Saturday, July 19, 2014

I was your king's daughter: the poetry of Marie Thérèse Charlotte in captivity

As her family members were taken from her, one by one, the young Marie Thérèse Charlotte began to suffer increasingly isolated and strict prison conditions. After her aunt Elisabeth was taken from her, Thérèse was denied both her request for a female companion to stay with her and her frequent requests to be allowed to see her young brother. Small comforts, such as a tinder box to light the small stove in her room, were taken away and she was subject to submit to room searches at any time of the day or night.

This strict imprisonment did not last forever. As the harsher restrictions on the imprisoned Marie Thérèse began to be lifted, the young teenager was allowed to request small comforts such as additional books to read, paper and writing tools which had been previously denied her. During this period, she began to write her memoirs about her experiences during the revolution.

She also wrote poetry that expressed her hopes, fears, feelings and the experiences of her imprisonment. Original manuscripts of at least some of Madame Royale's poetry were kept in the family of Madeleine Bocquet-Chanterenne, a young woman who was sent to be the teen's companion. Thérèse affectionately referred to her as her 'dear Renète.'

The following are some excerpts from translations of some of the poetry that Marie Thérèse wrote during her imprisonment in the Temple and were kept by the family of Madeleine Bocquet-Chanterenne. Although simply written, her words reflects the pain and sorrow that the young girl experienced in her often terrifying and lonely captivity.

I was your king's daughter
separated from all my family.
I languish in this sad jail
Alas! I say with good reason
Even though I am alone and sad
My jail would appear happy to me
If I was in this place with my brother.


To my mother, to the Conciergerie
I asked to be reunited
But as an answer, my jailers
Say: this has nothing to do with us.
Spread your blessings on her,
God! Open promptly your jail.

A short time ago, at night
I was sleeping peacefully in my bed.
I got suddenly woken up
By the enraged noise of my locks.
They were coming to my door, they were knocking.
I replied immediately: who is there?
I was asked to open up, I replied:
I am getting up and leaving my bed.
I was hoping that I would get out,
I was expecting to leave the tower.
I go to the door, I finally open it!
They come in with my jailer
I look at them, hoping they would ask me
to follow them and come.
But alas! They stare at me
And suddenly without saying a word, they go out with my jailer.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fundraising For My Brother's Battle with ALS

Photo: My awesome brother and his equally awesome (and adorable) daughter

Please consider a donation through GoFundMe to help my brother, who was recently diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), and his family.

In the spring of 2012, my family was hit with a devastating blow: my father was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative and incurable disease that we found out runs in our family. He passed away less than a year later, in April of 2013.

Just over a year after my father's death, we are dealing with another heartbreak: my older brother was recently diagnosed with ALS, the same disease that took our father from us.

My brother is a new husband to a caring wife and father to three children, two amazing boys and a loving daughter who was born just in time to meet her grandfather.

ALS takes away a person's ability to perform everyday functions that many people take for granted. Because of the disease's progress, my brother is unable to work and his family is now struggling to cover the costs of their everyday necessities as well as rising medical costs not covered by their insurance.  

Please consider making a donation at our GoFundMe page to help my brother and his family during this incredibly difficult time. All donations will be used to cover necessary household expenses (including rent, electricity/water/utility bills, and food) as well as medical expenses which are not being covered by my brother's health insurance.

Any donation you can spare will be sincerely appreciated.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Daring Décolletage

 image: A portrait of Marie Antoinette wearing décolleté fashion attributed to Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty
The popularity of décolletage (or the exposure of a woman's chest, shoulders and back with clothing) in the 17th and 18th centuries may be surprising to some, given the popular culture belief that historical fashions were exceptionally modest by our modern standards. But contemporary fashion plates, paintings and even writings point to some pretty daring décolletage being popular (although not always well-received) in Europe during various periods of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The amount of décolletage a woman chose to expose could depend on several things, including her personal tastes and conception of modest dress, where the gown would be worn, as well as what fashion trends were in or out at the time.


