Sunday, June 28, 2009

Paris Monuments - The Palais Royal

One of my favorite Paris places is the garden of the Palais Royal, a gem hiding in plain sight right in the middle of town. Indeed, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had already lived here for two years before stumbling on it, having just missed it any number of times while visiting the Musée du Louvre or taking in a show at the Comédie Française. It was like finding an urban Shangri-la!

The Palais Royal was first known as the Palais Cardinal, the home of Cardinal Richelieu, chief advisor to King Louis XIII (and some say the real power behind the throne). He built his beautiful home just across the street from the king who lived at the Palais du Louvre back when that part of today's 1st arrondissement sat at the very edge of the city (see map of Paris 1789).

On December 4, 1642, Cardinal Richelieu died. He left his palace to his friend, the king. But Louis XIII never had a chance to use it, for he died just five months later. His son and heir to the throne, Louis XIV, was then only four years old, much too young to run a country. So young Louis' mother, Anne of Austria, ruled in his name as Regent until he was old enough to take the crown. She didn’t like the draughty then-300-year-old Louvre Palace, so she moved the boy King and his little brother, Philippe Duc d’Orleans, to the more modern Palais Cardinal. Because members of the royal family were now living in the palace, its name was changed to the Palais Royal.

On his 13th birthday, in September 1652, Louis XIV declared himself King. He moved back to the Louvre Palace, where he lived for 30 years before transferring his family and the entire French government to Versailles in 1682. The Palais Royal remained the home of his younger brother, Philippe Duc d’Orleans. It would stay in the hands of the Orleans branch of the royal family for the next 150 years. By 1789, the Palais Royal was home to Philippe’s great-grandson, Louis-Philippe Joseph II Duc d’Orleans, the first cousin of King Louis XVI and royal member of the new National Assembly.

During their first century-and-a-half, the gardens of the Palais Royal were private, enclosed by the backs of houses that grew up around them but faced the outer lying streets. Louis-Philippe Joseph II Duc d’Orleans changed that. From 1781-84, he transformed the gardens from a private domain into a popular Parisian social center, creating France’s first-ever public shopping arcade.

The truth is: the Duc d’Orleans needed money. He was a notorious gambler and he squandered the Orleans family fortune building a private pleasure garden (now called the Parc Monceau) to rival Marie Antoinette’s hameau at Versailles. So, he built this new housing and shopping complex around the perimeter of the Palais Royal gardens, and he did something never before done in France: He sold or rented the apartment spaces to people from all levels of French society, with large apartments for the wealthy on the first level, and smaller, more affordable apartments as you reached the roof. He rented the ground-floor gallery spaces to cafés, smart shops, theatres, restaurants, even a few gambling casinos.

He encouraged printing presses to open at the Palais Royal, too; presses that published and distributed journals and broadsheets expressing the Enlightenment views the king and his council considered so treasonous.

But because these were royal grounds, the king’s police were not permitted to enter the property. By royal edict, neither Louis-Philippe, nor those who printed rebellious literature at the Palais Royal, could be censored. It was thanks to these broadsheets that people outside Paris kept up-to-date with the events taking place in the French capital in 1789.

In a few short years Louis-Philippe Joseph II Duc d’Orleans turned the Palais Royal into the place to be in Paris! Since their opening, the gardens were crowded both day and night. One journal wrote that if you threw an apple from an apartment window it would never hit the ground – that’s how thick the crowd could be! Café tables and chairs spilled out into the gardens at all hours. Circus acts and street performers entertained the crowds. Parisians as well as visitors from the provinces and abroad came to the Palais Royal to shop, gamble, drink, mingle, and discuss the ideas of Enlightenment philosophy without threat of censorship or imprisonment.

It was also where, in 1789, it was very fashionable to talk of Revolution. Thus it is said that the French Revolution started at the Palais Royal, the home of the King Louis XVI's own cousin!

Coming soon: Camille Desmoulins incites the crowd at the Palais Royal. Stay tuned.

Photo from the Palais Royal gardens by Beckstet , courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of the former Palais Cardinal, now the French Conseil d'Etat, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Painting of Anne of Austria, mother of King Louis XIV, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Painting of the boy king, Louis XIV, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo from the Parc Monceau by Guillaume Jacquet, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Engraving of the Palais Royal, courtesy of The Costumer's Manifesto:
Towle, Sarah B. Time Traveler Paris Tours: Beware Madame La Guillotine, in development.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Peaceful French Revolution

It seemed that the Revolution was won! And peacefully too!
(see here and here.)

Indeed, even a member of the royal family joined the National Assembly: Louis-Philippe Joseph II Duc d’Orleans, first cousin of King Louis XVI. (Remember his name, for Louis-Philippe Joseph II Duc d’Orleans played an important role in the events to come.)

However, King Louis XVI was not so quick to recognize France’s new, self-proclaimed government. Where did it put him? Where did it leave his son, the dauphin and future King of France? As he awaited the new constitution, he grew anxious of the rumble back in Paris. He sent troops to surround the city.

