Tag Archive: pregnancies

Heather, aged 15, with her 13 year old sister.

Auntie Heather was born on 6 October 1918.  Her mother and father, my grandparents, had been courting for six years when they finally married on 5 January 1918.  This was because Pa (short for Papa, later for Grandpa) refused to marry while the other men were away at war.

Grandma had very nearly stood him up on their first “appointment” as she called their dates.  She had confided to a work colleague that she wasn’t really attracted to him and thought that she wouldn’t go.  Her colleague had encouraged her to meet him, saying “You never know, you might like him.”  Much later, she had confessed this hesitation to her husband, who had replied, “I knew where you lived!”

During the First World War, Australia’s soldiers were all volunteers.  Pa had volunteered but, although he passed muster on height and chest measurement, his request had been refused.  He wouldn’t say why.  Later, when the War dragged on and thousands of men were being killed or wounded, height and chest measurements were lowered and Pa thought that he might be accepted this time.  He was refused for the second time.  Grandma used to say that men who had volunteered and been refused should have been given some sort of badge to wear so that they didn’t receive dirty looks from passers-by in the street.  Pa played sport and looked like a strapping young man who just didn’t want to go to war.  After his death, Grandma found his application papers with CARDIAC written across them in red.

Heather at the beach.

So Grandma, who, at the age of sixteen had refused her first offer of marriage, finally had to wait until she was twenty-nine before being able to tie the knot.  Pa was thirty-five.

Their first child was born nine months and one day after the wedding, at home with the assistance of a midwife.  Grandma’s pregnancy had been a bit rough and so had the birth, but mother and daughter were doing well, even if both were very tired after the ordeal.  Grandma managed to say to the midwife, “I just saved my good name!”  To which the midwife snapped, “You would have saved your good name if she had been born three weeks ago!”

While Grandma was still weak, one of her husband’s aunts paid her a visit and enquired about the baby’s name.  Grandma replied that she was to be christened “Brenda”.  The aunt exclaimed, “Brenda!  Brenda!  Brindle!  Brindle cow!  If you call her Brenda, I’ll call her ‘Cowie'”  So Grandma, in her weakened state, agreed to change the name, and my aunt was named Heather Catherine.  Relatives sent white heather to her from Scotland the Brave.

Heather with her future husband.

When Grandma had recovered sufficiently to go for a walk with her baby in the perambulator (later shortened to “pram”) “an old biddy up the street” (Grandma’s words)  admired the little one, then proceeded to say insinuatingly, “My daughter had her baby one year after her wedding!”  Grandma rose to her full height of five feet two inches and replied icily, “Well, my daughter was born nine months and one day after my wedding!”  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

The little girl had her mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes but her features were those of her father.  Later, a dark-haired hazel-green eyed sister came along and Pa, who would have loved to have fathered a son, refused to allow Grandma to risk her life a third time to try to have a boy.

Heather with her father and mother on her wedding day.

The girls grew up in a two-bedroom brick house, with a dog and an enormous aviary in the backyard.  The birds were Pa’s but the dog was everyone’s.  She was a black Pomeranian who loved to taunt the biggest dogs she could find on her walks, then, when chased by them, leap into Grandma’s arms and let her deal with them.  Grandma was not amused by this.  She wasn’t afraid of dogs, but an angry German Shepherd, still being insulted by the black curly bundle in her arms, was not a reassuring encounter.

The girls shared a bedroom and this arrangement displayed its limitations when the younger of the two went into a depression (known as a nervous breakdown then) and piled all the blame for her state on her sister Heather, who was twenty years old at the time.  Not only did young Heather have to assume the burden of her mentally ill sister at this time, the antagonism lasted for the rest of their lives.  Her sister continued to systematically blame her for everything that had gone wrong with her life and eventually stopped talking to her.  At the same time she did everything that she could to try to turn the rest of the family against her.  Fortunately, not always successfully.  Auntie Heather maintained a dignified silence through it all.

The family (left to right) Heather’s sister (my mother), me at 14, Grandma, Heather’s husband, her daughter at 10, and Heather.

