Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Marie Antoinette’

Princess Margaret of Britain loved to dress up. Here she is at age 34 at a Georgian ball at Mansion House, 1964. A Georgian-themed affair is a throwback to the days of French Queen Marie Antoinette: heavy on white wigs and powdered faces. Getty Images.

From a very young age, Princess Margaret of Britain (1930-2001) loved to dress up in costumes, act, sing, and dance—and she had real talent. At the age of nine months, for example, she had astounded her grandmother with her gift for music, by humming the waltz from “The Merry Widow.”

Her enchantment with the magical world of music, dance, and theatre was cultivated early, in large part, by her childhood attendance at the annual Christmas pantomimes in London prior to the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Her parents, titled at her birth as the Duke and Duchess of York and then, after 1936, titled as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, would take Margaret and her older sister, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), to the rollicking shows every winter holiday.

In the Duchess’s box at the Lyceum Theatre, London, the Duke and Duchess of York and their daughters, Princesses Margaret (l.), 4, and Elizabeth, 8, enjoy the Christmas pantomime, “Dick Whittington,” in which Dick promises that his cat will rid the realm of rats. February 1935.

 

The 1934-35 playbill for the pantomime enjoyed by Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth and their parents in February 1935. Cast: Dick Henderson, George Jackley, Naughton & Gold, Molly Vyvyan, Elsie Prince, Audrey Acland and Eric Brock.

British pantomimes are a peculiar bit of theatre. The name, “pantomime,” is misleading, as the word “mime” evokes an image of the silent French mime Marcel Marceau alone on stage, in white face makeup, leaning into an invisible wind, battling to open an invisible umbrella, a sublime and subtle entertainment. A British pantomime, on the other hand, is pure camp—loud, boisterous, ridiculous and, sometimes, a little naughty. This musical comedy stage production is loosely based on a favorite children’s story such as “Cinderella,” “Aladdin,” or “Puss and Boots” but with dramatically-altered plot lines and a motley crew of characters. An assortment of costumed performers dance and sing, belting out tunes familiar to the audience but with new and absurd lyrics designed to draw a lot of laughs. Oddly, although pantos are Christmas entertainment, there are no references to Christmas in the scripts.

The panto audience is encouraged to participate. They shout out to the actors, “Look out, he’s behind you!” they hiss at the villain, they cry, “Awwwww” to the poor victims.

An example of audience participation in the pantomime version of “Sleeping Beauty”:

Wicked Queen – “I am the fairest of them all”

Audience – “Oh no you’re not!”

Queen – “Oh yes I am!”

Audience – “Oh no you’re not!”

There are sing-a-longs. Animals are usually humans in costume like the Pantomime Horse, with one person in the front and another pulling up the rear.

Famous English animal impersonator Albert Felino in the role of the cat in “Dick Whittington.” Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, Christmas (photo: unknown, England or Scotland, probably 1908; postcard, The Philco Publishing Co, London, Philco Series 3438E)

Think of a British pantomime as a cross between “Sleeping Beauty” and a vaudeville show with slapstick humor, bawdy jokes, gender-swapping, special effects like magical transformation scenes as in “Cinderella,” and capped by celebrity appearances.

With all their color, excitement, music, costumes, bright lights, gags, and laughter, these once-a-year pantomimes made a lasting impression on the young Princess Margaret. This special time with her loving family—before the bombs began to fall—was pure joy—and formed the foundation upon which she crafted her own talents as an amateur actress, mimic, and singer and developed a lifelong taste for theater, dance, and music.

Margaret’s childhood nanny from 1932-1948, Marion “Crawfie” Crawford, recalled:

In those happy pre-war days, theatre managers always had a large box of chocolates in the royal box. But the little girls’ great ambition was to sit in the stalls or the dress circle. They had to hang over the side of the royal box, to see properly. I can still see the Duke anxiously seizing his daughters’ petticoats, afraid they would fall over altogether in their immense enthusiasm. 

The children looked forward to these pantomimes for the remaining eleven months of the year. Margaret, as soon as she could talk at all, would reenact most of the parts….”

In 1936, the Duke of York became King George VI of Great Britain and his wife became Queen Elizabeth (who, in 1952, would be styled as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother or the Queen Mum). The young family, whom the King dubbed affectionately as “Us Four,” left their stately home at 145 Piccadilly and moved three miles, as the crow flies, across London to Buckingham Palace.

“Us Four.” The British Royal Family, 1937. Getty Images.

