french second empire

Evening Dress


During the 1850s in France, there was renewed interest in eighteenth-century literature, art, and architecture and nostalgia for the lost world of Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour, who symbolized gracious living for the aristocracy and newly rich bourgeoisie. The resurgence of interest in rococo artists included reissues in England and France of engravings after the ornamental designs and paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau. The fabric itself, a Jacquard-woven silk produced in Lyons, reveals the derivative nature of mid-nineteenth-century textile design, which often used elements copied directly from prints of the work of well-known artists.

For the fabric of this ball gown, two images by Jacques-Philippe Le Bas after Watteau have been combined. It is likely that the fabric was originally meant to have been used for furnishings, probably for a bedroom or boudoir (dressing room or private sitting room). The silk’s swing design would have been considered provocative for the time since it had long been associated with love-making and seduction. The gown was possibly worn originally by a member of the demimonde such as an actress-or by a naive young woman. The choice of the swing theme was especially appropriate for an evening dress, in which the wearer would want to appear demure yet flirtatious.

Philadelphia Museum of Art


Treuille de Beaulieu Mle 1854 pistol

Issued in 1856, designed in 1854 by Antoine Hector Thésée Treuille de Beaulieu, then capitaine of artillery, following his appointment along with Louis Gastinne and Arcelin in 1851 to design breech-loading firearms for the French army’s most elite regiments.
It uses a small caliber high-powered pinfire cartridge, which along with its action similar to its carbine counterpart set it well above the muzzle-loaders of his time, with the only military weapons surpassing it in quality arguably being the Colt revolvers. However, unlike them, these guns were only issued to the Cents-Gardes, Napoléon III’s personal bodyguard, and were never used in battle. It still holds the distinction of being, along with its carbine counterpart, the first metallic cartridge firearm issued to a military - if only in very limited number, barely more than a hundred.
Treuille de Beaulieu strong with this success would go on to work on rifled cannon for the new Lahitte artillery overall in the French army, in parallel to the adoption of the Armstrong cannon across the Channel.
I am screaming in glee right now.


A Vivandière attends to a soldier of the Zouave regiment during the Crimean War, 5 May 1855.

Vivandières, also known as a Cantinières, were women who travelled with the French army as canteen workers. They often wore a female version of the uniform of the regiment they were attached to. Zouave regiments from Algeria served with the French army during the Crimean War.

Sergeant Léo Major, the Nazi Killing Machine

Sergeant Léo Major was a French Canadian soldier in the Régiment de la Chaudière during the Second World War. He was the only Canadian and one of only three soldiers in the British Commonwealth to ever receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal twice in separate wars.

Major’s first military action came in June of 1944. During a reconnaissance mission on D-Day, Major captured a German armoured vehicle single-handedly. The vehicle contained German communication equipment and secret German Army codes.

Days later, during his first encounter with an SS patrol, he killed four soldiers; however, one of them managed to ignite a phosphorus grenade. After the resulting explosion, Major lost one eye but continued to fight.

He continued his service as a scout and a sniper by insisting that he needed only one eye to sight his weapon. According to him, he “looked like a pirate”.

Major single-handedly captured 93 German soldiers during the Battle of the Scheldt in Zeeland in the southern Netherlands. In a nearby village, SS troops who witnessed German soldiers being escorted by a Canadian soldier shot at their own soldiers, injuring a few and killing seven. Major disregarded the enemy fire and kept escorting his prisoners to the Canadian front line. Major then ordered a passing Canadian tank to fire on the SS troops.

He marched back to camp with nearly a hundred prisoners. Thus, he was chosen to receive a DCM. He declined the invitation to be decorated, however, because according to him General Montgomery (who was giving the award) was “incompetent” and in no position to be giving out medals.

In February 1945, Major was helping a padre load corpses from a destroyed Tiger tank into a Bren Carrier. After they finished loading the bodies, the padre and the driver seated themselves in the front whilst Major jumped on the back of the vehicle. The carrier soon struck a land mine. Major claims to have remembered a loud blast followed by his body being thrown into the air and smashing down hard as he landed on his back. He lost consciousness and awoke to two concerned medical officers trying to assess his condition. He simply asked if the padre was okay. They did not answer, but loaded him onto a truck so he could be transported to a field hospital 30 miles (48 km) away, stopping every 15 minutes to inject morphine to relieve the pain in his back.

A doctor at the field hospital informed him that he had broken his back in three places, four ribs, and both ankles. Again they told Major that the war was over for him. A week went by and Major seize an opportunity to flee. He managed to get a ride from a passing jeep that drove him to Nijmegen. He went back to his unit in March 1945. Technically, Pte Major would have been AWOA (Absent Without Authority). There is a lack of sources regarding how Major was able to avoid punishment.