Despite these problems, which hadn’t yet reached complete maturity when I was born, Auntie Heather became one of my godmothers.  She was consulted, including by her sister, my mother, for questions concerning the correct way to dress for a particular event.  The sisters even collaborated as a medical first-aid team during the Second World War.  Auntie Heather always knew what the text-book said to do and my mother always knew how to do it.  Things didn’t go as well when they tried to reverse the roles.  The whole family was on first-aid alert duty on the night that the Japanese attacked Sydney Harbour.  The siren was at the end of the street, a few houses away.  On the bus, on their way to work the next morning, the girls thought that people were joking when they heard them talking about the attack and the siren going off.  They had slept through the whole thing and could have been fined for it.

Same people, different places. We’re all a bit older.

Auntie Heather was the matriarch of the family.  She outlived her parents, her younger sister, her husband (a high-ranking Free Mason) and her only child, my cousin.  She died last Friday, 29 June, and will be cremated tomorrow, 4 July 2012, in Sydney.

She is survived by her four grandchildren and her son-in-law, but I am the only one left who knew her when she was a young woman.  Which is why I have written this.  All of the people in these photos, except for me, are now deceased.


In the XVIIIth Century, it was believed that a woman sleeping naked on her bed could be fecunded by the South-West zephyr.

The whole History of procreation seems to have been marked by great misogyny.  Over two or three centuries, a completely specialized literature develops it, inspired at the same time by Scripture, scientific observation and philosophy.  Speaking of Woman, eminent Sorbonnards affirm:

“The humidity of her constitution renders her inapt for tasks which demand character”,


“on top of which, one is not totally sure that she has a soul”…

It is for this reason that, out of prudence, the first human dissections are practised on women.

In 1595, an opuscule in Latin by the German philosopher Acidalius proclaims:

“Mulieres non esse homines”;  women are not part of humankind…


It is therefore understandable that parents are not ecstatic about the birth of a little girl…

In the XVIIIth Century, it was starting to be said that women carried eggs from which children were born.

From the IVth Century before the present era, since Aristotle, the woman is only the receptacle of the embryo deposited by the man.  She is a reproduction tool accorded to the man to relieve him of the burden of having to nourish this embryo and give birth to it.

This is why L’art de procreer des males, a book by Morel de Rubempre, still has, in 1824, great success and numerous re-editions.  It essentially takes up the elucubrations of Millot in 1802, of which the following is a sample:

“The husband must always lie on the woman’s left.  At the moment of the ejaculation, he must quickly pass his left hand under his spouse’s right buttock, and lift her up until her hip forms, with the suface on which she is lying, an angle of twenty-five to thirty degrees.  This is not all, things such as the height of the bed, the position of the husband, whether he is standing, and the wife lying down, for example, must be taken into account.  If he is himself lying down, he has to modify the firing angle of the “cannon of life” in function of the width of the opening of his spouse’s hips and the depth of the dent that they make in the mattress.”

The great Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, in his Histoire des anomalies, recounts seriously, in 1832, that sentiments can have a strong influence on the child before its birth.  For example, a little girl is born in Year III of the French Republic with, on her left breast, the mark of a Phrygian bonnet.  The Directoire also rewarded with a pension of four hundred francs a mother so patriotic as to have given birth to a female child bearing on her buttock a patriotic brevet and a revolutionary emblem.

The first serious refutations of the role of the imagination or fears, or of “cravings”, only go back to the middle of the XIXth Century.  In English maternities, pregnant women are then asked what has impressed their minds during their pregnancy and it is perceived that:

(1) – children are born without anomalies;

(2) – that if there are any anomalies, it is only after the birth that the mothers find any explanations.

However, these fears of another age still last today.  In 1971, a report on pregnancy and birth, established by Marie-Therese Miehe (collection “Diagnostics”) notes the following questions asked by young women:

“I saw a black man and I had a shock.  Will my child be born black?”

“I listened to a lot of music for nine months.  Will my child be a musician?”

“Do unsatisfied cravings cause malformations?”

We are far from having left the age of magic.


A few years later in this XVIIth Century, thanks to the microscope which is a recent invention, a young German doctor, Louis de Ham, discovers that a drop of sperm was in fact

“an ocean where an innumerable multitude of little fishes were swimming, in a thousand different directions”.

These little fishes immediately suscitate an infatuation which is even more considerable.  Exactly what are they…  animals?  Probably!  But what sort of animals?  Fishes, tadpoles, toads?  Let us say “animalcules”, decides the scientific world.  But most importantly, it is again the man who is at the origin of life.

