Catharine Macaulay, The First English Female Historian

Catharine Macaulay became famous overnight. She shocked the British public not with her beauty (she wasn't very pretty) nor a scandalous affair with a man (that would come later). She owned her fame to her pen. In 1763, when she published A History of England (Volume 1), she became the first female English historian. No one believed that a woman should, or could, write such a book, but when they read it, they were hooked. Catherine had a flair for storytelling.

How she became obsessed with history is a mystery. In her book, Catherine, who had been privately educated at home, claimed she had been an avid reader since early childhood. Her favourite books, she declared, were the histories of the Greek and Roman Republics, which instilled in her a love and appreciation for liberty. But, to her friend Benjamin Rush, she told a different story. She had never been interested in books and knowledge until one day, when she was 20, she picked up an "odd volume of some history". If this account is to be believed, this book changed her life.

She started writing her first book, the first volume of A History of England, when she was married to doctor George Macaulay, a Scottish physician. The couple tied the knot on 18 June 1760 and then lived at St James's Place, London. They had one child together, Catherine Sophia. But their marriage wasn't destined to last long. Six years later, George died.

By then, Catherine had already become a celebrity. A History of England had shown everyone that women could write history. And that they could stand up for what they believed in. The history chronicled the period from the accession of James I to that of George I, which the author saw as a struggle for freedom, fought for by "men that, with the hazard and even the loss of their lives, attacked the formidable pretensions of the Stewart family, and set up the banners of liberty against a tyranny which had been established for a series of more than one hundred and fifty years". Unfortunately her contemporaries had forgotten where the privileges they enjoyed had come from, which is why she chose to write about this particular period in English history.

Catherine would publish many other works about history and politics, expressing her opinions on what the best form of government was and how a country should be run. She championed Republics, which could be created only by virtuous people, supported the American Revolution, opposed Catholic emancipation, and justified the execution of Charles I by claiming that when a King becomes a tyrant he forfeits every right to government. Her views became more and more radical as the years went on, losing her many supporters.

Even more of her friends dropped her when she remarried in 1778 to William Graham, a man about 30 years younger than her. William was the younger brother of James Graham, a Scottish quack-doctor she had met in Bath. His cures seemed to work for her, prompted the historian to endorse his services. James fell for her and proposed marriage twice, and Catherine may well have accepted if she hadn't discovered he was already married. Apparently, he told her "the excess of his passion had made him forget that circumstance!" Instead, she tied the knot with his brother.

In 1784, Catherine and William, who had become an Anglican minister, went to America, where they stayed with George Washington at Mount Vernon for a while. He also furnished her with a lot of material to write a history of the American Revolution, but nothing came of it. Instead, she started writing a History Of England From The Revolution To The Present Time, but only completed the first volume. Catherine and her husband were back in England in 1785. She would die here, in Binfield, on 22 June 1791.

Further reading:
History Of The 18th And 19th Centuries

Wedding Etiquette

The circumstances under which weddings take place are so varied, and the religious forms observed in their solemnization so numerous, that to lay down rules applicable to all cases would be a matter of great difficulty, if not an impossibility. Consequently only those forms of marriage attended with the fullest ceremonies, and all the attendant ceremonials will here be given, and others may be modeled after them as the occasion may seem to require. After the marriage invitations are issued, the fiancee does not appear in public. It is also de rigueur at morning weddings, that she does not see the bridegroom on the wedding-day, until they meet at the altar.


Only relatives and the most intimate friends are asked to be bridemaids—the sisters of the bride and of the bridegroom, where it is possible. The bridegroom chooses his best man and the groomsmen and ushers from his circle of relatives and friends of his own age, and from the relatives of his fiancee of a suitable age. The dresses of the bridemaids are not given unless their circumstances are such as to make it necessary.


The most approved bridal costume for young brides is of white silk, high corsage, a long wide veil of white tulle, reaching to the feet, and a wreath of maiden-blush roses with orange blossoms. The roses she can continue to wear, but the orange blossoms are only suitable for the ceremony.


The bridegroom and ushers, at a morning wedding, wear full morning dress, dark blue or black frock coats, or cut-aways, light neckties, and light trousers. The bridegroom wears white gloves. The ushers wear gloves of some delicate color.


Where the bride makes presents to the bridemaids on her wedding-day, they generally consist of some articles of jewelry, not costly, and given more as a memento of the occasion than for their own intrinsic worth. The bridegroom sometimes gives the groomsmen a scarf pin of some quaint device, or some other slight memento of the day, as a slight acknowledgement of their services.


When there are no bridemaids or ushers the marriage ceremonials at the church are as follows: The members of the bride's family proceed to the church before the bride, who follows with her mother. The bridegroom awaits them at the church and gives his arm to the bride's mother. They walk up the aisle to the altar, the mother falling back to her position on the left. The father, or relative representing him, conducts the bride to the bridegroom, who stands at the altar with his face turned toward her as she approaches, and the father falls back to the left.

The relatives follow, taking their places standing; those of the bride to the left, those of the groom to the right. After kneeling at the altar for a moment, the bride, standing on the left of the bridegroom, takes the glove off from her left hand, while he takes the glove off from his right hand. The service then begins. The father of the bride gives her away by bowing when the question is asked, which is a much simpler form than stepping forward and placing his daughter's hand in that of the clergyman. Perfect self-control should be exhibited by all parties during the ceremony.

The bride leaves the altar, taking the bridegroom's right arm, and they pass down the aisle without looking to the right or left. It is considered very bad form to recognize acquaintances by bows and smiles while in the church.

The bride and bridegroom drive away in their own carriage, the rest following in their carriages.


When the circle of friends on both sides is very extensive, it has become customary of late to send invitations to such as are not called to the wedding breakfast, to attend the ceremony at church. This stands in the place of issuing cards. No one must think of calling on the newly married couple who has not received an invitation to the ceremony at church, or cards after their establishment in their new home.


The latest New York form for conducting the marriage ceremony is substantially as follows:

When the bridal party has arranged itself for entrance, the ushers, in pairs march slowly up to the altar and turn to the right. Behind them follows the groom alone. When he reaches the altar he turns, faces the aisle, and watches intently for the coming of his bride. After a slight interval the bridemaids follow, in pairs, and at the altar turn to the left. After another brief interval, the bride, alone and entirely veiled, with her eyes cast down, follows her companions. The groom comes forward a few steps to meet her, takes her hand, and places her at the altar. Both kneel for a moment's silent devotion. The parents of the bride, having followed her, stand just behind her and partly to the left. The services by the clergyman now proceed as usual.

While the bride and bridegroom are passing out of the church, the bridemaids follow slowly, each upon the arm of an usher, and they afterward hasten on as speedily as possible to welcome the bride at her own door, and to arrange themselves about the bride and groom in the reception room, half of the ladies upon her side and half upon his—the first bridemaid retaining the place of honor.


