Saturday, July 31, 2010


After the Restoration, Marie-Thérèse of France, the Duchesse d'Angoulême, sought to recapture as much as possible the happiness she had known as a child at Petit Trianon. In 1821 she purchased a small estate adjoining the royal palace of Saint-Cloud called Villeneuve l'Étang. There the princess had a dairy even as her mother had in the days before the Revolution, and she proudly kept a pitcher of the cream produced there on her table. When staying at Saint-Cloud, she would rise early and stroll over to her country house on a special path called "the road of the Dauphiness" to spend the day. The large wooded park through which ran a stream was a place in which the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette found peace after so many tragedies.

According to An Encyclopedia of Gardening: 
Villeneuve l'Etang, near Marne, was occupied before the Restoration by Marshal Soult, who is said to have been very much attached to it, and to have derived great pleasure from planting and altering the grounds. The park may contain up to 300 acres, which occupy two sides of a valley, through which runs a small stream.... The planting in the park has been done in...the English style.... The Duchess d'Angouleme, having coveted this place, obtained it with some difficulty from Soult; and she has the merit of having added to the house a large conservatory and an aviary, and also a dairy establishment and a poultry yard. Notwithstanding the duchess's desire for the place, we were (in 1828) informed that she passed only one night at it, during the whole time it was in her possession.
Joseph Turquan, in his biography of Marie-Thérèse, describes her routine as follows:
At Saint-Cloud she would rise at daybreak, and passing by the guardroom, where the sentries turned out to present arms, stroll under the trees, enjoying the fresh morning air. Book in hand, her favourite spaniel running on ahead, a footman following a few paces behind, she would wander aimlessly along the scented paths, immersed in thought. The King did not care for Saint-Cloud, and seldom went there for more than a few days at a time. She did not find the repose she craved when the Court was in residence; on the other hand, had she gone there often alone, gossips would have been prompt to hint at differences among the royal family. These considerations led her to purchase the estate and castle of Villeneuve-l'Etang....doubtless she longed for a solitude in which she might dream of the peace of a life led apart from the glamour of the throne.
She loved Villeneuve-l'Etang, and retired thither as often as her duties allowed. In memory perhaps of her mother's parties for children at the Trianon, she would invite the best pupils from Saint-Denis and Ecouan and throw her park open to their joyous sports. She presided in person at the tea party which brought a happy day to its close, and showed in her gracious sympathy the maternal instincts which lay dormant in her thwarted nature.
When the duchess was exiled, she took the pseudonym of the "Comtesse de Marnes" in honor of the village near her beloved retreat. Many years later, after the death of Marie-Thérèse, Villeneuve-l'Étang was where Napoleon III and his empress spent their honeymoon. It eventually came to belong to the Institut Pasteur. The original chateau no longer stands.


Pharmaceutical Holiday

Experimenting on women.
Can you imagine the FDA approving a drug that, say, increased the risk of blood clots, hypertension, stroke, heart attacks, breast cancer, and migraines for women? And fathom, if you will, the absurd notion that such a drug could be approved for the treatment of something that isn’t even a disease, a genetic abnormality, or a mental disorder but the very way that God designed women’s bodies to work.

Well, fasten your Malthusian belts, because they did. Now here’s where you’d expect a very special Dateline NBC exposé or an investigative report from Katie Couric to unmask this conspiratorial threat to women’s health. Instead, she called it “a tiny tablet that revolutionized women’s health,” before blasting the government for not giving it to every single woman for free.

And then the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Time, and all of the TV networks threw a party to celebrate its birthday.

In the mid-1950’s, when many American women were using Lysol to keep from having babies, Gideon Daniel (“G.D.”) Searle (formerly of Metamucil fame) struck gold. Frank Colton, a researcher at his pharmaceutical company in Sko­kie, Illinois, had created a synthetic progesterone compound (norethynodrel), with a mind to curing “female problems.” Dr. Gregory Pincus heard about it and asked for some of it to test his theories about the relationship between progesterone and the prevention of ovulation. (Lucky for him, he had money to burn, thanks to his friend Margaret Sanger and her rich pal, Cyrus McCormick’s daughter Katharine.)

Pincus assembled a team led by Dr. John Rock, a Roman Catholic fertility expert who publicly rejected Church teaching on contraception, and they began experimenting on women, inducing “false pregnancies.” Meanwhile, back in Skokie, Searle researchers developed their drug, reducing the amount of mestranol (estrogen) in their compound to prevent bleeding. They called it Enovid and shipped it off to Team Pincus for testing on women in Puerto Rico and Haiti.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Miniature palaces surrounded by elaborate gardens being the style of the 1770's and 80's, the Comte d'Artois, youngest brother of Louis XVI, and prince of the fashionable world, was not to be outdone. Artois' Bagatelle was in the Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of Paris, which made it immensely convenient for a prince who so enjoyed the night life of the capital. Indeed Parva sed apta "small but convenient" were the words which Artois had graven over the entrance of his new house. The story of how Artois came by his beloved estate goes as follows:
The château was initially built as a small hunting lodge built for the Maréchal d'Estrées in 1720. "Bagatelle" from the Italian "bagattella", means a trifle, or decorative thing. In 1775, the Comte d'Artois, Louis XVI's brother, purchased the property. The Comte soon had the existing house torn down with plans to rebuild. Famously, Marie-Antoinette wagered against the Comte, her brother-in-law, that the new château could not be completed within three months. The Comte engaged the neoclassical architect François-Joseph Bélanger to design the building that remains in the park today. The Comte won his bet, completing the house in sixty-three days. It is estimated that the project, which came to include manicured gardens, cost over two million livres.
In 1777 a party was thrown in the recently completed house in honour of Louis XVI and the Queen. The party featured a new table game featuring a slender table and cue sticks, which players used to shoot ivory balls up an inclined playfield with fixed pins. The table game was dubbed "Bagatelle" by the Count and shortly after swept through France, evolving into various forms which eventually culminated in the modern pinball machine.
The park of Bagatelle was designed by the Scotsman Thomas Blaikie, with sham ruins, ponds, primitive hermits' huts, a pagoda, waterfalls and grottoes. As is told in the novel Madame Royale, while Artois lost his Bagatelle during the Revolution, along with everything else, he regained it during the Restoration. It stayed in his family until the Revolution of 1830.

