Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Age of Napoleon History Presentation

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After several weeks of study of the Age of Napoleon from the French Revolution to Napoleon's abdication, from President Washington to Monroe, from the XYZ Affair to the Monroe Doctrine, from Jeffersonian states' rights to the Missour Compromise of 1820, and finally the end to the Slave Trade, it was time for a history presentation. Studying the art, music, literature and history of an era, deepens the understanding of the prevailing thought of the Age of Enlightenment and the spread of revolutions. Key leaders fought for freedoms for humankind from America's Founding Fathers to William Wilberforce to Napoleon. Yes, even Napoleon. Understanding the layers of history with culture we can begin to understand what drove choices. We can become...history.

Introducing Caroline Bonaparte Murat (my daughter), Meriweather Lewis (my son) and a Bonapartist (me)...with occasional side appearances from surprise guests. (We often play dual and triple roles.)
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Thomas Jefferson was so kind as to invite us to "Monticello" for dinner.
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I convinced the staff to decorate the table with themes of the Bonapartists, with violets...
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My husband served sparkling grape juice to the kids and for the adults he served Blackberry Wine from the Rapidian River Vineyard in Virginia, not far from Monticello.
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Since Jefferson prefers French cooking, I secretly convinced his French trained cook to whip up a few French specialties that remind us of Napoleon, like Chicken Marengo. (I'll post more about this in a later entry.) We rounded out the dinner with bread and salad.
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Dinner conversation revolved around the Lewis and Clark Expedition to Thomas Jefferson and William Wilberforce's attempts to end the slave trade.
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That led to our evening entertainment. In the Regency Era, everyone often gathered in the parlor after dinner to enjoy the ladies playing the piano forte and singing. We sang"Amazing Grace" which was written in 1779. Wilberforce knew the author of the song, John Newton, which are all showcased in the movie, Amazing Grace.
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On that note, everyone met with abolitionist Adrienne de Lafayette, who helped her husband, the Marquis de Lafayette, work to end slavery. They had William Wilberforce in their home for dinner. Lafayette bought the colony of Cayenne with the intent to free slaves and allow them to work there as freemen. He encouraged friends like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to free their own slaves. In 1786, George Washington wrote to him,

"...{Your} late purchase of an Estate in the Colony of Cayenne with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country, but I despair of seeing it..."

Adrienne wrote many letters on behalf of her husband to advance the cause of the abolition movement.

While holding Lafayette's epaulettes (I sewed these for my son's Lafayette costume, they are copied from the original)...
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she told the story of the French Revolution, how the moderate Lafayette had led the people to freedom while trying to keep the king on the throne, only to have the people turn on him. Lafayette fled, was caught in Austria and put in prison. Adrienne and her family were put in jail. Her mother and sister were guillotined. She was nearing execution herself. President Washington wrote many letters to the leaders of Europe to seek freedom for the Lafayette family. One day Adrienne was free. She sent her son, George Washington Lafayette, to America for safety with President Washington. Yet due to the tenuous situation of America's need for non-involvement, he was strongly advised not to take in the son of Lafayette, whom none in Europe or France trusted. After nearly a year Washington could bear the situation any longer. He brought Lafayette's son into his home, with no bitter consequences for America. Meanwhile letters continued to be written on Lafayette's behalf. Adrienne and her daughters freely chose to join him in prison, her love for him was so great. These two years in jail seriously impacted her health. (Lafayette was in jail for five years.) One day, they were all free...because of the intervention of Napoleon!

However the condition of freedom was that Lafayette was not allowed to enter France. He stayed two years in Holland at a family member's house while Adrienne returned to Paris to secure their property and convince Napoleon to allow Lafayette to return home. (My husband was in tears.)

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After a Q&AA (there were many questions from everyone since this was new information) we gathered around the piano forte to sing "How Firm a Foundation" written in 1787.

Afer I finished playing the piano forte I exclaimed, "Caroline! Would you regale us with a reading from William Wordsworth?" Of course! She explained to Meriweather Lewis that this is one of her newest poems. Since he had only recently returned from exploring the Louisiana Purchase, he was catching up on all the news this evening! She read, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."

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Then we asked Meriweather Lewis to tell us all about his journeys. He read the letter he had received to co-head the expedition.
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Then he explained his purposes and objectives. Afterwards there was a Q&A. (And yes, this is exactly what Meriweather Lewis wore! We did a great deal of research which I shall share in a future post.)

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(And yes, this is exactly what Meriweather Lewis wore! We did a great deal of research which I shall share in a future post.)

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Then I exclaimed to Caroline Bonaparte Murat that everyone would love to hear all about the latest project that she is coordinating! Caroline Bonaparte Murat is the sister of Napoleon! She and my daughter share many things in common, including a birth month and their interest in art! She married one of Napoleon's generals and together they ruled parts of Italy (back then Italy was not unified, though she worked for that.) Caroline shared the story of Pompeii.. Although the Bourbon kings knew of it, they kept it a secret. She, however, as a collector of art, greatly appreciated the fascinating art and history found in the devastation of ruin of lives at the expense of the volcanic eruption in 79AD in Italy. She shared about the work of archaeology and conservation. She also wanted to create something brand new to help introduce the world to the ruins of Pompeii. She calls them "guide books." Think they'll succeed? (I'll share more about this fascinating topic in a future post!)
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During the Q&A my husband most commonly addressed her in familiar terms and she, in great surprise, firmly told him, "I'm a queen! You'll address me as 'your highness!'" (Those interpreters at Colonial Willliamsburg most definitely influence my kids with great skill and wit, as well as appreciation for history!)