The ushers at the door of the reception room offer themselves as escorts to parties, who arrive slowly from the church, conducting them to the bridal party, and there presenting them by name. This announcement becomes necessary when two families and two sets of friends are brought together for the first time. If ladies are present without gentlemen, the ushers accompany them to the breakfast or refreshment room, or provide them with attendants.

At the church the ushers are the first to arrive. They stand by the inner entrance and offer their arms to escort the ladies, as they enter, to their proper seats in the church. If a lady be accompanied by a gentleman, the latter follows the usher and the lady to the seat shown her. The ushers, knowing the two families, understand where to place the nearer, and where the remoter relatives and friends of the bridal party, the groom's friends being arranged upon the right of the entrance, and the bride's upon the left. The distribution of guests places the father (or guardian) of the bride at the proper place during the ceremony.


The ceremonials for the entry to the church by the bridal party may be varied to suit the taste. Precedents for the style already described are found among the highest social circles in New York and other large cities, but there are brides who prefer the fashion of their grandmothers, which is almost strictly an American fashion. In this style, the bridemaids, each leaning upon the arm of a groomsman, first pass up the aisle to the altar, the ladies going to their left, and the gentlemen to their right. The groom follows with the bride's mother, or some one to represent her, leaning on his arm, whom he seats in a front pew at the left. The bride follows, clinging to the arm of her father (or near relative), who leads her to the groom. The father waits at her left and a step or two back of her, until asked to give her away, which he does by taking her right hand and placing it in that of the clergyman. After this he joins the mother of the bride in the front pew, and becomes her escort while they pass out of the church.

In case there are no bridemaids, the ushers walk into church in pairs, just in advance of the groom, and parting at the altar, half of them stand at one side and half at the other. While the clergyman is congratulating the bride, they pass out in pairs, a little in advance of the wedded couple.


Weddings at home vary but little from those at church. The music, the assembling of friends, the entree of the bridal party to the position selected, are the same. An altar of flowers, and a place of kneeling can be easily arranged at home. The space behind the altar need be no wider than is allowed for the clergyman to stand. The altar is generally only a fender or railing entirely wound and concealed by greenery or blossoms. Other floral accessories, such as the marriage-bell, horseshoe, or white dove, etc., can be arranged with ease by a skillful florist, if desired.

When the marriage ceremony is concluded, the party turn in their places and face their friends, who proceed to congratulate them. If space be required, the kneeling stool and floral altar may be removed, a little later, without observation.


If the wedding occur in the evening, the only difference in the ceremonials from those in the morning is that the ushers or groomsmen wear full evening dress, and the bridal pair retire quietly to dress for their journey before the dancing party disperses, and thus leave unobserved. At the morning wedding only bridemaids, ushers and relatives remain to witness the departure of the pair.


When the newly married couple commence life in a home of their own, it is customary to issue "at home" cards for a few evenings, at an early date after the wedding, for informal receptions. Only such persons are invited as the young couple choose to keep as friends, or perhaps only those whom they can afford to retain. This is a suitable opportunity to carefully re-arrange one's social list, and their list of old acquaintances may be sifted at the time of the beginning of housekeeping. This custom of arranging a fresh list is admitted as a social necessity, and nobody is offended.


All guests and friends who receive "at home" invitations, or who are invited to the church, are required by etiquette to call upon the family of the bride, or to leave their cards, within ten days after the wedding.


All churches at present use the ring, and vary the sentiment of its adoption to suit the customs and ideas of their own rites. A jeweled ring has been for many years the sign and symbol of betrothal, but at present a plain gold circlet, with the date of the engagement inscribed within, is generally preferred. The ring is removed by the groom at the altar, passed to the clergyman and used in the ceremony. A jeweled ring is placed upon her hand by the groom on the way home from the church, or as soon after the service as is convenient. It stands guard over its precious fellow, and is a confirmation of the first promise.


The marriage ceremonials of a widow differ from that of a young lady in not wearing the veil and orange blossoms. She may be costumed in white and have her maids at the altar if she pleases. This liberty, however, has only been given her within a few years. On her wedding cards of invitation, her maiden name is used as a part of her proper name; which is done in respect to her parents. Having dropped the initials of her dead husband's name when she laid aside her mourning, she uses her Christian name. If she has sons or unmarried daughters at the time she becomes again a wife, she may prefix the last name of her children to her new one on all ceremonious occasions in which they are interested in common with herself. This respect is really due them, and etiquette permits it, although our social usages do not command its adoption. The formalities which follow the marriage of a widow can seldom be regulated in the same manner as those of a younger bride. No fixed forms can be arranged for entertainments, which must be controlled by circumstances.


Wedding invitations should be handsomely engraved in script. Neither Old English nor German text are admissible in invitations. The following is given as the latest form for invitations:

This invitation requires no answer. Friends living in other towns and cities receiving it, inclose their cards, and send by mail. Residents call on the family within the prescribed time, or as soon after as possible.

The invitation to the wedding breakfast is enclosed in the same envelope, generally conveyed on a square card, the same size as the sheet of note paper which bears the invitation for the ceremony after it has been once folded across the middle. The following is one of the adopted forms:

The separate cards of the bride and groom are no longer necessary.

The card of admission to the church is narrower, and is plainly engraved in large script, as follows:

Generally only half an hour intervenes between the ceremony and the reception.


People who receive "At Home" wedding invitations, are expected to acknowledge them as soon as received, and never fail to accept, unless for some very good reason. Guests invited to the house, or to a marriage feast following the ceremony, should not feel at liberty to decline from any whim or caprice.


Bridesmaids and ushers should allow nothing but illness or some unavoidable accident to prevent them from officiating, thus showing their appreciation of the friendship which has caused their selection to this honored position. If by reason of sudden affliction, some one of the bridemaids or ushers is prevented from attending, a substitute should, if possible, be provided immediately. The reasons for this, however, should be well understood, that no opportunity may be given for uncharitable comments.


When bridal presents are given, they are sent to the bride previous to the day of the marriage ceremony. As the universal bridal present has fallen into disuse, this custom is not now considered obligatory, and if immediate friends and relatives desire to make presents, it should be spontaneous, and in no sense considered obligatory. These presents are not put on exhibition as formerly, but are acknowledged by the bride in a private note to the donor. It is not now considered in good form to talk about these contributions.


In weddings at churches a master of ceremonies is often provided, who is expected to be at the church as soon as the doors are opened. He arranges beforehand for the spreading of a carpet from the church door to the pavement, and if the weather be inclement, he sees that an awning is also spread. He also sees that a white ribbon is stretched across the main aisle of the church, far enough back from the altar to afford sufficient room for all invited guests to occupy the front pews of the main aisle. Sometimes an arch of flowers extends over the aisle, so as to divide those who come in wedding garments, from those who do not. The organist should be early at his post, and is expected to play during the arrival of guests. The order of the religious part of the marriage ceremony is fixed by the church in which it occurs.


There is no prescribed fee for performing the marriage ceremony. It is regulated according to the means and liberality of the bridegroom, but no less amount than five dollars should be given under any circumstances.