While the young Artois is usually dismissed as being a shallow and decadent character he had a deeper side. Later in life, after the death of his last mistress Madame de Polastron, Artois (Charles X) became so devout that his enemies accused him of having been secretly ordained a priest. He was falsely rumored to be secretly offering Mass at the Tuileries, a deed no one would have tried to pin on the young Artois. The château and gardens of Bagatelle are open to the public, and according to one travel site:
The château still houses its 18th-century furniture, painted wood panels and the stairs that lead to the heart of the folly. The dining room and winter living-room, as well as the library and music room can also be visited.

Concerts, exhibitions and cultural events are held in the fifty-nine acre Bagatelle gardens and castle. The Festival de Chopin à Paris, established in 1983, is held each June and July at the Orangerie de Bagatelle. Visitors love the rosebushes and the linden trees surrounding the peaceful lake.
I think that Charles X, who loved to entertain, would be pleased.

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A History in Furniture

French history through its furniture. Share

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Caroline of Naples, the lively Neapolitan princess who married the Duc de Berry, is one of my favorite characters in the novel Madame Royale. She resembled her great-aunt Marie-Antoinette in many ways, especially in her enjoyment of dancing, theater, and the outdoors. Like Marie-Antoinette, she behaved with courage and fortitude in times of tragedy. Generous of heart, Caroline's vivacious temperament got her in no end of trouble.

The Duchesse found the strict etiquette of the French court to be cumbersome and so loved to escape to her summer residence of Rosny-sur-Seine. In 1818, the Duc de Berry purchased the seventeenth century Louis XIII-style château for his teenage bride. After the Duc was brutally murdered just two years later, Caroline withdrew often to Rosny with her children, Louise and Henri. She kept Berry's heart in the chapel of Rosny which she had redecorated by the artist Nicloas-Auguste Hesse. There she arranged for daily Masses to be offered for Berry's soul. She also engaged in an array of charitable activities, even amid the hunting parties of which she was immensely fond. According to Imbert de Saint-Amand's The Duchess of Berry and the Revoltion of 1830:
In the early days of her marriage, the Duchess of Berry wishing to spend a few weeks in the country during the fine weather, in order to be free from etiquette and recover from the fatigues of her life as princess, her husband had bought the estate of Rosny, where they both lived as private persons, and where the happiest moments of their existence were spent. After the assassination of the Prince, his widow became more attached than ever to a dwelling which recalled such affecting souvenirs. She founded an asylum there for the widows and old men of the village, a school for poor children, and caused a church to be built, with a chapel, in which was placed her husband's heart. A service of masses and prayers was maintained for the repose of the soul of the prince whose death had caused so many tears. Four gray nuns were attached to the charitable establishments created by the princess. She was fond of visiting them, and taking part in the light tasks of the dispensary, the children's lessons, and the nursing of the sick. One might have called her at this time the fifth gray nun of Rosny. Listen to the Duchess de Gontaut: 'Madame the Duchess of Berry loved to inspect the different establishments she had founded at Rosny, and often went there accompanied by Madame the Dauphiness and even by the King. Madame the Duchess of Orleans visited them frequently.'
The Duchesse de Gontaut, the governess of Caroline's children, later described in her Memoirs how she told the eight year old Louise the circumstances of her father's death. As Madame relates:

On reaching Rosny, I perceived from a distance, and for the first time, the monument erected to Monseigneur [de Berry]. I was affected by it, and begged Madame's permission to acquaint Mademoiselle [Louise], close to the precious remains of her father, with the touching details of his last moments, his sublime forgiveness of the assassin who had caused his death, and the favor he never ceased but with his last breath to entreat of the King. I wished also to make this young heart understand the agony of her mother's sufferings — so grand, so courageous — who was able to the very last moment to give strength and consolation to Monseigneur dying. . . .The next day, after Mass, Mademoiselle knelt beside the funeral monument and listened to the sad story of her father's death. Presently I saw her tears begin to flow; I saw her stretch out her arms to that marble so close to the noble heart which she could thenceforth appreciate.
After the July Revolution in 1830, Caroline and her children were exiled from France with the rest of the senior branch of Bourbons. She wrote to her aunt Marie-Amélie of Naples, "Queen of the French," begging her to take care of the people on the Rosny estate. "I recommend to you, dear aunt, all the people of my house, and I will be obliged to you for all that you will be able to do for them." Caroline never saw Rosny again. She returned to France in 1832, in an attempt to regain the throne for her son. She ended up in prison, after almost being burned alive, as is told in Madame Royale.

Here is a French video about Caroline's life at Rosny, showing her art collection and some of her private belongings. Many of the paintings depict crucial scenes in her life, as well as the portraying pastimes that she loved, such as hunting and sea-bathing. Loss and sorrow did not dampen her spirit, but showed her how to appreciate life as well as how to prepare for eternity.

Breguet the Watchmaker

An apogee of European watchmaking.
Born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Breguet completed his apprenticeship and studies in France from 1762 onwards. In 1775, at the age of 28, he married and managed to establish his own business on the Quai de l’Horloge, Paris. Watchmakers of the French capital then competed with Geneva and London in the field of scientific and artistic innovation. Breguet explored and perfected these inventions and complications. But he was not recognized as a Master Watchmaker until 1784.

These intervening years saw the gradual development of the automatic (or self-winding) watch and a timepiece with a repeater or chiming mechanism. The first self-winding watches were purchased by Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and several highranking personalities at the court of Versailles. This led, in 1783, to Breguet receiving a commission for an extraordinary watch incorporating all the innovations and complications known at the time. The end result would be one of the most famous of all Breguet watches, No. 160, also called the Marie-Antoinette, which, after several lengthy interruptions, was eventually finished in 1827, i.e. four years after Abraham-Louis Breguet’s death.

These watches immediately reveal the originality of his style, characterized by functional simplicity, technical mastery and flawless craftsmanship. His flat watchcases, easily legible numerals, rectilinear hands and guilloched dials made Breguet watches both unique works of art and discreet, practical, everyday objects, unlike the ornate, ostentatious timepieces made in the last quarter of the 18th century.

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg hosted an exhibit of antique Breguet watches held by the Russian museum:  Included in the exhibition are the military field watch with pedometer that belonged to Emperor Alexander I; the watch called ‘Sympathique' of Grand Duke Konstantin; carriage clocks that were made for Napoleon Bonaparte and Prince Demidov; ceremonial watches of the Emperor on which the maps of Russia and St Petersburg were engraved; and also the Duc de Praslin watch. The latter is considered one of the most complex watches ever made by A.-L. Breguet.