In the beginning of April, the Régiment de la Chaudière were approaching the city of Zwolle, which presented strong German resistance. The Commanding Officer asked for two volunteers to reconnoitre the German force before the artillery began firing at the city. Private Major and his friend Corporal Willie Arseneault stepped forward to accept the task. In order to keep the city intact, the pair decided to try to capture Zwolle alone, though they were only supposed to reconnoitre the German numbers and attempt contact with the Dutch Resistance.

Around midnight Arseneault was killed by German fire after accidentally giving away the team’s position. Enraged, Major killed two of the Germans, but the rest of the group fled in a vehicle. He decided to continue his mission alone. He entered Zwolle near Sassenport and came upon a staff car. He ambushed and captured the German driver, and then led him to a bar where an officer was taking a drink. Inside he found that they could both speak French (the officer was from Alsace), and Major told him that at 6:00 am Canadian artillery would begin firing at the city, causing numerous casualties among both the German troops and the civilians. As a sign of good faith, he gave the German his gun back.

Major then proceeded to run throughout the city firing his machine gun, throwing grenades and making so much noise that he fooled the Germans into thinking that the Canadian Army was storming the city in earnest. As he was doing this, he would attack and capture German troops. About 10 times during the night he captured groups of 8 to 10 German soldiers, escorted them out of the city and gave them to the French-Canadian troops that were waiting in the vicinity. After transferring his prisoners to the troops, he would return to Zwolle to continue his assault. However, four times during the night he had to force his way into civilians’ houses to get some rest. He eventually located the Gestapo HQ and set the building on fire. Later stumbling upon the SS HQ, he got into a quick but deadly fight with eight ranking Nazi officers: four were killed, and the other half fled. He noticed that two of the SS he just killed were disguised as resistance members. The Zwolle resistance had been (or were going to be) infiltrated by the Nazis.

By 4:30 am, the exhausted Major found out that the Germans had retreated. Zwolle had been liberated, and the Resistance contacted. Walking in the street he met four members of the Dutch Resistance. He informed them that the city was now free of Germans.

Major found out later that morning that the Germans had fled to the west of the River IJssel and, perhaps more importantly, that the planned shelling of the city would be called off and his Régiment de la Chaudière could enter the city unopposed. Major then took his dead friend back to the Van Gerner farm until regimental reinforcements could carry him away. He was back at camp by 9:00 am. For his actions, he received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Léo Major also fought in the Korean War, where he was awarded a bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal for capturing and holding a key hill (Hill 355).

This position was being controlled by the Third US Infantry Division (around 10,000 men) when the 64th Chinese Army (around 40,000 men) lowered a decisive artillery barrage. Over the course of two days, the Americans were pushed back by elements of the Chinese 190th and 191st Divisions.

They tried to recapture the hill, but without any success, and the Chinese had moved to the nearby Hill 227, practically surrounding the US forces. In order to relieve pressure, LCol J.A. Dextraze, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion Royal 22nd Regiment, brought up an elite scout and sniper team led by Léo Major. Wielding Stenguns, Major and his 18 men silently crept up the hill. At a signal, Major’s men opened fire, panicking the Chinese who were trying to understand why the firing was coming from the center of their troops instead of from the outside. By 12:45 am they had retaken the hill.

However, an hour later two Chinese divisions (the 190th and the 191st, totaling around 14,000 men) counter-attacked. Major was ordered to retreat, but refused and found scant cover for his men. There he held the enemy off throughout the night, though they were so close to him that Major’s own mortar shells were practically raining down on him.

For three days his men held off multiple Chinese counter-assaults until reinforcements arrived. For his actions, Major was awarded the bar to the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Major died in Longueuil on 12 October 2008 and was buried at the Last Post Fund National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, Quebec. He was survived by: Pauline De Croiselle, his wife of 57 years; four children; and five grandchildren.


Pistolet Mle 1855

Designed possibly by Devisme in Paris, made by the Manufacture d’Armes de St-Etienne for the French general staff c.French Second Empire - no serial number, those are for peasants.
17,1mm ball, twin caplock rifled barrels, ‘neorenaissance’ style grip, side-mounted ramrod with chain lanyard.

It’s very French of France to give its Officers regular issue duel pistols in war caliber.


The Gras Rifle Part I — The Model 1866 Chassepot

Fielded by the French Army from the 1870′s all the way up to World War I, the Gras was France’s first self contained metallic military bolt action rifle. A rugged, reliable, and accurate rifle, it served not only with France, but with countries all over Europe, Asia, and South America. Before I can start this series on the Gras rifle however, I must first do a post on its direct predecessor, the Model 1866 Chassepot needle rifle.

In 1841 a German gunsmith named Johann Niklaus von Dreyse invented the needlefire rifle, the first bolt action rifle to be adopted by a major military power. The Dreyse needle rifle was a single shot breechloading bolt action rifle which fired a combustible paper cartridge. It was called a “needle rifle” because the firing pin was essentially a large needle which pierced the paper cartridge, detonating the firing pin placed in the center of the cartridge and thus discharging the round.