At wedding receptions, friends who congratulate the newly married couple should address the bride first, if they have any previous acquaintance with her, then the bridegroom, then the bridemaids, and after that the parents and family of the bride and groom. They should give their good wishes to the bride and congratulate the bridegroom. If they are acquainted with the bridegroom and not with the bride, let them address him first and he will introduce them to his bride.


The honeymoon of repose, exempt from all claims of society, is now prescribed by the dictates of common sense and fashion, and the same arbiters unite in condemning the harrassing bridal tour. It is no longer de rigueur to maintain any secrecy as to their plans for traveling, when a newly married couple depart upon a tour.

Further reading:
Our Deportment by John H. Young

Book Review: Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft died a few days after giving birth to her daughter, Mary Shelley. Yet, even from beyond the grave, she played a big part in her daughter's upbringing and had a big influence on her beliefs and decisions. Both women made similar choices, suffered similar tragedies, and were sustained throughout all their hardships by their dreams of improving women's conditions through their writings.

Both Marys were intelligent, talented women that struggled to achieve independence in a world where women were considered the properties of their fathers and husbands, meant to serve and obey, not to lead and work. They both became famous writers, penning books and essays that highlighted their political convictions and the evils of society. They fell in love with men who broke their hearts. They had children out of wedlock. They both lived abroad, Wallstonecraft in Paris during the Revolution and Shelley in Italy with her husband Percy, the infamous Lord Byron and their circle of scandalous friends.

They broke every social convention of their time. "Not only did they write world-changing books," Gordon writes, "they broke from the strictures that governed women’s conduct, not once but time and again. Their refusal to bow down, to be quiet and subservient, to apologize and hide, makes their lives as memorable as the words they left behind". Their refusal to bow down to the dictates of society and their determination to remain true to themselves and their beliefs, no matter what, made them what Wollstonecraft termed "outlaws".

In Gordon's hands, both women, with all their strengths and flaws, talents and dreams, vividly come back to life again. So does the world they inhabited, with all its strict rules and social conventions, and the ostracism it inflicted on those who dared break them. Put into context, their achievements in overcoming the many hardships, prejudices, and insults they faced, are even more astonishing and remarkable.

Their stories are told in alternating chapters. Gordon dedicates one chapter to each woman at a similar period in her life, so we are always going back and forth between them. I thought this would be confusing, but it wasn't at all. Each chapter is named after the Mary it is dedicated to, the years it covers, and the most important events that occurred in that period. Besides, despite their many similarities, their lives were different enough to allow readers to always easily distinguish between the two Marys.

Well-researched and beautifully written, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley hardly reads like a biography at all. It is a very enthralling read, sometimes utilizing fictional devices such as cliffhangers to keep readers interested and engrossed. You just won't be able to put it down.

Well-researched and beautifully written, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley tells the story of two remarkable women who have defied conventions to remain true to themselves and used their talents to improve the conditions of women in society. Enthralling and engrossing, you won't be able to put it down.

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 5/5

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Celebrity Sightings At Vauxhall Gardens

Vauxhall Gardens, a pleasure garden located in Kennington on the south bank of the River Thames, was one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London, from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. Initially entrance was free. The owners made money by selling food and drinks. But as its attractions expanded, an admission fee was charged too.

The gardens boasted a rococo Turkish tent, a Rotunda, several buildings in the chinoiserie style, a statue of George Frederic Handel, and walks so intricate and private they were often used for romantic assignations. Performances were frequent. Crowds gathered to watch tightrope walkers, fireworks, concerts (the most famous singers and musicians of the day, such as Handel, played there), and hot-air balloon ascents. In 1817, they even hosted a re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo.

All the most popular celebrities of the day could be frequently seen at Vauxhall Gardens. This print by Thomas Rowlandson has immortalized quite a few. In the centre, wearing a white dress, there's Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. She's with her sister Harriet, who's wearing a blue riding habit. The two sisters, who were very close, are no doubt gossiping about their acquaintances, who are, in turn, talking about them.

Everything the Duchess did interested the papers and their readers. Next to the sisters, we can see Sir Henry Bate, the editor of the Morning Herald, and James Perry (he's wearing a kilt), the editor of The Morning Chronicle, a rival publication. You can bet the sisters' outing at Vauxhall Gardens will be reported by their papers the following day, hopefully accompanied by some juicy bits of gossip, if they can overhear any worth reporting from the ladies' own lips.

Farther to the right, the Prince of Wales, future George IV, is whispering something romantic into the gorgeous Perdita's ear. Mary Perdita Robinson and the Prince were lovers, but their affair had ended by the time Rowlandson draw this picture. Next to them stands Perdita's husband, but no one is paying much attention to him.

In the dining box, enjoying a hearty meal, is Samuel Johnson, the author of the famous "Dictionary". He's eating with writers Mrs Thrale, Boswell, and Goldsmith. Jonhson's friend Topham Beauclerk, a famous wit, is observing some ladies with his monocle.

More difficult is the identification of the performers. Some historians believe the singer to be Mrs. Weichsel, others her daughter, Elizabeth Billington. The identity of the composer leading the orchestra, instead, is certain. He's François-Hippolyte Barthélémon.

Can you identify any other celebrity?

Maria Theresa Of Spain, First Wife Of Louis XIV

Maria Theresa of Spain, the daughter of King Philip IV, and his wife Elisabeth of France, was born at El Escorial in 1638. Sadly, her mother died when she was only 6, and her father, who adored his daughter, soon remarried. The new queen, Mariana of Austria wasn't too interested in the little girl and often neglected her.

Spain, at the time, was at war with France. But everyone was tiring of it. To secure peace, a marriage between Maria Theresa and Louis XIV was suggested. The negations were long, complicated not just by war but by the Spanish law of succession. Spanish princesses could inherit the throne too, and Maria Theresa had already been heiress presumptive twice, upon the deaths of her two brothers, Balthasar Charles and Philip Prospero. If her surviving brother, Prince Charles, were to die too, the crowns of Spain and France would be united.

The French loved that prospect. The Spanish, afraid they would become subservient to the French, not so much. They insisted on a renunciation clause that would deprive Maria Theresa and her offspring of any rights to the Spanish throne. The French agreed but on one condition. In such an eventuality, to make up for such a loss, Spain would have to pay a large dowry to France. When the moment came, Spain, impoverished by decades of war, was unable to do so. But that's a story for another post.

When the negotiations were over, and all matters settled, Maria Theresa left Spain for France. On 9 June 1660, Maria Theresa and Louis XIV were married at the church of Saint Jean the Baptist in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. At first all was well between the couple, but soon Maria Theresa started to put on weight and Louis' eye to wander. He had many affairs, and in 1661, installed Louise de La Vallerie as his first official mistress. The Queen was very hurt by it.

Virtuous and pious, she started to withdraw more and more from court, and spend more time with her circles of dwarfs, the traditional attendants to a Spanish infanta (besides, her ladies-in-waiting could easily catch the King's eye). She also found comfort in her faith and, when they asked for it, she always forgave both her husband and her mistresses. Years later she would even enjoy a friendly relationship with another of Louis' mistresses, Madame de Maintenon, grateful that she encouraged her lover to pay more attention to her (although the King had never, infidelities aside, treated her with disrespect).