Explore the history of the Breguet brand, the main inventions and innovations since 1775:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Les Chouans

Above is a picture of a Breton chouan, one of the many peasants in the northwest of France who revolted against the French Revolution, in a movement known as the chouannerie. Balzac wrote a novel describing the heroism of the guerrilla warriors. Catherine Delors has an article on the legendary freedom fighters.
First the name comes from one of the early leaders of the insurgency, Jean Cottereau, nicknamed Jean Chouan (left). Chouan was a colorful character, already in trouble with the law years before the French Revolution for, among other misdeeds, killing a tax collector. Then the Revolution brought many changes.
The Constitution Civile du Clergé required priests and nuns to pledge allegiance to the new Constitution of the kingdom, a step many considered a violation of their religious vows. Then King Louis XVI was guillotined on the 21st of January 1793. The war against the Austrians and their Prussian allies was off to a disastrous start. Soon the French armies were outnumbered, requiring the legislative body that ruled the country to decree a draft. That was the real trigger for the insurgency.

Peasants from the western provinces, already outraged by the persecution of their priests and the execution of their King downright refused to go die in faraway lands for a Republic they loathed. Fight they would, but against it, and from home.

The Battle of Yorktown

Deciding the American Revolution.
The Battle of Yorktown was the last major fight of the American Revolutionary War. The American victory at Yorktown led to peace negotiations and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in September 1783, which gave the American colonies independence from the British.

The French were instrumental in helping the American colonies win the war. After the start of the Revolutionary War in Massachusetts in 1775, Benjamin Franklin led a delegation to France to convince King Louis XVI to support the American rebels in their fight against the British. At first, the French sent only weapons to the Americans. Then, in 1778, the French began sending army troops and navy ships. Read More.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shoes in the Wall

Author Joanna Waugh explores an ancient custom. Share

"And With Your Spirit" Revisited

Author Louie Verrechio discusses the new English translation of the Roman missal, and how the changes reflect the ancient liturgical tradition of the Roman rite. There are several more articles, HERE. Share

Monday, July 26, 2010

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Only then did I dare look around the chamber to see the wonders hidden there. A candle in a lamp of red glass hung from the shadowy beams. There was a great table covered in embroidered cloth and above it a cross with a tortured man's body nailed to it....Then Gran turned me round to face the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen: a statue of a lady with flowing hair and tender eyes, her arms outstretched as if to embrace me.
 "That's Our Lady," Gran whispered. "The Queen of Heaven."
Stood upon a crescent moon, the lady was, her lovely head crowned in a circle of stars. Rays of sun adorned her blue-painted gown.
~from Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharatt
Above are the impressions of young Alizon Device as she is about to witness her first and only Mass. Alizon, who will eventually be dragged to her trial like one of the virgin martyrs of old, and is awed by the beauty of the altar and the statue of the Virgin Mary that once adorned the parish church.  For the Mass, the priesthood, statues, saints, relics and pilgrimages have all been proscribed in the England of Mary Sharatt's novel Daughters of the Witching Hill.

Sharatt's masterpiece is not so much about witchcraft (there is very little genuine witchcraft in the story) but about what happens to people when their religion is taken away from them. As Protestantism is forced upon the English people during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, anything that smacks of  "popish superstition" is forbidden. The people of Pendle Forest, however, become more superstitious, not less, as the new religion fills them with constant fear of the devil and damnation without the consolations that the Old Faith afforded.

While persons of means were often able to secretly live a Catholic life in spite of the restrictions, hiding priests in their attics and paying the recusant fines, the poor had a hard time of it. Gone are pageantry of saints' days and feast days, the splendor of the liturgy and the beauty of the churches, all of which brightened the toil and drudgery of daily life. While the needy were once seen as particularly loved by God and deserving of alms, under the new religion the poor are viewed as being accursed and lazy. Almsgiving no longer has the same merit, and so the beggars increase.

The story centers on the family of old Bess Southerns, who live in a ruined tower in the woods. The entire clan is what Longfellow Deeds would refer to as "pixillated" in the fullest sense of the world. The forest which surrounds the tower is like something from a medieval tale,  replete with fairies and strange animals that manifest themselves from time to time. Bess has a gift of healing; she is a "blesser" who heals sick people and animals through both her herbal remedies and her prayers. Her prayers are mostly the old Latin prayers she remembers from her Catholic girlhood. The local monastery had long been disbanded by Henry VIII. So as the villagers once went to the monks for blessings and aid, they now go to Bess, who supplies their needs as best as she can, filling their hunger for the supernatural that is being starved by the reformed liturgy. In return, the villagers give her food and work, staving off starvation which constantly haunts her family.

Bess knows that she is playing with fire, since she risks being labeled both a papist and a witch, popery being considered worse than witchcraft to the Protestant authorities. Nevertheless, she cannot say no to people who come to her in various states of crisis, begging for her blessing. Based upon a true characters and events, the novel is magnificently crafted to convey the sense of wonder, enchantment, and fear that fill Pendle Forest and its environs. One is not always certain that what the characters see and experience is due to their "gifts" or merely coincidental, and they are not always certain themselves. What is most satisfying is to see and hear the life of simple country folk, whose words and actions would have been long forgotten had it not been for the records of a famous witchcraft trial. Those records and other archives formed part of Mary Sharatt's impeccable research, research which has no agenda but seeking the truth of those sad lost lives. At the heart of the story is the longing for the mystery of the infinite, the loss of which the human psyche cannot survive without sustaining severe damage.

(*Note: Daughters of the Witching Hill was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

The Elder Son of Henry VIII.

Author Stephanie Mann discusses the Duke of Richmond.
Henry VIII's illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy died on July 23, 1536. He was Henry's son by Elizabeth Blount, born in 1519 and Henry had bestowed many honors and much wealth upon him: the Order of the Garter; titles such as the Earl of Nottingham, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Admiral of England, Ireland, and Normandy, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland--these offices and titles made him very rich. His birth and survival was a sign to Henry that it was not his fault none of the sons borne by Katherine of Aragon survived.

