Sunday, 20 April 2014

A Salon Guest... The Siege of Louisbourg

It is a pleasure to welcome a guest to the salon today with his tale of the Siege of Louisbourg. CW Lovatt knows more than a thing or two about this decisive incident and it forms the backdrop of his novel, Josiah Stubb. Without further ado, I shall leave you in the hands of our estimable host for the day!


Louisbourg was a fortress town on the northeastern coast of Cape Breton Island (or ‘Ile Royale’ as it was known by the French) in the eighteenth century. With its own excellent harbour, capable of holding an entire fleet of men-of-war, it served to protect French interests in the vital cod industry, as well as the gateway to the St. Lawrence River, and the heart of New France at Quebec. Built at a cost of over thirty million livres, it was deemed to be impregnable.

The following deals with the siege of 1758, during The Seven Years War, which is the time that my novel, “Josiah Stubb,” takes place. I’ll try to keep it brief.

Two very important factors that lead to the death of Louisbourg happened many months before the invasion armada was ever seen from its ramparts. The first was the coming to power of William Pitt, whose global strategy was to offer only a token force on the European continent, along with subsidies to finance the armies of Britain’s allies, while using the bulk of her own army and navy to wage war on the colonies of her ancient enemy, bringing her economy to ruin, and ultimately forcing her to sue for peace.

The second factor made the first all the more viable – the Royal Navy’s victory at the Battle of Cartagena, leading to the remainder of the French navy being bottled up in their harbours. A previous attempt had been made on Louisbourg in 1757, but the presence of a sizeable enemy fleet, and an untimely hurricane, assured its failure. This time, with the French unable to venture out from their ports, there would be no major naval force in attendance, and very little in the way of reinforcements. New France was on its own.

Another important contributing factor that I forgot to mention earlier, is Pitt’s habit of promoting officers based on competence and their willingness to fight, while throwing the older custom of patronage and seniority in the dustbin. Thus it is that James Wolfe, a shiny new brigadier, makes his appearance on the stage.

A British armada of forty warships, and a hundred and fifty transports, arrived off the coast of Ile Royale in early June, 1758. In the holds were 14,000 regular line troops, along with a few companies of Rangers, formed from the southern colonies. Wild and relatively undisciplined, the Rangers were new. Considered Light Infantry, each man was picked for his marksmanship and knowledge in bush-fighting. Their roll would be to take on the Indians and Canadians, who had caused so much havoc with Braddock at the Monongahela River three years earlier. In the oncoming weeks, they would prove to be very effective.

After waiting several days for the waters to calm sufficiently, the British attempted a landing on the eighth of June, about five miles below the fortress, on the Gabarus Bay littoral. The windswept shores of Cape Breton are rocky and inhospitable at the best of times, with possible landing sites few and far between, so the options of the naval officers had dwindled to the meager four hundred yards of beach at Fresh Water Cove. Of course the French were well aware of this, and had troops and artillery in abundance, well dug in, to oppose any attempt at a landing.

They very nearly succeeded.

The French held their fire until the leading wave of boats were within pistol-shot. Then they let loose with a barrage so savage that the British were stunned, helpless on the water, sitting ducks for following salvos.

What followed was pure luck.

In an effort to avoid the withering fire, three boats of the 35th regiment veered off course until they had rounded a small headland on the extreme right of the cove, scarcely noticeable, but just enough of a promontory to put them beyond the line of fire. Here they were also beyond the gentle sand of the beach, and as they were unable to land, seemed out of the fight. However, a closer inspection of the shore revealed clefts in the rock just wide enough to allow one or two boats to close at a time, and this they were allowed to do, out of sight and unhindered. So landed the first few dozen; most taking cover in a small copse of trees, while others frantically signaled for the rest of the boats to follow.

This happened piecemeal, for Wolfe, commanding the attack, and unaware that any of his men had reached the shore, had ordered a retreat. But of course this order was rescinded when more and more realized the good fortune of their comrades. 

Gradually, very gradually, this precarious toehold was reinforced as more and more boats came in. Soon the landing was packed, each boat impatiently awaiting their turn to disembark. Feeling the sense of urgency, some did not wait to reach the cleft, but jumped overboard and attempted to wade to the shore. Some made it, many were drowned in the heavy seas. Other boats, venturing too close, were picked up by the waves and smashed against the rocks, their occupants sent tumbling senseless into the water. In fact, it was at this point that the British suffered their greatest casualties of the entire battle, and not to the murderous salvos of the enemy.

