Moving Towards Preservation on the DC Lock-keeper’s House

A while back, I wrote about the Lock-keeper’s house in DC. It’s the oldest building on the Mall, and among the oldest in DC. It’s a remnant of the place DC used to be, a place of good intentions and poor execution. At the time I wrote, it looked like work was imminent to repair and move the building. It’s currently pretty sad-looking, all boarded up with barred windows and broken glass. It sits an arm’s length from Constitution Avenue, one of the main arteries of the city, with all the traffic that entails. When work finally gets underway in about a year, the building will be moved back from the road (hurrah!) and rehabilitated as a visitor/information center (hurrah!).

Here’s the most detailed article I found on this (there isn’t a whole lot of media interest in this, I’m afraid):

Historic Lockkeepers House To Make Moves On The Mall

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This photo–taken at a rare moment of light traffic on Constitution Avenue–shows how close the house is to the street and how close it is to other landmarks like the Washington Monument.What you can’t quite see if the broken glass and bars on  the windows.

Writerly Wednesday: A Literary Link

I’m in the middle of reading Médici’s Daughter, a novel by Sophie Perinot about a 16th-century French Princess, Marguerite de Valois. Margeurite was the daughter of Catherine de Médici, an Italian princess who married Henri II of France. Marguerite was one of many children: if my count is right, there were four sons and three daughters (who survived childhood). Three of her brothers were successively kings of France while she was a young woman. But Marguerite didn’t necessarily get along with all of her fractious family. Her mother was apparently very scheming, and her brother Henri III ended up having her imprisoned for years. Before that, though, Marguerite was witness to one of the worst episodes in French history: the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. It happened in the middle of the celebrations for–and possibly because of–her marriage to Henry of Navarre, a Protestant lord. The marriage was loveless and would later be annulled, but Henry, as a Prince of the Blood, became king after all of Marguerite’s brothers died childless.

[Two notes on this: one, a Prince of the Blood is not at all like a prince in the English sense of the word. Princes and princesses of the blood were not children and grandchildren of monarchs but were further removed. Here I discuss titles a bit. Second, Henri became king through his own claim, through his father’s side of the family, because France had Salic law, which meant no one could inherit the throne through the female line.]

Henri IV, as he was, became a hero of French history for being moderate and for bringing some stability during the turbulent wars of religion in France. He remarried after the end of his marriage to Marguerite and had many legitimate children. He was the first of the House of Bourbon. Trace the male line down the centuries, and you come to Louis XVI, which itself links us to the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, because it was his wife, Marie-Antoinette, whose reputation was irreparably damaged by the Affair.

But let’s go backwards for just a moment, back to Marguerite de Valois, the daughter of one king and sister of three others. In fact, let’s go back further and talk about her father, Henri II. Henri died due to an infection following a jousting accident. Before dying though, he not only begot a whole crew of legitimate children, he also sired many bastards. (Really, it’s pretty remarkable what he accomplished in so little time on this earth . . . ) One of his mistresses was Nicole de Savigny; their son Henri was dubbed the Comte de Saint-Remy. If that sounds familiar, then congratulations, you’ve been paying attention!

If not, well, here’s Jeanne de Valois de St. Remy . . . the woman who almost single-handedly caused the Affair of the Necklace. (I say “almost” because she conspired with her husband, Nicolas de La Motte.)

That’s right. She was (very) distant cousins with Louis XVI. She even received an annuity from the crown (which she promptly sold for ready cash).She and her husband called themselves comtesse and comte, though they had no actual right to the title. And in spite of being directly descended from a king, the family was penniless yet had delusions of grandeur, which is part of what led Jeanne to defraud a Cardinal, steal a necklace, and blame a queen for the theft.

So Jeanne’s ancestor was half-brother to Marguerite, the main character and protagonist of Médici’s Daughter, which, I might add, I highly recommend. Go read it!