With this new breechloading system, soldiers could fire around 10 -12 shots a minute at a time when everyone else was using muzzleloading rifled muskets which could fire 3-4 shots a minute. The Prussian military quickly adopted the rifle and began production en masse. The Dreyse needle rifle was an amazing technological advantage for the Prussians. One of many technological and organizational advantages that allowed Prussia to defeat Denmark in 1864 and the Austrian Empire in 1866. Europe watched as Prussia grew from a small kingdom straddling Eastern and Western Europe into a unified German state. Next door neighbor and European superpower France took notice, and it quickly became clear that the two nations would come to blows. 

With the successes of the Dreyse needle rifle,  France wanted in on needlefire technology as well. In 1866 the Antoine Alphones Chassepot introduced the Model 1866 Chassepot. 

Chassepot constructed two earlier prototypes which were bolt action rifles utilizing a percussion cap system, however it was his third model with a needlefire system which drew the attention of the French military. The new Chassepot had many features which gave it an edge over the Dreyse, in fact what Chassepot created was an all around superior rifle. One of the most important improvements to the needlefire system was it’s action. Before firing the action needed to be cocked by hand. This was done by pulling back on a knob at the rear of the bolt, then opening the action, inserting a cartridge, closing the action, and pulling the trigger.

With the Dreyse the user had to pull back on a knob at the end of the bolt to unlock the action. The user then opened the action, inserted a cartridge, and closed the action. Once closed, he then had the push the knob forward to lock the action and set spring tension on the firing pin. Essentially Chassepot was able to simplify the needlefire action thus eliminating a step in the loading and firing process.

In addition to this simplified action, the bolt head featured a rubber O-ring or gasket which sealed the chamber when the action was closed. This prevented hot gasses from escaping and blowing in the eyes of the user, a problem common with the Dreyse rifle.

Perhaps the most important improvement with the Chassepot was its ammunition. The older Dreyse fired a .61 caliber oval shaped bullet which was smaller than the bore of the rifle. The bullet was wrapped in a paper sabot which made contact with the rifling. The Chassepot fired a .433 caliber conical shaped bullet which was to caliber with the bore, allowing the bullet itself to make contact with the rifling. This combined with the gas seal system gave the Chassepot 33% more muzzle velocity than the Dreyse, better accuracy, and 400 meters more range compared to the Dreyse. Another simple yet important improvement was the placement of the primer in the cartridge. The Dreyse cartridge had the primer placed in the center of the cartridge, thus the needle firing pin had to pierce halfway through the cartridge in order the set off the firing pin. As a result, the firing pins of Dreyse rifles tended to wear out quickly. The French had the good sense to simply place the primer at the end of the cartridge. 

In 1871 the inevitable war with Prussia began as the Prussian Army and an alliance of of German states invaded France, beginning the Franco Prussian War. The Chassepot rifle made it’s first grand battlefield debut and quickly showed its superiority over the Dreyse. However, the Prussians were supior in many other areas such as artillery, transportation and logistics, communications, training, organization, tactics, and leadership. In six months, the Prussians stormed through France, killing 138,000 French soldiers, capturing another 400,000 , capturing Emperor Napoleon III, and occupying Paris, all while losing around 18,000 men.

While the Franco Prussian War signaled the end of the Second French Empire it was not the end of the Chassepot. Needlefire technology would become obsolete with the adoption of the self contained metallic cartridge, and the Chassepot would adapt, leading up to the Gras rifle.

To be Continued… 


Canon de 27cm Mle 1870

Used in battleships and coast defenses c.1870~1918.
274mm caliber 216kg shells, 434m/s muzzle velocity giving it an estimated 300mm of penetration in wrought iron armor at combat range, breech-loading single shot.

Picture taken c.1885 by Gustave Bourgain onboard a Colbert-class French ironclad, below the center battery.

Note the boarding weapons on racks on the left side of the picture, including cutlasses and Lefaucheux Mle1858 revolvers. The Colbert-class ironclads were also armed with, beside a variety of other naval guns, more than a dozen Hotchkiss 37mm revolving cannons, four 356mm torpedo tubes and a ram.


Mle 1854 Imperial Guard Cuirassier’s Cuirass and Helmet

Helmet manufactured c.early 1870′s by Delachaussée - serial number 1.
Cuirass made by the Manufacture Impériale de Klingenthal c.1856, size 2 width 1 - serial number 89.
Steel with brass fittings, stamped imperial crest on the helmet, with horsehair on the comb.