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Then we listened to the original version of "The Star Spangled Banner", written in 1814, on the fife. Originally the song was called, "Anacreon in Heaven" and played with a slightly different tune.
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Then we prepared for our tour of the battlefields where Napoleon fought. As a Bonapartist, I dressed for the outing, wearing a "Brandenburg Style" or military style spencer. A spencer is a short jacket from the Regency Era. Ladies' clothing was influenced by Napoleon's Hussars, or light infantry. Elements of braiding and epaulettes were replicated in a fashionable feminine symbolic styling on coats (called pelisses and redingotes) and jackets (called spencers). The purple I wore was the secret color of the Bonapartists. Shhh.
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During the battlefield tour, I, as the Bonapartist, shared how the color purple and the violet were the secret colors and flower of Bonapartists. The little leaflet was published in 1815. This was the only factual thing I could find, apart from a mention of it in the Vincent Cronin book on Napoleon.
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A French soldier gave us the tour.


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My son made these charts (which inadvertently flipped, they've been giving me more trouble in the last two days...) one for each of the seven coalitions and other campaigns like Egypt and the Peninsular Wars. We spread them throughout the house to symbolize that Napoleon was everwhere.



My son chose the most notable battles of each of the coalitions and campaigns and shared the location, date, and siginificance of each.

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He used his recently made overlay maps as his "guide book". (This might catch on!)

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He shared memorable and fascinating information with unique events.

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We kept moving around the house (though I only have pictured two locations). Halfway through my husband exclaimed, "Napoleon was everywhere!" Mission accomplished!

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Then we met with Josephine Bonaparte, wistfully longing for Napoleon. Despite his divorcing her he still visits her on ocassion at her home, Chateau de Malmaison.
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Never one to write letters, she can't keep quill in hand to write a journal. She shares a bit about herself. She confesses she did not love Napoleon at first. He adored her but left a few days after their wedding for the Egyptian campaign. She was never good at letter writing and he deeply missed them. She shared how she fell from a balcony while he was in Egypt. The doctor didn't expect her to live, the internal injuries were so severe. Yet she healed. By the time Napoleon returned from Egypt, through a vast set of circumstances, she fell in love with Napoleon and remained by his side. She was gentle with all. She was adored by the people of France. Napoleon always said she had a good heart. She always wanted to help other people. Pressure from the building coalitions eventually drove Napoleon to divorce Josephine which of course was the wrong thing to do, but sadly was the age old custom of European rulers. Convinced that a male heir was essential to hold the Empire together, for the people of France to remain free, Napoleon divorced Josephine despite admitting he still loved her. She moved permanently to her mansion of Malmasion where Napoleon sometimes visits her. (The new empress, Marie Louise of Austria, was never liked by the household staff or the people of France the way they adored Josephine. They did have a son, Napoleon II, who died at age 21.) Josephine's first husband died by the guillotine. She also was in prison but barely escaped the guillotine. They had two children, both of whom were brought up by Napoleon as his own. They remained close throughout life, even after the divorce. Eugene faithfully fought for Napoleon. Hortense married Napoleon's brother and together they ruled Holland. Her son became Napoleon III.

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Then we sang around the piano forte, some newly written songs. "Angels from the Realms of Glory" was written in 1816. "Silent Night" was written in 1818. After the silence I grabbed the gazette and exclaimed, "Did y0u hear the news about the Missouri Compromise of 1820? It took a second for it to register for the kids because this was unscripted. Then they started sharing what they knew of it and we all chatted as if we were discussing the latest current events. I said that this has been sorely grievous news to Mr. Jefferson, who never meant his words to be twistified, as he would put it, against himself. He who fought for states' rights and freedom of slaves never meant for states' rights to be the argument to further enslave humankind.

Then I asked my daughter if she'd mind sharing a bit about the newest novel from Elizabeth Gaskell, who wrote Cranford in 1824. My daughter had recently finished reading it and had written a literary analysis about it. She shared with us delightfully fascinating information about the Jenkins sisters. Her presentation was quite reminiscent of the scene in Becoming Jane when Jane does a public reading of one of her earlier writers for her sister and all the guests. Full of wit, maturity and restrained sarcasm (I can't find a nicer word for that)...my daughter wrote her paper and read it in this delightfully fun way!
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Suddenly I grabbed the gazette. Has anyone else heard the news about the recently passed Monroe Doctrine of 1825? Again this was unscripted but the kids soon caught on and we discussed the event as if we were honestly reacting to current events.

Then I exclaimed that Lafayette was making his Grand Tour of America. We were hoping to visit him in Virginia. Ohhhh, s0mething to look forward to! After a bit of chatter of this, we closed the evening with a song written in 1825, "In the Cross of Christ I Glory." Hopefully the nation reconciles from the Missouri Compromise and slavery will not spread. Hopefully slavery will end.

We ended the evening with a dessert that reminds us of Napoleon. My daughter and I made this eleven layered dessert entirely from scratch!. My son said that the many layers represent the many battles and victories of Napoleon. It doesn't look beautiful but I will detail this dessert later.
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Then we toasted to the health of Napoleon (pretending we were back in time), since the "Corporal Violette leaflet (linked above) mentioned it. Napoleon has been a fascinating study and I am keeping in mind his influence as we progress in world history. I have a feeling there are future connections to be made as we learn more about Europe.

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