Parisians were hungry and growing desperate. In July of 1788, France’s harvest had been wiped out by a hail storm. Cold temperatures and frost lasting well into the spring of 1789 stamped out the harvest yet again. With grain scarce, the price of bread soared so high that the poor could not feed themselves.

Now they watched as the king's weapons were trained right on them!

Stay posted for more on the French Revolution as we march toward July 14th and the taking of the Bastille.

Painting of Louis-Philippe Joseph II Duc d'Orleans, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Towle, Sarah B. Time Traveler Paris Tours: Beware Madame La Guillotine, in development.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

National Assembly Pledges the Tennis Court Oath

So, as I was saying here

On 17 June 1789, the Versailles convention delegates representing the Third Estate – that is, all French citizens who were not clergy, royalty, or nobility – broke from the monarchy of King Louis XVI for good. They declared themselves the true government of France. They named their government the National Assembly, an assembly not of the Estates, or classes, but of The People.

They did this in the king’s own indoor tennis court where they were forced to convene after the king kicked them out of his meeting. And they swore, in the Tennis Court Oath of 20 June 1789, that they would not separate until they had written France's first constitution.

Many members of the clergy and 47 members of the nobility left the King’s meeting to join the new National Assembly. Painter Jacques-Louis David was there, too. He immortalized this important turning point in French history in the celebrated painting, above.

Observe the three figures embracing in the center foreground. The subject in white is a member of the clergy; the man on the right, bending his knee, is a nobleman; and it's the Third Estate representative in the middle who unites them.

Of course, you do see who is missing from the image, no?

Stay tuned: the march to 14 July continues...

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Towle, Sarah B. Time Traveler Paris Tours: Beware Madame La Guillotine, in development.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

National Assembly Sparks the French Revolution

On the south side of the river Seine, across the Pont de la Concorde and directly facing its twin, the church of the Madeleine, stands the Assemblée Nationale, one of two houses of the French parliament. But before the Assemblée was a temple-fronted, neo-classical building, where the laws of government are discussed and prepared before passing to the French Senat and President, it was a body of individuals, and a rogue body at that...

1789: France faced a deep and seemingly intractable economic crisis. Peasants were starving; the monarchy was out of money; and the rich refused to be taxed. To his credit, King Louis XVI recognized he needed help to resolve the situation. He called for a meeting of the Estates General – equal numbers of representatives from the nobility, the clergy, and everyone else: a group referred to as the Third Estate.

No French King had convened the Estates General for 150 years. So, delegates had to be selected from all corners of the country. In June, 12,000 representatives arrived at Versailles, each sporting the dress of their social class: the Third Estate wore plain black suits and three corner hats; the nobility were bedecked in rich silks and colorful plumes; the clergy shouldered their traditional violet vestments. They came as one to seek a solution to their country’s financial problems. They came to usher in a new, golden age for France. They carried with them the hope and optimism of the entire French nation. Confidence reigned.

But it quickly soured. The Third Estate demanded more voting power. They did, after all, represent 96% of the French population, but they had only as many votes as the clergy and nobility. And these two voted always with the monarchy. The demand of the Third Estate did not go over well with the King. He locked them out of the meeting!

With the hopes and dreams of the entire nation weighing heavily on their shoulders, the Third Estate refused to leave Versailles. They held their own meeting in the king’s indoor tennis court, the Jeu de Paume, the only place big enough to accommodate their numbers and keep them out of the storm that raged like their enlightened fury with the 800-year old absolute monarchy.

The Third Estate delegates proclaimed themselves “the true representatives of the French people.” They named themselves The National Assembly, "an assembly not of the Estates but of the People”: France’s new government. Many members of the nobility and the clergy left the king's meeting to join them.

Thus began the French Revolution (1789-99)...

Stay tuned as we trace the events of June 1789 that led up to the July 14th sacking of the Bastille prison…

Photograph of the Assemblée Nationale at night, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Painting of King Louis XVI before the revolution, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

"The People under the Ancien Regime," courtesy of

Towle, Sarah B. Time Traveler Paris Tours: Beware Madame La Guillotine, in development.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day, June 6th, 1944

Today is the 65th Anniversary of the start of the D-Day invasion, when allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy in a courageous and decisive battle that ultimately drove the German occupying forces out of France. The Battle of Normandy remains the largest seaborne invasion in military history, involving nearly three million troops crossing the English Channel from England to face down tyranny on the Normandy coast.

The Uber-Mensch's Daring Dad (DD) was there. He was part of the second landing and later marched with Patton's army across France into Germany. He took us to the beaches a few years back: a once-in-a-lifetime visit that turned then-8-year-old Loo (the Lucky-one-and-only) into a WWII history buff. I wanted to write about D-Day myself, but others have done a much better job of it, like jpkeenan24 whose 8th grade history project I found on YouTube...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Paris Monuments - Napoleon's Tomb

It’s funny how quickly we take things for granted. Last night I bundled up a blanket, a bottle of red, and a batch of home-made gazpacho and I headed over to the Esplanade des Invalides for a dinner picnic with friends. I was on my second glass of chilled rosé – my first of the summer – before I took notice of the great gold dome that towered over us: the dome over the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, the first Emperor of France.