Eventually perceiving this new threat, the French attempted to contain it with a small detachment of irregulars. Had they mounted a more determined effort, they would undoubtedly have forced the British back into the sea with very little trouble, but instead, unsure of the numbers they faced, they were content to exchange musket fire until reinforcements became available, but that moment never arrived.

It was the British who gradually gained superiority in numbers, and when Wolfe was finally able to land, they advanced, sweeping away the irregulars, and continuing without pause, rolled the enemy from their entrenchments when they found themselves being attacked from the rear.

The advance continued without pause, chasing the French all the way back to the fortress. The victory had been so complete, and the French retreat so precipitate, that their cannon were captured before they could be spiked, and most of their provisions still in the trenches. This was fortunate for the British, as the seas grew rough again the next day, and continued so for several days thereafter, making it impossible to land their own supplies.

Once having affected a landing, the odds of a British victory increased immensely, although it was still far from a foregone conclusion. Louisbourg, her walls bristling with defenders, and her harbour with a squadron of men-of-war, still remained defiant, and not without reason. If the siege could be drawn out until the onset of winter, the British would have little choice but to withdraw. Therefore time was of the utmost importance.

Within days of the victory at Fresh Water Cove, and with the seas still too rough to allow the landing of either provisions or siege guns, on the twelfth of June the Commander in Chief, General Amherst, ordered Wolfe to circumnavigate the harbour with twelve hundred picked men, and seize the high ground at Lighthouse Point, across the harbour’s mouth. The route took the British to well within the range of the fortress’ guns, but owing to heavy fog, the position was taken without suffering any casualties. The redcoats arrived only to find that the French had abandoned it, and tumbled their heavy guns off the cliffs into the sea.

Five days later, the weather grew calm, and the British preparations continued much more rapidly. On the nineteenth of June, a battery of five guns was in place, and began to engage the Island Battery guarding the mouth of the harbour, and the five French men-of-war inside. 

Meanwhile, more and more cannon and provisions continued to land, and while the senior brigadiers, Lawrence and Whitmore, began the arduous process of approaching the walls via parallels dug into the boggy, rock-ridden ground for the main attack, Wolfe raced with impetuous speed, installing more and more batteries around the periphery of the harbour, drawing ever closer to the fortress.

The Island Battery was silenced on the twenty-fifth of June, and the French men-of-war, fearful of the British heated shot, retreated so close to the fortress walls that they were left aground at low tide.

As more and more guns became available, Wolfe continued his advance until he reached the abandoned Royal Battery, midway to the fortress. On the first of July the French attempted a sortie to destroy this position, but were driven back, and even more high ground was taken to the northeast. A further battery was duly installed here, and commenced fire on July fifth, soon causing considerable damage to the walls and the town.

On the ninth of July the French sent a night sortie of over seven hundred men against the parallel being dug for the main attack under Lawrence and Whitmore, capturing men and entrenching tools. They were driven back with loss during the confusing melee that followed. However, this foray was a waste of both time and lives, as this ‘main attack’ was never brought to fruition.

By now Wolfe had completed a line of batteries on the heights, from the Royal Battery to the Barachois Inlet, opposite the Dauphin Bastion, the northernmost bastion of the fortress. 

Then, on the sixteenth of July, in a move that best displays his sheer audacity more than any other single act, Wolfe leads a night attack to capture Gallows Hill, a mere three hundred meters from the Dauphin Bastion! The French respond with a furious barrage, but morning finds the British in strength on the hill, already dug in.

Now Amherst is forced to change his strategy. The main attack, favoured by his chief engineer, as well as his most senior generals, is largely abandoned without yet having fired a shot in anger. This new position on Gallows Hill is reinforced with men and another battery, and a new parallel is begun. By the twenty-first of July it has reached to within two hundred meters of the fortress.

Also on that day, a red-hot shot from the battery at Lighthouse Point strikes the French warship, Célébre, setting her ablaze. The French men-of-war are so crowded together under the fortress’ walls that soon the fire spreads to the Capricieux and L’Entreprenant. At 2:00 A.M. L’Entreprenant explodes. By morning the other two ships have burned to the waterline, leaving the French with only two ships to defend the harbour from the eighteen hundred guns of the British fleet.