In 1533 he married Mary Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk. Henry Fitzroy died just when Henry VIII was considering naming him his heir, in spite of his illegitimacy, since he had no other son to succeed him. Fitzroy witnessed the executions of the Carthusians and of Anne Boleyn; we have no information about what he thought of the religious changes going on around him, although his wife was an evangelical reformer.
The Duke of Richmond's death, said by contemporaries to have been by consumption, at age 17/18 has provoked some wonder if he, Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's older brother, and Edward VI, Henry's son, all shared some congenital disease.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Portrait of an English Princess

Who is it? Gareth Russell says:
Even if the claim made in the 1920s that the Metropolitan's mysterious portrait is an English princess is accurate, there were several other possible candidates than Mary, who was in disgrace in 1535 and therefore unlikely to have been painted at all. Of course, it is very possible that the portrait could date from earlier in the decade than 1535, or later, in which case Mary would have been likely to sit for a portrait. However, the gown is simple and the sitter is not wearing any jewellery, something which does not sit with what we know of Mary Tudor's lavish tastes.

The girl in the painting could have been one of Mary's half-royal cousins - Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of the Queen Mother of Scotland, Frances, Marchioness of Dorset or Lady Eleanor Brandon. All three could, just about, be described as "English princesses" by an overzealous art-seller - after all, they were all the granddaughters of a King and the daughters of former queens.

Of course, it's just as possible that it's no-one related to the Royal Family, but rather a courtier or member of the minor nobility, whose name we may never know. If it is someone attached to the Tudor family, my money is on Lady Margaret or one of the Brandon sisters, not the future Queen.

Danton's Death

A dark comedy about how the Revolution consumes its own children.
Many of the early Bolshevik leaders went the way of the Tsar and his doomed family.
The same was true in revolutionary France where the men who toppled Louis XVI were soon bundling one another into the tumbrils.

One of those Jacobins was Georges Danton. It is hard to feel particularly sorry for him in Georg Buchner’s play because all the time you know that he helped to start the bloodshed which has led to the Reign of Terror. Serves you right, chum. Read More.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Portrait of Madame Bilibin

A painting with links to both Tolstoy and Marie-Antoinette. Share

Mary Tudor

Music and pictures. Share

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Montgolfier Balloon

On September 19, 1783 the Montgolfier brothers demonstrated their hot air balloon, making France the first nation to take to the air.
On 19 September 1783 the Aerostat Reveillon was flown with the first living beings in a basket attached to the balloon: a sheep, called Montauciel (Climb-to-the-sky), a duck and a rooster. The sheep was believed to have a reasonable approximation of human physiology. The duck was expected to be unharmed by being lifted aloft. It was included as a control for effects created by the aircraft rather than the altitude. The rooster was included as a further control as it was a bird that did not fly at high altitudes. This demonstration was performed before a huge crowd at the royal palace in Versailles, before King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette. The flight lasted approximately eight minutes, covered two miles (3 km), and obtained an altitude of about 1,500 feet (460 m). The craft landed safely after flying.

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Dr. Alice von Hildebrand Responds

I was happy to see the discussion by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand on maintaining the "golden chain of tradition" as opposed to embracing the Revolution.
On her first contention, Von Hildebrand wrote that “my husband would not refer to the Theology of the Body as 'a revolution'” in the way that West does,  adding that West often criticizes the Catholic Church for having had what he describes as a "puritanical approach" to its teachings on human sexuality.

The philosopher noted, however, that each “age in the Church sheds particular light on some facets of the divine message,” and the Theology of the Body, properly understood, “can be seen as an example of that.”
When the Theology of the Body is presented as a radical revolution, it is twisted into something John Paul II never intended, she explained.

Contrasting the difference between West's “loose” language in discussing human sexuality and the approach of her late husband, the philosopher said that “Dietrich Von Hildebrand carefully chose the words he used when referring to the mysteries of our faith or to things that are intimate and sacred.”

“With his many talents, Christopher West has much to offer the Church,” Von Hildebrand affirmed in her concluding remarks. Yet, “I believe he will only fulfill his potential if he presents the Theology of the Body according to the traditions of the Church – reverently and with humility – and liberate himself from the wayward 'enthusiasms' of our time,” she said.
Fr. Angelo Mary's comments, HERE.

Read Dr. Hildebrand's entire essay, HERE. To quote:
It is a joy to praise a great book or author; it is a grief and duty to criticize a bad one. But it is especially difficult to criticize someone who has many talents, whose work has positive sides, but which also suffers from certain faults, calling for correction. Such is the case with Christopher West, with his popular presentation of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”

As gifted as he is—and as much as I appreciate all the good he has done for the Church—West’s work continues to fall short in many respects. He has sometimes misunderstood the authentic Catholic tradition; overlooked or disregarded essential aspects of it; and promoted a new form of religious “enthusiasm” which can best be described as wayward. Monsignor Ronald Knox, who critiqued this attitude so well in his book Enthusiasm, was a prophet, recognizing such outbursts as recurring phenomena in the history of the Church, characteristic of easily misguided movements for which we should always be on the watch.

