Little Bits of History

World’s Most Famous Ball

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 15, 2015
Duke of Wellington

Duke of Wellington

June 15, 1815: The world’s most famous ball takes place. The Duchess of Richmond held a ball in Brussels. Charlotte and her husband, Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond hosted a gala event in the city they were protecting in case Napoleon Bonaparte should attack. Lennox was in charge of the forces protecting the city and he was able to invite many high ranking officers to the evening of fun. Included on the guest list was the Duke of Wellington, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley. William II, Prince of Orange and Prince Frederic of Orange were there as was the Prince of Nassau, two Princes d’Arenberg and many other aristocratic personages. All but three of Wellington’s generals were there as were high ranking officers from other armies.

The exact location of the ball was not recorded at the time and there are only suppositions as to the venue today. There was much merriment, eating, drinking, and dancing. But then … disaster came. Wellington received a disconcerting message and asked the Duke of Richmond if he had a good map. The two men left the room and went to Richmond’s dressing-room to pour over a map of the region. Wellington had learned that Napoleon had ordered his army to concentrate on Quatre Bras. With a 24-hour head start on preparations, Napoleon held a distinct advantage. As Wellington looked over the map, he pointed to a secondary site. If they could not stop Napoleon at Quatre Bras, they would have to move to a second nearby point on the map – Waterloo.

This new information cast a pall over the party. As guests left, they knew they might never see their loved ones again as they were marching off to battle in the morning. The next day (June 16, 1815), the French Empire met the Seventh Coalition (United Kingdom, United Netherlands, Hanover, Nassau, and Duchy of Brunswick) at Quartre Bras in present-day Belgium. Although the day brought a tactical victory to the coalition, the strategic victory went to the French. With their head start, the French began the day with 18,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. But that was all they troops they had. The coalition began the day with just 8,000 infantry but they were eventually joined by another 22,000 troops. Each side suffered over 4,000 casualties.

The two sides met again two days later (June 18, 1815). This time they were at Waterloo, then in the Netherlands and today part of Belgium. The coalition had help from the Prussians at this meeting. With all this help, they outnumbered and outgunned the French. The day’s fighting brought horrific numbers of casualties. Napoleon lost more than half his army with many of them deserting. The Anglo-allies had 3,500 killed, 10,200 wounded, and 3,300 missing while the Prussians suffered another 1,200 dead, 4,400 wounded, and 1,400 missing. Napoleon was severely beaten at this battle and was unable to recover from the loss. He made his second abdication on June 24, 1815.

I well remember the Gordon Highlanders dancing reels at the ball. My mother thought it would interest foreigners to see them, which it did. I remember hearing that some of the poor men who danced in our house died at Waterloo. There was quite a crowd to look at the Scotch dancers. – Lady Louisa, daughter of the Duchess Richmond

Napoleon has humbugged me, by God; he has gained twenty-four hours’ march on me. … I have ordered the army to concentrate at Quatre Bras; but we shall not stop him there, and if so I must fight him there (passing his thumb-nail over the position of Waterloo). – Duke of Wellington

It was a dreadful evening, taking leave of friends and acquaintances, many never to be seen again.  – Georgiana, Dowager Lady De Ros

On our arrival at the ball we were told that the troops had orders to march at three in the morning, and that every officer must join his regiment by that time, as the French were advancing, you cannot possibly picture to yourself the dismay and consternation that appeared on every face. – Katherine Arden

Also on this day: King “Soft-sword” John “Signs” on the Dotted Line – In 1215, King John of England signed the Magna Carta.
Not Spock – In 1844, vulcanization was patented.
Protect Your Eyes – In 763 BC, the first total solar eclipse was recorded.
Go Fly a Kite! – In 1753, Franklin experimented with electricity, maybe.
Life Saving – In 1667, the first blood transfusion was given.