So fecundity, which that laughable ovist thesis had attributed to females, is returned to the males, gloats Maupertuis, the great French mathematician.

But are these animalcules miniature humans and do they have sexes?  Of course they do!  It is thought that little male and female fishes can be distinguished.  They are incredibly numerous and the adults have a tail while the little ones do not.  There is a rut season for the spermatozoa, during which they mate.  The female spermatozoa soon give birth…

Their way of life is not very amiable.  They love to fight and if the one who survives is seriously wounded, a monstrous child will be born.

It must also be noted that the little male fishes are to be found in the right bourse, the little female fishes being in the left bourse.  Therefore, in the man, as in the woman, the left testicle – the left ovary in the woman – gives females.  To be sure of having boys, which is infinitely preferable, it is enough, advises Doctor Michel Procope-Couteau, the author of a remarkable Art de faire des garcons, to cut off the left testicle.  But can any volunteers be found?  He suggests:

“To prove that this essential thesis is correct, let us start by cutting the testicles and the ovaries of people who have been condemned to death and marry these half-eunuchs together.”

This strange doctor does not appear to have found the human material for which he was asking, but his thesis flourishes…

Doctor Tissot found a way of having only boys. The woman had to lean on her left side "when she was working to become a mother"...

People are convinced that, to have a boy, they only have to place themselves on their right side at the moment of their love-making…  But in the end, the idea that Man comes from a tadpole displeases just as fast as the one that situates his origin in an egg.

Abbot Spallanzani, the great Italian biologist, Pasteur’s precursor, who died at the dawn of the XIXth Century, is the last to say anything good about spermatozoa.

Creatures endowed for him with a “supreme wisdom”, an “adorable wisdom”, they are only, for the Swiss physiologist Haller, the author of two hundred works on these questions, “insects” who are born in a not very nice environment, “faecal”, he says.  Soon, they are called “parasites”, vulgar “cercaried gymnodes” and the immense Cuvier himself reduces them, in 1841, to the rank of “microzoa”

From the beginning of the XVIIIth Century, there is a forceful return of the egg vogue…

But then these spermatozoa must be only “parasites”.

In the heart of the XIXth Century, two theses are going to sweep away all of the others, those of chemical generation and of electrical generation.

Tinchant demonstrates in four hundred tight pages that it is the man who “breathes in the principle of life contained in the air”, distills it in his blood and transforms it into sperm, “germ of life par excellence”.  The woman only “condenses” it, supplying it with hydrogen and carbon which form the membranes and the waters…  Long live the warrior once more, and too bad for the vivandiere!…

Burdach is scarcely more collected in demonstrating that the sexual act is of an electrical essence.

He explains that the electric contact which runs through the body when two people join, provokes an electrical commotion, and an “electrical conflict manifests itself in the power of the gaze of the two beings, enchained by the ties of love”

So, Victor Hugo’s contemporaries are delighted to learn that it is the electricity fairy who, by slipping “between the spinal cords of the man and the woman”, communicates to the organs of generation what is necessary to assure, with ecstasy, the survival of the species…

And Man would only begin to understand the true nature of fecundation less than one hundred and fifty years ago with Van Beneden’s fundamental discoveries.

We have only left the magical, crazy or baroque ideas on human procreation for this short space of time.

Less than one and a half centuries, against two or three  thousand years of phantasmagoria.  Food for thought, no?…


To be continued.

Hippocrates thought that the foetus was the result of the mixture of masculine and feminine semen which came from the brain.

As unbelievable as it seems, Humanity imagined up until the middle of the XVIIth Century that children were made either according to Aristotle’s description, or that of Hippocrates.

For the greatest doctor of Antiquity, the foetus is quite simply the result of a mixture of male and female semen.  The female, like the male, distills a semen which comes from all parts of her body, but most particularly from the brain.  According to Hippocrates, this explains the delicious sensations that are felt in all of the organs during copulation.

Unlike Hippocrates, the phallocratic Aristotle considers that the liqueur dispensed by the woman during copulation is deprived of any essence of life.  The role of the woman in the penetration is therefore reduced to supplying menstrual blood which, in coagulating, will serve as food for the foetus, while her abdomen will supply a lodging for the embryo placed there by the man.  That she is only “assuring shelter and food”  for the little human, as Pierre Darmon puts it.

