The Other William Shakespeare(s)

19 Jan

Shakespeare is a big name- probably one of the best-known authors in the English-speaking world (I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I’d like to think he’s also fairly popular in the non-English-speaking world as well). But of course, he’s not the only William Shakespeare to ever contribute to humanity. There are undoubtedly many William (Will, Bill, Billy) Shakespeares out there who should be recognized in their own right.

The famous 16th century wordsmith wasn’t the only bard out there. How could history be so unkind as to forget William Shakespeare (1849- 1931), the renowned singer? Born in England (of course) and trained in Leipzig and Milan, he was a top-quality tenor. He also published several academic books on singing, including The Art of Singing and Sacred Duets: A Collection of Two-Part Songs by the Best Composers. (I wonder if it is difficult to find a publisher when your name is William Shakespeare. Do you think there’s naturally higher expectations on your writing abilities?)

One of my favorites is William Shakespear (1878-1915) -no E, sorry- a cartographer, part-time diplomat and total badass (pardon my language). He was born in Bombay, to English parents. As a fun fact, his father was also named William Shakespear, and his mother was Annie Shakespear. (Eerily similar to the poet’s wife’s name, Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, don’t you think?) He spoke at least five languages fluently, including Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. He joined the British Foreign Office in 1904 and became the youngest Vice-Consul in British India (pretty impressive), after that, he was transferred to Kuwait, from which he traveled to Saudi Arabia. From 1909 to 1914, he spent his time traveling around the Middle East, taking pictures, making maps, and making friends (notably with future king Ibn Sa’ud (name sound familiar?). At the time, Britain was trying to make imperialistic/militaristic headway into the Middle East, and they eventually asked for Shakespear’s help to get the allegiance of Ibn Sa’ud. This probably could have gone well if not for the Ottomans, who were also interested in total domination. A bit of a war broke out between the British and the Ottomans (mostly by proxy, with each side using local/native groups/allies to get at each others’ allied groups), and our hero Shakespear took part in the of Jarrab in 1915. His friend Ibn Sa’ud insisted that Shakespear leave the battlefield before bullets started to fly, but Shakespear refused to save his own hide while his friend fought. As a result, Shakespear was shot and killed. After the battle, the enemy forces cut off his head and delivered it to the Ottomans as proof that the British were scheming against them. I think this Shakespear might be my favorite.

Another William Shakespeare (1869-1950), this time an American (oh, the horror!), was a fisherman, inventor, and traveling medicine salesman. If you’re really into fishing, you might have heard of the Shakespeare Fishing Company, which was founded in 1879 by this guy. I haven’t heard of it before, but I’m also not a huge fishing person. Most of his inventions have to do with fishing (hey, follow your passions). His inventions include the level-winding fishing reel, which I imagine was enormously helpful for…reeling in fish, and a bunch of tackles, which I imagine helped with…bait? Catching fish? (I’m a little out of my depth here.) If you like fishing, I suggest you make this your favorite Shakespeare.

Never to be outdone, the sports world has its own assortment of William Shakespeares. Among them is William Shakespeare (1912-1974), an American football player whose highlights include being an All-American in 1935, throwing a game-winning touchdown for Notre Dame in a critical game against Ohio State, and being inducted (posthumously) into the College Football Hall of Fame.  Turns out other people noticed his name similarity to a certain famous writer; his nicknames during the glory days included “The Bard of Staten Island”, and “The Merchant of Menace”. Creative!

There was also an English cricketer named William Shakespeare (1893-1976) who played for Worcestershire (which I still can’t pronounce) and was a serious war hero as a pilot in WWI. He won both the Military Cross and and the Air Force cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”. He settled down as a cricketer after the war and played from 1919 until 1931. Fun fact: Shakespeare also made the first pan-European commercial flight between London and Athens in 1919.

The moral of the story here is that there are many William Shakespeares hanging about (particularly at the end of the 19th century- must have been some sort of fad) doing things other than writing plays. They all have their own independent interest and talents (Making friends with kings! Football! …Fishing!), and I think we should all show a little love to these less-known Shakespeares.

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One of my New Favorite People

5 Jan

Quick quiz question:

Which great character of history was born in 1872, got his Ph.D. from Oxford, and is Scottish?

I’ll give you a hint: he’s Scottish. Also fictional.

