Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès (October 18, 1753-March 8, 1824), French lawyer and statesman. Born into a noble family in Montpellier, he studied law and succeeded his father as a counselor in the court of accounts and finances there in 1774. He supported the French Revolution and was elected to the National Convention in 1792, representing the department of Hérault and proclaiming the first republic the same year. De Cambacérès was a moderate, protesting the Convention’s right to sit as a court to try Louis XVI, but he did vote “guilty” at the end of the trial. In 1799, he was appointed Minister of Justice; in that capacity, he supported Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup of 18 Brumaire, in which Napoleon become First Consul and de Cambacérès was named Second Consul. Napoleon directed him to lead a commission to revise the nation’s cumbersome, confusing and outdated laws and the result was the Code Civil des Français, better known as the Napoleonic Code, which went into force on March 21, 1804. This code enshrined many of the most important principles of the French Revolution, such as abolishing privileges based on birth, allowing for freedom of religion, and establishing the idea of qualification for employment by merit rather than influence or purchase; however, the Code had a negative impact on the rights of women, as it determined the supremacy of the husband/father over his wife and children and abolished the right of mutual divorce. Through Napoleon’s conquest of much of Europe, the legal code written by de Cambacérès became law in most of Europe, and would influence legal concepts elsewhere, notably in the Middle East and Latin America. De Cambacérès was relatively open about his homosexuality, never marrying and sharing his life with several men; indeed, de Cambacérès’ penchant for cruising the Palais-Royal was so well known that it was even mentioned in debate in the National Assembly. As a result, many assume that the decriminalization of homosexuality in France is due to his influence; this is not the case: sodomy was decriminalized in 1791, during the early days of the Revolution and before he had entered the government; the laws were simply not reinstated. As Second Consul, de Cambacérès – whom Napoleon had named a prince of the Empire as well as the Duke of Parma in 1808 – was often the de-facto leader of the French Empire during Napoleon’s many military engagements away from the country. After Napoleon’s fall from power and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814, de Cambacérès was briefly stripped of his citizenship and threatened with exile, but his status was restored in 1818 and he lived quietly in Paris until his death in 1824.


Illustrations from the so-called “Brussels Album”, depicting numerous ceremonies held to mark the wedding of the Duke of Parma; Cornelis Cort after Frans Floris I, c. 1565;

Masquerade - Amazons fighting wild people

Welcoming ceremony for Margaret of Parma, Governor of the Netherlands 

Wedding ceremony of Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and Margaret 

The Real Life Beauty and the Beast  

Petrus Gonsalvus (born Pedro Gonzales) was born in 1537 in the Canary Islands with a rare condition known as hypertrichosis (werewolf syndrome), in which abnormal amounts of hair grow all over the body, including the face. Due to this, he was treated like an animal for the early part of his life, fed raw meat and left outdoors. By his mid-teens, he was discovered by the French navy, captured, and brought forth to the king, Henry II. The king was intrigued by Pedro, and declared that he would bring in the best scientists and tutors to study Pedro and teach him to be a gentleman. In addition, he would have his name changed to his Latin name, Petrus Gonsalvus. Despite his beast-like state, Petrus turned out be be an excellent student and gentleman, but scientists had no explanation for his condition.

In 1559, Henry II died from wounds in a jousting accident; leaving his brutal widow, Catherine de’ Medici, to briefly take the throne. When it came time for Petrus to marry, the Queen was chosen to hand-select his bride. She chose the beautiful young daughter of a court official who shared her name, Catherine. Catherine did not know the identity of her beastly husband-to-be until she arrived at the altar, where she reportedly fainted at the sight of him. She had no choice but to marry him, but she was terrified of what would happen to her. Over time. however, Catherine grew to be fond of him, and she was soon pregnant with their first child. 

Catherine and Petrus had seven children in all. Their first two children were hairless, much to the disappointment of the court. However, their next two children did have hypertrichosis, and they were sent off across Europe to be presented to multiple royal families, the hairless children ignored. Soon they settled in Italy, where Catherine had three more children, two of whom were hairy. Unfortunately, the children with hypertrichosis were exploited by the Duke of Parma, and were given away as gifts to mistresses of monarchs across Europe.