Rene Descartes wrote a Traite de l’Homme et de la Formation de Foetus that is a model of obscurantism.  He takes literally the ideas emitted just two thousand years before him.  He writes:

“The foetus is, at the origin, only a confused mixture of two liqueurs that heat and dilate each other, by this means disposing themselves to form members, beginning by making a heart by boiling [bouillonnement].”

This French rationalist also thinks that, in any case, it is the man who contains the foetus, and the role of the woman is totally secondary.  A bit like a vivandiere when the army of males has won the battle…

The germ, however, takes its own life from the ether, from the spirit or spirits that float in the air…  And this is why the imagination of pregnant women, connected to the floating spirits, is able to transform the child that they are carrying…

In the heart of the XVIIIth Century, the Century of Light, right on the eve of the French Revolution, appears a treatise by Benjamin Bablot on the power of the imagination of pregnant women.  Like a lot of other doctors, Bablot upholds that if a pregnant woman touches a cat, a mouse or a weasel, she must very quickly wipe her hand to avoid the foetus taking on the form of the animal in question.

Swammerdam, although a naturalist and a physiologist of great talent, recounts with unperturbable seriousness that, around 1660, a pregnant woman was frightened by the sight of a “nigger”.  She rushed to her bathroom to wash herself with very hot water and, thanks to this wise precaution, the child was born white.  Alas!…  the creases in its hands and feet, that the water had not been able to reach, were all black…

In the XVIIIth Century, it was starting to be said that women carried eggs from which children were born.

It is only at the end of the XVIIth Century that the great anatomist Reinier de Graaf emits the hypothesis that women could well carry their own semen in the form of eggs.  In his Nouveau Traite des organes genitaux de la femme, he formulates, to the great scandal of one part of his contemporaries, the following daring hypothesis:

“I claim that all animals, and even Man, originate in an egg, not an egg formed in the matrix by the semen, in Aristotle thinking, or by seminal virtue, following Harvey, but from an egg which exists before the copulation in the testicles of the females.”

So women carry eggs…  They are like hens?…  Voltaire, who remains dry on the mysteries of generation, resorts to irony, that is to say, however he can.

“Woman is only a white hen in Europe, and a black hen in Africa!…”

Already marked by the disrepect of the new ideas, the ovist thesis had been raising reserves of a totally different order, a few years before.

“It’s contrary to the Scriptures”,

the whole of the world of believers had then protested.

Doctor Pierre Roussel, who is on the side of the Hippocrates thesis, finds that ovism offends the dignity of women, and the theologians chime in to say that if ever anyone discovers eggs in his wife’s ovaries, it could only be the result of a prodigy of Satan.

Eggs?  This is badly digested food, says a scholar of this epoch, while another estimes that this thesis is too favourable to women, which is totally insupportable.  Others, on the other hand, are enthusiastic about the egg thesis.  A Brest doctor swears in 1684 that he has just seen a woman who is seven months pregnant give birth to a big serving dish of eggs.

“I saw some too”,

affirms Doctor de Houppeville in a brochure that appears in Rouen at the same epoch.

“But it’s the devil to get them out without breaking them…  particularly with virgins!…”


To be continued.

In the XVIIIth Century, it was believed that a woman sleeping naked on her bed could be fecunded by the South-West zephyr "charged with floating embryos".

The way in which, throughout the centuries, humans have imagined that they are engendered is a passionate subject.  A young History professor, Monsieur Pierre Darmon, wrote a History of it in which procreation appears as the most prolific of mysteries, a sort of immense, baroque tapistery, around the edges of which the imagination of theologians, jurists, philosophers and doctors has enormously embroidered.

Does sleep favourise the birth of male children?  Yes.

Does the foetus resemble the mother more than the father?  Of course.

The more lascive a woman is, the more fecund she is?  Oh dear no.

Are short women more fecund than tall ones?  Definitely.

Are women whose matrice is cold fecund?  Of course not.

Are women who give birth to a boy more fecund?  Assuredly.

These are very serious subjects of thesis, defended before the very venerable Faculte de medecine de Paris up until the time when, around 1770, Lavoisier gives the first foundations of modern chemistry…

In the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries, it was believed that women who gave birth to monstrous children had been fecunded by a witch.

In the XVth Century, the monks Sprenger and Institutor write the first big treatise on demonology, Le Marteau des Sorcieres.  For two centuries, this guide – red with the blood of thousands of victims – will inflame all parts of Europe, in the hands of Inquisitors and Judges who have blind confidence in it.