Key to my concerns is West’s hyper-sexualized approach to the Theology of the Body. The French have a wonderful word to capture the veiling of one’s intimate feelings, out of a proper sense of shame—pudeur, a “holy bashfulness,” so to speak. Seized as he is by what he regards as his calling to evangelize a new generation with this theology in “modern” ways they can supposedly better understand, West practically ignores the importance of pudeur, and, by his imprudence, winds up undermining his own message.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of my favorite John Ford films. I have been planning on reviewing it, but here is a review that says it all.
The residents of Shinbone are about to choose delegates to a territorial convention where they will vote on statehood. The farmers support statehood, which would close the frontier by creating private property rights in the ranchers’ open range north of the Picketwire River that borders Shinbone. The ranchers oppose them and hire gunslinger Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) to force the farmers to elect anti-statehood delegates.
Into this maelstrom comes Jimmy Stewart as Ransom Stoddard, a freshly minted lawyer. Valance holds up the stage and beats Stoddard to within an inch of his life. Left at the side of the road, Stoddard is found by Tom Donophon (John Wayne) and carried to Shinbone and safety. Donophon is everything that Stoddard is not: rugged, self-reliant, and handy with a gun. By contrast, Stoddard is hysterical and ineffectual. After his recovery, he is put to work as a dishwasher and schoolteacher. Although he owes his life to Donophon, Stoddard tells him that he’s no different from Liberty Valance: Both rely on guns. But Donophon is very different from Valance. Donophon is a rancher, but he lives south of the Picketwire and is allied to the townsfolk of Shinbone, whom he serves as protector. He is also in love with Hallie (Vera Miles), a waitress in the restaurant where Stoddard works.
The film is centered on Stoddard’s courtship of Hallie and betrayal of Donophon. When Donophon, in a rare show of affection, brings Hallie a cactus rose, Stoddard asks her whether she has ever seen a real rose. Stoddard also teaches Hallie how to read and, unlike Donophon, is given to hugging her. Donophon is the very type of the American hero: hard on the outside, soft on the inside. Stoddard is the American antihero: soft on the outside, hard on the inside. In the competition for Hallie, Donophon doesn’t stand a chance.
Liberty Valance is a tragedy, perhaps the greatest American tragedy. What makes it a tragedy is that Donophon brings on his own fall -- by killing Valance and saving Stoddard’s life. From this, everything will follow, under a grim law of necessity: Hallie will marry Stoddard, who will go on to bring statehood to the territory and close the frontier, destroying the only life Donophon knows. Donophon sees all this but cannot prevent it because he is incapable of baseness. Necessity is the special feature of tragedy, where human choices have already been made and we wait for God’s choice.
One further act of nobility is required of Donophon. He had let Stoddard think that he killed Valance, but when Stoddard is incapable of accepting the moral responsibility for this, Donophon confesses the truth. Donophon can shoulder the responsibility that Stoddard cannot bear.
The film begins with a flash-forward to Donophon’s funeral, many years later, which Stoddard (now a senator) and Hallie attend, arriving by train rather than stagecoach. Donophon has been entirely forgotten and is given a pauper’s coffin. But Hallie returns to Donophon’s deserted ranch to bring him a cactus rose, as he once brought one to her. She leaves the rose on the coffin, where it will die, but not before Stoddard notices it. On the train back to Washington, Stoddard asks Hallie who placed the rose on the coffin, and she tells him. Stoddard realizes that his wife has always been in love with another man. Just then the train conductor stops by to tell Stoddard that they’ll get him back to Washington in two days: "Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance."

Imperial Russia

Rare color photos. (Via Mere Comments) Share

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When Tea Came to England

It was called the "China drink."
Tea became a fashionable, luxury drink in the mid 17th century. In England Samuel Pepys noted in 1660 of drinking a "China drink of which i never had drank before". It was known for its medical benefits with a Parisian doctor calling it "the impertinent novelty of the age". Soon it became more widespread with Cardinal Mazarin drinking it to cure his gout, and the playwright Jean Racine was also known to drink large quantities of it. In 1684 Madame de Sevigne wrote to her daughter recommending to drink her tea with both milk and sugar. However in Britain it became particularly popular when Catherine of Braganza being a clear lover of tea brought it into fashion once she married Charles II of England. Apparently she brought a casket of tea as part of her dowry, and the court ladies readily adopted tea as a daily treat and so in turn it replaced ale, coffee, and wine as the most favorite national drink. However being as expensive as it was (prices varied from 16 to 60 shillings at the time when a servants wages was around £2 to £6 pounds) it was still highly exclusive drink. For the aristocracy drinking tea also gave an excuse to buy gorgeous tea equipment like the burgundy coloured tea set and table shown upwards. Porcelain tea jars, tea pots, silverware, saucers, imported tea tables became particularly important for courtiers who expected visits from the Queen. Duchess of Lauderdale a good friend of the Queen had all the necessary tea equipment at Ham House for Queen Catherine's visits including particularly unusual silver tea bowls.

Accidental Adventures

How travel helps a writer. It certainly always helped me, especially traveling to Versailles. Share

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Childhood of Louis XVI

An interesting account from Splatter.
Such a programme seems to plan long years of study;  but a brutal change will interrupt the course of this teaching.  The 8 September 1760, doctors and surgeons penetrate the child’s chamber.  They examine him attentively and declare to his mother that he is in good health.  Louis-Auguste quickly understands the significance of this impromptu visit:  he is going to have to leave his governesses to “pass to the men”.  He is only six years old....
The upset caused to such a young child by this rupture can be imagined.  However, the Duke of Berry consoles himself rapidly.  He is going to join his elder brother, who had been entrusted to Mr de La Vauguyon in June 1758.  And this perspective, in spite of the rivalry which opposes the two princes, delights him.
The Duke of Burgundy is just as happy to see his little brother whom he has seen so little over the last two years.  He will again be able to exercise his authority over his younger brother and perfect his education.  It is even said that one day he calls him to make him listen – in the presence of their governors – to the list of his own qualities and faults, scrupulously written down in a book.  This exercise was supposed to be an example to him… as well as a counter-example.  “This will do you good”, proclaims solemnly the Duke of Burgundy, aged nine.  The Duke of Berry accepts without a blink these authoritive methods and rarely rebels against his brother to whom he devotes a faultless respect.

The Mystery of Israel

Some thoughts from Dr.von Hildebrand. Share

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Knights of St. John and Henry VIII

How one of the oldest orders of chivalry was destroyed in England. Share


It does not automatically imply freedom and justice for all. Share

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Matter of Dates

Commemorating the Battle of the Boyne.
At the time of the Glorious Revolution, England was still on the Julian Calendar. The Catholic world had made the transition to the Gregorian Calendar after Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed it on February 24, 1582. It was a scientific adjustment with a religious purpose: the correct celebration of the date of Easter according to the First Council of Nicaea. Protestant Europe refused to accept the reform of the calendar. Elizabeth I was on the throne in England and distribution of the Papal Bull ordering adoption of the new calendar was indeed illegal at that time. So the religious divisions in Europe affected not only what date it was but what date Easter was each year.

Thus, according to the Julian Calendar, the Battle of the Boyne occurred on July 1, 1690, while according to the Gregorian Calendar, it occurred on July 12, 1690. England did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until 1752, at which time the people of England seemed to "lose" eleven days, going to bed on September 2, 1752 and waking up the next morning on September 13, 1752. The Gregorian Calendar is now the internationally accepted calendar dating system, although it still requires adjustment.

Ten Unbelievable Facts

About competitive kindergarten. I cannot believe that such stress is good for small children. Share

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Olga's Prayer

July 17, 2010 marks the 92st anniversary of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Here is a prayer of the eldest daughter, Grand Duchess Olga:
Send us, Lord, the patience, in this year of stormy, gloom-filled days, to suffer popular oppression, and the tortures of our hangmen. Give us strength, oh Lord of justice, Our neighbor's evil to forgive, And the Cross so heavy and bloody, with Your humility to meet, In days when enemies rob us, To bear the shame and humiliation, Christ our Savior, help us. Ruler of the world, God of the universe, Bless us with prayer and give our humble soul rest in this unbearable, dreadful hour. At the threshold of the grave, breathe into the lips of Your slaves inhuman strength — to pray meekly for our enemies.
More about the tragic anniversary, HERE.