Four years later, in May 1939, England was at war with Nazi Germany. It was not safe for children in London during the bombing so Margaret and Elizabeth moved to Windsor Castle, a medieval fortress with thick walls, just 21 miles west of London. Margaret would live at Windsor until the war’s end in May 1945, from the age of nine years old to fifteen. The girls roomed in the “nursery” in the Augusta Tower.

a_068_windsor

an aerial view of Windsor Castle, over 900 years old (2020), a working palace and a setting for a fairy tale. Photo credit: Organic Society.

For the most part, the King and Queen stayed in London at Buckingham Palace, visiting the girls on Saturdays and Sundays. By staying in town during the Blitz, the royal couple put their lives in great jeopardy as the Palace was bombed nine times by the German Luftwaffe. In September 1940, they were almost killed when the Nazis dropped bombs on the Palace Chapel, destroying it.

At about 11 a.m. on 13 September 1940, a week after the start of the London Blitz, a German bomber ducked under the clouds, flew deliberately low across the capital [London] and dropped five high explosive bombs on Buckingham Palace. George VI and his wife, Elizabeth, were just taking tea. At the precise moment that they heard what she described as the “unmistakable whirr-whirr” of the plane, the queen was battling to take an eyelash out of his eye and they rushed out into the corridor to avoid the blast. Two bombs fell in the palace’s inner quadrangle a few yards from where the couple had been sitting, a third destroyed the chapel and the remainder caused deep craters at the front of the building. 1

Windsor Castle was near enough to the repeated shelling of London for the sisters to feel the walls of the great Windsor Castle shake and to hear the “whistle and scream” of the bombs as they fell from the skies. Although we know now that the Germans never did succeed in invading England according to their plan, during the war, expectation of an imminent invasion was an everyday worry for Britons. Windsor Castle was reinforced by barbed wire which Margaret thought rather futile, saying in a later interview that it wasn’t very capable of keeping the Germans out. Rather, it kept her IN.

(l. to r.) Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth on the grounds of Royal Lodge, Windsor, 1940. Getty Images

Windsor was a giant beehive of thirteen acres with 1,000 rooms just for the royal family. Over 350 servants lived and worked there. In addition, officials, courtiers, guardsmen, soldiers on leave, soldiers convalescing, boys from Eton buzzed in and about. Margaret remarked, “I was brought up among men,” which is no understatement. So, although life was serious: daytime lessons for the girls in academics, dance, piano, and language, and, as part of the war effort, bandage-rolling, sock-knitting, and tinfoil collection was obligatory, and Windsor was dark, with the sparkling chandeliers taken down, the state apartments cloaked in sheets, windows blacked out, and with only log fires in the sitting rooms for warmth, there were still lighthearted times for those forced to be there. The girls sang in a Madrigal Society with the soldiers and boys from Eton. There were occasional balls. The girls loved to dance and the King loved to waltz, in particular. The sisters served tea to the soldiers and, afterwards, played guessing games and charades. Crawfie and the two girls played one-man charades in which each one took a turn imitating someone they knew and the others guessed. Crawfie said that the sisters—in particular, Margaret,

had considerable talent for acting…There was never any doubt about Margaret’s efforts! They were unmistakable. She kept us in fits of laughter with this first manifestation of a talent that was one day to amuse a much larger circle…Lilibet [Elizabeth] was always a more serious child….

After dinner at night with their parents and their parents’ guests, they played more charades until midnight. (The Queen Mother would later become incensed when Crawfie wrote a book—the first of many nanny diaries to come—about her time in the royal household. Crawfie wanted to include in her tell-all about a night of charades when the Duchess of Kent imitated pulling a lavatory chain—flushing a toilet—as a clue to the phrase, “royal flush.” The Queen Mother insisted that Crawfie had violated the terms of her employment. Crawfie edited out this story, as per the Queen Mother’s wishes, but from then on, she was persona non grata.)

It was at Windsor that Margaret’s talent for acting found both a wider audience and a larger appreciation. Each Christmas from 1941 until 1945, the two princesses took the leading roles in locally-produced pantomimes for the benefit of the Royal Household Concert Wool Fund. The full-scale productions were staged in the Waterloo Chamber of the Castle. Although Princess Elizabeth did a good job at acting and tap-dancing for more than five hundred, including townspeople and soldiers, it was Princess Margaret, with her sparkle and spunk, that stole the show. Margaret’s admirers remarked on her skill in impersonating cockneys or Southern belles or shy town clerks. She had a knack for mimicking regional accents and dialects.

