The Beauty Rituals of 19th Century Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.

Born in Munich on December 24, 1837, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie became Empress of Austria when she married Emperor Franz Joseph at the age of sixteen.  Though now widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women of 19th century Europe, Sisi, as she was known to her intimates, was not considered a great beauty in her youth.  Some biographers have even referred to her as sturdy and boyish with a “round peasant face.”  Highly sensitive to any perceived deficiencies in her appearance, Sisi embarked on a lifetime of starvation diets and extreme beauty rituals which have since become the stuff of legend. […]Continue Reading

The Scottie's Petticoat and Other 19th Century Dog Tales

Come Over Here! by Lilian Cheviot, 1915.
Come Over Here! by Lilian Cheviot, 1915.

On this week’s edition of Animals in Literature and History, I bring you three separate, but equally intriguing, dog anecdotes from the 19th century.  The first involves a Scottish Terrier and a lady’s white petticoat.  The second involves a Bulldog and a surgeon.  And the third and final tale gives us a little insight into the professional and working class souls of 19th century canines.[…]Continue Reading

Saved by Her Stays: The 19th Century Barnsley Murders

Portrait of Mademoiselle de Lancey by Carolus-Duran, 1876.
Portrait of Mademoiselle de Lancey by Carolus-Duran, 1876.
(The late 19th century, heavily corseted, silhouette.)

Considering how often corsets, crinolines, and towering headpieces were responsible for some hapless female’s untimely demise, it seems only fair that occasionally fashion should be credited with saving a historical lady’s life instead of putting an end to it.  For an example of this, we need look no further than author and historian Margaret Drinkall’s newly published book The 19th Century Barnsley Murders.  A collection of seventeen carefully detailed and impeccably sourced incidents of true crime that took place in the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley between the years 1829 and 1899, Drinkall’s book details a range of criminal conduct, from everyday instances of brutal and senseless violence to tales of bodysnatching, poisoning, and even a vicious knife attack that was thwarted by a lady’s corset.  It is the latter crime to which I draw your attention today.[…]Continue Reading

19th Century Marriage Manuals: Advice for Young Husbands

The Waning Honeymoon by George Henry Boughton, 1878.
The Waning Honeymoon by George Henry Boughton, 1878.

Published in 1837, The Young Husband’s Book is described as a “manual of domestic duties.”  Written by “a mentor” it contains within its pages advice on everything from choosing a wife to dealing with pesky in-laws.  Some of the information is merely common sense, the sort of generic advice newlyweds might hear from well-meaning relatives today.  The remainder is very pointedly early 19th century – written by someone who was clearly drawing on their own marital experiences gained during the Regency era and applying them to young couples in what was then the new Victorian age.[…]Continue Reading

The Origins of the Unicorn

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.
The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

According to historians, the legend of the unicorn first emerged in 398 BC courtesy of the Greek physician Ctesias.  Ctesias wrote an account of India, titled Indica.  In it, he attests that all recorded within his account are things that he has witnessed himself or that he has had related to him by credible witnesses.  This account of India, though largely lost, has been preserved in a fragmentary abstract made in the 9th century by Photios I of Constantinople.  In the twenty-fifth fragment, Ctesias writes of the unicorn, stating:[…]Continue Reading

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