The End

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 5, 2014
Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb

Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb

May 5, 1821: Napoleon Bonaparte dies at the age of 51. He had been exiled on the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean in 1815 under British oversight. When he first arrived there, he lived in a pavilion on the Briars estate which belonged to William Balcombe. Elizabeth, the 14-year-old daughter of William was the only person on the estate who spoke French and she acted as interpreter. The family became friendly with the former Emperor and this upset Governor Hudson Lowe. Lowe forced the Balcombe family to leave the island in 1818 and took over the estate which was then used as the home for the Admiral on duty. Napoleon had been removed from the estate earlier.

In December of 1815, Napoleon had been moved to Longwood House which lies on a windy plain about 4 miles from Jamestown. It had been the summer residence of the Lieutenant Governor but had fallen into disrepair prior to Napoleon taking up residence there. The Times published many articles inferring the British government was trying to hasten the death of their former foe. Lowe’s dislike of his charge was evidenced in his many petty measures against Napoleon. He reduced the expenditures and instituted a rule than no gifts be delivered if they in any way mentioned that Napoleon had once been emperor. Even as Lowe increased punitive measures, there were those in British Parliament (Lord Holland and Lord Cochrane) who wished for better treatment for the prisoner.

Barry O’Meara, Napoleon’s personal physician, warned of his failing health. O’Meara blamed this decline on harsh treatment and Lowe’s behavior. The doctor kept up a lively correspondence with the Admiralty knowing that letters were being intercepted and read by higher authorities. By February 1821, Napoleon’s health was rapidly declining. Two British physicians arrived on May 3, but all they could provide was palliative treatment. Lowe insisted Napoleon be buried on Saint Helena and also that the tomb be inscribed “Napoleon Bonaparte” since imperials are known only by their first names. There was no name inscribed at all. It wasn’t until 1840 that Napoleon’s remains were removed and taken to France to be buried there.

The cause of death at the time was listed as stomach cancer. It was not known then that Napoleon’s father had died of the disease. There was also evidence of a stomach ulcer, but it was not listed because the British wanted to avoid criticism of their care. In 1955, the diaries of Napoleon’s valet were published and a new cause of death was put forth, arsenic poisoning. With further study not only of Napoleon, but of other French citizens of the time, this has been debunked. With the dyes used during this time, it was not uncommon for many people to have levels of arsenic 100 times higher than we see today. Further study has confirmed the cause of death to be gastric cancer and peptic ulcer.

Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.

Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.

The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.

Doctors will have more lives to answer for in the next world than even we generals. – all from Napoleon Bonaparte

Also on this day: Monkey Trial – In 1925 John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution.
Cinco de Mayo – In 1862, the Battle of Puebla was fought.
Turning Straw Into Gold – In 1809, the first patent was granted to a woman in the US.
Music Hall – In 1891, what we know as Carnegie Hall opened.

True Love

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 9, 2014
Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine de Beauharnais

Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine de Beauharnais

March 9, 1796: Napoléon Bonaparte marries his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was born in Martinique to a Caucasian Creole family in 1763. The family was well-to-do and owned a sugar plantation. She was called Rose and the family struggled financially after a hurricane in 1766. Rose’s aunt was the mistress of François, Vicomte de Beauharnais and used her influence to get her niece married to the aristocrat’s son. Unfortunately, it was Rose’s younger sister. Catherine was 12-years-old at the time and died before she could leave for France. So Rose was sent as a replacement.

Rose arrived in France with her father in October of 1779 and married Alexandre de Beauharnais on December 13 of that year. The marriage was unhappy, but produced two children. A son born in 1781 and a daughter born in 1783. During the Reign of Terror, Alexandre was arrested along with his cousin Augustin. Both were guillotined on July 23, 1794. Rose was also arrested but she was released five days after her husband’s execution. It would take nearly a year, but eventually Rose was able to recover the possessions of her husband and was once again in a position of wealth. She had affairs with several leading political figures of the day.

In 1795 she met Napoléon Bonaparte who was six years younger than she. First she became his mistress. There are extant letters from Napoléon to his beloved, whom he always called Joséphine, a name she would use for the rest of her life. In January 1796 he proposed and the couple wed on this day. His family did not approve of the older widow with two children. They had the added torment of feeling inferior to this woman who had been living the life of an aristocrat for years. Two days after the wedding, Napoléon went off to war against Italy. The love letters continued to arrive, full of passion and love for the separated couple.