Know Thy Enemy

Knowledge is power. Fr. Angelo Mary writes:
I have mentioned before that Catholic militancy is in the first place about the interior life and that our real adversaries are not men who are “enemies of the Church,” but principalities and powers.  This can also be taken a step further.  Even in the external order where Catholic Action comes into play, the greatest opposition will come from the dark powers, whether through temptation or something more extraordinary like oppression and obsession.
But I believe there is also a middle between the two.  As regular readers of this blog will know, I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories.  One reason for this is because I have found that in order for  something that appears to be the result of a “grand scheme” to occur it is not necessary for the rich and influential to secretly meet in the middle of the night in a hidden black-curtained dungeon, or, for that matter, in a corporate board room.  It is sufficient that men open themselves up to the powers of the netherworld by playing fast and loose with their spiritual life.  My own experience tells me that men can effectively collaborate in nefarious schemes without even knowing that they are doing it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Throne of Glory

The daughters of St. Teresa during the Reign of Terror. More HERE. Share

Thoughts on Chastity

The joyful virtue. To quote Fr. Mark:
Chastity leads to hope and to joy;
unchastity leads to despair and sadness.
Chastity delights God;
unchastity delights the devil.
Chastity opens the soul to God;
unchastity opens the soul to the devil.
Therefore, as Saint Benedict says, Castitatem amare,
"Love Chastity."
Chastity facilitates growth in all the other virtues;
unchastity stunts growth in all the virtues
and, if unchecked, will contaminate and destroy them.
Chastity opens the door to Divine intimacy;
unchastity closes the door to Divine intimacy,
attracts evil spirits,
and provides ground for familiarity with them.
Chastity confers spiritual authority
and causes the soul to radiate a supernatural peace.
Unchastity destroys spiritual authority
and causes the soul to emit a sense of disquiet, trouble, and sadness.
Chastity is its own reward
in that it disposes the soul for familiar and continuous communion with God.
Unchastity is its own punishment
in that it makes the soul heavy and insensible to spiritual joys.
Unchastity infects the will with weakness,
pollutes the memory,
and darkens the imagination.
Even the body is affected adversely by unchastity;
it gives rise to psychosomatic complaints, fatigue, and restlessness.
It weakens the body's resistance to illness
by strengthening the soul's collusion with sin.
Ultimately, unchastity foments unbelief, despair, and hatred of God.
To set out on the path of chastity
is to set out on the path of joy
that leads to the ineffable sweetness of union with God.
The soul is created for Truth.
The soul yearns for Truth
and recognizes Truth when she encounters it.
The soul that feeds upon Truth
grows strong in goodness
and radiates a supernatural beauty.
Unchastity blinds the soul to Truth.
The chaste soul holds fast to Our Lord's words,
"The truth shall set you free."
Unchastity produces, in the worst cases,
an aversion to the Truth
and a contempt for Truth that causes the soul to repulse it.
Chastity flourishes in the light
and turns to it like the sunflower to the sun.
Unchastity darkens the mind
and causes the soul to prefer the cover of darkness to the light of Truth.
This is why unchastity always goes hand-in-hand with the vice of lying.
Unchastity finds it necessary to spin a web of lies around itself;
it thrives in the climate provided by error, lying, and deceit.
Chastity goes hand-in-hand with love for Truth.
It delights in what is beautiful
and pursues what is good.
It generates a climate of joy
in which the other fruits of the Holy Ghost
thrive and abound.
If you would be happy,
be chaste.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Dark Cloud Overhead

Two non-celebratory post-Bastille day posts. In spite of the fact that history is written by the winners, we try to remember Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette as they really were.

More HERE. Share

The Plague of Profanity

It seems to be getting worse. Share

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Princesse de Lamballe in England

A gracious lady, as always. She left the safety of England and returned to France to be with the King and the Queen in their troubles. The account of her violent death is HERE. Share

The Cost of Monarchy

Author Gareth Russell  discusses the question.
Lurid and inaccurate historical fantasies of the cost of running Versailles in the days before the French Revolution have convinced subsequent generations that monarchies are not just financially wasteful, but ruinously so. (That Versailles and the entire mechanism of the monarchy throughout the federalist structure of France accounted for less than 6% of the national budget in 1788 - admittedly grossly high by the standards of any other contemporary or subsequent monarchy - is a fact either unknown or wilfully overlooked.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Truth about Marie-Antoinette

A brave defense of the Queen. Share

The Travels of Benjamin Franklin

Some interesting observations.
When Franklin finally left France, he traveled in a private litter and a caravan large enough to carry all 128 pieces of his checked luggage. Somewhere in his carry on bags he also carried his farewell gift from King Louis XVI--a "modest" set of jewelry containing 408 diamonds.

In his journal, Franklin cheerfully reports that on this final voyage back to America, he was the only person not to get seasick.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

I ask you, what could a woman do, left by the death of her husband with five little children on her arms, and two families of France who were thinking of grasping the crown—our own [the Bourbons] and the Guises? Was she not compelled to play strange parts to deceive first one and then the other, in order to guard, as she did, her sons, who successively reigned through the wise conduct of that shrewd woman? I am surprised that she never did worse. ~Henri IV
 C.W. Gortner's new historical novel The Confessions of Catherine de Medici recalls to mind a feeling we all have had at some time in our lives. It is the feeling a person has when a rug is pulled out from under them, except that instead of falling and hitting the floor, they continue to fall. Such a sensation Catherine de Medici must have experienced almost constantly throughout her life. As soon as she was beyond one tragic, life-threatening circumstance, barely treading water, another debacle would befall her.

It started when as an infant her parents died, and Catherine was left an orphan in hostile circumstances. As a very young girl she thought she had found a home in France when her uncle the pope sent her to marry one of the sons of  François I. Although she loved her new country she realized her battle for survival had only just begun. Catherine had no weapon but her wits, but as history bears witness, she was very rarely outwitted, and when she was, the results were disastrous for everyone.