Still can’t guess? It is my new favorite person, Henry Jones Sr., father of the insanely famous archaeologist Indiana Jones (aka Henry Jones Jr.) On the list of reasons why I like him: he’s a professor of Medieval literature! He’s played by the indefatigable Sean Connery in the George Lucas films (there are books, too, apparently). Sure, he wasn’t the greatest of fathers for young Indiana (“That’s the dog’s name!”), and he isn’t fond of the younger Jones’ particular brand of “research.” (“You call that archaeology?!”)

Despite their rocky relationship, Professor Jones the elder shares a lot with Professor Jones the younger, such as a love of history, archaeology, a penchant for dangerous situations, and the extremely foxy Else Schneider (spoiler alert: she’s a Nazi!) in The Last Crusade. I’ve always thought that I wanted to be Indiana Jones (probably driven by a deep love of archaeology and a deep love of Harrison Ford), but after seeing the amazing Henry Jones Sr. in The Last Crusade, I know that my real life goal is to be him. Awesome medieval professor who roams around Europe doing awesome research? Yep, life goal check.

According to various movie trivia sites and my own memory of the movie, his research focused on chivalry and the Holy Grail (manuscript illuminations and stained glass images). He published a book on chivalry (although in my opinion, the best real book on medieval chivalry is Maurice Keen’s Chivalry, most recent edition 2005) and ended up doing a tour of American academic institutions giving lectures (a rough period for young Indiana). Couldn’t have been all that bad though, since Indiana turned out pretty well (at least as far as I’m concerned).

A quote of his: “May those who illuminated this, illuminate me.”

On the Downsides to Inbreeding

18 Nov

Is there an upside? Maybe you have to do less wooing? Still…there are lots of downsides to inbreeding. And if you need proof (do you really need proof?), I present Exhibit A against marrying your cousin (or any other member of YOUR OWN FAMILY):

Charles II of Spain. It isn’t pretty…

Even the court painters couldn’t do anything to make him look better. Historians are pretty sure he suffered from  number of serious medical conditions they hadn’t named yet (all- shockingly- generally caused by inbreeding). Among other problems, Charles jaw was so big that he couldn’t chew. And his tongue was entirely to big for his mouth, so he had difficulty talking and drooled all the time. Attractive. Unsurprisingly, he never managed to have any children, despite being married twice (there’s something to be said for natural selection and survival of the fittest).

The real problem with Charles started over a century before his birth in 1665. Charles II of Spain was part of the illustrious (and disgustingly royal) Hapsburg family/dynasty. In order to keep the family dominion (which occasionally included places like modern Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Netherlands, etc.) in the family, they did a lot of inbreeding. In fact, historians have managed to track down the exact point when they stopped outbreeding in 1555, more than a hundred years before Charles was born. If that sounds weird to you, you’re right- it is weird.

Charles grandmother (Empress Maria Anna) was also his aunt, and his grandmother (Margarita of Austria) was also his great-grandmother. In case you want an illustration of how tangled his family tree is, I’ll show you:

Please note how every one of his relatives does double duty in the family tree. And how everyone  is a descendant of Philip of Castile and Joanna of Aragon (who, incidentally, is also known to history and “Juana the Mad”. I’m sensing some really good genes here.

I was sitting here thinking to myself: “How on earth did anyone else working hard running their own nations in Europe possible take Charles and Spain seriously?!” I mean, if I was sitting around being the king of France, next door to Spain, I would definitely be disparaging of Charles, and possibly try to take advantage of him (oh, you know the French kings are mean anyways). But then I remembered… Charles is related to the king of France. Pretty closely, too. (Is there anyone he’s related to that isn’t creepily close?)

Apparently, Charles II spread the idea that his mental and physical disabilities were the result of being hexed, and at one point, he went through the exercise of getting exorcised. Sorry Charles, I can’t image it helped much- I really don’t think witches are at the root of your problems… Somebody needed to have broken out from the familial dating pool a while ago to help you. (But look at that face? How could anyone have resisted anybody with a family likeness to him?)

Unfortunately for him, Charles II was sickly his whole life and died in 1700 at just 35 years old with no heir. Unfortunately for the country he was in charge of, this led to a dynastic crisis and the War of Spanish Succession, where a lot of his Hapsburg relatives fought over which Spanish territories they wanted. The moral of the story here kids is that inbreeding causes war…and uncontrollable drooling. To hit that home, I’ll leave you with another of Charles II of Spain’s portraits.