Maria Theresa also became close to her mother-in-law, Anne of Austria, and, in her free time, could often be found playing cards and gambling. She had no interest in politics, and played little part in it, only acting as regent for short periods of time when Louis was away on war campaigns. In November 1661, she gave birth to her first child, a son and heir to the Spanish throne. In the following years, she would give her husband five more children. Unfortunately, only her oldest son, Louis, would survive childhood, but not long enough to become king.

In 1683, a tumour was discovered under her arm. Soon, the Queen fell gravely ill and, on 30 July, she died. "This is the first trouble which she has given me," Louis XIV remarked upon her death.

Further reading:
Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser
The Mad Monarchist

Emperor Joseph Visits Versailles

From the time of Louis XVI.'s accession to the throne, the Queen had been expecting a visit from her brother, the Emperor Joseph II. That Prince was the constant theme of her discourse. She boasted of his intelligence, his love of occupation, his military knowledge, and the perfect simplicity of his manners. Those about her Majesty ardently wished to see at Versailles a prince so worthy of his rank.

At length the coming of Joseph II., under the title of Count Falkenstein, was announced, and the very day on which he would be at Versailles was mentioned. The first embraces between the Queen and her august brother took place in the presence of all the Queen's household. The sight of their emotion was extremely affecting.

The Emperor was at first generally admired in France; learned men, well-informed officers, and celebrated artists appreciated the extent of his information. He made less impression at Court, and very little in the private circle of the King and Queen. His eccentric manners, his frankness, often degenerating into rudeness, and his evidently affected simplicity,—all these characteristics caused him to be looked upon as a prince rather singular than admirable.

The Queen spoke to him about the apartment she had prepared for him in the Chateau; the Emperor answered that he would not accept it, and that while travelling he always lodged at a cabaret (that was his very expression); the Queen insisted, and assured him that he should be at perfect liberty, and placed out of the reach of noise. He replied that he knew the Chateau of Versailles was very large, and that so many scoundrels lived there that he could well find a place; but that his valet de chambre had made up his camp-bed in a lodging-house, and there he would stay.

He dined with the King and Queen, and supped with the whole family. He appeared to take an interest in the young Princess Elisabeth, then just past childhood, and blooming in all the freshness of that age. An intended marriage between him and this young sister of the King was reported at the time, but I believe it had no foundation in truth.

The table was still served by women only, when the Queen dined in private with the King, the royal family, or crowned heads. I was present at the Queen's dinner almost every day. The Emperor would talk much and fluently; he expressed himself in French with facility, and the singularity, of his expressions added a zest to his conversation. I have often heard him say that he liked spectaculous objects, when he meant to express such things as formed a show, or a scene worthy of interest. He disguised none of his prejudices against the etiquette and customs of the Court of France; and even in the presence of the King made them the subject of his sarcasms.

The King smiled, but never made any answer; the Queen appeared pained. The Emperor frequently terminated his observations upon the objects in Paris which he had admired by reproaching the King for suffering himself to remain in ignorance of them. He could not conceive how such a wealth of pictures should remain shut up in the dust of immense stores; and told him one day that but for the practice of placing some of them in the apartments of Versailles he would not know even the principal chef d'oeuvres that he possessed.

(The Emperor loudly censured the existing practice of allowing shopkeepers to erect shops near the outward walls of all the palaces, and even to establish something like a fair in the galleries of Versailles and Fontainebleau, and even upon the landings of the staircases.)

He also reproached him for not having visited the Hotel des Invalides nor the Ecole Militaire; and even went so far as to tell him before us that he ought not only to know what Paris contained, but to travel in France, and reside a few days in each of his large towns. At last the Queen was really hurt at the Emperor's remarks, and gave him a few lectures upon the freedom with which he allowed himself to lecture others.

One day she was busied in signing warrants and orders for payment for her household, and was conversing with M. Augeard, her secretary for such matters, who presented the papers one after another to be signed, and replaced them in his portfolio.

While this was going forward, the Emperor walked about the room; all at once he stood still, to reproach the Queen rather severely for signing all those papers without reading them, or, at least, without running her eye over them; and he spoke most judiciously to her upon the danger of signing her name inconsiderately.

The Queen answered that very wise principles might be very ill applied; that her secretary, who deserved her implicit confidence, was at that moment laying before her nothing but orders for payment of the quarter's expenses of her household, registered in the Chamber of Accounts; and that she ran no risk of incautiously giving her signature.

The Queen's toilet was likewise a never-failing subject for animadversion with the Emperor. He blamed her for having introduced too many new fashions; and teased her about her use of rouge. One day, while she was laying on more of it than usual, before going to the play, he pointed out a lady who was in the room, and who was, in truth, highly painted. "A little more under the eyes," said the Emperor to the Queen; "lay on the rouge like a fury, as that lady does." The Queen entreated her brother to refrain from his jokes, or at all events to address them, when they were so outspoken, to her alone.

The Queen had made an appointment to meet her brother at the Italian theatre; she changed her mind, and went to the French theatre, sending a page to the Italian theatre to request the Emperor to come to her there. He left his box, lighted by the comedian Clairval, and attended by M. de la Ferte, comptroller of the Queen's privy purse, who was much hurt at hearing his Imperial Majesty, after kindly expressing his regret at not being present during the Italian performance, say to Clairval, "Your young Queen is very giddy; but, luckily, you Frenchmen have no great objection to that."

I was with my father-in-law in one of the Queen's apartments when the Emperor came to wait for her there, and, knowing that M. Campan was librarian, he conversed with him about such books as would of course be found in the Queen's library. After talking of our most celebrated authors, he casually said, "There are doubtless no works on finance or on administration here?"

These words were followed by his opinion on all that had been written on those topics, and the different systems of our two famous ministers, Sully and Colbert; on errors which were daily committed in France, in points essential to the prosperity of the Empire; and on the reform he himself would make at Vienna. Holding M. Campan by the button, he spent more than an hour, talking vehemently, and without the slightest reserve, about the French Government. My father-in-law and myself maintained profound silence, as much from astonishment as from respect; and when we were alone we agreed not to speak of this interview.

The Emperor was fond of describing the Italian Courts that he had visited. The jealous quarrels between the King and Queen of Naples amused him highly; he described to the life the manner and speech of that sovereign, and the simplicity with which he used to go and solicit the first chamberlain to obtain permission to return to the nuptial bed, when the angry Queen had banished him from it. The time which he was made to wait for this reconciliation was calculated between the Queen and her chamberlain, and always proportioned to the gravity of the offence. He also related several very amusing stories relative to the Court of Parma, of which he spoke with no little contempt.

