like Josepha.  I am just me, the youngest and some might say, most insignificant daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa, the most powerful female monarch in the world.”

The Austrian Royal Family

As the ultimate goal of Maria Theresa was to marry off her daughters and concrete Austrian alliances, the novel showed a procession of arranged matches with the sisters wondering who was next and when.  Given the doubt surrounding her future, Antoinette understandably longs for direction.  She wants to please her mother by doing her duty, but suffers under constant demands, which at times seem impossible for her to meet.  She is painfully naive and undisciplined, but also modest, funny, and sweet.

The first picture of Antoinette seen by the Dauphin

Numerous improvements were required to make Antoinette suitable for Versailles.  Sharing in her resistance to (and eventual delight in) those changes was an absolute joy to read.  Clegg deftly tackles the transformation as Antoinette catches a glimpse of herself après a French hairdressing:

“I had always seen myself as the youngest, least pretty and most insignificant of Mama’s girls but now suddenly I believed that I too could be beautiful and important.  I hope I never forget how I felt at that moment: powerful.”

This steady eye on the Antoinette we all know so well makes the novel a page turner.  We know what happens at Versailles and we know the dismal end swept in by the revolution.  What Clegg does is humanize Antoinette, making her the little sister, full of hope and giddy laughter and minor rebellions, with the internal reflection long due France’s most enigmatic queen.

A much recommended read for Marie Antoinette fans but also for anyone interested in what life was really like for princesses in 18th century Europe.

You can find out more about the author Melanie Clegg by visiting her popular art, history and writing blog at http://madameguillotine.org.uk/.

The Little Rose Princess: Alexandra Pavlovna

Pavlovna dressed in kokoshnik and sarafan, 1790s.

Bethrothed to the King Gustav IV of Sweden, the sweet, young  Alexandra Pavlovna fell madly in love with her intended upon their first meeting.  The union was a political one, meant to shore up fraught ties with Sweden, but for everyone involved, it seemed a match made in heaven.  By universal account, Alexandra was utterly charming, “the prettiest, sweetest and most innocent of the available princesses in Europe.” 

A passage from Royal Favorite, Volume 2 offers this description:

Painted shortly before her betrothal.  Portrait by Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1796. Gatchina Palace Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

Her intended, Gustav, couldn’t agree more.   After a debate over the potential princesses he might take as wife, he ended his deliberation at once.  Finally he had met his equal:

Arrangements for the upcoming nuptials were promptly formalized, but Alexandra’s great happiness foundered when King Gustav observed that by Swedish Law he was obligated to marry a Lutheran wife.  Alexandra was Russian Orthodox.  Empress Catherine II, who orchestrated the engagement, maintained religion posed no impediment to the marriage but when the contract was placed before Gustav for final consideration, he refused to extend his hand in good faith.  His declaration echoed down the halls: he would have a Lutheran queen for his people or no queen. 

 The Story of  a Throne gives us a glimpse of Alexandra’s disappointment:

After her death, Joseph remained a widower for fourteen years.  Purportedly he loved her, but he couldn’t protect her.  Surrounded by an envious Viennese court and loathed by her mother-in-law,  Empress Maria Theresa, Alexandra’s life in Austria was difficult.  One story tells of how the empress forbade her to wear her legendary tiara, an item from her substantial dowry.  Alexandra improvised, crowning her golden hair with flowers, and gained admiration for her fresh style.  Needless to say, the empress was livid.  Alexandra’s beauty, luxurious jewelry collection, and stark resemblance to Elizabeth of Wurttenberg–her maternal aunt and the Emperor of Austria’s first wife–were eternal marks against her. 

In addition, religious bigotry continued to threaten her future.  The Austrian royals, catholic to their core, refused her the basic rights of her faith.  After dying of puerperal fever in 1801, she was denied burial in the mausoleum her husband, Archduke Joseph, had dedicated to her.  Stories claim her coffin was instead placed above ground in the palace basement until the Russian sovereigns intervened and buried her in Hungary, as Joseph was Palatine of Hungary.  Her grave was robbed during World War I, the heirlooms buried with her, stolen.  Today, at last, she is interred in the Palatinal crypt in the Royal Palace of Budapest.