Although mostly obsolete by the time of the Franco-Prussian war, these suits of armor were still impervious to any melee weapons, and pistol shots up to point-blank range.


fulton_mansion_rockport_5Div1059 by Steve Miller
Via Flickr:
Built by George Fulton (one of the engineers who built the Brooklyn Bridge) and completed in 1873 in rockport, Texas. He retired there and took up cattle ranching, one of the richest men in South Texas. It is in the French Second Empire style, very stylish for the time (and rmeains so), and contains many innovations brought west. It had running water and indoor toilets, extremely rare for that time, especially in this part of the country. The Fultons prided themselves on having all the latest Victorian gadgets, including one of the first two telephones in South Texas (the other was in the ranch house of his ranch partner). For 117 pictures in 2017 #100, stylish.

anonymous asked:

Would Royal courts ever have had costume parties?

Oh sure; royal costume balls were a staple of court entertainment. I’ll share a few examples, though keep in mind this is barely scratching the surface of this topic. 

As you might expect, Marie-Antoinette delighted in throwing elaborate themed costume balls, as an attempt to mask her lack of real political agency in her husband’s court. For the Monday night masquerade ball held on January 9, 1775, Marie-Antoinette ordered the theme to be “Norwegians and Lapps”, with herself and her guests to be attired in Scandinavian (or, more accurately, stylish approximations of Scandinavian) costumes. In 1782, Marie-Antoinette threw another masked costume ball, this time based on Renaissance costume, in which the Queen appeared as Henri IV’s legendary mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées, covered in silver and white and ablaze with diamonds on her hat, stomacher, and girdle. Other balls were thrown on “Tyrolean” or “Indian” themes, or historical French court dress. Not that the fondness for themed costume balls ended with the Bourbons in France: the Empress Eugenie, who was herself fascinated by Marie-Antoinette, wore a number of different costumes to the balls prevalent in the Second French Empire. In 1854 she donned a Greek costume for a Tuileries ball; in 1863 she dressed as a “Bohemian” for another ball; and at other events she fashioned her dress after the goddess Diana or the wife of the Doge of Venice.

Queen Victoria, for another, threw some very themed in costume balls in the early part of her reign. In 1842, after five years on the throne, the 23-year-old Victoria and Prince Albert gave a Plantagenet Ball, in which she and her consort dressed as Philippa of Hainault and Edward III (and though her household was expected to dress in Edward III-period costume, her guests were allowed to choose any sort of fanciful dress).

Three years later, the royal couple gave another costume ball, this time themed to 1745, one hundred years prior; guests were required to come in Rococo dress, with the Queen leading the way,

In 1851, there was another Victorian royal ball, this time themed to the Restoration period under Charles II. Once again, Victoria gladly threw herself into the theme, with her properly Restoration-style dress pictured below.

Indeed, one of my very favorite royal (well, imperial) costume balls in history was that in February 1903, held by Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia. Nicholas had always had a special fondness for Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, second of the Romanov tsars and the father of Peter the Great, and so the costume ball held at the Winter Palace in 1903 was themed to his era and court. Tsar Nicholas dressed as Alexei himself, in a caftan decorated with jeweled buttons and pearls and lined with sable; he had Alexei’s own iron staff, sable cap, and pearl bracelets specially brought from the Kremlin to complete the look (though his cousin and brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, wrote later that “Nicky was obviously not sufficiently tall to do justice to his magnificent garb”).

Empress Alexandra’s costume was based on Maria Miloslavskaya, the first wife of Tsar Alexei. Her dress was made of gold brocade, sewn with diamonds and pearls; her kokoshnik was studded with emeralds, diamonds, and pearls, and her pearl earrings were so heavy she had trouble moving her head. If that was not enough extravagance for you, Alexandra also wore a 400 carat sapphire around her neck, said to be larger than a matchbox. The ensemble’s value was estimated at over a million rubles at the time, which would be well over $10 million today. 

In the interests of not making this very long post any longer, I’ll only cover a few more guests’ costumes. (Seriously. Don’t get me started on this. I will keep going.)  Grand Duchess Marie Georgievna - born a Princess of Greece and Denmark and married to Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, the one who had once commented on the heavy intermarriage of royals - came in suitably Muscovite dress, in a green sarafan sewn with silver thread and a gold blouse whose silk flowers were decorated with pearls. Her kokoshnik’s net cap was sewn with pearls as well, and pearls were embroidered around the diamond stars on it and fell in chains around her face. 

Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, the Emperor’s brother and at that time his heir, came dressed as an officer of the streltsy, the semi-professional soldiers of the old Muscovite state. His caftan and cap were made of gold brocade, with the caftan sewn with gold thread and the cap lined with sable. Michael also decided that he would borrow a treasure from the Kremlin’s vaults - a diamond aigrette once owned by Emperor Paul, to decorate his cap. However, during the ball, the Grand Duke somehow lost the aigrette. Attendees and court staff searched for it, but the aigrette was never found.