Henri, Catherine's husband, as a young teenager came under the thrall of a much older woman, Diane de Poitiers. I personally never saw anything romantic about their liaison. There is nothing romantic about a mature woman leading a boy into a sexual relationship which leaves him emotionally crippled and dependent upon her for life. After reading Confessions I can only see the Henri/Diane affair as unnatural and sick; I think Catherine came to see it that way eventually, not that anything could take her pain away. Diane was at the root of the dysfunction which seemed to consume and destroy the Valois family, even after she had long been dead.

I read one of Jean Plaidy's novels about Catherine de Medici as a teenager. It was excellent and introduced me to Catherine. Mr. Gortner, however, is better able to capture the Mediterranean temperament of "Madame de Medici," just as he so ably captured the fiery Latin temperament of Juana la Loca in The Last Queen. One of the most powerful scenes in the book is when Catherine slaps Diane de Poitiers, saying: "Putana!" right before Diane slinks away to the country. (I cheered out loud for Catherine.)

As is well-known, Catherine de Medici was interested in astrology, and kept at least one full-time astrologer in her pay, but then so did most of the other courts of Europe. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance astrology was seen as a science and played a part in medicine and horticulture, although the line between science and superstition was easy to cross.  In the novel, as France descends into violence and as family members die one by one, Catherine becomes more superstitious and eventually sinks into cynicism and near despair. The danger of relying on horoscopes was aptly illustrated for me. On the other hand, Catherine is also a friend of the famous Nostradamus, a Catholic physician with prophetic gifts, which he uses to warn Catherine, at least up until his death.

The Wars of Religion is one of the most complicated eras in French history but, like the Albigensian crusade, it was mostly about fighting for political power, with religion as a pretext. Many Huguenots used religion as a pretext to rape nuns and desecrate Catholic churches, whereas Catholics like the Guises exploited the Catholic faith as an excuse to murder many people. The Guises also hated Catherine and wanted to control the throne; they were greater enemies to her in many ways than were the Huguenots. Catherine's advocacy of tolerance is a matter of public record and yet in the popular mind she is falsely held responsible for one of the most horrific massacres of all time.

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici would make a great film or television series. The story of the last Valois has always seemed to me to be the ultimate operatic tragedy, with characters which no novelist could invent, although interpreting such  a complicated family into fiction must be a challenge. Mr. Gortner makes the family come alive; he convincingly depicts Catherine as a mother trying to protect the children who had once been taken away from her. He shows her to be a Queen who will use whatever methods at her disposal to bring peace to France. Yes, she could be ruthless, but then she had been so often deprived of the love which should have been hers.

*Note: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici was sent to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.


Chambers, Rand, and Beck

Does Mr. Beck know who Whittaker Chambers is? (Via Colleen Hammond) To quote:
I missed his program from June 15th, but on his site I saw that he quoted Whittaker Chambers as one of the media elite who mocked Rand. I have to ask, “Is Beck really aware of who Chambers is?”
Last week, he had a show dealing with the history of American communism and plastered a picture of Alger Hiss on his blackboard. Hiss, the underground communist agent who stood at FDR’s side at Yalta and who was instrumental in secreting classified government information to the Soviet Union, was only outed because of Whittaker Chambers
Chambers had been in the underground with Hiss, but then broke from communism, found faith in God, became a senior editor at Time, gave explosive testimony about Hiss in congressional hearings in 1948, which led to Hiss’s conviction on perjury charges, and then told his story in a highly publicized autobiography called Witness.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Interview by Gareth Russell about Marie-Antoinette and Me

 Below are my answers to some thoughtful questions posed by author, actor and playwright Gareth Russell on his blog Confessions of a Ci-Devant. (No, Gareth and I are not related, as far as we know, although he might be very distantly related to my husband.)
GR: Elena-Maria, thank you for doing this interview and welcome to "Confessions of a Ci-Devant." Although, that welcome is probably tardy and unnecessary - your comments on some of my posts have been some of my favourites – and it’s in no small part due to how much I enjoyed your blog, “Tea at Trianon,” that I decided to embark upon writing my own!

EMV: Thank you, Gareth, for the interview and for the support of my books. And your blog is a wonderful contribution for its wit and genuine scholarship.

GR: I think one of the things that made Trianon such a joy to read is that you and I have both written works that mirror each other’s – in that, they cover the same period and have many overlapping characters. Trianon is set before the Revolution, as is my play “The Audacity of Ideas,” whilst their respective sequels Madame Royale and “All Those Who Suffered,” both deal with the fates of Marie-Antoinette’s children in the years after the Revolution. Knowing what it’s like to write on the period, I know there’s a huge amount of research that has to go into the writing process – before we even begin writing, as it were. How much research did you do on Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before starting on “Trianon” and did you start the research with the intent of writing a novel about them, or did the research generate the idea of writing the novel itself?

EMV: Yes, Gareth, your plays and my novels include many of the same characters, and we have similar takes on those characters. I began reading about Marie-Antoinette when I was nine. I was so moved by her story that I covered my school notebooks with drawings of her, and liked to coiffure my Barbie dolls in eighteenth century bouffants with plumes. I continued to read various books about Marie-Antoinette throughout the years. By the time I was a grad student I had visited Versailles twice, but it was not until I saw a picture of Petit Trianon in Smithsonian Magazine that I felt inspired to write something about the Queen. It was just a photo of a staircase, but in my mind’s eye I could see Marie-Antoinette walking down it. I wanted to capture a moment in time, one of those happy moments that were like islands in a sea of tragedy in the life of Marie-Antoinette. I was already deep into research about the French Revolution as part of my graduate studies. I wrote the Prologue and then put the whole thing aside for ten years.

After a trip to Vienna I found the manuscript and the notebooks with my research in my father’s basement. I felt inspired by my trip to Vienna to take it up again, but I decided to include the Revolution, without which the inner strength of Marie-Antoinette does not come into its fullness. I researched as I went along and have continued to do so even after the publication of the first edition. I am still researching. There is always more to learn.

The Assassins

Those who tried to kill Napoleon but ended up murdering innocent people instead. Share

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Flower Seller

From Under the Gables:
In this painting, Hassam highlights the relationship between the two girls in the painting: the flower seller and the girl walking with her mother. The flower girl looks imploringly at the younger girl, and one assumes that she wants the child to ask her mother to buy her flowers. The younger girl meanwhile is fascinated by the flower seller. Either she is looking at the flowers, but more likely she is apprehending the flower seller as a young girl, like herself, but in a startlingly different position than herself; the flower seller has no childhood, having been hurled into adult activities for reasons of family poverty or even loss of family. The mother meanwhile ignores the flower seller and is hustling onward. I find it noteworthy that in the painting Hassam's shadowing of the heads of all three figures makes it appear almost as if each has a nimbus. In the left middle ground is the figure of a mother and child, the mother clearly from the working class. "There but for the grace of God go I."