By the twenty-fourth of July, after enduring almost a month of a merciless barrage, a breach in the fortress wall is close to being practicable. By now the French can reply with only four guns of their own.

The coupe de gras comes on the night of the twenty-fifth, when, with the army staging a feint to the north, the navy sends, not their ships of the line, but sixty small boats, carrying six hundred men, into the harbour to attack the remaining two French men-of-war, now manned only with skeleton crews. The Prudent is burned, and the Bienfaisant captured, leaving the harbour defenceless.

On July twenty-sixth a flag of truce is seen hoisted over what is left of the Dauphin Bastion. The French accept the British demand of unconditional surrender later that same day. 

About the Author

CW Lovatt, is the award-winning author of numerous short stories, as well as the best-selling novel, “The Adventures of Charlie Smithers.”  He lives in Canada, and is the self-appointed Writer-in-Residence of Carroll, Manitoba (population +/- 20.)

Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg is available to buy now from Amazon UK, and on Amazon US in paperback and on Kindle.

Written content of this post copyright © CW Lovatt 2014

Saturday, 19 April 2014

On This Day... The Marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI

We have seen royal marriages before here at the salon but today marks the anniversary of a particularly iconic match of two young people. The leading players in this drama would meet famously unhappy ends, but for now let us visit them in earlier times and see how the match between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI came to be.

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria by Martin van Meytens, 1767-1768
Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria by Martin van Meytens, 1767-1768
The first die was cast with the death of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1765. His widow, Maria Theresa, was left to tule the Holy Roman Empire alongside her son, Joseph II, and the politically astute Empress set about a carefully planned programme of dynastic marriages. These weddings were intended to cement alliances that were entered into during the Seven Years' War and Austria was set to advance via the altars of Europe.

With betrothals arranged with various royal houses, Maria Theresa intended that one of her daughters would marry the 14 year old Louis, Dauphin of France. However, smallpox swept through the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and killed or permanently disfigured the possible candidates for this key marriage other than 12 year old Archduchess Maria Antonia, who had survived the disease earlier in her childhood. The Empress presented Maria Antonia as a match for Louis and negotiations began in earnest, led by Étienne François, Duc de Choiseul.
Louis XVI by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis, 1776
Louis XVI by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis, 1776

Over the two years that followed an enormous dowry of 200,000 crowns was agreed upon and the family of the groom to be began to view their likely new member with a critical eye. Her teeth were crooked and her smile unpleasant, they commented, and the young lady was subjected to months of unanaesthetised corrective surgery at the hans of dentist, Pierre Laveran, until both France and Austria were satisfied. Her wardrobe, hair, make up and etiquette skills were overhauled and finally, it was agreed that the young Archduchess was fit to marry into the Bourbon household.

On 19th April 1770, Maria Antonia attended the Augustinerkirche in Vienna to be married by proxy to Louis. Her brother, Ferdinand, served as groom for the ceremony and she officially took the name and title, Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France.

The Augustinerkirche in Vienna
The Augustinerkirche in Vienna

By now all of 14, Marie Antoinette immediately began the journey to her new life and two weeks later she was handed over to her French carers, including our old friend, Madame Etiquette, better known as Anne d'Arpajon, comtesse de Noailles. Finally, on 16th May, the bride and groom were married ceremonially in the royal chapel at Versailles before a crowd of 5000 who crowded into the Hall of Mirrors to watch the procession pass. It was to be the start of a far from settled union plagued by politics, gossip and intrigue but for now let us leave the newlyweds on this, the 244th anniversary of their marriage.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Louis Feuillée and the Monster of Buenos Aires

Louis Feuillée (Louis Éconches Feuillée; Mane, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, 1660 - Marseilles, 18th April, 1732)

Louis Feuillé

As long-time visitors to the salon will know, I am something of a home bird. Despite my gadding about in search of entertaining yarns and momentous memories, there is nothing I would rather do than settle in my tottering abode with a dish of tea, quill in hand. In contrast to myself, my guest today was not a man who liked to stay in one place. An explorer, scientist and astronomer amongst many other achievements, Louis Feuillée travelled the globe in search of new flora and fauna, bringing his discoveries home to Europe.

It was during a journey around South America in 1707 that Feuillée encountered what appeared to be a brand new zoological specimen, something akin to a monster. Whilst visiting Buenos Aires he was approached by locals who told him of a creature that had been born to a ewe. The animal was, according to those who spoke to Feuillée, part human, part horse and part calf and the French adventurer was keen to make his own observations.