If what this Prince said of those Courts, and even of Vienna, had been written down, the whole would have formed an interesting collection. The Emperor told the King that the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the King of Naples being together, the former said a great deal about the changes he had effected in his State. The Grand Duke had issued a mass of new edicts, in order to carry the precepts of the economists into execution, and trusted that in so doing he was labouring for the welfare of his people.

The King of Naples suffered him to go on speaking for a long time, and then casually asked how many Neapolitan families there were in Tuscany. The Duke soon reckoned them up, as they were but few. "Well, brother," replied the King of Naples, "I do not understand the indifference of your people towards your great reforms; for I have four times the number of Tuscan families settled in my States that you have of Neapolitan families in yours."

The Queen being at the Opera with the Emperor, the latter did not wish to show himself; but she took him by the hand, and gently drew him to the front of the box. This kind of presentation to the public was most warmly received. The performance was "Iphigenia in Aulis," and for the second time the chorus, "Chantons, celebrons notre Reine!" was called for with universal plaudits.

A fete of a novel description was given at Petit Trianon. The art with which the English garden was not illuminated, but lighted, produced a charming effect. Earthen lamps, concealed by boards painted green, threw light upon the beds of shrubs and flowers, and brought out their varied tints. Several hundred burning fagots in the moat behind the Temple of Love made a blaze of light, which rendered that spot the most brilliant in the garden. After all, this evening's entertainment had nothing remarkable about it but the good taste of the artists, yet it was much talked of.

 The situation did not allow the admission of a great part of the Court; those who were uninvited were dissatisfied; and the people, who never forgive any fetes but those they share in, so exaggerated the cost of this little fete as to make it appear that the fagots burnt in the moat had required the destruction of a whole forest. The Queen being informed of these reports, was determined to know exactly how much wood had been consumed; and she found that fifteen hundred fagots had sufficed to keep up the fire until four o'clock in the morning.

After staying a few months the Emperor left France, promising his sister to come and see her again. All the officers of the Queen's chamber had many opportunities of serving him during his stay, and expected that he would make them presents before his departure. Their oath of office positively forbade them to receive a gift from any foreign prince; they had therefore agreed to refuse the Emperor's presents at first, but to ask the time necessary for obtaining permission to accept them. The Emperor, probably informed of this custom, relieved the good people from their difficulty by setting off without making a single present.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of Marie Antoinette, by Campan

Book Reviews: Helen Of Sparta, Talent For Humanity, & Creative Schools

Hello everyone,

today I want to share some of the best, most inspiring books I have read this month. Enjoy!

Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella
Helen of Sparta, the face who launched a thousand ships, was the most beautiful woman in the world. But also one of the most dull. In Greek mythology, she is portrayed as a pawn of the gods, Paris, Menelaus, or her family, without a clear will of her own. In these legends, she is a sorrowful figure. In a few, she's a treacherous woman enjoying the carnage the War of Troy has unleashed.
The Helen Amalia Carosella has created isn't evil. And she's certainly no pawn. She's a fiery, compassionate, stubborn, and determined to decide her own fate. Even if it means defying the gods.
Long before Paris took her to Troy, Helen was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. She realised the only way to prevent this terrible war was to refuse to marry Menelaus. But both her betrothed and her family had other ideas. They refused to listen to her pleas, leaving her no option but to look for help elsewhere. She turned to Theseus, King of Athens and son of Poseidon. In the dead of night, he helped her escape, and slowly, the two started to build a life together. But, with danger and threats on any side, can Helen really escape her destiny so easily?
I'm glad that Carosello decided to concentrate on her elopement with Theseus rather than her adduction by Paris. Not only it brings back to life one of the lesser known myths about Helen and Theseus, but these events, and they way they shape this beautiful woman, help us better understand the choices she will make in her future. It's also refreshing to see the story told though Helen's own eyes, rather than by the men in her life.
Carosella knows her mythology. You don't need to know anything about ancient Greece, its gods and heroes, to appreciate the story. Carosella provides all the background information you need, weaving it seamlessly into the pages. It helps bring Helen's world, with its customs and traditions, forces and beliefs, vividly back to life.
Some reviewers have complained about the end. It's so abrupt that at first I wondered whether this was the first book in a series. This doesn't seem to be the case yet, although I sure hope it wilò be. But that's because I loved this book, and this Helen, so much, not because the end left me unsatisfied. It may not wrap up every little thread, leaving the door open for a sequel indeed. But it wraps up this particularly story sufficiently well to make the book stand on its own.
If you are interested in Greek mythology, Helen of Sparta, or just a fast-paced, engaging and enthralling story full of drama and intrigue with a dollop of romance, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy. You won't regret it.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Talent for Humanity: Stories of Creativity, Compassion and Courage to Inspire You on Your Journey by Patrick Gaffney
We are all born with the power to imagine what does not yet exist. What if we used that power to create the world we all dream of living in--for ourselves and others?
Patrick Gaffney has collected the stories of seven amazing people who have done just that. Reva is a photojournalist who has travelled to dangerous localities to document the atrocities going on there. Sherry and Bob Jason started an arts programme to help disadvantages children living in poor and crime-rife areas discover their own potential and become caring and active citizens. Aliza Hava a singer and songwriter who organizes concerts for peace. Deeyah, a pop singer turned activist who has dedicated her life to draw attention to the plague of honour killings. Yarrow Kraner is a "gardener of genius" who connects talented young people with mentors to help them accomplish their potential and dreams. Finally Daniele Finzi Pasca, the stage director responsible for the opening ceremony of the Paralympics in Sochi in 2014, creates shows that portray the human condition in all its joy, pathos, and paradox, evoking compassion in the audience.
Although it may seem that all these people were born special, different, and destined for greatness, they weren't. They are all ordinary people, living ordinary lives who, at some point, decided they just couldn't stand by and watch other suffers anymore. So, they started to use their talents to help them. At first they didn't know what they were doing. Their initiatives were slow and disorganized. It took them all a lot of trial, errors, and hard work to finally figure out how best to accomplish their missions. You can do the same. Too often we stand by simply because we don't know how to help. We're convinced we're insignificant and talentless and unable to make a difference. But we aren't. Every good action, however small, can help improve someone else's life, and the world, for the better.
Let the stories of these amazing men and women inspire you to embark on a journey of self-transformation, to discover your talents, and how you can use them to help out in your community and support the causes that are close to your heart. If you want to help others but just don't know how, pick up a copy. Actually, pick one up anyway. It's a truly empowering and inspiring read that I highly recommend to anyone.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education by Ken Robinson, Lou Aronica
I've always been obsessed with education. Education is key to the development and empowerment of caring and informed citizens, civic involvement, elimination of poverty, a bright economic future, a successful democracy, and long-term crime prevention. It's the key to the world's prosperity and future. But, too often, schools are failing our children. Why?
Robinson, author of the most watched TED Talk of all times, points out the problems of the current school system (the book focuses mostly on the US and UK, but a lot of it is relevant to any country), why they originated, and how to fix them.
Our modern school system developed in the industrial era to satisfy the needs of that society for clerks and professionals. That's why academic subjects were preferred. Today, we are in the information age. Employers don't just care about what you know anymore. They now need creative people who can come up with new solutions to fix new and old problems. But creativity is often stifled in schools. That's partly due to how difficult it is to assess. We have become obsessed with standardised tests, but these rarely measure the things that really matter. They can tell us how many facts a student knows, not the quality of the education he has received, his level of competency in a subject, or his strengths and weaknesses, such as creativity, resilience, and cognitive abilities. Standardized tests don't work. But neither does a standardised education. We seem to think that, if we keep raising the standards and push students harder, they'll succeed. But that's not working. That's because students aren't machines. They are people. Different people learn in different ways, have different passions and interests, different familiar and economic situations, different aptitudes and goals. To allow them to learn and succeed, schools must take all these differences into considerations and provide as personalized an education as possible. Impossible? Nope. Many schools, as the book highlights, have already taken this approach with outstanding results.
But it's not enough. Every student deserves the best, most personalized, education possible. For that to happen, we need reforms at state levels. We need politicians to understand what our students really need so they can reform school accordingly. In the last chapter, Robinson explains why these reforms are so difficult to make and how all of us (parents, teachers, and citizens) can help bring them about.
Insightful, informative, and engaging, Creative Schools is a must read for everyone who wants to change the school system for the better and give our children a real education to become caring, conscious, and independent adults. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Will you pick up any of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Louis XVI: His Childhood And Education

