On September 25, 1911, the French battleship Liberte was sitting in harbor in Toulon. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive explosion rocked the ship, killing some 250 sailors and officers and sending the massive ship to the bottom of the harbor. In the previous five years, the French navy had suffered a series of major naval disasters – ending in the deaths of over 400 French sailors. These explosions eventually tied to a degraded gunpowder known as Poudre B which was prone to blowing up accidentally when improperly stored. During this stretch, the biggest adversary of the French navy was, far and away, the French navy. More men were lost in in-harbor accidents than in any other way.
On August 21, 1911, a very low-tech and unsophisticated art heist of a popularly obscure painting (at the time) from the Louvre. On that Monday morning, three men rushed out of the museum having been hidden all night. With them, they carried Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa! At the time, the Mona Lisa was little known outside the artistic community. In fact, it was so little known that it was not noticed as missing for over 24 hours after it walked out the front door. The brazen nature of the crime shocked the world and the Mona Lisa became a household name almost overnight.
Suspicion initially fell on prominent members of the art community – both artists and collectors alike. In particular, both banking magnate J.P. Morgan and renowned artist Pablo Picasso were questioned about perhaps hiring thieves to bring the da Vinci masterpiece into their private collections. In fact, the actual thief was one of the three men there that night – Vincenzo Perugia, a handyman who worked for the Louvre and had helped to install the glass box that protected the painting. Perugia meant to sell the painting immediately, but the press coverage was much more than he expected and, as such, the Mona Lisa was “too hot.”
Perugia hid his prize in a false bottom of a trunk in his Paris apartment. In late 1913, Perugia decided it would now be alright to try to sell the painting and brought it to an art dealer in Florence, Italy. The dealer looked over the painting and called the authorities who promptly arrested Perugia. The thief claimed patriotic motives for stealing the Mona Lisa saying that he was returning it to its Italian homeland after it had been stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte. In fact, the Mona Lisa’s residence in France long predated Napoleon – it was purchased by the Sun King, Louis XIV who added it to his amazing collection at his palace at Versailles. After Perugia’s arrest, the Mona Lisa was returned to its gallery in the Louvre on January 4, 1914.
Featured Image: “Mona Lisa.” By C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page – Cropped and relevelled from File:Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF.jpg. Originally C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page, Public Domain.
Image 1. “Mona Lisa Stolen.” By Unknown – “The Two Mona Lisas” by Walter Littlefield, article from Century Magazine, Vol. 87, N° 4 (Feb 1914). Published by The Century CompanyDirect link to article, Public Domain.
Image 2. “Vincenzo Perugia.” By Unknown – http://www.yourbrushwiththelaw.com/_pictures/csac/perugia_mugshot.jpg, Public Domain.
Source: “The Theft That Made The ‘Mona Lisa’ A Masterpiece.” NPR: All Things Considered. 30 July 2011.
On August 2, 1343, early on in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, Breton knight, Olivier De Clisson, was executed under orders of King Philip VI of France for treason. Olivier was accused of aiding and abetting the English enemy, but the evidence was never made public prompting rumors of the lord’s execution was politically motivated. These events led Olivier’s wife, Jeanne De Belleville, took their two sons and her deceased husband’s fleet of ships and set out to teach the King of France a lesson. She hired a crew of sailors and went about roving the English Channel in the search of French targets – the Lady had turned pirate! One of the most daring raids attributing to the so-called Lioness of Brittany was a raid on the Chateau Thébaut in the Loire River Valley, where she wiped out the entire French garrison. She also reputedly captured a French ship sailing on the English Channel and, finding a French nobleman loyal to the King aboard, decapitated him by her own hand, thus she had her revenge for her (purportedly) wrongly executed husband.
While much of the story of Jeanne De Belleville is legend, the records do support that she led a short period of revolt against the French King, though many of the exact details actually date to the French Romantic Movement on the nineteenth century. Jeanne’s story of a strong female leader during the Hundred Years’ War is hardly unique. In fact, the most famous one is another one we will be covering in History is Stranger of Fiction – Joan of Arc!
Source: Adams, James. “Jeanne De Belleville, Pirate or Politician?” James Adams Historic Enterprises.
