François Boucher was born in Paris on this day in 1703. Although perhaps better known for his gorgeously erotic paintings of frolicking nymphs and shepherdesses, it is his exquisite portraits of his patroness Madame de Pompadour that I’m in love with. They perfectly showcase the irresistible blend of beauty, intelligence, elegance and erudition that kept her royal lover hooked and made her a hard act to follow.
Hollywood star Greer Garson was born on this day in 1904. Okay, it’s not the greatest adaptation ever and the costumes are execrable to the point of hilarity, but I have the most immense soft spot for her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice (and I love the twist with Lady Catherine de Bourgh at the end - so shoot me).
Elisabeth of Bavaria-Ingolstadt, better known to posterity as Isabeau of Bavaria, one of the most infamous Queens of France, died in Paris on this day in 1435. In a situation that echoes that of her future grandson’s wife, Marguerite d’Anjou, Isabeau was forced to assert herself in order to protect the political and dynastic interests of her children after her husband developed a severe mental illness.
Like many other historical women who committed what to some seems to be the cardinal sin of ‘not knowing their place’, Isabeau has been accused over the centuries of all manner of terrible iniquities - extravagance, adultery, incest and the neglect of her children and ailing husband and even today rarely gets a sympathetic treatment, particularly in novels about her daughter, Catherine de Valois, who married Henry V of England. However, historians seem to be in agreement that the stories about Isabeau are mostly malicious slander spread by her enemies and that she was in fact a caring mother and wife, doing her best in what was a difficult situation.
Happy birthday to Marie Adélaïde Clotilde Xavière of France, better known as Madame Clotilde, the sister of Louis XVI, who was born on this day in 1759. Although she had expressed a wish to take the veil like her aunt Louise, Clotilde was married in August 1775 to the Prince of Piedmont, who was the brother of her sisters in law, the Comtesses d’Artois and de Provence. Due to being rather well upholstered, Clotilde was rather unkindly known at Versailles as Gros Madame. However, when her father in law, the King of Sardinia expressed his dismay about her generous figure, his son, her new husband, gallantly exclaimed that he didn’t mind as it just meant ‘there was more of her to worship’. What a nice guy. It’s probably NO surprise at all that they were blissfully happy together.
I’m off to the ENO to see my very first opera later this year and as they have a stonking production of La Bohème about to start, I thought it’d be fun to have a look at some of the lovely clothes fashionable ladies might have worn to the first ever performance in February 1896.
On this day in 1982, Princess Grace of Monaco sadly died after suffering a stroke the previous day while driving her car. It was a tragic end to what had been an extraordinary life, which took Oscar winning actress Grace Kelly from the US city of Philadelphia to Hollywood and then on to Monaco and her talent, luminous beauty, elegance and exquisite poise continue to inspire and mesmerise us today.
Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans, the only daughter of Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe and his second wife, Elizabeth Charlotte was born on this day in 1676. Élisabeth Charlotte would go on to marry Leopold, Duc de Lorraine in October 1698 and their son, Étienne François would become father of Marie Antoinette.
Beatrice Cenci, whose sad story and legendary beauty has inspired a myriad of paintings, poems, books and films, was executed on the Piazza St Angelo in Rome on this day in 1599 for being part of the conspiracy to murder her abusive father.
On this day in 1898, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria was assassinated by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni while walking along the promenade at Lake Geneva. The charismatic, beautiful and rather eccentric Empress, who was also Queen of Hungary and familiarly known as ‘Sisi’, still continues to exert a fascination to this day.
Maria Theresa of Spain, queen of Louis XIV (who was her first cousin twice over), was born on this day in 1638. Poor Maria Theresa completely adored her charismatic husband but was rather dull (we are told that her few interests included chocolate, gambling, dwarfs and taking long baths) and so ended up eclipsed by his succession of mistresses.
The Empress Matilda, warrior Queen, legendary she wolf and all round badass, died on this day in 1167. Although her attempt to wrest her throne back from the hands of her cousin Stephen were ultimately doomed to failure (her escape from Oxford Castle in a white cloak which hid her as she ran through heavy snow was a particular highlight), she had the last laugh as her eldest son would eventually succeed Stephen as Henry II and despite all the chaos and upheaval and beheadings and overthrows of the last few hundred years, her descendants still sit on the throne today.
On this day in 1888, Annie Chapman, the second canonical victim of Jack the Ripper was found dead in the back yard of a house on Hanbury Street in the east end of London.
Unlike the other Ripper victims, there exists a photograph of Annie Chapman as she was in life, sitting formally and rather sullen at the side of her husband. This awkward image, so Victorian in every way, serves as a reminder that the Ripper’s victims were real women, with real lives and real families.