Louis Auguste de France, Duke of Berry and future king Louis XVI, was born on 23rd August 1754. Little is known about his early years. The baby just wasn't important enough to have his every step and move recorded. He was only the second son of the Dauphin Louis of France and his second wife Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, an unusually devoted royal couple. The royal nurses fusses over the Duke of Burgundy, Louis' older brother and heir to the throne, and spoiled the Count of Provence, his younger brother. But they only "took care of the Duke of Berry’s needs."

Like it happens to most middle children thus caught in the middle, little Louis suffered from excessive shyness and a lack of self-confidence, which showed themselves from early infancy. The few sources that mention him talk of a child that was "weak" (although this may have been, at least in part, due his wet nurse's lack of milk; as the mistress of the Minister of the Household she had been difficult to fire), "not precocious" and, "who still needs at the age of three to be guided in his tottering walk". Things were made worse by the praise heaped upon his older brother, a genius who could do nothing wrong. Louis just couldn't compare to him.

Although the royal children were allowed to have their fun, most of their time was dedicated to studying. Their parents, both philanthropy devoted to charity work, wanted their offspring to see how the poor lived. They thus instructed their tutors to take them to the houses of the needy to "learn to weep" because "a prince who has never shed any tears cannot be good". They also taught their children that the only difference between them and everyone else was virtue. The King should be the model of virtue, always sensitive to his subjects' troubles and amuse himself only after completing his duties and, even then, "only for the time necessary to relax his mind, strengthen his body and take care of his health".

Even though noone suspected Louis would be the one to sit on the throne one day, these ideas had a big impact on the shy little prince. At first, Louis was brought up by governesses with his younger siblings but, when he turns 6, he was declared healthy and old enough to "pass to the men" and get a male tutor. He is ordered to join his elder brother, a prospect that initially delighted him. But even though the two little boys were happy to see each other, the little Duke of Burgundy's eagerness to help his brother soon caused troubles. Apparently, in an attempt perfect his character, Louis was forced to listen to a list of his own qualities and faults. Poor Louis!

The Prince wasn't even supposed to be with his elder brother so soon. Seven, not six, was the customary age for princes to get a tutor. If Louis was deemed suitable a year earlier wasn't because he was particularly precocious. The real reason was tragic. The Duke Of Burgundy was ill and the doctors, despite their efforts, couldn't do anything for him. Louis was supposed to distract his brother, but also be ready to take his place when the worse happened. When it did, in November 1960, the shy boy, who had always been neglected by everyone at court, suddenly found himself, completely unprepared, at the center of attention.

In 1765, tragedy struck again. The Dauphin, Louis' father died. His wife was devastated. She cut her hair, dressed in mourning, installed black draperies and a copy of the funeral monument erected for the late Dauphin in her rooms, and spent her days praying, encouraging her children to do the same. As the historian Jean-Francois Chiappe commented: "Louis-Auguste, having lost his father, has a living corpse for a mother". His mother was also ill, having caught pulmonary tuberculosis while caring for her sick husband. She would soon follow him to the grave.

Their deaths deprived the young boy of the affection of his parents, and left his education firmly in the bad hands of Mr de La Vauguyon. He has been accused of keeping the Dauphin in fear and ignorance so as to be able to better influence him. The tutor didn't see fit to discuss the problems of the time with his pupil, preferring to impart to him abstract moralistic principles and the ideal of a paternalistic absolute monarchy that was slowly becoming archaic as the new revolutionary ideas of the philosophers were starting to germinate and take root in France.

His childhood and education had left Louis unprepared and poorly equipped for his job as king. A job he succeeded to at the young age of hardly 20, after the sudden death of Louis XV by smallpox in 1774.

Further reading:
Louis XVI by John Hardman
Madame Guillottine

Rudolph Ackermann: Inventor, Publisher, & Businessman

Over the years, I have shared with you many beautiful fashion prints taken by Ackermann's Repository, a British periodical popular in the first few decades of the 19th century. Every time I browse the pages of the magazine, and stare at its pretty images, I can't help but think of the man who made it all possible.

His name was Rudolf Ackermann. The six child of Barthel and Justina, he was born in Stollberg in the Electorate of Saxony, on April 20, 1764. Rudolf attended the Latin school in Stollberg and would have loved to further his education by enrolling at university, but the family couldn't afford the expense. So, Rudolf was forced to become a saddle maker, like his father. He began his apprenticeship at 15.

That job didn't satisfy Rudolf. He had always been passionate about drawing and needed a profession where he could nurture and use his skill. So, at 18, he became a carriage designer. He learned the trade in Dreden and then moved to Switzerland, France, and London, where he designed carriages for some of the most important and influential people of his time, including the Lord Mayor of Dublin and the American President George Washington.

With success, came money. He was now able to support a family and married an Englishman called Martha and had nine children with her. Just as important for him, money allowed him to dedicate himself to his passion for art. In 1795 he opened his first print shop where he sold prints, books, and all kind of supplies for artists. His success owned a lot to his early adoption of gas, which allowed visitors and clients to peruse the prints in shops and the exhibitions he held there even when natural light was faint and fading. Soon, many other shops followed suit.

Business went so well that Rudolf decided to commission original prints from the most famous satirists of his time, such as Cruikshank and Rowlandson, and sell them in his shop. He even published several art books and, in 1809, the first edition of his Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics. What a mouthful! And yet, these were only a few of the topics discussed in its pages. Of course, the magazine featured many beautiful pictures that illustrated the new changes in fashion, both in dress, furniture, and carriages. Portraits of celebrities and drawings of famous places also ornamented its pages.