The Ancient Art Form of Spooning and Eating

13 Oct

A lot of the times, I think Romans are pretty awesome (indoor toilets! crosswalks on the street! art!). There are, however, occasions when I think Romans are really strange people, with some interesting and questionable customs. You may be familiar with how Roman houses work. Atrium, gardens, etc. (Maybe you’re not as familiar- its okay. They have atriums…and gardens…) Here’s a picture of a typical Roman house (House, not villa…those are for the countryside):

 

Getting closer to the point of this post- Romans are really big on eating. They like to have a nice early dinner (those Romans are early to bed, early to rise). Seriously, they would think you’re crazy for eating at the incredibly late hour of 8pm. Anyways, so they love to eat. Romans take their dinner in the triclinium (dining room), which is lined with couches. Okay, so it isn’t at all weird to eat dinner while sitting on a couch (I eat dinner sitting on the couch.), but the Romans aren’t sitting…they’re laying. I suppose reclining and eating isn’t all that radical, but I’m a little weirded out by the Roman’s methods. In order to fit big parties of folks laying down, they had people line up along the couches and cuddle with each other. Check out this diagram:

 

They are spooning. And eating. Spooning and eating at the same time. It seems like a very uncomfortable way to do dinner. What if you don’t like you you have to lay next to? What if you don’t like the person laying behind you? I’m just imagining how awkward Roman dinner parties are. Maybe that’s why they were drinking so much wine?For those people who love pictures/need a reconstruction of everything, here’s one artist’s view of how it might look:

 

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?

That’s Really Going to Ruin Someone’s Whole Day

11 Oct

When I think of 18th century royal courts, lots of things immediately spring to mind: grand palaces done up as ornately as humanly possible, huge poofy dresses (panniers and bustles!), and staid, slightly inbred folks with awesome titles, like the Duke and Duchess of Whatnot and the Baron and Baroness Blah d’Blah. I’m sure Peterhof Palace, in St. Petersburg, Russia, once had all those things, but it also had something else up its proverbial sleeves.

Construction of Peterhof palace was begun in the early 18th century by Peter the Great (hugely surprising, considering the name and all). Good old Peter, who I’m pretty sure had a personality disorder (seriously, look him up, Pete could be one nasty dude), had some palace envy for the grand fountains he had heard about in France (he’d never been to France, but heard they were snazzy, so of course he wanted some for himself). Thus, Peterhof palace has over a thousand fountains, ranging from the very impressive Samson. fountain (meant to symbolize Russia’s victory over its rival, Sweden) to the devious trick fountains.

Two views of the Samson fountain. Upper: facing Peterhof palace (Grand Cascade). Lower: facing the Bay of Finland.
By the mid- to late- 18th century, the fountains and parks had expanded to its 1000+ fountain peak, and were impressing the courtly Russian masses (few). If you were a courtly lady/gentleman of the 18th century, stuffed into the overwarm entertaining halls for balls or dinners of state or kissing the Tsar’s feet or whatever, wouldn’t you want a nice refreshing walk in the gardens? Well, Personality-Disorder Peter is one step ahead f you. He thought it would be hilarious to have trick fountains installed throughout the park to drench unsuspecting courtiers (ah, those people of lower rank). One trick fountain looks like a circular bench, with an umbrella covering it for shade. As soon as someone sits on the bench, the “umbrella” starts dumbing out sheets of water, trapping people under it. Another one looks like a tree with benches and cobbles around it, but as soon as you step on one of the trigger stones, the tree starts shooting water crazily. If you try to escape by sitting on one of the benches, that might trigger a new fountain of water to come up from behind the bench, further drenching you.
Now, If I spent four hours being dressed and prepared every morning (early afternoon- courtiers weren’t morning people), I would be pretty ticked off that some hydraulic engineer with a peevish sense of humor thought it would be funny to drench me and all my court finery. That stuff is mostly silk! Think of all the rubles wasted just so the Tsar can have a laugh at his courtiers expense (Are you starting to see what I was saying about the personality disorder? He also was afraid of high ceilings and liked to have people killed on a whim)! Court dress is nothing to sneeze at. Take this ensemble, on Empress Elizabeth Petrovna:
Elizabeth Petrovna, by Ivan Yakovlevich Vishnyakov, 1743.
The powdered wigs, the arsenic-laden cosmetics, the crinoline and layers of silk! All of it drenched and ruined by these sneaky trick fountains at Peterhof. You’d be out of courtly commission for at least the rest of the day (and you better hope you don’t catch a cold- this is the 18th century we’re talking about).