 images: costumes studies by Inigo Jones for a production of the masque Oberon the Faery Prince, circa 1609. Via Reinette

Examples of more drastic décolletage, where the breast was exposed past the nipple, seems to coincide more often with costumes for masque performances, masquerades and balls, and the theater than everyday or court dress. The above early 17th century costume illustrations by Inigo Jones were designed for female performers in a court masque production of Oberon the Faery Prince. 

 image: 1770s fashion plate, via EKDuncan

Still, everyday fashions weren't excluded from exposing more than your run-of-the-mill décolletage. In the above fashion plate, the neckline extends far enough down that both nipples are (just barely) exposed. Although the fashion plate is from the 1770s, it was not the first time that 'everyday' décolletage went so low. Such low necklines sprouted up in the 17th century--and not in the midst of the royal court or evening masquerade balls! In the 1694 edition of Ladies Dictionary, the author lamented women coming to church wearing clothing with extremely low necklines: “If we cannot prevent this disorder, let us strive with him to make these women know how great their fault is in coming to church in such undecent habit, and if I may presume to say, so as it were half naked. Do you come to the house of God as to a Ball?”

 image: Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, 1785
credit: Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot

 image: A miniature of Marie Antoinette, circa 1792
credit: (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot

 image: A portrait of Mary Robinson by John Hoppner 

Although fashion plates depicting gowns where the nipples are exposed do exist, it is much more common to see paintings and plates where the neckline is just high enough to cover them--or where the neckline is supplemented through lace, shawls, fichus and other ornamentation to keep that area of the bust hidden away. In the above portrait of Marie Antoinette, the neckline on her court dress is low enough that it would be exposing much more without the help of the lace collar. The second portrait of the queen, circa 1792, features another low cut neckline. The portrait of Mary Robinson by John Hoppner shares a similar trait, with a kerchief/fichu covering what would otherwise be exposed by the very low cut of the gown.

In the late 1780s and early 1790s, the daring décolletage that had recently peaked (no pun intended) waned slightly, with popular fashions leaning towards dresses with higher necklines and dresses with low necklines combined with thicker shawls and fichus that gave the wearer fuller coverage.

Further Reading

Isis' Wardrobe: The bared bosom in 17th and 18th century art 
EK Duncan - My Fanciful Muse:  The Naughty Side of 18th Century French Fashions
The Hairpin: The 17th Century Breastoration

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Two vintage illustrations of court dress under Louis XV and Louis XVI

These vintage illustrations come from Mesdames Nos Aïeules by A. Robida, a costume anthology which explores the history of French women's fashion from the 15th century until the tail-end of the 19th century. These particular illustrations depict court fashion during the height of the reigns of Louis XV and his grandson, Louis XVI.

Court fashion under Louis XV

Court fashion under Louis XVI

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Madame Infamy: A New Musical

"Will scandal, surrender, or strength define them?"

Marie Antoinette, last queen of France, and Sally Hemings, the slave and mistress of Thomas Jefferson, were born into completely different worlds. Despite this, both faced a struggle that many women of the 18th century--and many women today--shared: the struggle to make choices in a world where choices were restricted or even forbidden to them.  Madame Infamy is a new musical production written by JP Vigliotti, Cardozie Jones and Sean Willis which ties together the lives of Marie Antoinette and Sally Hemings to uncover the complex and often dark nature of choice, scandal and strength.

Although I personally won't be able to attend the show in New York, I think concept of the production is fascinating and it sounds like a very promising and engaging production about areas of history that are too often ignored.

Madame Infamy is set to premiere at the New York Musical Theatre Festival next month. Tickets are available for July 23-27 and can be purchased in advance here. Casting information, press photos and a few videos featuring music from the show can also be viewed at the NYMF website.