Bonaparte’s was a star that rose fast and fell far. He created important institutions that still survive today, but he also contributed to the violence and upheaval of a century marked by revolution, famine, and war.

His story begins in 1799, ten years after the start of the French Revolution. A corrupt government, called the Directory, then governed a France wracked by poverty and destruction. For seven years, the country had been at war with Austria and Prussia, faring badly against the better organized armies of Europe’s two greatest powers. But a young Corsican officer named Napoleon Bonparte distinguished himself by his keen sense of military strategy. He quickly advanced to general.

General Bonaparte returned from Egypt in 1799 to find that he and two other men had been chosen to head France’s new tripartite consulate. It took him mere months to throw off the others and name himself First Consul for Life. As the century turned from 1799 to 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed himself the sole ruler of 27 million French people. In 1804, he would crown himself Emperor.

The years of 1800-1805 saw Bonaparte working feverishly to rebuild his country. He centralized the French government, creating the Departments we know today with local administrations reporting directly to him. He established the basis of French civil law in the Napoleonic Code. He brought back taxation, structuring it so that everyone paid a fair share and levying heavy fines for lateness or default. For the first time in decades the government had money. So the Emperor founded the Bank of France. When business began picking up, he needed a Stock Exchange. So, he created La Bourse, the market.

While he was busy cleaning up the government and economy, Napoleon was also making plans to expand France’s territorial borders. He sought lands to the east, west, and north. He even had designs to invade England. Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and Italy formed an alliance with Britain to stop Napoleon if he should attack.

And he did. Starting in October 1805, Bonaparte marched his Grande Armée all across Europe, overtaking armies at Austerlitz and Iena and Friedland, and setting up puppet regimes in Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw, and Naples. By 1807, Napoleon was the “Master of All Europe”.

But the war was costing France too much in both man-power and material. The economy, only recently revived, collapsed. New businesses stopped functioning. The Stock Exchange crashed. Those who had money withdrew it from the Bank and fled. To add to the already dire situation, England imposed an economic blockade on France, making it impossible for food and other goods to reach the people.

Then came the famine. Severe thunderstorms ruined France’s 1811 crop. By the beginning of 1812, grain reserves were spent. The price of bread shot beyond what many could afford. As before the revolution, French people began to starve.

The Grande Armée was hard hit as food no longer reached the front. Morale was low; desertion became rampant. And Napoleon began to lose. He was pushed back in Spain; he was laid low in Leipzig; and outside of Moscow, the Grande Armée was forced to retreat.

Still, Napoleon would not give up, in love with battle, in love with La Gloire (glory). In 1814, he raised an army again. And in the Battle of the Nations, fought at Leipzig, Germany, Napoleon was stopped for good…or so it was thought. It took the combined powers of all of Europe to do it, but he was packed him off to prison on Elba Island.

Within a year, however, he had escaped. He went directly to battle once more, facing his final defeat in 1815 in the famous battle of Waterloo. This time, his captors sent him to an island so remote that escape would mean certain death.

Napoleon Bonaparte died on St. Helena in 1821 at the age of 52.

With Napoleon banished, the brother of beheaded King Louis XVI moved in to restore the French Monarchy. Louis XVIII was succeeded by Charles I. But their “Restoration” government did not last long. It was overthrown in 1830 by the July Monarchy, led by cousin Louis-Philippe, who, in turn, was overthrown in 1848 by the nephew of...guess who? That’s right, Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1852, just as his uncle had done almost 50 years before, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of France. As Napoleon III, he undertook to renovate Louis XIV’s personal chapel at Les Invalides to create a tomb for Napoleon Bonaparte and the Generals who served under him.

In 1861, France's first Emperor was installed in a sarcophagus of porphyry under the same dome that shadowed our springtime picnic. The pink rays of the setting sun glinted off the gold that is the centerpiece of the Esplanade and can be seen for miles around, reminding me that I had failed to notice it for a good 45 minutes. It's funny how quickly we take things for granted.

Photo of Les Invalides from the Esplanade by Eric Gaba
(Wikimedia Commons user: Sting), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of General Napoleon Bonaparte by Jacques-Louis David, 1797, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

First Consul Bonaparte, by Antoine-Jean Gros, c. 1802, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte by Jacques-Louis David, 1805, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, by Adolf Northern (1828-1876), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of Les Invalides Chapel, taken by Daniel Levine on 15 July 2003 and released to public domain. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Napoleon at Saint Helena, by Francois-Joseph Sandmann, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photograph of Napoleon's porphyry tomb, taken by
Willtron, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.