A Cross-post and a New Blog

I have an exciting announcement to make. I wish it were that ever-elusive book deal, but it isn’t quite that exciting.

I have begun a new blog at www.elizabethhuhn.com, and I’m calling it “…And Full as Much Heart” (part of a quote from Jane Eyre). This blog will be focused on my writing, research, and my love of history of all kinds. Fingers-crossed, this will start establishing my presence as my writing career gets off the ground (you heard me–I’m going to have a writing career!).  This blog will remain active, and I will cross-post when appropriate.

For now, I’m going to cross-post a blog about my trip yesterday into central Virginia to the Wilderness Battlefield. I listed “10 Things About the Battle of the Wilderness“. I hope it’s informative and fun.

Vigée Le Brun at the Met

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So, as I mentioned in a previous post, there is an exhibit going on right now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City highlighting the work of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. She was one of the most sought-after and talented portrait painters of her time, and as this previous post explains, one of her paintings played a part in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Vigée Le Brun painted Queen Marie-Antoinette multiple times, and her paintings were prominent in the public mind: in addition to the portrait of the

la reine en gaulle

Marie Antoinette en Chemise [or “en gaulle”], 1783 by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Queen “en chemise” that caused a minor scandal in 1783, there was the painting of the queen with her children which didn’t entirely succeed in softening the queen’s reputation.

 

But Vigée Le Brun painted many more people than just Marie-Antoinette. She began painting as a young woman, was sought after among the elite of French society, escaped the French Revolution just before it exploded, moved from capital to capital painting prominent people, and continued to paint late into her life (she died at 86).

The exhibit at The Met includes 80 paintings, some of them of familiar figures to those of us familiar with late-18th-century France: Madame du Barry, the Duchesse de Polginac, Calonne, and Mesdames Adelaide and Victoire. There are also less familiar figures, some of them important men’s mistresses, some of them princes and princesses from across Europe, some of them noted intellectuals. What they all have in common, at least in Vigée Le Brun’s portraits, is a vibrancy and movement that you don’t see in many portraits. There are expressions on their faces, and they all look like they’re about to do or say something. They portraits are engaging. The commentary I listened to during my walk-through of the exhibit (I spent

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Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1783 by Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

two hours there) suggested that this was because Vigée Le Brun herself was engaging and personable, and she drew out her subjects’ personality. It’s hard to say–one suspects that a large part of it was simply her skill as an artist.

The paintings are also visually stunning. I’ve seen images of the paintings, via the Internet, but they simply don’t do justice to the originals. There is an exquisite delicacy to the way  Vigée Le Brun handled fabrics, especially sheer fabrics like muslin fichus or wraps in ladies’ hair. The white dress worn by the Comtesse de La Châtre in her portrait, for instance, has delicate matte-white dots spread across the white satin fabric below. It’s a subtle but beautiful detail.

In fact, I’d say that “beauty” more or less characterizes all of Vigée Le Brun’s work. Everything she painted has a heightened elegance to it–it’s very much like arranged flowers. This wasn’t an artist interested in capturing people “warts and all”; she was interested in aesthetically beautiful paintings.

And that is more than alright by me. I’m not fond of modern art because it feels so self-indulgent; instead of creating something pleasurable, art is supposed to make us “think” (usually about humanity’s failings). I admit to just wanting a pretty picture. And boy does Vigée Le Brun deliver those!

I should also make a note of the colors: Vigée Le Brun used the most remarkable colors. They’re bright and bold and perfectly chosen. There are blues paired with golds, dramatic reds with black and white, a punch of pastel-colored flowers amid more somber grays and blues, and forest greens paired with royals blue and vibrant whites.

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Comtesse de la Châtre. 1789. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Did I mention that I adored this exhibition?

It was definitely worth the five-hour drive in the pouring rain, worth braving the streets of New York City, worth the $35 for parking and the $40 in tolls (yeah . . . the I-95 corridor is expensive!). And it was definitely worth the two hours that I spent there, drooling over the beauty of it all.

