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    The French Revolution

    Last night I watched a Netflix/History Channel documentary on the French Revolution .

    The French Revolution must have impacted “our” time period. The English aristrocracy must have looked with horror upon the events of the Revolution, especially the Reign of Terror during which 16,000 to 40,000 people were guillotined.

    Knowing what happened during the French Revolution helps me understand the draconian measures the British Parliament invoked during the social unrest after the Napoleonic Wars–suspension of habeas corpus, the Seditious Meetings Act, the restrictions on newspapers, etc.

    (The conflict between social justice and social stability was essentially the conflict between my heroine and hero in Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress, by the way.)

    Random thoughts after watching the documentary:

    1. Something had to give. The disparity between the suffering of the poor and the excesses of the monarchy were too great. Desperate people do desperate acts. I cannot blame the French people for the revolt, nor the French people’s pride in seizing control of their fates.

    2. Helping to fund the American Revolution helped to bankrupt France and led to the suffering of the French poor. How ironic is that?

    3. There was a mix of altruism and fanaticism in the Revolution. Marat seemed to always have been a fanatic, spurred on by his own internal rage, having little to do with reality. Robespierre seems to have been an idealist who was corrupted by his own power.

    4. I don’t like Marat. He gratified his need to be important by stirring up the people with plots and conspiracies which did not exist. Ironically, his murderer, Charlotte Corday who only wanted to stop Marat’s influence, made him a Revolutionary icon.

    5. How did the Revolutionary heroes like Robespierre justify the Reign of Terror? Even 16,000 people executed is a massive number. And how could he justify killing men who were once allies, just because they disagreed with him? (of course, he wasn’t the only one in history to do this…)

    6. How scary it must have been for even ordinary people at the height of the Reign of Terror. It seemed like almost anyone could get a person guillotined just by saying they were against the Revolution.

    7. Robespierre sealed his own fate. When those close to you fear that they are next on your list, you rise to number one on their list!


    8. I feel sorry for Marie Antoinette. Surely she had no power and no understanding of what the lives of the poor were like.

    Do you have any random thoughts about the French Revolution? What do you think was its affect on the Regency?

    Remember. I’m blogging at Diane’s Blog on Thursdays.

    And be sure to visit the new Harlequin Historical blog on eHarlequin.

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    Living History


    Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
    But to be young was very heaven!

    Wordsworth

    We had an election here two days ago and I’m a registered Democrat who voted for Obama/Biden.

    I’m thrilled and proud and can’t think of it without tearing up. I voted early in the morning, with a wait in line of over an hour, a great convivial atmosphere, and donuts and coffee sold by our enterprising local Girl Scout troops. Then I parked myself in front of the tv that evening to watch the returns, expecting a long, long night. And there’s this wonderful, breathless, exciting feel that history has been made, and we’re witness to it. Will the election of 2008 be considered by future historians as the great turning point in American history?

    Yes, but what has this to do with the Regency?

    I’m getting there.

    The great turning point for the Regency was the French revolution. Just as we feel now, that history has been made and a new era is beginning, people then might remember where they were when they heard about the fall of the Bastille. The French revolution was the wakeup call of its day, a source of inspiration and hope.

    It’s hard to reconcile this with the later terror and despotism, but you have to remember that the revolution was not, in its early days, about beheading aristos. The three colors of the tricoleur included white for the Royal Family of France and red and blue for the city of Paris. It was to be a new age of reason and of liberty, fraternity, and equality.

    The year 1788 may be assumed as the epoch of one of the most important crises produced by this feeling. The sympathies connected with that event extended to every bosom. The most generous and amiable natures were those which participated the most extensively in these sympathies.
    Shelley

    You have to remember that at this time, about one in ten men in England could vote, and the right to vote was based on property ownership. It’s no wonder that the possibilities raised by the the ideals of liberty, fraternity, and equality resonated over the Channel and around the world.

    Voting reform was one of the hot issues of the first few decades of the nineteenth century, and the government clamped down severely upon radicalism or attempts to form unions. It wasn’t until 1832 that the Reform Bill expanded voting rights (some) and cleaned up some of the worst abuses of the system. This uninhabited hill, Old Sarum, abandoned in the thirteenth century when the city of Salisbury was built, was a “rotten borough,” represented in Parliament, when the huge new industrial cities like Manchester or Liverpool were hardly represented at all. For more about the Reform Bill, see this entry in Wikipedia.

    How do you feel about the election? What was your voting experience like?

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    Reinventing Time – Vingt-Deux Vendémiaire An CCXVII

    This blog is dedicated to Amanda who should be frolicking in Paris at this very moment!

    Today, Sept 22, marks the 216th anniversary of the first date on French Republican Calendar, or it does as long as you don’t count time the French Revolutionary way.

    What egotists these revolutionaries must have been. They decided to count time differently than the rest of the world and what they invented seemed to be a mess. Here’s what they did.

    The French Republican calendar began on Sept 22, 1792, the day of the French proclamation of the Republic. Of course, they didn’t decide this until a year later so Year I (they counted in Roman Numerals, which certainly would have become an issue when computers came along) had already gone by. The new year started with the Autumnal equinox, so it was slightly different each year.

    There were twelve months, three months in each of the four seasons. The names of the months all had to do with weather and agriculture. The first month (our Sept-Oct) was called Vendémiaire or “Grape Harvest.” No confusion there. Next, around our Oct 22-23 comes Brumaire or “Fog” followed by “Frost.” I won’t exert myself to name them all, but one of the summer months Thermidore pops up today when we order Lobster Thermidore from our ritzy restaurant menu. There is some sense to dividing the months into seasons (hey, Pope Gregory figured that in the 1500s, giving us our present day calendar) and to naming them for what they are, I grant the Revolutionists that. Of course, these names made no sense to French territories around the world with completely different climates. Even so, it made dates sound very pretty, like “Dix Thermidor An II” – the day Robespierre was executed.

    The Revolutionists were quite clever in changing the length of the week from 7 days to 10 days, the 10th day being the day of rest. You have to hand it to these champions of the common citizen; they figured out how to lengthen the work week by three days. Eventually the citizenry caught on that they were working more and the number of days in a week had to change back.

    They were very unimaginative in naming the days of the week, however. Translated from the French, a language that sounds beautiful no matter what, the days of the week were called first day, second day, third day, and so on.

    This decimal system caught on with these guys. A day lasted 10 hours, an hour 100 minutes, and a minute 100 seconds. Pretty cool if you were paying an hourly wage since the hour was nearly twice as long. This lasted only two years, though, and the only benefit has been to those lucky people who own antique clocks displaying Revolutionary time.

    As you can guess, this was a confusing mess and although the Revolutionists declared that their calendar would right the wrongs of the old Gregorian calendar, it instead created an even more confusing system of leap years. In 1806 Napoleon did away with this nonsense and Gregorian time was restored. I can almost visualize him sweeping his hand and saying (in pretty French), “Enough! Back to the old way. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    You have to wonder what the English thought of the French hubris in reinventing time. One imagines a lot of shaking heads and out-loud guffaws.

    On the other hand, until 1751 England had refused to use the Gregorian calendar because it was “papist.” When they did change, there had to be an adjustment of 11 days, so Sept 2, 1752 was followed by Sept 14. Hogarth painted a picture of the citizenry rioting and shouting, “Give Us Our Eleven Days.” Of course there is no evidence that any rioting happened.

    If you could change time, what would you do? I’d give myself a couple extra weeks to finish my w-i-p.

    I give total credit for this information to Wikipedia

    I’m still fundraising for Cystic Fibrosis

    Countdown to Scandalizing the Ton release day—Nine!

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