Feuillé's Monster

Initially the man who had brought news of the creature to Feuillée on 26th August was loth to let him see it but eventually it was agreed that Feuillée might at least observe the animal from afar. He swiftly and surreptitiously sketched an impression of the specimen and immediately repaired to his lodgings to complete the illustration and note down his findings, even though he remained frustrated that he had been denied permission for a full examination.

Feuillée noted that the stillborn creature was 11 inches long and had a human head, though with a horn which hung down to obscure its single, central eye. Although the beast had a mouth, it had no nose and if its head was human, then its neck and ears were definitely equine, whilst its body resembled that of a calf. In closing his observations, Feuillée  commented that, had the creature been carried full term, its lack of a nose would have made survival impossible. However, he lamented that the fact that he was prevented from carrying out anatomical examinations meant that he could not be sure of the physiognomy  of the animal, so could not ascertain whether there was some other method by which it might have drawn breath.

Feuillée observed no further examples of his Argentinean monster on his travels, though he was keen to share his discovery with his followers. What it was we can never know for sure but Feuillée's illustration, above, gives us a tantalising glimpse of how he believed it might have appeared, had it lived to maturity. It certainly is a most peculiar specimen!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Notable Deaths... Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor

 Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor (Vienna, 26th July 1678 - Vienna, 17th April 1711)

 Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor, 1700

Not so long ago we heard the tragic tale of the death Louis, Dauphin of France, Duke of Burgundy. Louis's family was decimated by a measles epidemic that left the Bourbon succession in crisis.  In fact, it was not the first time European royalty had been laid waste by illness and four members of Louis's own dynasty died in a a smallpox epidemic that also killed our guest today, Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor.

In early 1711, smallpox swept through Europe, leaving a trail of death in its wake. Social standing, privilege and wealth were no protection against the virulent infection. As thousands died across the continent, the ailing Joseph took to his bed in the Hoffburg Palace under the watchful eye of his physicians. The doctors immediately embarked on their standard round of treatments, bleeding their patient in an effort to lessen his suffering.

As he neared death, Joseph called his wife, Wilhelmine Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg, to his bedside. Their twelve year marriage had not been a happy one and was blighted by Joseph's numerous affairs and liaisons with all manner of women. In fact, Joseph contracted syphilis in 1704 and passed the infection on to Wilhelmina Amalia, an incident that apparently rendered his wife infertile and resulted in the Emperor leaving no male heir at his death. Aware that he was dangerously ill, Joseph promised his wife that, should he survive this illness, he would become a faithful and dutiful husband.

The couple were never to learn whether Joseph's promise was in earnest. He was not fated to survive the smallpox infection and died on 17th April, aged 32. Three days later he was buried with much ceremony in the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church. His body lies in a tomb designed by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt; it is decorated with scenes of Joseph's victories in the War of Spanish Succession, a suitably grand final resting place for a Holy Roman Emperor.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Scandalous Matter of La Reine en Gaulle

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (née Marie Élisabeth Louise; Paris, 16th April 1755 – Paris, 30th March 1842) 

Self-portrait in a Straw Hat by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, after 1782
Self-portrait in a Straw Hat by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, after 1782

Today we meet two famed ladies here at the salon; one is a painter, the other the queen who became her friend and muse. Together, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Marie Antoinette produced a portrait that both started a fashion and caused a scandal. 

Born on this day, Le Brun was a noted and celebrated portrait artist of her day and when she was invited to paint Marie Antoinette at Versailles, it was the start of an enduring friendship and new chapter in the artist's career. Today I shall look at my favourite of the many portraits of Marie Antoinette that the wonderful Le Brun painted, the somewhat controversial La Reine en Gaulle, completed in 1783.

La Reine en Gaulle by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783
La Reine en Gaulle by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783

The paintings simple enough and depicts the queen in her gaulle, also known (as a result of the painting) as the chemise a la reine. This light, simple muslin gown was a favourite of Marie Antoinette and she wore it at the Petit Trianon, creating a new fashion trend in the noble ladies of Paris. When she posed for this portrait, the queen was already less than popular with some members of the Versailles court, who viewed her lifestyle with distaste and found the exclusive nature of her inner circle difficult to threat.