Really Unfortunately Named Person of the Day: Æthelred the Unready

5 Oct

Poor Æthelred- he is unfortunately named for two reasons. First, that whole letter A and E together thing is really hard to do (I may or may not have to copy/paste it in every time I type his name). The letter thingy is common among early kings of England (it also freaks out all automatic spellcheckers, just saying). What kind of nickname do you give someone named Æthelred? “Reddy”? But then you’d be forced to call him Reddy the Unready, which would be weird.

The second unfortunate part of his name is pretty clear: who really wants to be reminded constantly that they’re unready? Especially when you’re the King of England? If I was the king and people were always calling me unready, there would be a lot of beheadings. Also, “unready”? Was Æthelred some sort of high-maintainence diva who was always running late?

Well, that isn’t exactly how he got the name “unready”. That is a slightly more complicated story beginning at the end of the 10th century. Æthelred was the second son of King Edgar of England. He was, however, the first son of Ælfthryth, Queen of England (told you the A-E letter combo was popular. Also, how do you pronounce that name?). Æthelred’s illegitimate older brother (Edward) took the throne after much contention following Edgar’s death. Not long after Edward took the throne, he suffered a “mysterious” death while visiting the castle of Queen Ælfthryth. With Edward out of the way, Æthelred took the throne in 978 at the age of 10 (you can see at this point why he might seem “unready”).

Throughout his reign, Æthelred had a lot of problems with Danish Viking raiders. He even fled to Normandy in 1013, relinquishing the throne (ninny). Luckily for him, he got the throne back after the Sweyn (the Danish guy who took the English throne) died only a year later.

Linguists, being the spoilsports (or cool, awesome people, whatever) that they are, decided that this translation of Old English is wrong, and that all of the historical record is wrong. According to them, our homeboy Æthelred isn’t “unready”, he is “without noble council”. Lame. I think that in this case, we should ignore the linguists and go with what he is called historically: Æthelred the Unready

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

28 Sep

Today’s person is a nutcase. I came across him while reading the book, King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild (which I highly recommend).   He was born John Rowlands in Denbigh, Wales in the year 1841 (ahh, a good year). Sadly, neither his mom, Elizabeth Parry, nor anyone else in his family wanted to take care of him. As a result, he was sent to St. Asaph’s Union Workhouse (which reminds me or the Warner Brothers film Anastasia. That could not have been any fun).

Eventually he escaped this life by catching a ship to America, where he decided to completely change his life story. He changed his name to something you might recognize, Henry Morton Stanley (after his employer, who was named Henry Stanley) and started telling people he was an American. He made up lots of stories about himself that don’t check out at all.

Fun fact: Henry Morton Stanley (who we have established is Welsh by birth, and American by delusion) is one of the very few people who ended up seeing combat on both sides of the Civil War. He started out fighting for the Confederates and got caught and sent to prison by the Union soldiers. He was given the opportunity to get out of prison my agreeing to fight for the Union army, which he did. However, after not so much time in the service of the Union army, he deserted.

Through a series of events, he came to be a journalist and explorer (sometimes I wish I could go back a few centuries and be an explorer/academic/person of the times, but then I think about it and realize that if Iwent back in time, I would likely be involved in something like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire). Anyways, Henry Stanley Morton became a journalist, which gave him the opportunity to go abroad and send salacious stories back to the US newspapers.

Since he was really good at embellishing stories (which made him really popular with his newspaper editor back in New York) and already in Africa for some exploration, Stanley was in the right place at the right time when David Livingstone (British explorer in Africa) went missing somewhere in the African Continent. Hoping to snap up the first scoop, Stanley’s editor put him on the job in 1871.

As the story goes (reminder: Stanley wrote the story), Henry Morton Stanley saved the embattled Dr. Livingstone (hence his most famous quote that makes the title of this post) and brought him back to civilization. He wrote a book about his incredibly difficult and heroic adventure which was very, very popular. (Livingstone didn’t really get a chance to chime in with his own side of the story because he died shortly after his “rescue”… this has a strange way of happening a lot with anyone who might disagree with Stanley’s stories. Conspiracy?)

