la Princess(e) de Lamballe

La Princesse de Lamballe
by Joseph Sifiède Duplessis

Marie-Therese De Savoie-Carignan (1749-92)
Princess of Lamballe

A long time friend to Marie-Antoinette, Lamballe faithfully stuck by her until forcefully removed from the Queen’s company in 1792. Confronted by an improvised court on trumped up charges which she denied, she was then asked to swear an oath of loyalty to Liberty and Equality and one of hatred to the King, Queen and Monarchy, she accepted the first but refused the latter. A door was opened off the interrogation room, where she saw men waiting with axes and pikes. Pushed into an alley she was hacked to death in minutes. Her clothes were stripped from her body, and her head was struck off and stuck on a pike. Some accounts attest to the crowd cutting off her breasts and mutilating her genitals. What is certain is that her head was carried in triumph through Paris to be shown to the Queen. Marie-Antoinette spared herself this torment by fainting on the spot. The valet however peered through the blinds to see de Lamballe’s blonde curls bobbing in the air.

— Simon Schama (somewhat paraphrased) – Citizens

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Marie Antoinette: Crown Without a Head

Marie Antoinette Imprisoned in the Conciergerie
The Marquise de Bréhan c. 1793-95

Josephe Jeanne Marie Antoinette von Habsburg-Lorraine,
aka Marie Antoinette, Queen of France

(November 2, 1755 – October 16, 1793)
It may be that the champagne glass so familiar today was modeled upon the famous breast of Marie Antoinette, and that her most famed and inflaming quote “Let them eat cake,” is fabricated political propoganda, but hindsight renders much of what was so scandalous in her own day, down right trivial by our own standards.
From sycophantic tyrantess, to an obsolete, fluffy-headed haute grandeur, to doomed teen queen, Marie Antoinette’s image has been somewhat resurrected in recent years. The truth, in the early years, lies somewhere inbetween this laundry list of feminine archetypes. But it was towards the end, when most of us grow up (she was 37 when she was executed), that her spirit and fortitude shone most. In the end, all pomp gone, she was a dedicated mother, sister, and wife. Brave as a tigress and willing to sacrifice all for her family, this is the picture that is rarely shown in our history books, literature and cinema.
From the fall of the Bastille, July 14th, 1789, til the day of her execution on October 16, 1793, her life became a series of ever shrinking spaces. In 1790 the royal family was taken by force from the palace of Versaille fifteen miles outside of Paris, to a carefully guarded Tuileries Palace in Paris. After a failed attempt to escape in disguise in 1791 to Austria (they were captured in Varenne), rather than bend and except a Republican Monarchy, Marie Antoinette machinated a war with Austria (her home country) that she’d hoped France would lose, and the family would be rescued. The parisienne masses were incensed at such gall, and on August 10, 1792 the mob stormed the Tuileries and massacred the Swiss Guard, while the royal family fled. A few days later Louis XVI was arrested and on September 21 1792 the monarchy in France was officially abolished. The family was moved to the Temple Fortress and put under heavy guard. The Princesse de Lamballe, who up until this point had shared the fate of her closest friend, was seperated from Marie Antoinette and forced to repudiate her. When she refused she was attacked by the mob and beaten to death with a hammer. The story goes that she was torn apart, her head paraded on a pike in front of the Queen’s prison window, but the story cannot be substantiated beyond hear say.
[to be written]

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The Executioner

Marie Antoinette on her way to the Guillotine

In France, the role of executioner was an hereditary post and from 1688 – 1847 it was held by the Sanson family. At the time of the Revolution the position was held by Charles-Henri Sanson, who took his trade very seriously. But once his public role had been reduced by the guillotine to the mere pulling of a pin the better to show his skill by the sheer numbers that could be dispatched in the shortest amount of time. At the peak of the Terror Sanson guillotined 300 men and women in three days.

Oh, thou charming guillotine,
You shorten kings and queens;
By your influence divine,
We have reconquered our rights.
Come to aid of the Country
And let your superb instrument
Become forever permanent
To destroy the impious sect.
Sharpen your razor for Pitt and his agents
Fill your divine sack with heads of tyrants.