During witchcraft [sorcery] trials, sexuality and generation always play a determining role.  One discovers there, in a tragic light, the idea that humanity has had, over the ages, of the role of the sexes and of procreation.

Mandated by the Pope to hunt witches [female sorcerers], Sprenger and Institutor assure that these women are capable of detaching by a spell [enchantment] the fascinus (the “object which fascinates”) of these gentlemen and of taking them away.  The witches place these little animals – these little sparrows? – endowed with their own lives, inside a nest.  The XVth Century text says:

“There, they wriggle and feed themselves with seeds, as several people have recounted.”

And our two grave demonologists recount the following story which they hold to be absolutely true:

“A man notices that, under the effect of a spell, the most precious of his goods has disappeared.  He addresses himself to a known witch and demands reparation from her by the practising of a graft which she knows how to do.  The witch makes him climb a tree and presents him with her collection.  In a nest, several objects of virility are jumping and dancing.  He chooses one, the most flattering.  The witch who, although diabolic, still has scruples, exclaims:  ‘Above all, not that one, it belongs to the parish curate!…’ “

When a woman gives birth to a monstrous child, for several centuries it was thought that it was because of a magical operation.  Therefore, the person responsible has to be found.  It is always a witch or a wizard who has impregnated the mother with bad germs.  And where do these monster germs come from?  They float in the air.  In any case, it is never the fault of the father…

Up until the middle of the XVIIIth Century, a quantity of scientific treatises can be found which doctorly explain that

“at the origin of all animal life, there are little, invisible beings, already formed, but lifeless, which are waiting to enter into contact with a liqueur which is subtle enough to vivify them”.

A woman can therefore procreate on her own, through enchantment or even simply a dream.

This is why, on 13 January 1637, the Grenoble Parliament declares Magdeleine d’Automont d’Aiguemere innocent of the sin of adultery.  This chaste spouse has just given birth to a boy.  But, her husband has been absent for four years.  However, the judgement underlines that

“having imagined the person and the physical contact of the said Lord d’Aiguemere, her husband, in a dream, she received the same sentiments of conception and of pregnancy that she would have received in his presence”.

The judges refer to Saint Thomas who said that, in the state of innocence, children were made by the intention of thoughts alone.

This judgement is accompanied by a highly scientific declaration:

“One supposes that, on the night of Madame d’Aiguemere’s dream, her window being open, her bed exposed to the West, her blanket in disorder, that the South-West zephyr, duly impregnated with organic molecules of human insects, of floating embryos, had fecunded her.”


To be continued.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) only leaves her state of prostration on 8 July 1857, to welcome the Prussian sovereigns.  King Frederic-Wilhelm is in an excellent mood, although a little too agitated because of his hypertension, and Queen Maria, sister to the princesses Sophia, Archduchess of Austria, and Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria, is happy to see her niece.  At the end of the month, the marriage of the Emperor’s brother, Ferdinand-Maximilien, to Charlotte of Saxe-Coburg makes the family rejoice.  The Archduchess welcomes her new daughter-in-law with “very maternal” grace.  Sissi and Franz-Josef do everything to make their new sister-in-law feel at home.  Charlotte, daughter of the King of the Belgians, is judged to be charming and delicious.

In October, the King of Prussia suffers an attack which takes away his speech and obliges him to entrust the administration of the kingdom to his brother, Prince Wilhelm.  Franz-Josef is worried:  until now, definitive rupture with Prussia has been avoided.  What will happen now?

The Empress’ worries appear to be continual for, since her daughter’s death, a divergence with Doctor Seeburger has been added to the conflict with her mother-in-law.  Sissi had asked for his removal, Sophia had obtained that he remain.  The Empress is suffering from an exostosis, a little benign tumour, on her hand.  Seeburger proposes an infallible treatment, place on it two twenty-crown silver coins, bind the hand very tightly and hope that the exostosis is reduced by the pressure of the coins.  This therapy reveals itself to be worse that the ill, Sissi suffers even more.  After two days of patience, she throws away the strange dressing.  Seerburger is decidedly still just as useless…

November.  News runs through the Hofburg and in Vienna:  the Empress is again pregnant.  Secretly, Elisabeth prays that the child she is carrying be a son.  Her pregnancy continues normally, under her mother-in-law’s attentive surveillance.