Despite the exploitation, Petrus and Catherine were very happy in their nearly fifty-year marriage. They spent the rest of their lives in Italy, where Petrus died around the year 1618. Catherine died in the same home a few years later.

Over a hundred years later, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve learned the story of Petrus and Catherine, and was inspired to write Beauty and the Beast in 1740. To this day, Beauty and the Beast remains one of the most popular fairy tales of all-time. 

Portrait of Petrus and Catherine is property of the Library of Congress


As promised, here are the children of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor (well, all except Joseph who married at 19 years old in 1760 with Princess Isabella of Parma). All portraits are by Jean-Ètienne Liotard made in 1762, and with just one look you can see why his portraits were SO famous all around Europe.

1. Maria Anna Josepha Antonia, 24 years old, (born 1738). A very intelligent woman, she was her father’s favourite and had a huge interest in science and art (look at her little book), she never married since she was physically disabled, but was a member of the Vienna and Florence Academy of Arts.

2. Maria Christina Johanna Josepha Antonia, 20 years old, (born 1742). Intelligent and artistically gifted (she’s drawing in this portrait!), she was her mother’s favourite and thus the only child to choose her spouse. Well, that’s a smart girl.

3. Maria Elisabeth Josepha, 19 years old, (born 1743). Considered the prettiest of the sisters, a suitable spouse was not found in proper time and later on was considered to get married with the widowed Louis XV, but the smallpox left her a scarred face and never married.

4. Maria Amalia Josepha Johanna Antonia, 16 years old, (born 1746). Obedient and dutiful, married to the Duke of Parma, the brother of Joseph II’s first wife, with the pressure of her mother: she wanted to marry for love with Prince Charles of Zweibrücken (as Maria Christina did) but Maria Theresa never approved. Her relationship with her mother was always awful.

5. Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard, 15 years old, (born 1747). Successor of the grand duchy of Tuscany and engaged to marry the Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain, he was cold, intelligent and steady (all which came handy as the Duke of Tuscany and later Emperor) and is shown here drawing a fort. Later on, his many affairs would be famous and even later he would became Holy Roman Emperor.

6. Maria Joanna Gabriella Josepha Antonia, 12 years old, (born 1750). Considered a good natured and likeable girl she was very close to her sister Maria Josepha and was engaged with King Charles III of Spain’s son, Ferdinand, but she died of smallpox inoculation later the same year this portrait was made.

7. Maria Josepha Gabriela Johanna Antonia Anna, 11 years old, (born 1751). Described as “delightfully pretty, she was (also) engaged with King Ferdinand, but died at 16 years old also of smallpox.

8. Maria Karolina Luise Josepha Johanna Antonia, 10 years old, (born 1752). Very fond of her younger sister Maria Antonia (just look at this pretty portrait of them both!), and the one who finally married King Ferdinand. Not very happy of her marriage she ended up being the mind behind the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily.

9. Ferdinand Karl Anton Joseph Johann Stanislaus, 8 years old (born 1754). When he was 9 years old the Duke of Modena signed a treaty with the Empress Maria Theresa engaging him to his only daughter Maria Beatrice, making him the heir.

10. Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, 7 years old (born 1755). Marie Antoinette excelled at music in her childhood (she was taught by Gluck, so of course she was good!) at age 15 she was engaged to Louis-Auguste the Dauphin of France and well, we all know how it ends.

11. Maximilien-Franz, 6 years old (born in 1756). The youngest child he became Archbishop and Elector Spiritual of Cologne, and went to live in Bonn where he became patron of Ludwig van Beethoven. So this kid had a great musical taste.

Tiaras at the Vatican

Princess Irene of the Netherlands wore the Bourbon-Parma Tiara on a visit with Pope Paul VI in 1964.  (Please note that this was immediately following her wedding to Prince Carlos Hugo, Duke of Bourbon-Parma, Princess Irene does not have the privilege du blanc)

Ferdinand II armour. Created by Lucio Piccinino (1550-1589). Gift from Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza

He was an avid collector of art and the collection of the famous Castle Ambras near Innsbruck was started in his time. He had begun to work on it even during his time in Bohemia and subsequently moved it to Tyrol. In particular, the gallery of portraits and the collection of armor were highly expensive, which is why the archduke incurred a high level of debt.

