Friday, 9 September 2011

True vs False

As one may suspect, the truth is often the subsidiary factor or unnecessary detail that turns an amazing tale into something aligned with a school history paper. I love a good story and I love a good false fact. I say who needs the truth all the time; let’s enjoy some fabrications that make history all the more enjoyable…

Kelly (our intern) has intuitively taken the time and researched many of the rumours surrounding the vast facets of courtly life. Our intention here is not to spoil any of the “truths” surrounding these apparent myths but rather to enlighten our avid followers. These are our facts, which may or may not be accurate…. everything is debatable, which I think makes fact claiming all the more enjoyable.

And ps… we’ve included web links under each claim which ultimately prove our “truths” to be undoubtedly factual… or so I like to tell myself. Enjoy!   

Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour
(1721– 64)
France, 1758
Oil on Canvas
V&A: 487-1882
©Victoria and Albert Museum / V&A Images

Myth: the breasts of the beautiful Madame Pompadour were used as a model for champagne glasses.  


This rumour has been associated with many different famed beauties of the European courts, including Madam Pompadour and Marie Antoinette. In fact, the champagne glass was designed and created in England around 1663, long before these women were even born. (

Myth: Charles II of Sweden is responsible for starting the longstanding tradition of giving flowers as a gift.


Charles II of Sweden introduced the practice of floriography to his court in 1714. The idea was, all flowers had individual meanings, and a bouquet of flowers could convey a secret message to the receiver. The trend spread across the European courts, and the custom of giving flowers has survived today. (

Myth: Marie Antoinette, upon hearing that the French peasants were suffering a bread famine, was famously quoted as saying “let them eat cake.”


Although this phrase is often attached to the indulgent French Queen, Marie Antoinette cannot be quoted for the line “let them eat cake”. The phrase has been attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher and writer who included the phrase in his work ‘confessions’, which were written when Antoinette was only nine years old. (

Myth: Hairstyles and wigs became so grandiose, the by the 18th century wigs stood over one meter tall.

Hairstyles became more elaborate over the course of the 18th century, but hair and wigs over a meter tall only appeared in satire. It is believed that hairstyles that tall never came into vogue. Other rumors about women not washing for weeks to preserve their hair, or finding vermin nested in their wigs, are believed to be false as well.

Myth: objects were woven into a Lady’s hair, and at one stage there was a fad for large model ships used to be used as a hairpiece.


As unbelievable as it sounds, there was a brief fad ignited by the victory of the French Frigate La Belle Poule against the English in the American war of independence. To celebrate their victory, French courtiers would fix a model ship into their hair, the layers of hair acting as the sails for the ship. The fad, although famous, is believed to have only lasted for a few weeks, before the fashionable Parisian courts moved onto more outrageous things. (

Myth: Catherine II the Great of Russia died in 1796, when the toilet she was sitting on collapsed under her.


Although Catherine the Great did not die on the toilet, she did have a stroke in her bathroom that proved to be fatal. In fact, Catherine died a few days later, and not in her bathroom. (


  1. I love a good gossip and I'm particularly loving this post! looking forward to the next one!

  2. Is is also true that Madame Pompadour would still commission paintings of herself when she was young right up until her death to prolong the legend of her beauty??? Inquring minds want to know!!

  3. According to my research, she did have many paintings commissioned of her (she was, in fact, one of the most frequently painted women of her time!) the Madame would employ portraiture to construct a public image that empathised beauty, refinement, and learning (it helped that she made the artist gloss over her flaws to seem more appealing.)

    So to answer your question is sort of. She did commission many works of herself, but with the purpose of wining over the king and the court, rather than the preservation of her beauty. Hope this helps, Kelly.