Now, with this apparently simple portrait, the queen put ammunition into the hands of those who disliked her. There is no hint of structure, pomp or, crucially, monarchy evident on the canvas and when the public laid eyes on the portrait during its exhibition at the Salon de Paris, they were horrified. Rather than a woman in an informal garment and in informal setting, they found themselves looking at what appeared to be a portrait of a queen in her underwear. The work was quickly withdrawn and replaced with the quickly produced, far more formal portrait seen below. Although Marie Antoinette retains her rose, she is once more seen in her familiar structured court dress.

Marie Antoinette dit à la Rose by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783
Marie Antoinette dit à la Rose by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783

I adore the simplicity of the painting; it's nice to see Marie Antoinette dressed down a little, perhaps showing us a little more of the woman behind the queen.  After the painting was displayed Marie's new, dressed-down look became instantly fashionable. As the women of the upper classes began to buy less silk and satin, the Queen found herself accused of deliberately sabotaging the nation's fabric industry in favour of imported textiles. In addition, there were whispers that she was trying to undermine the monarchy by allowing herself to be painted as a simply-dressed woman rather than a primped and gowned queen. Marie Antoinette would not be painted so informally again, but the damage was already done.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

On This Day... The Premiere of Serse

We have previously met George Frideric Handel on more than one occasion and witnessed the premieres of both the Water Music and Coronation Anthems. Those works were celebrated by those who heard him, but his opera, Serse, which premiered on this day in 1738, was not quite an instant hit. 

In late 1737 the King's Theatre in the Haymarket was on the lookout for new material and Handel was commissioned to write two new operas. The first, Faramondo, received its premiere on 3rd January 1738 and the second, Serse, was to receive its premiere on 15th April 1738.

Handel by Balthasar Denner, 1726-28
Handel by Balthasar Denner, 1726-28 

From late December to mid-February Handel laboured on SerseFaramondo opened to something less than acclaim in January and closed after just eight performances, which hardly filled the composer with confidence for his next work. The follow up piece was eagerly awaited by theatregoers though, who were keen to see if Handel's second composition for the theatre would be an improvement on Faramondo

However, as they crowded into the auditorium on the Spring night, the eager audience were wholly unprepared for this innovative new opera and when they left several hours later, enthusiasm had turned to dislike. The opera was quite unlike Handel's other works and bucked the trend of highly serious works by including comic elements that set the collective teeth of the audience on edge. Not only that, but the style of the composition was also different to that which had become the norm as it contained a series of short arias as opposed to the expected longer pieces.

Serse was a failure and Handel's opera closed after five performances. In fact, it was not to receive a major revival for  almost two centuries when it was welcomed by audiences. It remains popular to this day, the opera that had so befuddled Georgian audiences a regular fixture across the globe.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Notable Death... Maximilian Hell

Maximilian Hell (né Rudolf Maximilian Höll; Selmecbánya, Kingdom of Hungary, 15th May 1720 - Vienna, 14th April 1792)

Maximilian Hell (

Today we greet a wonderfully-monikered man of science who is immortalised today in the name of a crater on the moon. From his early beginnings as a Jesuit priest to travels in pursuit of the transit of Venus, Maximilian Hell made his mark on the world on the scientific landscape of 18th century Europe.

Born Rudolf Maximilian Höll to mathematician Matthäus Kornelius Höll and Julianna Staindl, the future astronomer was the third of the couple's staggeringly high count of 22 children. Language and cultural identity was always an important factor in Hell's life and he was raised as a German speaker but considered himself as Hungarian. Although he undertook studies in science, astronomy and mathematics, Hell was eventually ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1751. Followed his ordination he devoted himself for a time to researching and writing on the subject of language in the region of his birth, supplementing his income by working as a tutor.

Though it appeared that Hell was destined for a life of faith, he could not set aside his passion for astronomy and in 1756 was placed in charge of the Vienna Observatory and used the facility to research his Ephemerides for the Meridian of Vienna. At the personal invitation of the Danish court, Hell travelled across Scandinavia to observe the transit of Venus that was so important in the Georgian age and published widely on the subject of astronomy, though some of his works were erroneously considered to have falsified evidence and findings. Regardless of what some of his contemporaries may have thought, Hell enjoyed great success and was eventually elected as a foreign member of both the Royal Swedish and Royal Danish Academies of Science.

Hell died at the age of 71 after contracting pneumonia; he left behind a wide body of astronomical works.