When Summer arrives, Sissi settles at Laxenburg.  At Dawn on 21 August 1858, three days after Franz-Josef’s twenty-eighth birthday, she enters into labour, a lot more violent than for her preceding deliveries.  All day, the Empress suffers.  The Archduchess, arriving from Vienna, has the Holy Sacrament exhibited in the Palace’s chapel, before sitting in silence in her daughter-in-law’s bedchamber.  The whole of Lazenburg is in prayer, and Vienna, where the heat is appalling, holds its breath.

At a quarter-past-ten in the evening, Sissi is delivered.  Her screams had terrified the Archduchess, and Countess Esterhazy, kneeling near her bed, imploring divine grace.  Sissi is exhausted and very pale.  She asks the question with anguish, in a weak voice:

“Is it a boy?…”

Franz-Josef is crying.

“So, it’s another girl,”

Sissi sighs, crushed.

But the Emperor’s tears are tears of joy and emotion.  He mumbles and begins by saying:

“We don’t know yet!”

In his confusion, Franz-Josef has forgotten that it is a boy.  The Imperial Crown has an heir.  God be praised!  At the height of happiness, the Emperor detaches the Collar of the Golden Fleece from his chest and places it on the little boy.  The future is there, hope now has a first name, Rudolf, the fourth Habsburg to bear the name since the XIIIth Century.  In his veins flows the blood of two of the oldest royal families of Europe.

In Vienna, a hundred-and-one cannon salute shakes the sleeping city.  Enthusiasm flows through the streets.  Archduchess Sophia declares that never has a child been welcomed with so much joy.  Franz-Josef, who refuses to admit that the child is weak, finds him strong and magnificently proportioned.  And he names him Colonel of the 19th Infantry Regiment.  Therefore, Rudolf is immediately consecrated to a military life.

Sissi is tired.  But what secret joy, what revenge!  The pamphlet destined for Marie-Antoinette no longer haunts her, and her personal position at Court is reinforced.

Princess Sophia, Archduchess of Austria.

For the baptism, Franz-Josef gives her a four-strand pearl necklace.  The Archduchess and her spouse give Sissi the necklace and earrings in turquoise that Sophia had received at the birth of Franz-Josef, twenty-eight years earlier.  Unfortunately, the Archduchess considers that she must closely watch over the baby, the heir to the Empire.  The Empress’ inconsequences, her strange ideas which already hardly suit the education of the Princesses, are to be absolutely excluded from that of the future emperor.  So, Elisabeth finds herself submitted to increased tension.  The first conflict about Rudolf concerns his feeding.  Sissi has the “extravagant” idea of wanting to breast-feed her son herself.  But the fever does not leave her.  A nurse replaces the Empress, to the Archduchess’ great satisfaction.   Sissi’s disequilibrium becomes worse.  Helpless, weakened, her only recourse is Franz-Josef.  Alas, the Emperor is taken up with politics.  Once more, a storm is brewing over Europe.

In filigrane to the Paris Treaty, Russia, humiliated, is concocting revenge.  The man who holds the key to the new imbroglio is Napoleon III.  Behind his veiled gaze and his apparent distraction, the Emperor of the French nourishes a dream:  to organize a new Italy.  Napoleon I’s great-nephew is having trouble accepting that Vienna reigns over Milan and Venice, and keeps garnisons in the duchies of Tuscany, Modena and Parma.  This attachment of the Lombardo-Venitian States to the Habsburgs is a living reminder of the Congress of Vienna and the collapse of Imperial France.

Napoleon III has reflected on what he can do.  Unity of the northern and southern Italian States is still premature.  On the other hand, the creation of a Federation after the expulsion of Austria is envisageable.  Saint Petersburg completely agrees with Paris.  The enemies of Sebastopol become conspirators on the same side.  Berlin follows with delectation the community of views between Paris and Russia.  As for London, the Crimean adventure has cooled her European pretensions.  Diplomatically speaking, England has become an island again.

For the Tsar in Saint Petersburg and Bismarck in Berlin, war against Austria is desirable.  For Napoleon III, it is a necessity.  Without transforming the Mediterranean into “a French lake”, the annexing of Nice and the Savoie would be a stroke of genius.

On 21 July 1858, exactly one month before the birth of Rudolf, France promises to send two hundred thousand men to Italy if Austria commits an act of aggression.