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Illustration for 1876 French Edition
After his now-famous journey, Stanley headed a number of other expeditions into Africa. For instance, he was responsible for the being the first (non-African) person to find the mouth of the Congo river and to traverse completely across Central Africa. Although his stories were widely read in the United States, not everyone liked him. He came under fire by some people for his blatant disregard for the African people he encounters (he likes to shoot them…a lot).
I think its probably difficult to come up with a good take-away message about Henry Morton Stanley. He was a pretty bad guy: he lied about pretty much everything, was responsible for a ton of deaths, and was an overall pretty rotten character. Yet, he was a fairly important historical figure with a solid impact on the way history went (he helped King Leopold II to get ahold of the Congo, which was definitely not good for Congolese people). And to make it worse, he was really successful as a journalist and explorer (both pretty sweet jobs). To conclude this post, I’ll add a picture that I think says a lot about crazy Henry Morton Stanley:

You Know What’s Cool? Siege Machines.

27 Sep

Okay, war and war-related stuff usually isn’t my thing, but this snazzy invention is a pretty cool solution to the problem of fortifications. I was watching the movie Kingdom of Heaven yesterday (really bad movie- I recommend NOT watching it. Orlando Bloom really cannot carry a movie by himself), and the only redeeming thing about the movie was the interesting Medieval battle scenes. Historical inaccuracies aside, at one point, the city of Jerusalem is being besieged by Saladin’s forces and they use these awesome siege machines/towers.
Now, I don’t know about you, but in my imagination, Medieval fortifications are really tough to get past- I mean that was the whole point of fortifications anyways, wasn’t it? Once they started incorporating flaming trebuchets and stuff (and later, explosives and guns), it made it way easier to break into giant, well-fortified castles, but before then, castles must have seemed almost impenetrable, right? Well, my imagination forgot to consider siege machines, which really are a brilliant answer to the problem of high stone walls.

So what is it? A siege machine is a big rolling tower with troops on it. The attacking army rolls it up the the fortified walls and when it gets close enough, releases a wooden bridge-type thing from the top of the tower. The attacking troops then stream across the bridge and into the fortified castle/city. Brilliant! The craziest part is that Medieval people didn’t think this up- siege machines have been around since the 9th century BC! The first recording of siege machines is in Assyria, from approx. 865-860BC.

Assyrian siege machine, 865-860 BC. British Museum.
Because they worked so well, everybody and their cousin used to use siege machines. In addition to the Assyrians, ancient Chinese people, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Medieval English people, and both sides in the Crusades all used siege towers in their various wars and conflicts.
19th century drawing of a Medieval English siege machine.
I’m thinking that pretty much the only thing that could stop a siege machine would be…a moat. Kind of hard to roll over that, huh? You’d have to build a bridge over the moat in order to get your siege machine past. Or you could build your castle on the side of a cliff or a mountain, which would also make it hard to roll a siege machine.

Regardless, I definitely think that siege machines are one of the coolest things ever- and they must have worked pretty well if they were used by tons of different cultures over thousands of years.

From Ponce de Leon to Dr. Mudd: A Mini-Vacation

26 Sep

I have visited a very large number of U.S. National Parks, and have lots of opinions about them: Denali (in Alaska) was cool, but it was rainy and cloudy in the dead of summer. Glacier (in Montana) was gorgeous, but the roads are enough to scare anyone. The Olympics (in Washington) were…pretty much exactly like the rest of Washington- but the hot springs were great! Without a doubt, though, my favorite National Park is Dry Tortugas (in Florida).

First off, doesn’t it just sound cool? You say “Dry Tortugas” and it immediately puts me in mind of pirates and Caribbean adventures (Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?) Second, it is Florida, which as you’ll notice, is a lot warmer and more southerly than any of the other National Parks I’ve visited. Third, just look at it:

Doesn’t it just look awesome? Dry Tortugas National Park also goes by the name “Fort Jefferson”. Besides being arguably one of the prettiest National Parks, it also has the distinction of being the least visited. They can barely even maintain having more than two volunteer Park Rangers at any time. How could that possibly be, you ask? Well, you may have noticed that the park is an island, but what that picture doesn’t show you is that Dry Tortugas is four hours away by speed boat from the nearest inhabited part of America (Key West, FL). Its closer to Cuba than the United States (the only reason it has any Park Rangers at all is that illegal immigrants are constantly trying to land themselves on this island).