Joséphine stayed in Paris where she met Hippolyte Charles and had an affair with him. When news reached her husband, he was furious. The letters continued to arrive, but the passion had considerably cooled. In 1798, Napoléon was in Egypt and took his own mistress, Pauline Foures who became known as Napoléon’s Cleopatra. Joséphine took no more lovers while married, although her husband took several other mistresses. Their marriage never recovered and as she produced no heir for her husband, by 1809 he talked of divorce. They were divorced on January 10, 1810 and on March 11, Napoléon married Marie-Louise of Austria by proxy. She did give Napoléon the son he desperately needed the next March. Joséphine remained on good terms with her ex-husband. She caught  cold while walking in her famous rose garden and died in 1814. She was fifty years old.

Courage isn’t having the strength to go on – it is going on when you don’t have strength.

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.

Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.

The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it. – all from Napoléon Bonaparte

Also on this day: Glamour Doll – In 1959, Barbie was shown at the American International Toy Fair.
Jean Calas – In 1765, Jean Calas was exonerated, three years after his death.
Ride, Sally, Ride – In 1964, the first Ford Mustang was built.
Teeth – In 1822, a patent for artificial teeth was granted to Charles M. Graham.

Complex Napoleon

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 26, 2013
Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

May 26, 1805: Napoleon “the Little Corporal” Bonaparte is crowned King of Italy. Bonaparte took command of the French “Army of Italy” in 1796. He rid Lombardi of her Austrian rulers and then took over two Papal States. Ignoring orders, he marched on Rome and took the Pope prisoner. His first Italian assault is often deemed to be his greatest campaign. His army captured 160,000 prisoners, 2,000 cannons and 170 flags.

In May 1798, Napoleon proposed that Egypt be brought under French control to undermine British access to India. Along with military and political staff, Bonaparte included 167 scientists in his expedition confirming his devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment. While there were many discoveries were made, including the Rosetta Stone, but the Egyptian campaign was not truly successful.

Bonaparte returned to France and continued to advance and win battles. He and others orchestrated a coup d’état and overthrew the constitutional government. Bonaparte, ever the brilliant strategist, maneuvered himself into the position of First Consul. He continued to broker agreements and tried to reconcile with the Catholic Church. He also worked to codify criminal and commercial law.

By 1800, Napoleon returned to Italy and evicted the Austrians again – they had returned while Bonaparte was in Egypt. All of his campaigns were straining the coffers and to help finance his increased costs, he sold off property in the Americas in 1803. The US made the Louisiana Purchase for only three cents per acre. This not only improved Bonaparte’s economic position, but also gave him one less front to defend. In 1804 he was declared Emperor in Paris. Continuing to amass titles, he was crowned with the Iron Crown of Lombardy, an ancient royal insignia of Europe. The coronation took place in the Duomo di Milano cathedral in Milan, Italy. Napoleon remained King of Italy until 1814.

“I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up.”

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.”

“Religion is what keeps the poor man from murdering the rich.”

“If you start to take Vienna – take Vienna.”

“He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.” – all from Napoleon Bonaparte

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Rosetta Stone was carved in 196 BC on the orders of King Ptolemy V. It is a granodiorite stele (a rock slab or pillar similar to granite) and gives the proclamation in three scripts. The upper text is written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion is Demotic script, and the lowest portion is written in ancient Greek. Since the text is essentially the same between the three languages, this stone provided a way to understand the ancient hieroglyphs. What we have in our possession is just part of the original stele. No other pieces have ever been located. The hieroglyphs suffered the most damage and only the last fourteen lines can be seen and they are only partially extant. Because it was key to translating the ancient script, the term has become common to idiomatically convey the notion of a key to translate from an unknown script to a known language.

Also on this day Who Was That? – In 1828 a strange teenager is found on the streets.
Sailing to Oblivion – In 1854, Khufu or Cheops’ ship was discovered.
Alse Young – In 1647, Alse was hung as a witch.