Marguerite Joséphine Wiemer, aka Mademoiselle George, 1787-1867: A Woman of Many Parts

Her father was a tailor and the first fifer for a Lorraine Regiment but who yearned for a life of showbiz and eventually lived his dream in a small theatre in Bayeaux, he conducting the orchestra, his wife playing the soubrette roles.  When their daughter was old enough, she too wound up on the boards.

It was a provincial affair, but shuffled along well enough.  Then, in one of those dramatic turns best suited for bad movies, Mademoiselle Raucourt, célèbre tragédienne happened to be passing through, saw the troupe and more to the point, saw something special in the now fourteen year old Marguerite.  She whisked the young thing off the Paris and and put her through the paces, which eventually meant entree to the Comedie Francais.  Her first  major role was as Clytemnestra in Iphigenia in Aulis. (She sounds a bit young for the role, but what is acting if not a convincing lie?)

Among others in the audience was Lucien Bonaparte, brother to the First Consul.  Mlle Georges’ comment:   “In spite of his love for his wife, I think he rather liked me.” Continue reading

William Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936 ): A Man of Few Parts

February, 1910.  Herbert Cholmondeley of the Foreign Office arrived at Paddington Station with a delegation of Emperor of Abyssinia in England on an official business.  He approached the stationmaster-  it seemed the dignitaries had planned a visit to HMS Dreadnought, pride of the British navy, down in Weymouth.  Would the station master be able to arrange a private car for the honored guests?  He could,  and he did.   Once arrived at their destination, the princes were greeted by an honor guard, and the national anthem of Zanzibar was played.  The foreign visitors were allowed to inspect the fleet and even bestowed military honors on some of the officers.   Mr. Chomondeley translated for the exotics,  and regretted that they could not stay for lunch for religious reasons. Continue reading

Jean François Jacqueminot, Viscount of Ham 1787-1865; Mentioned in Dispatches

© Jimmy NICOLLE, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

Previously Mrs Allen the resident perfume-head noted the rose perfume created by Francois Coty called La Rose Jacqueminot.   For those with no particular interest in perfume, the question arises, who was Jacqueminot, and why did Coty name a perfume after him?

The rose itself is a classic red number, the standby for generations of stage door johnnies and penitent husbands. The fellow it was named after was the very opposite of moonstruck.

He was one of Bonaparte’s boys, a dragoon who saw serious action at Austerlitz, Essling, and Wagram, seven times wounded and frequently mentioned in dispatches, usually next to the word “brave”   He rose quickly through the ranks – Napoleon believed in rewarding excellence – and eventually found himself in the 1812 Russian campaign, where he was charged with commanding the vanguard during that ghastly retreat.  His most notable performance was on the banks of the Berezina. Continue reading

Francois Coty, 1874-1934: Taking Care of Business

Francois Coty is known for the cosmetics giant he created, and less happily for his politics, which in the France of the 1930s leaned considerably to the Right.  But his real legacy may not be his political bent, nor yet his fabulous success in the world of cosmetics, but his innovations in the field of business.

For political historians Coty is the man who bought newspapers in France during the waning of the Third Republic, including the right wing L’Ami du Peuple, and who also flirted with Mussolini and his Fascist regime.  The Manichean politics of the 30s have cast a long shadow over the rest of his life, and perhaps that is a shame, because the Ligurian Corsican from Ajaccio, was a great businessman.  He became a multi-millionaire in a matter of two years after creating his first real perfume: La Rose Jacqueminot, and never looked back.  Continue reading

Sweyn Asleifsson, 1116 – 1171: The Ultimate Viking

He was born in Caithness, son of Olaf, who was murdered in 1135 by Olvir Rosta, who a year previously had lost a minor sea battle and carried a grudge.  Olvir’s method of restoring his self esteem was the burning Olaf’s house down while Olaf was still in it.  This is how cycles of violence start, and neglecting to take out the nineteen year old Sweyn was an oversight that was going to cost Olvir.

That would come later.  In the meantime, the boy (who, curiously, took his surname from his mother Aslief) gets his first mention at the 1135 yuletide revels at the household of the earl of Orkney.  It seem the Earl’s cup-bearer had grabbed some of Sweyn’s holiday grog, an act that Sweyn did not take in the spirit of the season. He  stewed for a day or so, then brained the fellow. Continue reading