I was definitely intensely pleased when I got to see Marie Antoinette en Chemise and Marie Antoinette avec une Rose side-by-side. As the audio guide explained, it’s the first time the two have been exhibited side-by-side.

Why was I so excited? Well, again, I refer you to this post, but to give a quick overview of the story behind these paintings: Vigée Le Brun painted the portrait of Marie-Antoinette “en chemise” and presented it in public at a salon in 1783. “En chemise” means that Marie was in a white muslin or “chemise” dress. Now, a chemise was an undergarment that went beneath everything else, stays (“corset”) included. It was scandalous to show the queen in a portrait in what looked like her underclothing. It was too informal, too suggestive. So Vigée Le Brun took down that painting and quickly dashed off another one, with the queen in the same pose but wearing a more appropriate/regal blue satin gown.

In both portraits, you’ll notice, the queen is holding the same thing in her left hand: a rose. Not long after this painting was displayed, in 1785, a young adventuress named Jeanne de La Motte-Valois convinced a credulous Cardinal that she was friends with the Queen (she did it to steal a very expensive necklace). To win him over, she hired a prostitute (Nicole d’Oliva) to play the part of the queen (oh dear!), dressed her  in a white muslin dress and gave her a rose to hand to the Cardinal. Sound familiar? It seems pretty likely that Jeanne got the idea from the portrait of the Queen en chemise. In fact, one of Jeanne’s friends, Jacques Claude Beugnot, remembered that Jeanne had a candy box with a copy of Marie Antoinette en chemise painted on the inside of its lid!

And of course, the reason I started this blog way back when was to tell more of this story. I’d written an entire novel about it, but I wasn’t nearly done. Yes, this blog has shifted focus, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an abiding interest in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace and everything related to it. I was even willing to make a harrowing trip into New York City to see this exhibition, just to get a glimpse of the originals of these two paintings. I was rewarded by more beauty than I’d even imagined. I went for the pair of paintings of Marie-Antoinette, but I stayed for the 78 other exquisite pieces of art.

(I would be lying if I said I didn’t sneak a few pictures while inside the exhibit, but I don’t want to share them on principle, and they aren’t very good anyway!)

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Vigée Le Brun at the Met

Every once in a while, there’s something to post regarding the 18th century in France. This happens to be one of those times. After all, the original intent of this blog was to write about the Affair of the Diamond Necklace and ancien-regime France.

Just yesterday, I came across an exhibit on right now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC that is so directly related to the Diamond Necklace Affair that it hurts:

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2016/vigee-le-brun

The Met is putting on an exhibit of a very large number of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s portraits. She was one of the most prominent portraitists of her age (and her art is absolutely beautiful; her style is just my taste). This is even more remarkable, of course, given that she was a woman. She happened to be one of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s favorite painters. In 1783, she painted the queen in a filmy white muslin dress, a style that was sometimes referred to as “en gaulle” or a “chemise” dress, since it so resembled the chemise, an under-dress. And therein lay the problem: it looked like the queen had been painted in her underclothes! When people saw it hanging in the salon, they were shocked. The resultant scandal did the queen’s already-spotty reputation no favors. Vigée Le Brun quickly painted a replacement with the queen in the same pose and still holding a rose, but this time clad in a dress of blue silk and with an elaborate coiffure.

All of this, of course, was part of the milieu in which Jeanne de La Motte-Valois plotted her jewel theft. Specifically, though, the portrait seems to have been the inspiration for a little bit of play-acting in the gardens of Versailles: Jeanne hired a young prostitute (Nicole Leguay D’Oliva) to play the part of the queen. She dressed Nicole in a white muslin dress and gave her a rose to hold. Sound familiar? It’s exactly the image from the scandalous portrait. This performance was meant to trick a Cardinal into believing he was back in the queen’s favor, which was part of Jeanne’s plan to get said Cardinal to act as guarantor for a very expensive diamond necklace. The necklace went missing, and a massive scandal ensued, one that Marie-Antoinette never recovered from.