Cavour, satisfied, remarks:

“We have backed Austria into an impasse from which I defy it to be able to extricate itself without firing its cannons.”

The fire can be ignited, all that is missing is the spark.

To be continued.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

On 2 March 1855, Tsar Nicolas I dies.  Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria orders a four-week mourning period in the Hofburg Palace and sends a personal letter of condolence to Saint Petersburg.  He has himself represented at the funeral, for in Vienna, Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) is in labour.  On 5 March, at seven o’clock in the morning, the Emperor informs his mother.  The Archduchess settles herself next to the bed and mechanically embroiders, while watching her son hold his spouse’s hand and embrace her.

After three hours, the baby is born:  it is a girl.  Disappointment is immense, but Sissi, radiant, almost immediately says:

“All that I have suffered is now unimportant.”

Franz-Josef tenderly gives her a bracelet and a pendant which will contain locks of hair from the Emperor and the baby.

Princess Sophia, Archduchess of Austria.

And the infernal machine again grinds into action.  Without consulting the Empress, the Archduchess decides that the heiress will be named Sophia like herself, and Franz-Josef can do nothing less than ask his mother to be godmother.  At the baptism, the absence of the new Tsar Alexander II’s Ambassador is noted, the only diplomat having received instructions not to appear at this celebration, which is both a family and a political occasion.

Scarcely a month-and-a-half after giving birth, Sissi surprises the whole Court, and scandalises the Archduchess, by mounting on horseback.  Apart from her real equestrian pleasure, Sissi is defying her mother-in-law.  It must be said that Sophia has added another, fatal degree to her authoritarianism.  The heiress Princess is “her” child.  She has chosen her nurses and governesses, selected the doctors, and jealously watches over the nursery installed in her apartments.  Sissi, mortified, can only see her daughter in the presence of her mother-in-law, not always even then;  maternity also has its timetable.  If Sissi gives instructions for the suckling or the care of her baby, the Archduchess annuls or contradicts them.  The worst is the daily parade of the Archduchess’ friends, who admire the child, taking great care to congratulate the grandmother.  Elisabeth is ignored, effaced, relegated to the lowest rank of genitrix, not even having succeeded in giving the throne an heir.  This veritable kidnapping deeply humiliates Sissi.  Her mother-in-law removes from her her joy at being a mother, one of those motivations which should help her to live.

The Archduchess therefore commits a serious mistake.  Worse, a fault, for she cuts one of the ties which would have allowed Sissi to put up with Court life, and like Vienna.  From then on, the Empress will be a woman in revolt.  By passing through the heavy palace doors, she is liberating herself.  With gallops in the Vienna forest and outings to the Prater in an open carriage, Sissi takes revenge.  She is more and more beautiful.  Her face has remained that of a young girl, but her figure has been marked, becoming that of a woman.  In the Vienna Spring, her appearances suscitate admiration.  People elbow each other to see her pass by.  The whole of Vienna talks about it, the Empress is even more ravishing than on her wedding day.  Involuntarily, by pushing her daughter-in-law to show herself a lot, the Archduchess increases imperial popularity.  Very favourable notes arrive on Franz-Josef’s desk, while the conflict continues to stagnate in the Black Sea.  Sissi’s sudden prestige is soon considered as the prelude to political influence.  People seek to present requests to her.  The imperial Cabinet invariably answers:

“Her Majesty the Empress has no influence.”

Emperor Franz-Joseph of Austria on his way to a military banquet in the grounds of Schonbrunn.

Another trip is supposed to take Franz-Josef into Galicia.  As it is a vast military inspection, he suggests to Sissi to spend some time with her family, in Bavaria.  Needless to say, the Empress seizes this occasion, despite the sadness of separation.  On 21 June, she leaves Vienna for Possenhofen, her heart beating at the idea of seeing her universe again.

She had left her childhood paradise as a romantic princess.  She returns as Empress, with a cortege of ladies-in-waiting, valets, coachmen, stableboys, and a high-ranking escort.  But protocol, which has no place in her baggage, is joyfully trampled.  She goes out in all weathers, including when a storm breaks in cataracts over Starnberg Lake.  Elisabeth becomes Sissi again, and too bad if her suite, dripping and muddy, grumbles about these fresh air urges.  And then she talks a lot to her mother, complaining about her aunt-mother-in-law.  Ludovika, upset and a little terrorised by Sophia, advises patience.  The ladies-in-waiting are alarmed to see dogs everywhere, even invading the dining-room.  They pale when the Duke invites the high-ranking people in Sissi’s suite for a game of billiards…  with his gamekeeper.  The only concession to etiquette is that Sissi, to please Franz-Josef, writes three times a week to the Archduchess.