This “gift of fun-poking—and very clever fun-poking” as Crawfie termed it, would, in her adult life, when she had grown old, alcoholic, and sickly, be used by Margaret to craft remarks that cut people to the quick, alienating even those who loved her, and for which she would become notorious, reviled, and ostracized. Her sardonic quips were repeated, becoming legendary. Given that she was royal, she was unstoppable, as no one dared correct a woman to whom one curtseys and bows.

1941: Princess Elizabeth discusses the pantomime with her mother, Queen Elizabeth of England, while her sister, Princess Margaret, looks on. AP photo.

Sources:

Crawford, Marion. The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by Her Nanny, Marion Crawford. (1950)

multiple bios of QEII, Princess Margaret

Readers, for more on Marie Antoinette, click here. For more on Princess Margaret, click here. For more on the British Royal Family, click here.

Read Full Post »

The knitting women of the French Revolution. Pierre-Etienne Lesueur’s Les Tricoteuses Jacobines, 1793. (Wikimedia)

At the start of the French Revolution, the market women of Paris, hungry for bread, marched by the thousands to Versailles to confront King Louis XVI and his government over rising food prices and food shortages. Surprising everyone, their demands were met and, in addition, they convinced the royal family—including Queen Marie Antoinette—to relocate to the French capital city. Working class women had never before demonstrated such political clout. These women were hailed as sisters of the Revolution and were invited to important political events. These “mothers of the revolution,”  or “bonnes citoyennes,” became overnight heroines for the cause of liberty. They came to be known as the knitting women, or tricoteuses  (pronounced trick uh TUZZ).

Over time, though, the tricoteuses grew swollen with power and inflamed by the fury of the Revolution. They became rowdy and blood-thirsty, harassing aristocrats in the street, insulting them and urging the radical sans-culottes, or lower class militants, to carry out dreadful atrocities against them. The tricoteuses were like the Greek furies that punished culprits they thought were guilty by hounding them relentlessly.

The French Revolution lasted ten years. Before it was over, it descended into an all-out savage bloodbath known as the Reign of Terror (1793-1794). In just that one year period, 17,000 French people were executed. Shown here are rabid revolutionaries parading shorn heads on pikes. (wikipedia)

The behavior of the tricoteuses became so dangerous that they became a liability to the more authoritarian revolutionary government. On May 21, 1793, the women were banished from government proceedings. Later that week, they were forbidden from forming any political assembly. The tricoteuses were reduced to hanging around the guillotine.

The Tricoteuses of the Guillotine on the Steps of the Church of Saint-Roch, 16th October 1793. Henri Baron (Pinterest)

They were the ghoulish women who sat and knitted while the public executions took place during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Many knitted liberty caps, their sharp needles clackety-clacking, while head after head fell beneath the blade and into the basket.

A French man is transported to the guillotine to be beheaded. In the upper right hand corner of the picture, the tricoteuses jeer, bellow, hurl accusations at him, and call for his immediate execution. Etching from Harper’s Weekly, August 1881, from a painting by Carl Piloty, “The Girondists.”

Charles Dickens popularized the tricoteuses in The Tale of Two Cities (1859), set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. One of the main villains of the novel is Madame Defarge, a tricoteuse, a French Revolution fanatic obsessed with the extermination of real and imagined enemies of the Revolution. She knits and her knitting secretly encodes the names of people to be killed.

The tricoteuse Madame DeFarge (r.) confronts Miss Pross over the whereabouts of the Evrémonde family. Scene from the novel, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, 1859. Image by Fred Barnard, 1870s (wikipedia)


**Read more about the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette here.

Sources:
wiki: "Reign of Terror"
wiki: "tricoteuse"
The Telegraph: "QI: How Knitting was Used as Code in WW2"
Timeline: "Horror Spectators: The Lady Revolutionaries who Calmly Knit During Executions"
Geri Walton: "Tricoteuses: Knitting Women of the Guillotine"

					

Read Full Post »

Marie Antoinette by Gautier-Dagoty, 1775, Palace of Versailles

While Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) cannot take credit for inventing the pouf, she is certainly responsible for its popularity.  In 1774, when she became Queen of pre-Revolutionary France, over-the-top luxury was still very much the rage. For over a decade, fashionable French women had been raising, or poufing, their hair with woolen pads, coating and stiffening it with pomade made of beef lard or bear grease, and dusting it with wheat and corn powder. But, with the help of her Parisian milliner, Rose Bertin, and hairdresser, Léonard Autié, Marie Antoinette adopted the already established mode and took it to outrageous new heights. She made the pouf her signature look.