Besides having more Cuban “visitors” than American tourists, the island has a really cool history. It was first discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, who gave it the name Dry Tortugas (“tortugas” for all the turtles he caught on the island and “dry” because it doesn’t have any fresh water). Nobody really bothered with the island again until after the Spanish sold Florida to the U.S. Commodore John Rodgers thought the island might make a decent naval outpost and started construction in 1846. Since Rodgers wanted Fort Jefferson to serve as an advance warning spot in case of danger coming from the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico, he made sure that it was heavily armed. Despite the dedication of decades and a ton of federal resources, the fort was never fully completed. Five points if you can guess why.

You get five points if you guessed the Civil War! Fort Jefferson played an interesting role in the War of Northern Aggression: it served as a prison for prisoners of war. Surprisingly, one of the southernmost bits of U.S. territory actually belonged to the Union during the Civil War. They didn’t even have to halt construction during the war because they switched from using slaves to prisoners for free labor. One thing you might notice in the pictures is that the top layers of the fort have different color bricks than the lower levels. This is because when construction started, they brought bricks in locally from Florida and other southern states, whose bricks are naturally a more reddish-orange color. Once the war started, their supply was cut off and they have to import bricks from as far north as Maine (these bricks have the darker red color).

During the Civil War, when the fort was used as a prison for captured Confederates, the population of the fort had as many as 2,000 people. However, the lack of fresh water on the island made disease a big problem. The sickness that riddled the island was as much a danger for the prisoners as it was for their Union soldier guards and all of the fort staff. Their shared near-death experiences tended to bring the inhabitants of the island together, and in 1865, the Unionists who had been on the island petitioned the U.S. government to get official pardons for the Confederates who had been imprisoned there. One of their most well-known prisoners was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who aided President Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. In 1867, a particularly bad epidemic of yellow fever hit the island, killing a majority of the island’s inhabitants, including the fort’s only on-staff physician. The remaining residents turned to Mudd for medical help to see them through the epidemic. His work to save the lives of the people on the island garnered their respect, and they helped him to get a an official pardon from Andrew Johnson.

Author’s Note: You may have noticed the gratuitous amount of pictures in this post. This is because its rainy and cold out in the real world, so I thought I’d give everyone a mini vacation to the Florida Keys. Also, some of these are my own pictures, and I’m proud of them. Enjoy.

Oh My, Don’t Your Hips Look…Wide

24 Sep

People wear a lot of strange things for fashion. While I’d like to think looking really weird for “fashion” is merely a construct of 20th and 21st century haute fashion, that of course couldn’t be further from the truth. While some weird things were caused merely by a shortage of technology (or maybe forethought?), like how shoes up until recently were the same for both feet (there was no “left” and “right”, just “shoe 1” and “shoe 1 again for shoe 2”), some things are just designed to look a little different.

I am thinking particularly about panniers, which is like a mini hoop skirt apparatus designed just to make your hips stick out. The front and back stay flat, which supposedly is to show off the swanky fabric of your dress. Panniers were popular in the 18th century. Once they become popular in the Georgian era and in the years leading up to the French Revolution, rich and fashionable women competed to see who could have the biggest panniers.

Eventually they got rather out of hand, and the panniers were so big that women couldn’t fit through doors. In some places, doors had to be widened to allow these fashionable ladies through. To solve the problem, some creative designers gave the panniers hinges, which allowed the panniers to be temporarily lifted in case fashionable ladies were in places without fashionably wide doors. The most extreme panniers (common enough in French court dress a la Marie Antoinette) were several feet long- on either side! Can you image being seven feet wide???

Marie Antoinette in court dress, 1779.
No wonder people thought she was crazy.

 

There is a scholarly article floating around out there that argues panniers empowered women of this period because it made them such a large and imposing sight standing next to men. I don’t know how much I buy this, but mostly because of the lack of evidence of late 18th-century famous empowered women…who wore giant hip bustles. I could be missing something though.

One final note: the word “pannier” comes from “panier”, which are the baskets/carrying bags that go on either side of a pack animal. How is it that looking like a taffeta pack animal was cool? Some fashionable panniers even had hidden compartments for ladies to store things they didn’t want to carry around. So…they kind of were like pack animals. Very fashionable pack animals.