Decipher the duchess. Part 3

In this ‘Decipher the duchess’ series of posts we are working through the entry for 16 July 1789, in which the duchess provides a description of conditions in Paris in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Bastille two days earlier. Here is the relevant section of the manuscript again, with lines added for guidance:

And below is our own completed transcription. Remember, [square brackets] indicate a questionable or assumed reading of the manuscript by the Project team.

Line 1: A Paris ce 16 juillet 1789.

Line 2: J’[essai] Mde que ce petit Papier vous passe. On juge qu’il y à dans notre Peuple [300000] hom.

Line 3: armées. je ne sai point encore, de vos Amis tués. Le courage me soutient fort, je me porte

Line 4: bien, mais je ne sais si nous sommes Anglois, ou Turcs, car on porte les tettes dans les rues,

Line 5: mais je sais que tout noble est enfermé à Paris. demandé pour nous une bonne fin! je vous

Line 6: ecrirai si le seigr m’en procure un jour le Moyen.

We are also translating a substantial part of the Letters as part of the project (there will be an update about this on the blog in the near future). Here is our English version of this entry:

Paris 16 July 1789

I am trying to get this note to you, Madame. They estimate that there are 300000 armed men in amongst the people of the city. I still have no news about your friends who have been killed. Courage sustains me greatly. I myself am well, but I do not know if we have all turned into the English or the Turks, given that heads are being carried through the streets. What I do know is that anyone who is a noble is trapped in Paris. Pray we get a happy ending! I will write to you if one day the Lord grants me the means to do so. Continue reading

GUEST POST: The duchess as ‘foreign princess’

by Dr Jonathan Spangler

Jonathan Spangler is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern European History at Manchester Metropolitan University and senior editor of The Court Historian, the journal of the Society for Court Studies. He is a specialist in the court and high aristocracy of France in the early modern period, with a particular interest in borders and trans-national exchanges. His next book, tentatively entitled Monsieur: Always Coming in Second, will be a wide-ranging study of the role of second sons in the French monarchy. He writes:

When Innocente-Catherine de Rougé married her second husband, Prince Emmanuel-Maurice de Lorraine, in 1747, she anticipated a rank with great privileges at the French court, that of duchess, as her new husband’s older brother had no children. A duchess took precedence over most other women and enjoyed specific honours such as the right to be seated in the presence of the queen. But even before her husband succeeded his brother as duke of Elbeuf in 1748, the new princess of Lorraine enjoyed even greater privileges, restricted to a very small number of families at the French court, those given to the princes étrangers, or ‘foreign princes’.

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What happened to the duchess of Elbeuf’s pictures?

Simon Macdonald writes:

A previous blog entry here noted that we don’t have any portrait of the duchess of Elbeuf, and we don’t even know for sure whether she had an art collection as such. Maybe she just didn’t much like paintings? Eighteenth-century France was full of art-historically significant names — Jean Siméon Chardin’s still lifes, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s portraits, Jacques-Louis David’s history paintings. But that doesn’t mean that everyone at the time was enamoured of the fruits of the palette.

Still, we know she had a huge house in central Paris (see below). And, with so much wall space to fill, it seems unlikely that she had absolutely no pictures on them. In fact, we know quite a lot about the things she owned at the time of her death because more or less all her property then passed into the hands of the government.

The principal elevation of the duchess’ Paris residence, the hôtel d’Elbeuf (AN N/III/Seine/850)

Property confiscated by the revolutionary state, or which passed to the state by other kinds of forfeiture or sequestration, was carefully documented, with a view to finding items of value. That ‘value’ could come in the form of information. For example, a diary such as the kept by the duchess might hold secrets which could be politically useful to the regime. For that reason, officials felt it was worth reading — and worth retaining in the state archives. But mostly ‘value’ meant monetizable assets. This included real estate, investments, furniture, and indeed just about any kind of bric-a-brac which might attract a buyer at auction. Occasionally, particularly rare or valuable artefacts might be deemed sufficiently important to be turned into museum items — today’s Louvre Museum, for instance, is full of things like this — or to be placed in public libraries.

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GUEST POST: The Duchess and the Engraver’s Daughter

by Professor Siân Reynolds

Siân Reynolds is former Professor of French at the University of Stirling, and the author of Marriage and Revolution: Monsieur and Madame Roland (0xford University Press, 2012). Her current research is on the children of the revolutionaries. She is also a member of the Advisory Board for this project. She writes:

Eighteenth-century manuscripts come in all kinds of handwriting, spelling and syntax, from the easily readable to the very challenging. If you have looked at the sample posted on this website, you will know that the duchess of Elbeuf’s Letters come towards the challenging end of the spectrum. The transcript being prepared by the Project Team will be a gift for future readers, but even this modern version of the text (we members of the Advisory Board have seen an early draft) will call for some ingenuity in interpreting it.

Prompted by this first glance at the transcript, I wondered what kind of upbringing and education Innocente-Catherine de Rougé received in the early years of the eighteenth century.  She was born in Brittany in 1707, in a family with a string of noble connections, and her two marriages made her very rich. But it looks as if her education was haphazard, to say the least. She expresses herself fluently, but on the page it reads phonetically. (Perhaps she was surrounded by Breton-speaking servants in her childhood, about which we know nothing yet.) She certainly did not receive the kind of formal training a boy born into a similar family might have had at that time.

This suggested a comparison with another female witness to the French Revolution, Marie-Jeanne Phlipon, who was the daughter of an engraver from the Île de la Cité in central Paris.

