A Writer’s Travel Guide: Inside Napoleon’s and Marie-Louise’s Home in Compiègne

Compiègne was one of three seats of the French royal government. The royal residence we know today, the Château de Compiègne, was built for Louis XV. Napoleon restored the château after it was left gutted during the French Revolution, and he ordered it to be made habitable again in 1807. He had its layout altered, a ballroom added, and the garden replanted.

But what did the restless French emperor do with another palace? Well, he lived there with his young bride, Marie-Louise, and it was there where they spent their first night together. Continue reading

Byron, Murder, Carbonari!

Masonic object

In this post:
– Ravenna and the poetry of politics
– Plotting insurrection: the tight situation in Italy
– Murder!
– Byron and the secret society of the Carbonari
– Under surveillance and attack

Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), a man of scandals, had by 1815 crowned his wild life with a stormy affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, and a breakup with his wife. He left England to travel the Continent. True to the verdict ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know´’, he didn’t led a virtuous life there. In December 1819, he arrived in Ravenna, Italy, where he took up residence to be near his mistress Teresa Guiccioli, a married woman. There was more scandal and adventure to come: Byron became involved in the national movement in Italy – meaning secret societies plotting insurrection against the Austrian und clerical rulers. Indeed it was in Ravenna that Byron found his calling in serious political activities. Continue reading

Eleonore Wickham: The Master Spy’s Wife

On 25th September 1799, shortly before 5 o’clock in the morning, the Wickhams woke up by the sound of guns. Were the French marching against Zurich again? William Wickham (1761 – 1840), England’s leading spy on the Continent, placed his wife Eleonore (1763-1836) under the care of his private secretary, the Count of St. George. He himself rode out reconnoitring the situation. Continue reading

Object of Interest: Coach Clocks

Coach clocks were, in principle, enlarged pocket watches with a diameter of 9 to 12 cm. However, a clock to take with you on a journey by carriage had to provide some special features. First of all, it had to be robust against the bumps of the road. That’s why coach clocks were kept in padded protective cases made of copper or brass, often covered with fine leather. The metalwork of the case was done in delicate broken ornaments to allow the sound of the mechanism to penetrate. Continue reading

When weighing became ultimately fashionable – for men

In this post:

  • Early Weight Watchers
  • The secret knowlegde of the Weighing Book
  • Dieting with Lord Byron

A softly rounded, plumb, curvaceous and voluptuous body was considered healthy and beautiful for most of the 18th century. Nevertheless, with the rise of the ideals of ancient Greek in fashion and design, the athletic body of an Olympian shifted into focus. Fashionable skin-tight pantaloons revealed every muscle of the male leg, the perfectly-cut coat looked best on broad shoulders. To create a specific volume, men wore padded under-structures round the shoulders and calves, and a corset helped to accentuate a man’s waist.

The well-proportioned male body became an object of fashion and health. But how to measure the body weight? Bathroom scales were not yet around, not even for the rich. People had to pay to be weighed at the doctors. Thus, it came in handy for High Society men of London that a wine shop started offering the service to its customers for free in 1765. Actually, weighing became extremely fashionable. Continue reading

Travelling in the 18th century? Don’t forget your passport!

The concept of the passport is thousands of years old. King Henry V of England is credited with having invented what can be considered the first passport in the modern sense. These letters of “safe conduct” were first written in Latin and English. In 1772, the government decided to use French, the international language of high finance and diplomacy. This didn’t change until 1858. Thus, Britain’s passports were issued in French even when Britain fought Napoleon.

What did the document look like?

Continue reading

‘Dr Brighton’ and the Luxurious Vapor Bath

Dean Mahomet, called ‘Dr. Brighton’

‘Dr Brighton’ was the affectionate nickname given to Dean Mahomet, an Indian immigrant who opened the first commercial “shampooing” vapour masseur bath in Brighton.

“Shampooning”, a type of Turkish bath, gave full relief to ailments such as rheumatic and paralytic, gout, stiff joints, old sprains, lame legs, aches and pains in the joints”. Dean Mahomet’s business proved to be so successful that hospitals referred patients to him and he was appointed as shampooing surgeon to both King George IV and William IV. Continue reading

Object of Interest: The Columbian Printing Press

The American engineer George Clymer invented the Columbian printing press in 1813. It was one of the first iron printing presses, and it was in part inspired by the Stanhope press.

The Columbian printing press cost $400, more than twice the price of a conventional wooden press – and too much for the American market. So Clymer moved to London in 1817. Here, he made a success of his press-manufacturing business. Continue reading

How to cheat at Whist in the 18th century

Gaming table in a country house. Would you hve dared to play Whist with strangers?

Whist was one of the most popular card games in Georgian England. It began its career as a plain game for common men. With the rise of the coffee houses in London, the gentry picked up the game. Reputedly it was Lord Folkestone who brought the game into fashion in high society around 1728, when he adopted it as a challenging strategic card game requiring good memory, sympathetic partnering and psychological acumen.

The rules of Whist were written down in Edward Hoyle’s “ A short treatise on the game of whist” in 1742. As early as this, methods of cheating were discussed. While Hoyle advocated fair play, the stakes at Whist could be high, and thus tempt many to force luck their way. Besides, cheating at whist is very easy. Continue reading

Beautiful Carriages from the Napoleonic Era

Like cars today, carriages were the subject of changing tastes and fashions. Stately carriages are an ideal object to study the influence of fashion on their design.
During the Baroque Age carriage where heavily decorated with symbols of power, such as figures of gods or animals representing power. In the Napoleonic Era a greater restraint and elegance became popular, it’s predominant artistic style being Neoclassicism. We will find out why in this post. Continue reading