Facts about Mary Tudor

Ten interesting details about England's first Queen Regnant. Share

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rescue Plot

An attempt to save Marie-Antoinette.
Three Kerrymen, a Kerry woman and her Cork-born husband intended to rescue Marie Antoinette from Revolutionary Paris in 1791-'92 with the view of bringing Marie-Antoinette to Nantes. From there, she would have been transferred to Dingle, County Kerry in a wine-merchant's ship. Upon arriving in Dingle, Marie Antoinette was to seek refuge in a suite of rooms, prepared for her in Rice House, a building still standing today on the corner of Upper Main Street and Green Street. From thence, it was intended to convey her to London and thereafter to Brussels and Vienna. Dr. Downey's lecture described how, on the night of the rescue, the queen refused to leave her husband and family and thus the attempt ended.

Toy Story (2010)

A week or so ago we all went to see Toy Story 3 and found it genuinely entertaining. My favorite scene was the Barbie and Ken fashion show. It was a film which makes you laugh out loud and shed a few tears as well, as explained in this review:
A really great feature of "Toy Story 3" is its ability to get squarely inside a child's head and remind us exactly what it felt like to be a child, and how children play and dream and imagine and act their play out in total unfetteredness. For those of us without kids who don't get to relive our childhood with our progeny, "Toy Story 3" is a blast from the past in this regard. Oh yeah!—I used to make up those rushed, rambling stories, too!
A review from the New York Times, says:
In providing sheer moviegoing satisfaction — plot, characters, verbal wit and visual delight, cheap laughs and honest sentiment — “Toy Story 3” is wondrously generous and inventive. It is also, by the time it reaches a quiet denouement that balances its noisy beginning, moving in the way that parts of “Up” were. That is, this film — this whole three-part, 15-year epic — about the adventures of a bunch of silly plastic junk turns out also to be a long, melancholy meditation on loss, impermanence and that noble, stubborn, foolish thing called love. We all know money can’t buy it, except sometimes, for the price of a plastic figurine or a movie ticket. 

Alice von Hildrand on Life

Wise words from a wise lady. Share

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Interview with Catherine Delors

I am delighted that the lovely Catherine Delors kindly consented to be interviewed on the occasion of the release of her fabulous new novel, For the King.

Elena: Catherine, I thoroughly enjoyed reading For the King and found it a novel which stayed with me for a long time afterwards. Not only was it a moving and well-told story, but the historical details made me feel that I was in the Paris of 1800. Would you tell us a little about your research, and how you were able to find so many incredible details about urban life in Napoleonic France?
Catherine: Thank you so much, Elena! For details of urban life, I relied mostly on late 18th century sources. First, Louis-Sébastien Mercier in his Le Tableau de Paris and Le Nouveau Paris casts a fond but critical eye on his city. Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne also provides a wealth of details in his works (over 400 novels!) I also highly recommend the works of a modern French historian, Arlette Farge. Farge relies on police reports, which give harrowing but fascinating insights into the lives of the poor of Paris.
Elena: I could see many resemblances between the character of Blanche and the famous Juliette Récamier. Was Madame Récamier involved in plots to overthrow Napoleon?
Catherine: Oh, indeed Madame Récamier was a major inspiration for the character of my fictional Blanche Coudert. Juliette, the leading beauty of Parisian society, and a close friend of Germaine de Staël, became a key figure of the opposition to Napoléon. However, I did not find any evidence that she was involved in any plot to overthrow his regime. Yet she was deemed enough of a menace to be exiled from Paris and even left France until the Restoration.
Elena: I love detective stories and the police work of Roch Miquel in For the King  I found to be particularly suspenseful. Roch became quite real for me. Is he based upon an historical person?
Catherine: No, Roch, unlike Blanche, is purely fictional. I just wanted to create a decent, conscientious policeman trying to make sense of the political situation, and sort out his own feelings, in the wake of the French Revolution.
Elena: One of the reasons I find your novels so interesting is that my first two books about the French royal family take place in roughly the same time frames. Madame Royale begins in 1809. Were any members of the royal family aware of the plot to assassinate Napoleon?
Catherine: Ah, this is a question I would love to answer with certainty! What is sure is that the assassins acted as part of a vast conspiracy. They reported to, and corresponded with Georges Cadoudal, the great royalist leader who operated from London and had crossed the Channel at the time of the attack to supervise the aftermath of the anticipated assassination of Napoléon. Cadoudal was financed by the British government and had been appointed Lieutenant General of the Royalist Armies by the Comte d’Artois, younger brother of King Louis XVIII. It was, in my opinion, likely that Artois was aware of the conspiracy.
I do not think the same can be said of Louis XVIII, who lived far from London, in what was then Russia. I must add that many within the royalist camp were appalled by the attack. It was something to assassinate Napoléon Bonaparte, and quite another matter to kill or main dozens of innocents in the process.
Elena: An “infernal machine” is the weapon used in the attempt to destroy Napoleon. While political leaders had been assassinated before, do you think that the horrific incident in which many innocent people were killed marked the beginning of a new age of terrorism?
Catherine: Certainly. This was why the public was so shocked by the attack. Contrary to popular belief, the French Revolution was far more violent in the provinces than in Paris. The assassins were all Chouans, royalists who had waged for years a determined insurgency in the Western provinces. Now they brought the struggle to the heart of Paris. This transposition of guerilla techniques to an urban setting was a watershed event. This is why I believe, in an age when terrorism has become a concern for all of us, it was indispensable to revisit these events.
Elena: For the King combines historical fact woven carefully amid the storyline. Do you see the craft of novel writing as an art form which, like a great painting, can convey truths that lie just beneath the surface of reality?
Catherine: Yes, I think any worthwhile novel has many layers, and can be read in many ways. For the King, for instance, is ostensibly a historical thriller. But I hope it is also a reflection on the shortcomings of human justice, and the power of love, friendship and redemption.
Elena: Thank you so much, Catherine, and I am sure many will find this book as compelling as I did.

My review of For the King, HERE.