A drawing of Mme Roland in prison before her execution in 1793. Available via Gallica, the digital hub for the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Despite her much lower station in life, the woman later known as Madame Roland was considerably better educated, thanks to help from literate relatives, a brief spell in a convent and self-schooling. Her famous prison memoirs tell a story, retrospectively and with attitude, but we also have her letters recording day-to-day events and opinions. Perhaps surprisingly, there are some points in common between the reactions of these two strong-minded women, of different status, generation, and above all views of the Revolution.

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Decipher the duchess. Part 2

Here are some more clues to help you work out what the duchess was writing on 16 July 1789, during a significant phase of the early Revolution in the capital. Go to part 1 in the blog below for an introduction to this entry.

Line 1 begins: A Paris…

Line 2: J’[essai] Mde que ce petit papier vous passe…

Line 3: armées. Je ne sai point encore, de vos amis tués…

Line 4: bien, mais je ne sais si nous sommes…

Line 5: mais je sais que tout noble…

Line 6: ecrirai si le seigr

[Square brackets] indicate a questionable or assumed reading of the manuscript by the Project team.

This should give you more of an idea of the shape of the duchess’ handwriting. Use this as a template for unpicking other sections of the entry. We will provide a full transcription and English translation next week. In the meantime, happy deciphering!

Virtual Private View: 4th June 2020, 3pm

While the covid-19 restrictions continue, UCL Art Museum are running a free virtual private view of their current exhibition on French Revolutionary prints (which features the duchess, as explained in earlier posts to this blog below). This private view is accessible by anyone, though you do need to register beforehand. The details can be found HERE.

Join Dr Nina Pearlman (UCL Art Museum), Dr Richard Taws (UCL Art History), and the playwright and UCL Creative Fellow Nicola Baldwin for a virtual tour of the exhibition Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints, 1792-1794. There will also be a short reading from a specially commissioned play, The Duchess, giving voice to Innocente-Catherine de Rougé d’Elbeuf herself. Further details about the play can be found on twitter: @Duchessrevolt.

Decipher the duchess. Part 1

We would like to give our blog readers the chance to work with the Elbeuf Letters for themselves – with a little help from us. As you will see, the duchess’ script has idiosyncrasies in shape, spelling and grammar that are a challenge when it comes to transcribing her writing. Why not have a go yourself at deciphering this entry from 16 July 1789? In it, the duchess reflects on scenes of violence and tension on the streets of the capital in the aftermath of the storming of the Bastille two days previously.

Detail from AN F7 4775/1

Click on the image to enlarge it. And here are some clues to help get you started:

  • Line 1 is an entry heading. A very similar (and more legible) heading can be seen below     line 6
  • The first sentence (line 2) reads: J’[essai] Mde que ce petit papier vous passe. Translation: ‘I will try to get this note to you, Madame.’ [Square brackets] indicate a questionable or assumed reading of the manuscript by the Project team.

We will post more clues next week, followed by the full transcription complete with our English translation. Why not subscribe to this Project Blog (see right) to receive updates automatically?

If you are interested in learning more about palaeography (the study of old handwriting), there is an excellent interactive guide to reading English scripts from c.1500-1800 on the National Archives website: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/default.htm. See also the Newberry Library’s offering for French scripts: https://paleography.library.utoronto.ca/.

What did the duchess of Elbeuf look like?

Simon Macdonald writes:

Although her Letters survive, and a lot can be traced about her life history elsewhere in the archives, we have no portrait of the duchess of Elbeuf. In the eighteenth century, pseudo-scientific theories were emerging which linked the shape of the face to character, intelligence, and so on — and the links (or not) between beauty and virtue were an endless subject for poets. Our interest is born of a simpler curiosity: we’d like to put a face to the name!

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Exhibition review: Ruth Scurr in The Spectator

Ruth Scurr, author of Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (2006), has reviewed the UCL exhibition for the latest edition of The Spectator, 28 March.

Unfortunately, this exhibition is of course currently closed due to UK-wide restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The details in Ruth Scurr’s review can be complemented by the excellent set of high-resolution images from the exhibition available on the UCL Art Museum’s own website (including the basket of blood red wool), so do take a look at these too.

New London exhibition opens, featuring the Duchess

Photo © Hydar Dewachi

MARCH UPDATE: This Exhibition is currently closed due to the UK-wide restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

A new exhibition, ‘Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints,1792-4‘, opened its doors to the public on 27 January 2020. It will run through to 12 June 2020 at the UCL Art Museum in central London. The exhibition draws on the Art Museum’s very rich collection of prints from the Revolutionary decade. It explores contemporary reactions to the Terror (1793-94) through a sampling of a wide range of visual and material sources: paper money, passports, maps and placards as well as a range of prints, including striking images of the murdered politician Jean-Paul Marat. The latter provided the source for the exhibition poster, which you can see in the photograph above (taken on the opening night) along with, from left to right: Dr Nina Pearlman (Head of UCL Art Collections), Dr Andrea Fredericksen (Curator, UCL Art Museum), and the three curators of this exhibition, Dr Richard Taws (UCL), Professor David Bindman (UCL) and Professor Colin Jones (QMUL).

After close discussion between the Elbeuf project and UCL (and with Colin Jones acting as a co-curator), a series of translated quotations from the Duchess of Elbeuf’s Letters were selected to run through the exhibition as an additional exhibit and to offer a thread of contemporary commentary. This is the first time any selection of her writing has been presented to the general public since she put pen to paper over two hundred years ago. Her astringent and frankly counter-revolutionary testimony is all the more intriguing in that for the period of the Terror she lived at the heart of Paris close to the Tuileries palace where the country’s elected representatives met daily in the National Convention.

The exhibition is free. It is open Tuesday-Friday weekly from 1.00 p.m.to 5.00 p.m.

MARCH UPDATE: This Exhibition is currently closed due to the UK-wide restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.