Sophie Philippine Élisabeth Justine de France, fille de France (27 July 1734 – 2 March 1782) was a French princesse du sang. She was the sixth daughter and eighth child of Louis XV of France and his Queen consort,Marie Leszczyńska. First known as Madame Cinquième, she later became Madame Sophie.


Sophie is less well known than many of her sisters. Her birth at the Palace of Versailles was relatively unremarked. Unlike the older children of Louis XV, she was not raised at Versailles, but sent to live at the Abbey of Fontevraud with her older sister Madame Victoire and younger sisters Madame Thérèse (who died young) and Madame Louise.

She had a shy, reserved nature, and was considered ugly and uninteresting. She is reported to have had a phobia of thunder, and it was known that she reacted strongly toward it. Her father called her Graille. She did not exercise any influence at the court, but let herself be directed by her older sister Madame Adélaïde, following her in her antipathy against her father’s mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and then Madame du Barry.

She was one of the four royal sisters to survive their parents. Her mother died on 24 June 1768 and all of her children were badly affected. Her father died six years later on 10 May 1774.

During the reign of her nephew Louis XVI of France, she and her sisters were allowed to maintain their apartments at Versailles and often stayed at the Château de Bellevue - made famous by the mistress of her father. In 1776, Louis XVI made her the Duchess of Louvois with her sister Madame Adélaïde, both of whom held the duchy-peerage for their lifetime.

She was buried in the royal tomb at the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis which was plundered and destroyed at the time of the French Revolution.

Her nephews included (among others) Ferdinand, Duke of Parma, Louis XVI of France, Louis XVIII of France, Charles X of France. Her nieces included Madame Élisabeth and Queen Maria Luisa of Spain.

In 2006, she was played by actress Shirley Henderson in the movie Marie Antoinette.

Her niece, Madame Sophie, youngest daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was named after her.


Isabella (or Isabel) Farnesio (or Elizabeth Farnese) was born in 1692 in Parma, Italy, the niece and stepdaughter of the duke of Parma. In 1714 she married Philip V of Spain after the death of his first wife, the popular Maria Louisa Gabriela of Savoy. After the marriage, Isabella, a handsome, ambitious woman took complete control of King Philip. Her husband was so besotted by her that he sometimes struck her in a fit of jealous rage. However, Isabella was willing to overlook his capricious behavior in order to maintain her control over him. Her chief ambitions were to break France’s influence over the Spanish crown and to recover Italian possessions by exiling Austrians from Italy. Isabella and Philip had seven children. Since Philip had two sons by his first wife, Isabella had not much hope that her children would reign on the Spanish throne, so she spent much of her reign attempting to supplant Austrian power in Italy, securing Italian principalities for her children to govern. She was shrewd in her choice of ministers, selecting those who would carry out her foreign policy to the ends that Spain’s imperialistic gains in Italy were significant. Isabella made improvements in the country’s economy and enacted reforms in the military and administrative branches of the government. Her husband abdicated briefly in 1724 in favor of his oldest son, Luis, but returned when Luis died of small-pox that same year. Philip died in 1746 and was succeeded by Ferdinand VI, his son by his first wife. Isabella then retired from court. She died in 1766.

Elizabeth was an avid lover of music and during her lifetime a steady stream of Italian musicians settled in Spain, notably composer and teacher Domenico Scarlatti and the famous opera singer Farinelli. In 1737 Isabel Farnese had asked him to come to distract Philip V from his melancholy. Farinelli’s magnificent voice had been heard at the Imperial, French and British courts and at nearly all those of Italy, and at the age of thirty-two he had reached the peak if his fame. Farinelli quickly gained the sovereign’s complete confidence, so much so that he was exempt from submitting to the authority of any other person on institution in the country but the king and the queen. It is curious that, according to the famous singer’s own confession, the man who had given him the most practical advice on his art was the Emperor Charles VI, Philip V’s rival, who would never have suspected that his words would go to help the singer to perfect himself and to sweeten the last days of his old enemy.