You can click OVER HERE for a blog post all about the painting.

Now, the exhibit is only at the Met until May 15, so there isn’t much time to go see it. I know I’m going to do my best to get up there while I can!

Civil War Sleuthing: James C Huhn, Part 2

I wrote about this time last year about some research I’d done on an ancestor of mine (specifically, my four-times-great-grandfather), James Crozier Huhn, who was a Civil War soldier in the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which was active in the Shenandoah Valley. As I mentioned in that post, there were a few blanks in my research, especially regarding how exactly James was injured: in battle or by accident? I hadn’t really expected to find more-detailed information. I’d figured that I had a pretty substantial amount of info as it was–I knew approximately when James was injured and what the injuries were in a general sense (e.g., he was injured in the back). I had things like his height and eye color. It seemed like pretty good stuff to me, and given that I had no primary source from James (there are no letters, journals, or photographs), it seemed like all I could hope for.

As a Christmas gift for my father, I decided to put together my research into a single file, with a write-up at the beginning and print-outs of some of the documents I had found in James’s pension files at the National Archives. As I was sorting through the material I had, I noticed that quite a few of the pictures I’d taken were incomplete (I didn’t get the full page). So I decided to head back to the National Archives to get the full documents.

When I went up to the reading room to pick up the pension file I’d requested, I was a little surprised but also very pleased to see that what they’d brought me was a different file than the one I’d seen on my previous trip. There was more!

Naturally, I was thrilled. I started to page through. Much of the material were the originals of documents I’d previously seen. Other documents didn’t add much useful information.

But . . .

I came across this statement:

That while a member of the organization aforesaid, in the service and in the line of duty at Hagerstown, in the state of Maryland, on or about the 15th day of December, 1862, he, while shoeing a horse, had the second toe of his left foot broken, from which he has suffered ever since. And on or about the 1st of June, 1864, that while shoeing a horse at Staunton, Va., [he] was thrown and badly injured in the back, from which injury he still suffers.

Which wasn’t at all a surprise to me, since I knew from the documentation that James had been a blacksmith as a civilian, and that he continued to act as blacksmith for a cavalry regiment. So, clearly the man shoed more than a few horses during the war (and before and after, I imagine). However, it was wonderful to see it confirmed: James wasn’t injured in combat but while performing his duties as blacksmith. And we also know 20151223_135607.jpgwhat happened each time. In 1862, the horse stepped on his foot (ouch) and in 1864, the horse threw him (again, ouch!).

As noted in my previous post, the pension record further showed that James lost an eye in a gruesome accident while quarrying stone. The record also indicates that he lost a foot. Originally, I took this to be some kind of lingering effect of the injury he sustained during the war to his left foot. However, on further inspection, I noticed that it was his right foot that he lost in his later years. So, not related at all to the Civil War injury. It was all a bit hazy, until I came across this:

On the 11th day of June, 1896, he, the said soldier, James C. Huhn, accidentally shot himself with a shotgun, which penetrated the instep and heel of right foot, which gunshot wound necessitated the amputation of his right leg 3 inches above the ankle joint on the 26th day of June, 1896. The amputation was performed by myself, assisted by HB Giver. The said gunshot wound was not caused by vicious habits, as the applicant is an honest, upright citizen without vicious habit of any kind.

Again . . . ouch! Also, this poor man was exceptionally accident-prone. The man was injured badly twice while shoeing horses, then lost an eye in an accident, then lost his foot to a self-inflicted (accidental) gunshot wound.

In spite of all that, I have to remind myself again that he lived into his late 80’s, apparently independently until the last two years of his life, when he ended up in the Soldiers Home in Erie, Pennsylvania.

