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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spring of Peace; Spring of War

     The Peace of Amiens lasted just over a year, from March 1802 until May 1803 when Britain declared war again on France.  Joseph Bonaparte, the First Consul's brother, and Lord Charles Cornwallis, Marquess Cornwallis--the same Cornwallis who had fought the Americans in their Revolutionary War--had signed the treaty after months of negotiations, which had started the previous November, with a truce having been set in October 1801.  Looking back, the treaty seemed doomed at the start.

     The treaty had no trade terms, the King of England gave up his hereditary claim to the French throne, and France kept all conquests made since 1793, giving up only its claims to the Papal States, Egypt, and the Kingdom of Naples.  This left French troops occupying North Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.  Bonaparte also made no secret of his desire for France to continue expansion.  However, in the spring of 1802, many in England choose to see the one bright thing about such a peace--it opened Paris to them again.
     According to The Age of Napoleon, by J. Christopher Herold, "By September 1802, there were about ten thousand Englishmen in Paris alone.  The social scene was more brilliant than it had been during the last years of the old regime.  The great salons, including the celebrated one of Madam Récamier, were open to the more distinguished of the English visitors, and such new and dazzling places of entertainment as the Tivoli and Frascati's were open to all who wanted to see them."
     At about this time, Francis W. Blagdon made a bold trip to Paris, crossing as soon as a truce had been announced and he could get a passport.  His letters, collected in Paris As it Was as it Is, provide a look at the city and what he remembered of it from pre-Revolutionary days.  He writes of Paris, "What a charming abode is Paris, for a man who can afford to live at the rate of a thousand or fifteen hundred pounds a year!"  He exclaimed over the beauty of the Tivoli gardens, and wrote, " Frascati, you may, in that gay season, eat ices as good as those with which Cardinal de Bernis used to regale his visiters...." 
     He also notes, "The houses of the great are difficult of access, and those of the secondary class scarcely open with more ease than they did before the revolution. If proper attention be paid to all the letters which a stranger brings, he may be satisfied; though the persons to whom he is recommended, seldom think of taking him to the residence of any of their friends. Therefore, an English traveller, who wishes to mix much in French society, should provide himself with as many letters of recommendation as he can possibly obtain; unless, indeed, he has a celebrated name...."
For those who were happy with lesser amusements, the peace opened up the opportunity to see the early "aeronauts."
Andre-Jacques Garnerin, his wife Jeanne-Genevieve, and his niece Elisa performed balloon ascents and parachute descents in the Jardin de Tivoli.

But quite the most popular attraction had to be Bonaparte, who had himself proclaimed First Consul for life, and held court at the Tuileries Palace.  "It was an impressive spectacle to see him in his gold-embroidered uniform of state walk briskly through the two ranks of guests, stopping here and there to ask a few brusque questions as if the visitors were so many generals," writes Herold.
     Many admired Bonaparte.  While he had done away with the egalitarian "Citizen" and "Citizeness" forms of address, he had also stopped the Revolution's bloody madness, which had spiraled out of control, taking the lives of aristocrats and revolutionaries.  Bonaparte had begun public works, including that of renewing construction of the Louver in 1803, which had been opened by the Revolutionaries in 1793 as a public museum to display works 'liberated' from royal collections.  His plans for Paris included new roads, canals, buildings, and laws, such as the Civil Code or Code Napoleon.  But while Bonaparte brought structure, he also took away liberties.  The press came under his direct control, and his code took any many of the rights women had gained under the Revolution.  (It is said that he once told Madame de Stäle, "Women should stick to knitting."  He believed a man should rule his home, and he should rule France.)
     Like many liberal English Whigs, Charles Fox thought of Bonaparte as a man who could keep the freedoms France had gained under her Revolution and still keep order.  Fox arrived in August 1802 with his wife to visit Lord and Lady Holland, who had traveled abroad due to a doctor's recommendations for their eldest son's health.
     "The Hollands had found many old friends upon their arrival in Paris.  Lafayette, Talleyrand, Madam de Flahault...Madame de Coigny, M. de Jaucourt, Gallois, Morellet, Rumford, Calonne and Bertrand, were amongst the number," writes the Earl of Ilchester in The Home of the Hollands: 1605 - 1820.  "They had seen the First Consul at a parade on the day after their arrival, but only in the distance.  Lady Holland then likened him to 'Kemble in Minature'."
     The comparison of Bonaparte to a famous actor was apt.  Bonaparte knew the importance of performances and public displays.  Each month, he reviewed the troops on the fifteenth, and he looked for any reason for military parades.
     After meeting Bonaparte, Lord Holland wrote of the man, "Bonaparte seems to govern entirely by himself, and considers his Ministers and men of business merely as clerks.  He is undoubtedly impatient of contradiction, to a degree amounting not only to a blemish in his moral character, but to a weakness in his understanding.  In every other respect, however little one may approve, every one must admire him.  The Republicans who raised him, and the friends of rational liberty who first produced and afterwards suffered by the Revolution, are clearly the two descriptions of persons most dreaded and disliked by the Consul.  He adopts the principals of the old Government in many respects, but he certainly has the advantage of not having his power necessarily connected with the restoration of feudal laws and all the abuses which they had produced..."
     Bonaparte took on the trappings of royalty that suited him, and he ruled as he saw fit.  And the contrast between a First Consul who spoke of peace and yet prepared for war lent Paris an edge of excitement.
     Along with new roads and buildings and its salons, Paris was a city of troops and spies.  Not everyone loved their First Consul.  There had been one plot in 1800 with an explosion set in the Rue St. Nicaise that had failed to kill Bonaparte. 