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The Scaffold

The Execution of Robespierre

The executioner’s working conditions were all but impossible during the Reign of Terror. Blood soaked the scaffold, leaving Sanson and his assistants liable to slip and fall. A pond of blood pooled beneath the scaffold causing a disgusting stench. Rivers of it ran down the cobbled streets. Indeed, in 1792 Charles-Henri saw his own son Gabriel tumble to the ground, sustaining fatal injuries, after skidding in a pool of blood. Afterwards, railings were put up around the scaffolds to safeguard executioners.

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The Halifax Gibbet

The Halifax Gibbet

The most notable forerunner of the guillotine was in use in Halifax, England, from 1286 until 1650. Convicted criminals – those who stole goods assessed by four constables to be worth over 5p. – were taken to the gibbet on market day for execution. When the offender was placed with his head on the block every man nearby took hold of the rope and gave a mighty pull to unleash the pin and allow the blade to crash down, thereby placing justice into the hands of the people.

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The Early History

The Scottish Maiden, 16th Century

Contrary to popular conception, there were many fore-runners of the guillotine throughout history. The Halifax Gibbet (below), the Scottish Maiden, and the Italian “Mannaia” used to execute Beatrice Cenci in the sixteenth century. And it was just these instruments that Dr. Guillotin had in mind when he recommended a design to Dr. Antoine Louis of the Academy of Surgery (in fact, the guillotine was originally known as the Louisette … pretty pretty, don’t you think?). The prototype and subsequent improvements were carried out by a German harpsichord maker, Tobias Schmidt.

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The Guillotine

Place de la Révolution

Guillotine , n. A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason.
— Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary”

In 1789 Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed to the newly formed National Assembly of Paris a humane alternative to the then barbarous method of separating one’s head from one’s body. “The mechanism falls like lightning; the head flies off; the blood spurts; the man no longer exists.” He explained. “Gentleman, with my machine, I’ll take off your head in a flash, and you won’t even feel the slightest pain,” his words were greeted with nervous laughter. Much to the Doctor’s chagrin, the machine was christened in the imagination of the populous as “le Guillotine”, an association the good Doctor was never able to distance himself from.
Yet it was not until 1792 that the dread machine was implemented, not until the Assembly had received a request from the Executioner Sanson that some sort of mechanical facilitation was required in order to meet the new revolutionary quotas; i.e. the “Enemies of the Republic”. During what is aptly known as The Reign of Terror, 1793-94, between 20,000 and 40,000 people lost their lives under the blade of Madame Guillotine, ending only with the death (aptly by guillotine) of the virtual dictatorship of Robespierre.

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JUDITH: a Poem

Gustave Klimt

Judith has chosen to devote her body to her country,
She has prepared her breasts to tempt her dreadful lover,
Painted her eyes and brightened their somber scintillation,
And she has perfumed her skin ~ destined to return much faded.
Pale, she has stepped forward to stage her massacre ~
Her large eyes crazed with ecstasy and terror;
And her voice, her dance, her lean, hypnotic body
Have served the dark Assyrian as dread intoxicants.
In the arms of her triumphant master, suddenly
She has cried out, closing her eyes as if she were a child.
Afterward the man, relaxed, descends into a bestial slumber:
Caught as much witin a horror of love as of dark death,
Her conscience free, woman has lashed out at man:
Coldly and with slow determination she has sliced off his head.
— Jean Lahor c. 1886

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Holy Strumpet

Jan Massys c. 1565

Judith, as an exemplar of civic virtue triumphant over tyranny, more often than not was depicted as the reluctant assassin. The Decandents had a little fun with her, but they could turn even the Holy Virgin into a strumpet, bless ’em.
“The late nineteenth-century painters, however, unmasked her as a lustful predator and anorexic tigress. Painters and sculptors showed how she had taken man’s head and had stomped on it maliciously with her dainty foot.” (Bram Djikstra, Idols of Perversity) But Judith’s story is a fantastic tale, worthy of the best heroic fiction, she is a post-modern biblical She-Ra, raging against her oppressors, sword in hand.

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Judith, Painted Marble
Conrad Meit 1510-15

“Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes’ head, and took down his fauchion from thence, And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day. And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him. And tumbled his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and anon after she went forth, and gave Holofernes his head to her maid.”

— The Book of Judith 13:6-9
In a nutshell, Judith (meaning jewess) is the story of a fetching widow who tarts herself up to seduce the enemy, gets him drunk, cuts off his head as he snores, and marches back to town triumphant, head in bag.

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