Tuileries during the French Revolution

The 10th of August 1792: fall of the French monarchy

The 10th of August 1792 is one of the key dates of the French Revolution. Why was the populace of Paris so enraged at the King and Queen?

The war on Austria had been declared a few months earlier, and had turned into a military disaster for France. The Austrians and their Prussian allies were advancing fast into French territory. Reports of their atrocities spread to Paris. Along their path, villages were set ablaze, women were violated by entire battalions, civilians were slaughtered. Patriots volunteered to defend the Nation at this hour of desperate need. From the perspective of the King and Queen, the Austrians and Prussians would restore the monarchy under its traditional form, and their rapid success was welcome news. From the standpoint of the Parisians, foreign invaders were the enemy, and Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, along with their followers, were traitors. The divorce between the monarchy and Paris was now complete. The closer the foreign armies drew to Paris, the greater the royal family’s danger became. Preparations had been made openly for days for an attack on the royal palace of the Tuileries.

In my first novel, Mistress of the Revolution, I chose to place my heroine, Gabrielle, at the Tuileries on the 10th of August. I based her recollections and reactions on the Memoirs of two eyewitnesses who saw the storming of the Tuileries from the inside of the palace: Madame de Tourzel, Governess of the Royal Children, and Madame Campan, First Chambermaid to the Queen (more…)



Hydrangea Redoute

Hydrangeas, Queen Hortense, the Hortensia Diamond

Hortense de Beauharnais Girodet

My thanks go to Felio, a reader of this blog, who is a florist by trade and gave me the idea of flower-themed posts. The first that came to mind were hydrangeas, because my paternal grandmother, gardener extraordinaire, used to grow them in the mountains of Auvergne.

Hydrangea by Redoute

Needless to say, they are not hardy enough to resist that harsh climate, but my grandmother was not the sort of person to let such details stand in the way of her gardening wishes (more…)


Louise-Elisabeth-Vigee-Lebrun-self-portrait

Madame Vigée-Lebrun, Regency England and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun: self-portrait

Frequent visitors to Versailles and more have become familiar with Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, one of the most successful painters of her time and Marie-Antoinette’s favorite portraitist. Madame Lebrun left France as early as October 1789, after the royal family relocated, much against their wishes, to the Tuileries. She traveled extensively in search of new patrons, in Italy, Germany and Russia, where she found what she calls herself une seconde patrie, a second homeland (more…)



Versailles-grand-couvert-didier-rykner

The Salon of the Grand Couvert at Versailles: the room where Marie-Antoinette did not have dinner

Another Versailles update: the Salon of the Grand Couvert has been restored to its past splendor, as part of the ongoing refurbishment of the entire palace.

Versailles, the Salon du Grand Couvert, by Didier Rykner

The Salon of the Grand Couvert is part of the Queen’s Grand Apartment. Couvert means place setting in French, and this is the room where the royal couple had dinner. The King and Queen sat on armchairs, facing the audience. Duchesses had the privilege of sitting on a row of stools arranged in a semi-circle a few feet in front of the table. Further away stoo the rest of the courtiers and the public, for anyone decently dressed was admitted to the palace.

The Marquise de La Tour du Pin, who was a lady-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette during the very last years of the Ancien Régime, attended these occasions (more…)


Marie Antoinette a la rose by Vigee Lebrun

Marie-Antoinette and Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun: the Queen and the painter

Without Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s many portraits of Marie-Antoinette, our mental image of the Queen would be different, so iconic have these paintings become. All the more reason to look into the relationship between the two ladies. And what better way to do so than return to Madame Lebrun’s Memoirs?

It was in the year 1779, she writes, that I painted the Queen for the first time; she was then in the heyday of her youth and beauty [she was twenty four]. Marie-Antoinette was tall and admirably built, being somewhat stout, but not excessively so. Her arms were superb, her hands small and perfectly formed, and her feet charming. She had the best gait of any woman in France, carrying her head erect with a dignity that marked her as the Queen in the midst of her whole Court, her majestic mien (more…)



Marie Antoinette van Meytens

Marie Antoinette’s unsung legacy to French food: the croissant

If you watched Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, you know that the Queen liked to be surrounded by pyramids of gorgeous pastries and followed a strict macaroon-and-champagne diet. Or did she?

Marie Antoinette van Meytens

Well, according to contemporary accounts, not at all. The etiquette required the King and Queen to take some of their meals in public, in front of the courtiers and visitors. Anyone decently dressed was admitted in Versailles, and many came to the Palace to watch the royal couple eat.

The Marquise de La Tour du Pin, who was a lady-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette, attended those occasions. She notes in her Memoirs that “the King ate with a hearty appetite, but the Queen did not remove her gloves, nor did she unfold her napkin, in which she was very ill-advised.”

Marie Antoinette porcelain cup

Marie-Antoinette literally did not touch her food (more…)


18th century court gown

18th century court costume and Marie-Antoinette

I saw the Court Pomp and Royal Ceremony exhibition at Versailles on its closing day last June and would have hated to miss it. My expectations were very high, and yet I could not help being somewhat disappointed, not by the quality of the objects on display, which were magnificent, but by their scarcity. I should have known better, of course: how many 18th century court costumes could have survived till the 21st century?

Interestingly, the few that did have been preserved in the royal collections of northern Europe, for instance the coronation gown(below) of Queen Sofia Magdelena of Sweden. It was made in Paris of silver cloth, and consists, like all French court gowns, in three separate pieces: bodice, skirt and train. Indeed in the course of the 18th century all European courts had adopted the Versailles court costume. Note the width of the panniers: 3 meters (12 feet!) The depth is no more than 2 feet, which gives the gown the shape of a very elongated ova (more…)