     Other plots continued.  Royalists wanted to restore the monarchy, republicans who felt betrayed by Bonaparte's dictatorship looked for their chance to eliminate the man, and jealous generals who had watched Bonaparte's rise through the ranks sought their own opportunity to rule in his stead.  Bonaparte knew he had enemies, and he intended to always be one step ahead of them, with his police and those few advisors he trusted.  He dealt with the extremists of the Revolution, with uprisings in France, and with the royalist Chouans all with the same brutal, quick military action to kill opposition.  Literally.
     In Holland and the Netherlands, travelers saw the scars of war.  In Paris, royal palaces lay empty, stripped bare, or had been converted into hotels and mansions for the new elite.  The Palais-Royal, built for Cardinal Richelieu and then made a palace for royalty, had already been converted into a series of shops by Philippe, the Duc d'Orléans.  Gambling houses and brothels thrived here.  The Place de Grève, next to Paris's City hall, the Hôtel de Ville, was the traditional spot for executions, and a guillotine continued in use here until 1830.  But it was the Place de Concorde where the king and queen had lost their heads to Madame Guillotine, and where, it was said, the stench of blood had been so strong that cows refused to cross the square.  Despite the French police, Paris had its share of pickpocket's and thieves as well.
     Still, the mood of English visitors was to enjoy the moment, not to find problems or bring up unpleasant history.
     Far better to mingle in a fashionable Paris café with dashing French soldiers and charming French women who still considered themselves liberated by the Revolution.  Or to bribe one's way into the First Consul's reception to glimpse the famous man and his generals.  Or to be daring and risk the latest discovery and current rage and have one's child vaccinated.
     Blagdon writes of attending plays by Molière, and notes,  "The thèâtre des arts or grand French opera, the opera buffa or Italian comic opera, the théâtre Feydeau or French comic opera, and the théâtre Français, chiefly engage my attention."
     Bladgon goes on to give the direction for diverse entertainment, including:
Théâtre des Arts, Rue de la Loi
Bal masqué de l'Opéra, Rue de la Loi
Bal du Sallon des Étrangers, Rue Grange Batelière
Soirées amusantes de l'Hôtel Longueville, Place du Carrousel
Phantasmagorie de Robertson, Cour des Capucines
Tivoli, Rue de Clichy, S.
Frascati, Rue de la Loi, S.
Cabinet de démonstration de Physiologie et de Pathologie, au
    Palais du Tribunat, No. 38, au premier
Madam "Josephine" Bonaparte ruled as well, and her taste set the fashion, with her aristocratic breeding, her charm and elegance.  She was not thought beautiful by all, however.  Lady Holland wrote of her after being presented, "Her figure and tournure are perfect, her taste in dress exquisite, but her face ! ghastly, deep furrows on each side of her mouth, fallen in cheeks, shocking, disgusting, a worn-out hag, prematurely gone, as she is not above 40 years old."