My research also took me to the Library of Congress. (Living in the DC area certainly has its advantages.) They have there a history of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, written by a man who had served in it (William Slease, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War : a history of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry from its organization until the close of the Civil War, 1861-1865). Over the course of three visits, I read through his account of the regiment’s service. It was formed in the autumn of 1862, just after the battle of Antietam, not so far south of where James lived in Pennsylvania. The regiment served for the duration of the war under Sigel, Hunter, and Sheridan in the Valley. Although it isn’t as well remembered as other theaters of the war, the Shenandoah Valley was crucially important to the war effort. It was a major source of food and supplies for the Confederate army, and it also acted as a conduit from the heart of the Confederacy to the doorstep of Washington DC. It was fought over constantly, with the various armies washing up and down the Valley as their fortunes ebbed and flowed.

There was a major campaign in 1864. The Union army constantly harried the Confederate troops, and the Confederates pushed back. The 14th took part in the raid on Lynchburg and the burning of the Virginia Military Institute (where Stonewall Jackson had taught). Although these were “minor” operations, the activity in the Valley forced Robert E. Lee to send reinforcements from Petersburg, where he and Ulysses S. Grant were in a muddy stalemate. Not only did it take troops away from Lee, it meant that Lee couldn’t use troops from the Shenandoah as reinforcements for himself–instead of reinforcing Lee, they had to be reinforced by Lee.

In any case, the account I read gave a pretty harrowing account of the kind of conditions that the regiment faced. Slease talks about hard marches up and down mountains in snow and heat, crossing and re-crossing rivers several times in a single day, leaving behind everything but a single pair of shoes and a single set of clothes for several weeks of hard campaigning. In three months in 1864, the regiment marched 1700 miles, were hotly pursued for 47 days, and made 52 charges.

There were a few interesting anecdotes, but the one that struck me most was the story of a particular Confederate officer. A Union scout there in the Shenandoah came across a wedding. Dressing in civilian clothes, he slipped into the wedding and discovered that the groom was a Confederate lieutenant, and the wedding party was full of other Confederate soldiers. The Union scout slipped away and alerted the regiment; a short while later, Union soldiers descended upon the wedding, taking all the soldiers there prisoner. There’s a (rather maudlin) description of the bride saying farewell to her soldier as he’s taken away as prisoner. A few days later, the regiment was being hotly pursued and had to cross a river that was apparently very high. Sadly, the Confederate lieutenant was caught in the river and drowned, his life with his new wife ended before it even began. A tragic end, and a reminder that this sort of thing was happening everyday in a place usually considered something of a footnote to the main action.

In any case, it was wonderful to get a better idea of my ancestor’s experience in the Civil War.

The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 4

I have been pretty negligent in my efforts to translate and bring to you bits of the interrogations of various prominent characters in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. I last brought you part 3 of this interrogation in 2013. I have (finally!) gotten around to translating the fourth and final part of Count Cagliostro’s interrogation.

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

As a reminder, Count Cagliostro was a friend of Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan. In 1785, Rohan was arrested on suspicion of defrauding the royal jewelers out of a very, very expensive diamond necklace. As it happens, he was duped by a woman named Jeanne de La Motte, who claimed to be an intimate of the queen’s. Cagliostro, a mystic and charlatan, was arrested because he was, at the time of the Affair, living in Rohan’s household. Mme de La Motte had also implicated him (and Rohan) as the masterminds and perpetrators of the theft.

Previously, the interrogator asked about a seance of sorts that took place in Rohan’s palace and was apparently conducted by Cagliostro. He described a seance that took place in the Cardinal’s household. He does his best to characterize it as harmless, while the interrogator tries his best to characterize the little event as suggestive and damning.

He was previously asked about whether he’d seen the missing diamond necklace and whether he’d seen the contract (no and yes). Now the questions turns to some diamonds that Cagliostro and his wife were seen to possess . . . 