A new issue of the magazine was published every month until 1829. There are about 40 in total, featuring all together about 1500 prints! But then, the Repository had to close. Rudolf had simply stretched himself too thin. In addition to the magazine, he now owned several print shops in London and South America. He even patented a method for rendering paper and cloth waterproof and built a factory to make it. He worked so hard that, eventually, his health broke down. A few months after he closed the magazine, he had a stroke that left him paralysed. He died a few years later, in 1834.

Further reading:
Nineteen Teen

Court Dress, 1820

I was recently browsing an old edition of the Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c, as you do, when I came across this beautiful court dress, accessorized with a multitude of ostrich feathers to hide the hair. I fell in love with it straight away, and just knew I had to share it. Here's how the magazine described the dress:

A blue satin petticoat, finished at the bottom by a silver foil trimming, above which is a mingled wreath of white and pale blush roses; this is surmounted by a rich trimming of silver lama. Over the blue satin petticoat is one of point lace, short enough to display the entire of the rich trimming of the satin petticoat; the border of the lace one is extremely beautiful; the pattern of the middle is a rose, thistle, and shamroc entwined.

The corsage is white satin, and the front, which is formed in the stomacher style, is nearly covered with pearls. The corsage is cut very low round the bust, and the front part is edged with pearls; we believe there are three rows. The robe is blue zephyrine; the body rather long in the waist; the back part made in the corset style, and with a small peak: the robe is trimmed round with Urling's point lace, set on very full; a double fall of point lace ornaments the top of the back; it forms a full ruff between the shoulders.

The sleeve is white satin, covered with blond lace, and tastefully intermixed with pearls; it is very full on the shoulder, but the fulness is confined at the bottom by a plain broad band of pearls. The front hair is disposed in a few light ringlets on the forehead; the hind hair is concealed by a profusion of ostrich feathers, which are placed behind, and droop over the forehead, which is encircled by a broad pearl bandeau. Point lace lappets, white kid gloves, and white satin shoes, ornamented with rosettes of pearl. Necklace and ear-rings, pearl. White crape fan, richly embroidered in silver.

We are indebted to Miss Pierpoint, inventress of the corset a la Grecque, of No. 9, Henrietta-street, Covent-Garden [for this dress].

What do you think of this dress? Would you have worn it?

Further reading:
Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c, 1820

Book Review: Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, And The Table

There's a lot more to food than taste, smell and appearance. Its origin, cultivation, consumption, and symbolism, can tells us a lot about the people who eat it, their status in society, and the culture they live in. That's what Medieval Tastes: Food Cooking, And The Table is about.

So, if you're simply interested in a few Medieval food recipes, be warned: you won't find any here. But if you want to know what food people in the Middle Ages, particularly in Italy, ate and why, and how modern cooking was born, go right ahead. This book is a treasure trove of information on all things culinary in this intriguing era.

Back then, cuisine was heavy influenced by Roman tradition, but the Near Eastern spice routes brought new flavours to the tables. The result were dishes that delighted (or shocked?) the palate with their mix of contrasting flavours. For instance, did you know that pasta was prepared with both cinnamon and sugar?

The Medieval diet was more varied than we assume, but what you ate heavily depended on your place in the social order. While at the beginning of the Middle Ages, meat was present on everyone's tables, towards its end, it became rarer and rarer in a peasant’s kitchen. Some types of meat disappeared completely from their tables, being reserved only for the rich. Onions, due to their unpleasant smell, was instead fit only for the poor. Butter, on the other hand, had a different fate. Initially considered by the Romans as food suitable only for savage and primitive people, its popularity spread, becoming the basis for many delicious dishes.

The debate on whether butter, olive oil, or lard was better for cooking also depended on social class and location. Flour-based preparations, such as polenta and pasta, were refined during this era too. Pasta played an important role in the adoption of the fork. It was a difficult dish to eat with your hands, which is why the Italians were among the first to use it.

These are just some of the fascinating culinary tidbits you'll find in this book. But it's a read to taste slowly, one small bite at a time. That's because the writing style is far from engaging. Very academic, Montanari uses a flowery and unnecessary style that doesn't make the book flow easily at all. Reading it is a struggle, but one that's worth it if you're interested in Medieval gastronomy.

Although written in a flowery, academic style that's sometimes hard to follow, Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, And The Table provides a fascinating insight into every aspect of Medieval food cultivation, preparation, symbolism, and social and cultural significance.

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 3.5/5

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Marie Antoinette's Beauty & Fashion Secrets

Marie Antoinette was famous for her beautiful looks and charm, but such beauty, as women know all too well, is rarely natural. It often requires a little helping hand. And, as Queen of France, Marie Antoinette had many people, and a huge budget, to help her look her best. Yet, her tastes were simple. And she would have gladly done without all the pomp and fuss that surrounded her toilette. Here's what that involved:


There's only so much makeup can do for you if you don't take proper care of your skin. Marie Antoinette knew this and, each morning, cleansed her face with Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon (yes, it was really made with pigeons!). The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion shared the recipe, first used by Danish women, with their readers:

"Take juice of water-lilies, of melons, of cucumbers, of lemons, each one ounce; briony, wild succory, lily-flowers, borage, beans, of each a handful: eight pigeons stewed. Put the whole mixture into an alembic, adding four ounces of lump sugar, well pounded, one drachma of borax, the same quantity of camphor, the crumb of three French rolls, and a pint of white wine. When the whole has remained in digestion for seventeen or eighteen days, proceed to distillation, and you will obtain pigeon-water, which is such an improvement of the complexion."

After cleansing her skin, she would apply Eau des Charmes, an astringent, and finally, Eau d’Ange, a whitener. To keep her hands soft, the Queen slept wearing gloves infused with sweet almond oil, rose water, and wax. Unlike most people at Versailles she bathed frequently, but always wearing a flannel chemise to protect her modesty. Once in the bathtub, she would wash herself with a scented (bergamot, amber and herbs) soap, exfoliated her skin with muslin pads filled with bran, all the while sitting on a large pad filled with pine nuts, linseed, and sweet almonds.


Once her skincare routine was complete, it was time for makeup. Eau d'Ange probably didn't whiten her skin that much, so to make her face even paler, a white paint was gently and carefully applied. This was then set with a dust of scented powder. Rouge was then applied to her cheeks. The Empress Maria Theresa wasn't fond of rouge and would have rather her daughter had stayed away from it, but as Marie Antoinette told her, everyone did it at Versailles. It would have been weird for her not to. Then, khol was used around the eyes to define and enhance them. Finally, a scented pomade was used to give her lips, eyelashes and eyebrows a glossy look.


Perfume was a necessity at Versailles. The palace was occupied by thousands of people, few of which paid much attention to their personal hygiene. The whole court stank. To keep the Queen's room smelling nice required a vast array of fresh flowers, pot pourri, and perfume satchels. These usually smelled of orange blossom, rose, violet, lavender, and lemon, all the scents the Queen loved.

Those aromas also featured prominently in her own perfumes. The queen loved both simple scents, like violet or orange blossom water, and more complicated concoctions featuring iris, jasmine, lily, vanilla, and musk, sometimes infused with spicy accents of cinnamon and cloves.


