Historical Reads: The Strange Wax Effigy of Sarah Hare

Jane Austen’s World remembers Sarah Hare, a 18th century spinster who made a particular request in her will. To quote:

Sarah made no extraordinary contributions to this world except one – a wax effigy of herself, the only such mortuary statue of its kind in England outside of Westminster Abbey. (Most mortuary statues at the time were made of marble.) She was the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Hare of Stow Hall in Stow Bardolph, Norfolk, where the family lived in a Jacobean style red-brick mansion. The Hare family had lived in a house on that site since 1589 and played a significant role in the village of Stow Bardolph. In 1622, Sir Ralph Hare built six almshouses and provided them with 86 acres of land for division among the inmates.

Today we know very little about Sarah Hare’s life except that she never married and was not very pretty. Sarah must also have had a premonition of her death, for she requested the following in a will dated August 1743:

“I desire Six of the poor men in the parish of Stow or Wimbotsham may put me in to the ground they having five shillings a piece for the same. I desire all the poor in the Alms Row may have two shillings and sixpence each person at the Grave before I am put in. This I hope my Executor will see firstly performed before Sunset…..I desire to have my face and hands made in wax with a piece of crimson satin thrown like a garment in a picture hair upon my head and put in a case of Mahogany with a glass before and fix’d up so near the place were my corps lyes as it can be with my name and time of Death put upon the case in any manner most desirable if I do not execute this in my life I desire it may be done after my Death.”

To read the entire article, click here.

Painting The Regency

The Request

Born during the Victorian era, Edmund Blair Leighton was an English painter of historical genre scenes, specializing in Regency and medieval subjects. His paintings aren’t always accurate, and the discerning eye can spot lots of anachronistic details. But accuracy wasn’t the painter’s intent. He wanted to capture the romance and nostalgia attached to a bygone era, and in that, he fully succeeded. His sentimental paintings are absolutely beautiful.

Here are a few depicting his idealised idea of the Regency period:

The Piano Lesson

On The Threshold

English: In 1816

Courtship

Going to church

Interesting Strangers

Regency Couple At Tea

A Wet Sunday Morning

Adieu

Sally

Book Review: The Congress Of Vienna And Its Legacy: War And Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon By Mark Jarrett

The French Revolution changed the history of Europe irrevocably. It challenged the social order of the ancient regime and the legitimacy of kings and all hereditary ranks, unleashed nationalism and the concept of self-determination, and allowed the rise of Napoleon. The Corsican general went on to become Emperor of the French and conquer most of Europe, before being twice defeated by the combined forces of the European rulers, who put their differences aside to fight a common threat.

Once Napoleon has been exiled for good, it was time for the great powers – represented by Castlereagh (Great Britain), Metternich (Austria), Talleyrand (France), Hardenberg (Prussia) and Emperor Alexander (Russia) – to reconstruct Europe. Their objective was to resize the main powers so they could balance each other off and guarantee peace. They also wanted to destroy the forces of revolution that had caused havoc on Europe and were threatening to overthrown more rulers.

The Congress of Vienna, therefore, was more than a simple reunion to divide territories among the great powers. It was the beginning of the “Congress system”, which would see the main players of the Congress of Vienna routinely reunite and collaborate to fight the threat of revolution. Although the experiment ended with the death of the last of its founders, it marked the beginning of modern diplomacy and promoted the idea of international co-operation to avoid future wars. Some consider it the ancestor of the League of Nations and the United Nations.

In his book, The Congress Of Vienna And Its Legacy: War And Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon, Jarrett highlights the importance the Congress of Vienna had on the future of Europe. He starts from the beginning, the French revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon, to explain the events that brought about the Congress. Then, it describes the decisions the great powers took there, and the many crises they had to deal with in the following years. The last chapters deal with the legacy of the Congress. Was it, all things considered, a success or a failure?

I admit, when I picked up this book, I thought the topic would be quite boring. But it wasn’t. Jarrett’s account is very detailed and extensively noted. The sheer amount of facts and players mentioned should make your head spin, but, somehow, Jarrett managed to create an engaging narrative that’s easy to follow. And if you still struggle, you can always consult the chronology and the short biographies of the protagonists at the end of the book. If you’re interested in knowing more about the Congress of Europe, and how it is still affecting the world today, I highly recommend you give it a read.

