Philobiblon: More women of Paris

Monday, January 10, 2005

More women of Paris

Anne of Kiev, queen of Henri I (1031-60), coming from a supposedly even more backward area, complained to her father, Yarolsav the Great that the "the houses were gloomy, the churches ugly and the customs revolting". (p. 7)

But life was looking up by 1314 when three married sisters were living in a castle-come-palace, the Hotel de Nesle, on the Left Bank where the Academie Francaise stands today. (Its location is noted on the walls.)

Two, at least, were having a merry time carrying on with their gentlemen in waiting, until they got caught. The men were very unlucky - skinned alive, castrated, then disembowelled, while the women had their heads shaved, were publicly paraded, then jailed in miserable conditions. One was suffocated, so her husband could remarry without complications, the other was lucky enough to end up in a convent.

The third sister, Jeanne, would go on to become Queen, and again live in the Hotel de Nesle. She was supposed to have watched from her tower for incautious but likely looking Sorbonne students wandering past, then, "having exhausted their virility" (nice way of putting it), would have them sown in sacks and cast into the Seine to drown. (p. 60) Sounds like a good tale for gullible country students. More here.

On a lighter note, welcoming Louis XI into the city in 1461, the organisers ensured that after five noble ladies had made a speech of welcome, at the fountain of Ponceau, "three handsome girls took the part of sirens, all naked, and you could see 'their lovely breasts, round and firm, which was a very pleasant thing' and they warbled little motets." (The dirty old man in Andre Maurois, quoted p. 70)

Later, the mistress of the Marshall Vicomte de Turenne, Genevieve de Longueville (a very different character to the last of that name) is supposed to have egged him on to take up arms against the king (Louis XIV). She was also heard to say: "I don't enjoy innocent pleasures." (p. 119)

She set the scene for many who were to follow. (And no I haven't even gone into the great age of the salon.)

But tomorrow if the weather is good I'm hoping to find the grave of the intrepid balloonist Mme Blanchard, brought down in 1819 on her 67th ascent, when her craft was brought down by a festive firework. (p. 476)

(From Alistair Horne's Seven Ages of Paris: Portrait of a City.)


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