Marie Antoinette had a very vast collection of clothes. As Queen of France, she couldn't be seen wearing the same frock twice (although she did recycle her favourite gowns). And etiquette dictated that she changed three times a day! She would first don a formal dress, usually made of silk or velvet, to attend Mass. Then, she changed into an informal, more comfortable, muslin or cotton dress for the afternoon.

Finally, she would slip into a very elaborate and luxurious gown to attend dinner, and any balls, concerts, or any other evening event. That's why she was supposed to order 36 new dresses every summer and another 36 every winter; 4 new pair of shoes every week; and she needed 18 pair of scented gloves at all times.

According to Emile Laglande, Rose Bertin's biographer, "the Queen usually had for winter twelve state dresses, twelve simple dresses, and twelve rich dresses on panniers, which she used for card-parties or intimate supper-parties. Summer and spring toilettes served for autumn wear also. All these toilettes were remodelled at the end of each season, unless Her Majesty desired to keep some as they were. No mention is made of muslin and cotton, or other dresses of that kind; these had only recently come into fashion, and they were not renewed each season, but were made to serve for several years."

The Queen's dress allowance was therefore vast too. The Queen had 120,000 Livres a year to spend only on her wardrobe, but her fondness for Rose Bertin's designs (which ranged from 1000 to 6000 Livres each!) meant she often exceeded her budget. The two women often worked together to create new gowns and styles. Most of her dresses and accessories were in the pastel shades the Queen loved so much. Her favourite colours were pale green and yellow, lilac, and light shades of grey.

Getting dressed

Every morning, when she woke up, the Queen was presented by the head lady's maid with her gazette des atours. This was a big book containing fabric swatches from any dress she owned. Marie Antoinette would flip its page and mark with three pins the patterns of the dresses she wished to wear that day. Then, the page of the wardrobe would bring them to the Queen's room in a basked covered with green cloth.

Only then the Queen would begin getting dressed. This was a public occasion, with her rooms full of courtiers, all hoping to attract her attention and become a favourite. As she told her mother in a letter, "at twelve what is called the Chamber is held, and there every one who does not belong to the common people may enter. I put on my rouge and wash my hands before all the world; the men go out, and the women remain; and then I dress myself in their presence."


The Queen's vast clothes collection was housed in three rooms, "lined with cupboards, some with shelves, some to hang garments". The rooms also featured large tables "to lay the dresses on to be folded." The Queen's closet, like pretty much any other room at Versailles, was open to the public. Anyone who was decently dressed could visit them and marvel at the gorgeous display of clothes.

What do you think of Marie Antoinette's toilette?

Further reading:
Madame Guillottine
Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette by Émile Langlade
The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, by Charles Duke Yonge
The Toilette of Health, Beauty, and Fashion

Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Russia: Royal Saint And Martyr

Queen Victoria disliked Russia. She considered it a backward, unstable country with a very uncertain future. So, it was with strong reservations that she received the news her beloved granddaughter Ella, whom she had helped to bring up, was to marry a Russian duke.

Born on 1 November 1864 to Victoria's daughter Alice and her husband Prince Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhyne, Elizabeth Alexandra Louise Alice, nicknamed Ella, had enjoyed a loving and modest (by royal standards) childhood. She swept the floors and cleaned her own room, wore dresses made by her mother, and often visited wounded soldiers in hospitals with her.

Then, in 1878, tragedy struck. Both her younger sister Marie and her mother died of dyptheria. For the next few years, Ella and her siblings, including Alix (destined to became empress of Russia), had spent as much time in England with their grandmother as they did back home in Hesse with their father.

Ella, with her slender figure and porcelain skin, was both beautiful and lovely. Once she made her debut, royal suitors competed for her hand in marriage. Queen Victoria favoured Wilhelm, the eldest son of her daughter Vicky and heir to the German throne. He was besotted with Ella, but she didn't reciprocate his feelings and turned him down. She also refused the future Frederick II, Grand Duke of Baden, William's first cousin.

Instead, she fell for the Grand Duke Sergei Romanov, son of Tsar Alexander II. Ella had known him since childhood, but never thought much of him. Educated and reserved, he was also stiff and shy, and because of that considered haughty by many, including Ella. But, after both of his parents died the same year, Ella started seeing Sergei in a new, different, light. The loss of their parents and their piety (they were both intensely religious) drew them together. When Sergei proposed, Ella accepted.

The couple married on 15 June 1884, at the Chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Ella now was Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna. She started studying Russian language and history, and even converted to the Russian Orthodox faith, which pleased the Russians as much as it appalled her Protestant family.

But she never had children of her own. Instead, she organized parties for children at home and even semi-adopted Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, Sergei’s niece and nephew (their father had been exiled).

However, their childlessness sparked rumours that Sergei treated his wife cruelly. He was accused of being a pervert, a masochist, and a homosexual, and Ella to take comfort in the arms of Serge's younger brother, Pavel. The rumours were false (actually, he may have been a homosexual, but we'll never know for sure), and spread by the enemies Sergei had made for his deep conservatism as Governor-General of Moscow (a position he was appointed to by his brother, Alexander III) and later advisor to the Tsar Nicholas II.

He was so hated that, in the wake of the humiliating Russo-Japanese War, he was assassinated in the Kremlin by the Socialist-Revolutionary, Ivan Kalyayev. Ella was devastated. Before the funeral, she went to visit Kalyayev in prison and forgave him. She even offered to plead for his life with the Tsar if he repented, but Kalyayev was determined to be a martyr for his cause. He was hanged on 23 May 1905.

After Sergei's death, Ella drew away from her life at court. She wore mourning clothes, became a vegetarian, and gave away her art and jewellery collections (she didn't even keep her wedding ring!). She used the proceedings to buy an estate on the Moscow River. She turned it into a convent dedicated to Saints Mary and Martha and, after taking the veil, she became its abbess. On its grounds, she also opened a hospital, a orphanage, a pharmacy, and a chapel. Ella and her nurse dedicated their lives to helping the poor.

Despite all her charity work, Ella was still considered by Lenin and his supporters as a foreigner and German sympathizer. In early 1918, Lenin ordered her arrest. She was first taken to Perm, then Yekaterinburg, and finally to Alapayevsk, where she was kept, with other members of the Romanov family, in a school on the outskirts of the town. In July, men from the Cheka, Lenin's secret police, went to the school to execute the prisoners.

That night, the prisoners were awakened and taken to the Alapayevsk, where there was an abandoned iron mine. They were beaten and thrown into it. When they survived, the Cheka operatives threw hand grenades into the pit. Only one prisoner died. Finally, the pit was set on fire. Even so, most of the prisoners died of wounds they had been inflicted or starvation. Three months later, their bodies were removed from the mine and, eventually, buried in Jerusalem. Sixty-three years later, Ella was canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Further reading:
Ella: Princess, Saint and Martyr by Christopher Warwick
Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia by Lubov Millar