Summary:
The Congress Of Vienna And Its Legacy: War And Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon By Mark Jarrett minutely and exhaustively describes the events that have summoned the Congress, the decisions taken there, and how they have affected the world ever since. Informative and insightful, the book is written in an engaging style that won’t bore you.

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 4/5

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

Madame Tison Goes Mad

Madame Tison was one of the people appointed to guard the French Royal family imprisoned at the Temple. Her horrible behaviour towards the prisoners and her spying activities caused her to go mad. Charles Younge, in his biography of Marie Antoinette, thus sums up her sad story:

From the time that her own attendants were dismissed, the only person appointed to assist Cléry in his duties were a man and woman named Tison, chosen for that task on account of their surly and brutal tempers, in which the wife exceeded her husband. Both, and especially the woman, had taken a fiendish pleasure in heaping gratuitous insults on the whole family; but at last the dignity and resignation of the queen awakened remorse in the woman’s heart, which presently worked upon her to such a degree that she became mad.

In the first days of her frenzy she raved up and down the courtyard declaring herself guilty of the queen’s murder. She threw herself at Marie Antoinette’s feet, imploring her pardon; and Marie Antoinette not only raised her up with her own hand, and spoke gentle words of forgiveness and consolation to her, but, after she had been removed to a hospital, showed a kind interest in her condition, and amidst all her own troubles found time to write a note to express her anxiety that the invalid should have proper attention.

Marie Therese of France, Marie Antoinette’s daughter, offers more details:

About this time, Madame Tison went mad. She was uneasy about my brother’s illness, and had been long tormented with remorse: she got into a state of languor, and would not take the air. One day she began to talk aloud to herself; alas! that made me laugh, and my poor mother and aunt looked at me with an air of satisfaction, as if they observed with pleasure this short moment of gaiety.

But the poor woman’s derangement soon became serious: she raved of her crimes, of her denunciations, of prisons, scaffolds, the Queen, the royal family, and all our misfortunes. Conscious of her crimes, she thought herself unworthy to approach us; and she believed that the persons against whom she had informed had perished. Every morning she was in anxious hope of seeing the municipal officers whom she had denounced; and, not seeing them, she went to bed every night in a deeper melancholy. Her dreams must have been dreadful, for she screamed in her sleep so loud, that we heard her.

The municipal officers permitted her to see her daughter, of whom she was very fond. One day, that the porter, who was not apprised of this permission, had refused to let the daughter come into the prison, the officers, seeing the desperate grief of the mother, sent for the girl at ten o’clock at night. This untimely visit alarmed her still more; it was with great difficulty they persuaded her to go down stairs, and on the way she repeated to her husband, “We are going to prison.” When she saw her daughter, she did not know her; the fancy of being arrested had seized her mind.

She was coming back again with one of the officers, but in the middle of the stairs she suddenly stopped, and would neither go backwards nor forwards. The officer, alarmed, was obliged to call for assistance to remove her up stairs; but nothing could induce her to go to bed, and during the whole night she disturbed us by raving and talking incessantly. The next morning the physician pronounced her quite mad.

She was for ever at my mother’s feet, asking her pardon; and nothing, indeed, could exceed the compassion which both she and my aunt showed to this poor creature, of whose previous conduct they had had too much reason to complain. They watched and attended her while she remained in this state in the Temple; and they endeavoured to pacify her with the warmest assurances of their forgiveness. The next day, she was removed from the tower to the palace; but her disorder increasing every hour, she was at last sent to the Hotel Dieu, where a woman belonging to the police was placed to watch her, and to gather whatever she might, in her phrensy, say concerning the Royal Family.

Further reading:
Royal memoirs of the French revolution: Private memoirs of what passed in the Temple from the imprisonment of the royal family to the death of the Dauphin, by madame Royale, duchess of Angoulême
The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Charles Duke Yonge

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

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:

Skincare

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.

Makeup

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

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.

Fashion

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.”

Wardrobe

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

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.

Summary:
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.

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

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
Wikipedia

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
Splatter