The Interrogation of Count Cagliostro Part 4

We asked whether it was true that the Cardinal gave diamonds to the respondent’s wife, whether she had not been seen there [in Paris] with several [diamonds] [“si on ne lui en a pas vu beaucoup”], and whether those diamonds came from the necklace.

He replied that he had told [the Cardinal] about a very rare and precious gem of gold and diamonds that comprised the head of a cane [“qui fait une pomme de canne”], inside of which was a very curious bell and which the Cardinal found very appealing. He [Cagliostro] asked the Cardinal to accept it [as a gift], which is what the Cardinal did. [Presumably, this elaborate cane belonged to Cagliostro. The Cardinal saw it and expressed his admiration of it, which in this context more or less obligated Cagliostro to give it the Cardinal as a “gift”.] He [the Cardinal] wanted to show his gratitude and gave him [Cagliostro] some presents in return, which he [Cagliostro] refused; except, on various occasions, notably on the fête [presumably, “name day”] of his wife, the Cardinal gave him various pieces of diamond jewelry. Namely: a small “saint-esprit”, a frame for a portrait of the respondent [“l’entourage du portrait de lui répondant”], and a jeweled necklace [“chaîne garnie”], all of them in diamonds, and a small clock [or watch]. He [Cagliostro] did try to return them all several times, but the Cardinal always obliged him to keep [the gifts]. Moreover, every one of his wife’s diamonds that came from him is right here [“tous les diamants tant de sa femme que de lui sont ici’]. His wife never had never had any others, and those are known in every court he has travelled to. [He seems to be saying that all the diamonds they own were gifts from the Cardinal or were in his and his wife’s possession before they came to Paris.]

We asked whether he had not persuaded the Cardinal that his wife was a close friend of the queen and that she visited and corresponded with her. [Basically, the interrogator is suggesting that Cagliostro’s wife—instead of Jeanne—is the one who was conning the Cardinal.]

He responded that he never said that. His wife never knew the queen, she had never been to Versailles, and she could have had no correspondence with anyone, being unable to write. [Cagliostro’s wife was illiterate.]

We presented to him a copy of a note containing clauses relating to the necklace, and we challenged him to declare whether he knew of it and whether the Cardinal had sent it to him [Cagliostro] or his wife. We requested that he initial it.

After examining it, he responded that he did not know it and that the first time he had seen it was that very day and he did not want to initial it, considering it as inappropriate. As a result, the said note was not initialed either by the respondent, who refused to do so, or by us, whom he was before.

We asked whether he convinced the Cardinal that he would get as high as the ministry [i.e., rise as high as becoming Prime Minister, which was Cardinal Rohan’s dearest desire].

He responded no, that instead of encouraging him to pursue [a place as Prime Minister], he suggested on the contrary that the Cardinal should remain in his current station.

We asked whether the Cardinal had not given to him [Cagliostro] or his wife a portion of the diamonds from the necklace [“provenant du collier”] or money from the sale [“le prix de la vente”] of these diamonds.

He responded no, that his actions had all been public since arrived there [in Paris]. He had never bought or sold diamonds here, and he had no diamonds except the ones he brought with him.

We asked whether he was in the process of buying a house worth 50,000 écus [a denomination of money] and whether he was going to pay cash.

He responded no.

We represented to him that, according to what he had told us, he always practiced medicine for free and most often on behalf of the poor than on behalf of others. It was astonishing that he was able to support his level of spending. We demanded of him where his fortune came from.

He replied that he draws on several bankers, notably Sarrasin de Bàle and de Hans Costard at Lyon and that he has considerable resources. Wherever he goes, he always pays exactly what he owes and leaves behind no debt.

We asked whether he would like to confront the witnesses. [I believe that’s what is being asked here; as part of the French legal system, defendants were often put in the same room with witnesses/accusers in hopes that the confrontation would produce the truth.]

He said yes, it they tell the truth.