Featured Image: “Jeanne De Belleville: The Lioness of Brittany.”
Image 1: “Execution of Olivier De Clisson.” By Liédet, Loyset (v.1420-1479) – BNF RC-B-01633 FRANCAIS 2643, Chroniques. – Bruges Folio 126, Public Domain.
On July 28, 1794, French Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre met his end under the blade of a Paris guillotine, the horrific machine that he put to such efficient use during his Reign of Terror. Robespierre and his radical followers had come into the fullest of power in France in September 1793 with the beginning of the Reign of Terror that saw the execution of King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, and approximately 40,000 other French people of both monarchical and moderate republican outlook. That vast majority of these individuals met their deaths by guillotine. In an act of ultimate irony, the author of so many guillotine deaths met his own demise in the same machine largely because he had executed so many people.
Source: “Maximilian Robespierre.” BBC History.
Featured Image. “The Execution of Robespierre.” By Unknown – Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain.
Image 1. “Robespierre Executing the Executioner.” By unidentified – La Guillotine en 1793 by H. Fleischmann (1908), page 269 Google BooksInternet Archive copy, Public Domain.
June 14, 1894 was the birthday of Marie-Adélaïde, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg – a very interesting figure in the history of the Duchy. She became ruler of the small country in 1912 – the first female ruler since Maria Theresa in 1740. Marie-Adélaïde’s life was to be tragically short and complicated. Her country was invaded by German forces in the early days of the Great War in 1914. Her people became quite upset with her rule during her country’s occupation. The common perception was that she was too close to the Germans. In 1919 she was overthrown by her people and replaced by her younger sister, Charlotte. Marie-Adélaïde left the Duchy and joined a convent in Italy, but her stay was to be short-lived. She died on pneumonia at 29 years old in 1924.
Featured Image: “Marie-Adélaïde.” By Bain News Service, publisher – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ggbain.13940. Public Domain.
Donovan, Henry. Chicago Eagle. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.
On February 12, 1894, a young French intellectual walked the streets of Paris looking to find a crowd – he wanted to create havoc. Emile Henry was a dedicated anarchist who escalated the past acts of his cohorts which had been directed at authority figures. Henry’s attack would be on the common people – the bourgeoisie. Henry’s target was a cafe at the Gare St. Lazare, a major rail terminal in the city. The anarchist lit the fuse of the bomb he had concealed in his coat and threw it into a crowd of diners – injuring some 20 people, killing one. Henry was immediately apprehended by authorities. At his trial, he declared that “no respect for human life, because the bourgeois themselves have absolutely none.” He saw the common people as the lackeys of the ruling class and, thus, were not due any concern or consideration. They were part of the problem. Emile Henry met his fate, the guillotine, on May 21, 1894.
Featured Image: “Emile Henry.” Public Domain.
“Was This Man the First Terrorist of the Modern Age?” BBC News. 7 October 2009.
On May 7, 1748, a young girl was born in Southern France who was to grow up to have a profound, ahead-of-her-time influence on the rights of women. Marie Gouze was born into a middle class family in pre-Revolutionary France. After giving birth to her first son, she took the name by which she would be known to history: Olympe de Gouges.
She became a playwright in Enlightenment France and was influenced by the writings of men like Rousseau and Voltaire who called for equal rights for “all.” As the actions of many of Enlightenment revolutionary leaders show, “all” did not mean “all,” but rather “white men.” In the famous document, “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the leaders of the French Revolution laid out their ideas of natural rights. In response to this, de Gouges published “The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen.” In this document, she called out the leaders of the revolution for ignoring the plight of women and failing to include anything concerning equal rights of the sexes.
If you know anything about the French Revolution, they did not take kindly to having their ideas questioned and criticized. de Gouges was arrested for her work, sentenced to death by guillotine and executed in 1793. Her work is now seen as an early feminist who risked and lost her life standing up for what she believed in.
Featured Image: “Olympe de Gouges.” By Alexander Kucharsky – Collection particulière, Public Domain.
Image 1. “Declaration of the Rights of Women, page 1.” By Olympe de Gouges – Originally from ., Public Domain.