Marie Antoinette

Fashion plate a la Marie Antoinette

The rumor mill buzzed with tales of her many lovers, gambling debts, and shopping addiction. Of Austrian blood, the French were suspicious of foreign queens. Could they trust her? They might love her or hate her, on this they could disagree. But on one point the French were united. They couldn’t take their eyes off her. Although the Queen was criticized for her extravagant fashion statements and excessive spending, aristocrats and commoners clambered to imitate her style. Paris—and soon, Europe—broke out in a rash of copycat poufs. 

French fashion in the age of Marie Antoinette

The pouf was halfway between a hairstyle and a hat. The thickly-powdered hair was teased away from the face then arranged high on the head on a wire scaffolding resembling a cone-shaped garden topiary. Next, the hairdresser added and intertwined false curls—curly, wavy, crimped— sometimes made of horsehair, diamond jewelry, ropes of pearls, yards of gauze, lace, and ribbon, pompoms, ostrich and peacock feathers, bows, rosettes, butterflies, figurines, and props. With such ornamentation, the stylist then set about to create a miniature still-life upon this rickety foundation. The theme of the elaborate, yard-high headdress could be a sentiment, a commemoration of an event, or an expression of a political opinion. The creativity was inexhaustible.

One of Marie Antoinette’s earliest poufs was the pouf à l’inoculation to publicize her triumph in persuading the King to be vaccinated against smallpox. Perched in the hairdo was a serpent in an olive tree (symbols of wisdom and Aesculapius), behind which rose the golden sun of enlightenment. When the French supported the Americans in their revolution, Marie Antoinette showed her support by wearing a pouf à la Belle Poule. The intricate hairdo featured a French ship that had won a decisive victory against the British in June 1778.

The ship itself, with its masts, rigging, and guns, was imitated in miniature on the pouf. This elaborate creation, a celebration of sorts, was an overnight success. It should be noted, however, that many such coifs were supported with wired scaffolding and were very heavy.

Marie Antoinette’s fashion nod to France’s role in the American Revolution. The hairdo is the Pouf á la Belle Poule.

The poufs were almost impossible to wash and became breeding grounds for vermin. They were itchy and uncomfortable. Women used special head-scratchers to alleviate some of the agony. Because they were so expensive to create, many women wore them for a week or more and were obliged to sleep virtually upright upon a mound of pillows. Top-heaviness made dancing difficult. Riding in a carriage was problematic. To keep from ruining her towering pouf, a woman might end up kneeling on the floorboard on the way to a ball or even leaning her head out the window. Satirical cartoons poked fun at these slaves to fashion.

This British satirical etching commented on the French fashion for tall hairstyles, circa 1771. Image courtesy the British Museum.

Ever establishing new and exotic trends, Marie Antoinette spent a lifetime creating her identity as the nation’s most celebrated and reviled fashion plate. The attention she commanded came at a price. During the French Revolution, she was blamed for the country’s financial crisis.  Hidden away in luxury at the Palace of Versailles, she and her husband, King Louis XVI, were oblivious to the plight of the French working classes, starving for bread and suffering from years of poor harvests, rising food prices, and an unfair tax system. Their anger boiled over. In October 1789, an angry mob of perhaps ten thousand market women and their allies descended on Versailles with spears, pikes, kitchen blades, and cannons, calling for the Queen’s death. At the Palace, they beat and slaughtered guards. They compelled the King and Queen to return with them to Paris. The twelve-mile return walk took nine hours as the mob had swelled to sixty thousand. Some of the marchers paraded the shorn heads of royal guards on their upraised pikes.

An illustration of the Women’s March on Versailles, October 5-6, 1789. Artist Unknown. Bibliothèque nationale de France

Over the next two years, the Revolution moved to The Terror. The King was executed. Nine months later, on October 14, 1793, Marie Antoinette’s trial began. Two days later, the Queen was convicted of high treason by the Revolutionary Tribunal and executed by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution. Marie Antoinette’s reign as Queen of France had ended but her reign as Queen of Fashion had not:

Shortly after the guillotine sliced its own bloody version of a necklace in the Queen’s throat, well-born women in Paris began tying thin red ribbons around their necks as reminders of what they might soon suffer.

Sources
Weber, Caroline. Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
Erickson, Carolly. To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey
The Smithsonian. "Marie Antoinette"
wikipedia. "Marie Antoinette"
History Hoydens. "Can You Top This? Marie Antoinette's Hairstyles"
Collectors Weekly. "Fashion to Die For: Did an Addiction to Fads Lead 
Marie Antoinette to the Guillotine?"
Huffington Post. "Marie Antoinette's Craziest, Most Epic Hairstyles"
BibliOdyssey. "Waiter, There's a Hair in My Satire"
wikipedia. "Women's March on Versailles"

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: