Monday, January 5, 2015

Cerise went to #Paris for research, discovering tidbits @ #Josephine, #Napoleon, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Fontainebleau, Grand Courtyard of Main entrance
   Travel is a wonderful way to do historical research for novels. Time-consuming, it is an intriguing way to put drama into your you eat and drink you way around your chosen paths!

   My biggest kicks come from standing in the very spots that others infinitely more interesting than I have stood. Reflecting on how they must have felt at certain points in their lives—or seeing what has become of those places long after they have passed sends ripples of ennui down my spine.

   Here, hopefully tickling your need to feel the same sort of ripples, are a few from my recent trip to Paris in October. Note the dates I have put in bold. Many are poignant coincidences of time, place and people.

Closeup of front steps of Fontainebleau
   One of the places we visited was Fontainebleau. (If you wish to read more about that famous grand hunting lodge expanded to a palace, do scroll below in my blog for previous posts about my recent Paris trip.)

Napoleon signing abdication papers
in Fontainebleau, April 1814
   Here you see the grand staircase outside. Why is this an interesting view? Well! Not only was this the main entrance to the palace during the Ancien Regime, but also one used by Napoleon and his coterie. On these very steps, Napoleon emerged from the palais in April 1814. The previous night he had attempted suicide, swallowing a poison which proved ineffective. (I wish I had a picture of his bedroom where he slept and the room where he signed his abdication from imperial power. Alas, the ones I took were terribly out of focus! It's what comes of being too enraptured and soaking up the scenery instead of tending to the camera! Do see the painting which is very accurate decor.) Greeting many of his generals and troops who were gathered in the courtyard below (see next picture), he bid them farewell. He boarded a coach, escorted by a small French retinue and a few Englishmen to assure his departure, and left for Elba. He arrived there May 30, 1814.
The Golden Courtyard where Napoleon's troops would have heard his farewell in April 1814
before he departed for Elba. Here you have the view Napoleon had as he addressed his troops.
   Months later in February 1815, encouraged by news from France that the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, was misusing his power, renewing high taxes and stripping the soldiers of their honors, ranks and pay, Napoleon sailed from the small island of Elba and returned to France by way of Cannes. He made his way north and in March, he returned to Fontainebleau! The palace, you see, is south of Paris. (Today, you can get there on the RER, take a local bus and arrive almost on these front steps!) In 1815, he could take up residence there and be regarded as a threat to the capital city but not in charge of it...yet. Here he waited a few days and once the Bourbons had left Paris and the French army welcomed him, Napoleon took the hour long journey into the city which was once more his.
A small portion of Josephine's gardens blooming still
in October!

  After Napoleon's departure to Elba in late April 1814, the Bourbons returned to France to rule once more. But they came with those foreign officials (and armies) who had defeated Napoleon's army and forced him to abdicate. One of those in Paris at the time was the Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Taking liberty to visit Napoleon's second wife, Marie-Louise, who remained near Paris in the old chateau of Rambouillet, he also took a coach south to visit Josephine, former empress and first wife of Napoleon. She introduced him to her family, Eugene and Hortense. She had an entertainment prepared for him in her music room. (See picture here.) They strolled in her famous rose garden and then, days later, she took a chill. Developing a high fever, she took to her bed. She developed a throat infection, could not speak, and passed away in her home within the week. She died May 29, 1814, leaving her son Eugene the house and contents of Malmaison. When Napoleon returned to France in 1815, he went to Malmaison to mourn the woman he had loved so dearly.
Front entrance to Josephine's home, Malmaison on a rainy October day.

Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette at prayer,
representations in main chapel of Saint Denis
   Finally, for this post about "tidbits" that make me shiver, I give you the picture I took of the statues of Louis XIV and his wife, Marie Antoinette. These two kneel in prayer inside the famed cathedral of Saint Denis. Located in the Paris suburbs, this gothic cathedral is the first example of gothic architectural developments. A marvel to see (and I will post in future a complete blog about our visit to this stunning church), Saint Denis was redone in gothic form beginning in the early 12th century. The other reason you want to take the Metro to view this marvelous cathedral is that it is the church where all kings of France are buried. Yes, all. Many are accompanied by their queens and children, some very young and others older.

Saint Denis, main entrance, undergoing restoration

   What is interesting about this ensemble of Louis and his wife? The statues are representations, yes. But the two are not buried here. No. What is intriguing to learn here is that, while the two were guillotined during the Terror and both were buried in the cemetery of Madeline, their bodies were exhumed in May 1814 and sent to Saint Denis to be buried alongside their ancestors. The two now rest in the lower crypt beneath a huge black granite polished stone bearing their names. Alongside them are other members of the Bourbon family—some named, others not—in a gigantic mass grave.  Sobering to regard, this mass grave bears witness to the inhumanity of man to man.
Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris suburbs, undergoing major renovations,
is burial place of all French kings.

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