     Perhaps Madame Bonaparte worried for her future.  She had been born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie.  She was a widow, older than Bonaparte, with two children and extravagant tastes.  Her affairs with other men after becoming Madame Bonaparte nearly led to divorce in 1799, and marked a change between her and her husband.  But she also had assets--tact that Bonaparte lacked, aristocratic blood and connections, and Bonaparte in some measure considered her his good luck charm.
     Beyond the social scene, the main attraction of Paris, for the English who had lived under blockades and lack of trade goods for years, had to be the shopping.
     Lord Holland wrote, "The sums expended on dress are quite incredible, and the richness of the shops in those articles, as well as in furniture, exceeds not only all description we have ever heard in England but anything the most expensive persons there can imagine."
     As spring faded into summer in 1802, however, news turned troubling.
     In August, Bonaparte put down an uprising in Switzerland.  Reports filtered back of atrocities committed there by French troops.  Bonaparte then went on to annex Piedmont.  To quell revolts in French-held Haiti, Bonaparte ordered the re-institution of slavery--this less than a year after he had given freedom to all slaves in St. Domingo.
     These actions did not violate the treaty, but they gave Britain an excuse to be nervous and put off its evacuation of Malta, its Mediterranean port.
     Many began to believe that while Bonaparte spoke of peace and freedom, his continued military actions made it impossible to believe his words.  English opinion turned against him.  Criticism of the peace and its terms grew louder in the English Parliament and in the English Press.  The Prime Minister, Addington, came under attack.  The great navel hero Nelson even criticized peacetime cuts in England's greatest defense, her fleet.  Caricaturists such as James Gillray continued to savage Bonaparte for his attacks on other nations; Bonaparte responded by banning English papers in France.
     In November, Lord Whitworth went to Paris as the English Ambassador to speak with Bonaparte about his actions.
     But while Bonaparte had ordered the French fleet to be expanded to sixty-six ships of the line, he made no move to war.  And so, at the end of 1802, the English stayed in Paris, enjoying the delights, still shopping and indulging, and putting off tomorrow for another day.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The English Noblewoman Who Married a Sheikh

By Cheryl Bolen

Born to a distinguished English family in 1807, Jane Digby scandalized society through a widely publicized affair that resulted in a divorce from Lord Ellenborough when she was 19. Banished to the Continent, she commenced with a string of lovers—and which culminated with her most scandalous act: her marriage to a Bedouin sheikh twenty years he junior when she was 47.

Throughout her life, she was ruled by flaming passions that outweighed public censure, estrangement from her family, and estrangement from the surviving children of the six she bore.

Jane Digby was the daughter of Admiral Digby, who served at Trafalgar, and Lady Andover—who, as the custom of the day prescribed, for the rest of her life used the title of her higher ranking deceased first husband. Moreover, Jane’s mother was born to vast wealth and privledge. She grew up in one of the great English homes—Holkham Hall. Thomas Coke, her father, possessed vast wealth and eventually succumbed to accept the title of Lord Leicester.
The Marble Hall at Holkham Hall, Jane's Grandfather's Home

An unfaithful wife

At 17 Jane married Lord Ellenborough after a promising, romantic courtship that soon fizzled after the marriage. Lord Ellenborough found joy with a mistress while Jane embarked on an affair with her cousin. She never told her husband, “their” son was fathered by her cousin. When the cousin tired of her, Jane’s affections were lavished on a German prince, Felix Schwartzenberg, who professed undying love for her.

She was so passionately in love with the prince that she begged for a divorce, even knowing intimate details of her sexual rendezvous with Schwartzenberg would become fodder for every newspaper in Britain during the divorce trial. Not only would she and her family be held up to public scandal, but she would lose all connection to the son she had never been close to.

Indeed, her eldest brother was cut off from inheriting the wealth of his grandfather, Lord Digby, because of Jane’s sins. He did inherit the title but not the money that went with it.

In all fairness to Lord Ellenborough, he provided handsomely for Jane, who never lacked for riches during her long life, and he was never bitter, nor did he ever speak with malice toward her. He truly loved the baby boy Jane left behind, but the child soon died.

While Lord Ellenborough treated Jane kindly, her dashing prince treated her shabbily while stringing her along for a number of years—and through the birth of two more children, a daughter his family eventually raised, and a son who died days after he was born.
Jane Digby in Her 20s

In Bavaria

She eventually ended up a fixture at the Court of King Ludwig of Bavaria, who was reputed to be the father of her second daughter, who turned out to be hopelessly mad. It was at this time Jane finally realized the Catholic prince she had loved so well and for so long had no intentions of marrying her. She allowed herself to be wooed in a marriage with Baron Carl Venningen, a man madly in love with her and who she knew she didn’t love him.