Official Press Release:
The New York Musical Theatre Festival (“NYMF”)
Madame Infamy
July 23rd – July 27th at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
Tickets $25 (for tickets visit

Mentioned by The New York Times as “What to Do in New York City in Summer 2014” and lauded by The Huffington Post as “a brilliant example of what might be called creative, feminist historiography,” Madame Infamy, is a new musical directed by Carlos Armesto, with concept and Book by Jp Vigliotti and Music and Lyrics by Cardozie Jones and Sean Willis. In the later half of the 18th century, America stood firmly on the backs of its slaves while Paris burned as its poorest citizens revolted against the aristocracy. Two worlds united by one electrifying score, Madame Infamy is the dark and moving tale of Marie Antoinette, last Queen of France, and Sally Hemings, slave and mistress of President Thomas Jefferson. Fighting hardship, scandal, and loss, each must find the strength to combat a nation in hopes of protecting the ones she loves.

Madame Infamy is part of the NY Musical Theatre Festival ("NYMF"), running July 23rd - July 27th at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre. Tickets $25 (for tickets visit

Two stories in one, unfolding alongside one another, Madame Infamy exposes the complexity of life for anyone born into a world where choice is a commodity. It is the journey of two girls growing into women, struggling to drown out the voices around them in hopes of finding the voice inside. In the end, both face the ultimate battle as their worlds come crashing in on them, and must race against time to protect the ones they hold most dear. With an epic score that takes contemporary musical theater and infuses it with elements of R&B and pop, Madame Infamy will leave you wondering: how will you be remembered?
Broadway stars in the making, Madame Infamy is proud to welcome Rachel Stern (Shrek the MusicalTarzan Broadway), Briana Carlson-Goodman (Eponine, 25th Anniversary Tour of Les Miserables; Hair, Broadway), Bashirrah Creswell (Nala, Lion King, Broadway), Kevin Massey (Memphis, Tarzan, Big River, Broadway), Q. Smith (Mary Poppins, Les Miserables, 2006 Revival, Broadway), Justin Johnston (Rent, Angel, Broadway, Roger Off-Broadway Revival) with Jelani Alladin, Elijah Caldwell, Jessica Dyer, Samille Ganges, Joshua Silver Hughes, Jake Levitt, Katie McMillen, Crystal Sha'nae, Xalvador Tin-Bradbury, and Bronwyn Whittle.

Production Team includes Keith Robinson (Music Director & Sound Designer), Amy Baer (Orchestrations) Elisabetta Spuria (Choreographer), Damon Wiggins (Scenic Designer), Shane Ballard (Costume Designer), Jake DeGroot (Lighting Designer), Paris D. Rhoad (Production Stage Manager), Arnold Mungioli at Mungioli Theatricals (Casting), Lauren Rayner (Line Producer), and Theatre C (General Manager). 

Performance Dates:  Wednesday, July 23rd at 8:00pmThursday, July 24th at 9:00pm
Friday, July 25th at 5:00pm;Saturday, July 26th at 9:00pm; and Sunday, July 27th at 1:00pm

Performance Venue: The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center Located at 480 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036

More Information: or

Sunday, June 22, 2014

'The family of swine brought into the barn.'

The royal family's failed flight to Montmédy marked a downturn in the reputation of the royal family; the escape attempt and its aftermath inspired a torrent of pamphlets, caricatures and other libels which targeted the family from Louis XVI to his young children.

The caricature below, titled 'The family of swine brought into the barn,' represents the royal family as pigs being brought back to the Tuileries Palace after their escape attempt. Notably, Marie Antoinette is depicted here in the nude with her breasts bared, while the rest of the family is given clothing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A caricature of Louis XV and Madame du Barry

Marie Antoinette was not the only figure in the French court to deal with an onslaught of caricatures, propaganda and slanderous pamphlets. Madame du Barry, who was heavily criticized by the denizens of Versailles even before her official presentation at court, was also the subject of frequent literary attacks. These attacks took the form of popular court ditties, published pamphlets, such as one which claimed to reveal the secret lurid history of the king's new mistress, as well as caricatures.
The above undated caricature is believed to depict du Barry and Louis XV; the pair are portrayed here as two birds perched on an ornate sofa in an apartment at Versailles. Both are wearing symbols of their status, such as jewels and a sword, despite their degrading animal form.