Together, they had son, and he claimed paternity for the daughter who was mad. During this marriage, Jane became passionately in love with a Greek, Count Spiro Theotoky , whom she eloped with, leaving both children with Venningen, who never held malice for her, never remarried, and stayed relatively close to Jane until the end of his life.

Making her home in Athens

With Count Theotoky, Jane had her sixth and final child, a son who was the only child to whom she was ever attached. Marriage to the count turned out badly. He took up with a mistress and lived off Jane’s money.

Though Jane brought much shame to her family, her parents never withheld their love or support of her. Indeed, she and her mother would be close until her mother’s death. It was while she and her mother were meeting in Italy that Jane’s little six-year-old son would die. Impetuous like his mother, he began to slide down the banister of their three-story villa, falling to his death on the marble at his mother’s feet.

After his death, his broken-hearted mother returned to Athens. While going through the lengthy divorce process from Count Theotoky, Jane fell in love with an Albanian general twenty years her senior and lived openly with him—sometimes in caves! She fancied herself in love with him and built a fabulous house for both of them and took an active, affectionate interest in his young daughter.

When she discovered him having sex with her so-called devoted lady’s maid, she fled to the Levant. She had a sexual relationship—but not romantic—with a sheikh who first showed her the country which would soon claim her heart.

Always a true horsewoman who could ride better than most men, Jane fell in love with Arabian horses, the desert, and ancient cities like Palmyra. While another sheikh, Shiekh Medjuel el Mazrab, was escorting her to Palmyra, he apparently fell in love with Jane. At the end of their journey, he asked if she could ever consider marrying him. She was stunned.

Falling for the sheikh

After they parted she could not free her thoughts from him, and since Jane was incomplete without a passionate love affair, the idea of being a desert princess began to appeal to her. Of course she had never been intimate with Medjuel, and he’d not told her he loved her. He had two wives.

When she later returned and he spoke of love, she consented to marry him on the condition that she be his only wife. One of his wives had died, and he agreed to divorce the other. Jane kept chiding herself. She was nearly 50; he was in his late 20s. But Jane loved to be involved in passionate love affairs.

Fluent in nine languages

The British consul in Damascus attempted to dissuade her from marrying a Bedouin, but nothing could dissuade her. The 47-year-old Jane married Medjuel, and she immersed herself in assimilating into the Bedouin culture. She died her hair black, kohled her eyed, and dressed in veils and flowing gowns. She also learned Arabic fluently. It was the ninth language in which she was fluent.

She built a spectacular house in Damascus, where she spent half the year. The other half, she followed the tribe on the back of a camel, sleeping in Medjuel’s low-slung black tent. They experienced extreme temperatures. Summer heat was known to reach a reported 140 degrees Fareneheit, and winters could be bitterly cold.

Jane Digby el Mazrab
While living in Damascus, she dressed as a European and entertained European visitors as the grand dame she was. To the English, she would always be referred to as Lady Ellenborough of the scandalous divorce. One of those visitors was the Prince of Wales. She was also close to Sir Richard Burton and his wife and imparted much information that would assist him in his Arabian Nights. She also spoke to him of the sexual practices in harems (where she had full access) which helped in his translation of the Kamra Sutra.

Jane’s marriage to Medjuel brought her the passion she craved, and she tormented herself with worries that Medjuel would take another wife or lose his heart to a younger woman of his own tribe. Many of her thoughts were poured out in the diaries she kept the final three decades of her life and which ended up with the Digby family.

The marriage to Medjuel was easily the happiest of her four marriages and would endure until her death at  age 74. There was one rocky patch when she discovered he had taken a young bride forty years younger than Jane, but Jane forced him to give her up.

In  death, she eschewed the Bedouin practice of burying the dead in unmarked desert graves on the day of their death. Her final resting place is in a European cemetery in Damascus where the stone proclaims she was Jane Elizabeth, daughter of Admiral Sir Henry Digby, born April 3, 1807, Died Aug. 11, 1881. Medjuel brought stone from Palmyra, where they had been so happy on their honeymoon, and on it he carved, in Arabic, Madam Digby el Mezrab. He never remarried.

Those interested in reading all the rich details of Jane’s life are encouraged to track down Mary S. Lovell’s fine 1995 biography of Jane, A Scandalous Life. --By Cheryl Bolen, whose fascination with dead English women contributes to many of the articles that can be found at or