The couple’s meeting in Bad Ischl is marvellous and tender.  Soon, Sissi is again pregnant.

Back in Vienna, they learn that Sebastopol has at last fallen, on 11 September, three days after General MacMahon took the Malakoff Tower.  At midday, with his sabre raised, the General had ignored the mines – forty thousand kilos of powder – and declared:

“J’y suis, j’y reste  [I’m here and I’m staying here]”,

thereby entering into History.  The Russians evacuate the great port and sink their fleet.  The Crimean War had made, in total, nearly two hundred and forty thousand victims, one third by cholera.  The repatriation of the exhausted troops provokes an epidemic right into Vienna, where a few cases are signalled.  Franz-Josef fears for Sissi and their daughter, for the Court remembers the 1831 epidemic which had made ravages.  The epidemic fears fade.  However, on 14 December, the Empress goes to Schonbrunn, accompanied by one of her ladies-in-waiting, Countess Bellegarde.  Her carriage is harnessed with four horses that she knows well.  Once on the Mariahilferstrasse, a long artery which leads to Schonbrunn, a horse takes the bit between its teeth, the three others get tangled in the reins and, in a few instants, they have all bolted.  The coachman is ejected.  Seeing the danger, a carter pushes his cart across a street and stops the horses.  The carriage rocks, the shaft breaks, but the two women are unhurt.  Even paler than usual, Sissi and the lady-in-waiting, trembling, return to the Hofburg in a fiacre.  She recounts the accident to a frightened Franz-Josef.  Called in haste, Doctor Seeburger notes that the Empress, three months pregnant, has only suffered fear.  Sissi had escaped death.

On 16 January 1856, during a ball, Franz-Josef officially announces that the Tsar at last accepts to negotiate a peace treaty.  He is happy about this result which, according to him, has reinforced Austria’s role beside the Anglo-French triumph.  On 25 February, the Peace Congress opens in Paris, a choice which reinforces Napoleon III’s prestige even more.  The Conference unfolds in the Clock Room, at the Quai d’Orsay.  The treaty, signed on 30 March, constrains Russia to cede a southern part of its territories, from Bessarabia to Moldavia, a clause judged to be very harsh at Saint Petersburg.  It also allows for free circulation on the Danube, and the neutrality of the Black Sea.  The Middle-Eastern dream of the Tsars remains a chimera.  Franz-Josef considers that peace, through his non-armed intervention, is partly imputable to him.  In reality, he receives hate from Russia.

To be continued.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

The imperial couple is going to undertake its first official voyage, to Bohemia and Moravia.  Far from Archduchess Sophia of Austria…  and from Countess Esterhazy, First Lady-in-Waiting, who has the good taste to feel herself to be too old, and has herself replaced by the Third Lady-in-Waiting.  Emperor Franz-Josef has stood up to his mother, who would have preferred that her son accomplish the voyage alone.  The Emperor is right, as much about love as about politics;  the lands of the Empire should know their Empress.

The departure for Prague is on 3 June 1854.  The admirable forests, the fairy-tale castles and the amiable welcome of a population which had, however, approved the revolt against the Habsburgs, transform Sissi.  Gay, devoted, treated like an empress and considered as such, Elisabeth is unrecognizable.  She multiplies the experiences of her new condition, accumulating caritative visits, going from convents to orphanages, from hospitals to young ladies’ boarding schools.  The whole of Bohemia is seduced by Sissi’s grace.  In a few days, she conquers all hearts and begins the popularity curve of her whole lifetime.  The voyage reaches its peak in Prague.  The town, of great beauty, triumphantly welcomes the couple, whose carriage is escorted by peasants in colourful costumes.  Unfortunately, this entr’acte lasts only two weeks.  Sissi, suddenly tired and uncomfortable, has to return to Vienna.  Franz-Josef continues alone.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria with one of her dogs.

Having returned in a weakened state, Sissi again falls under the control of the “queen mother”.  Seeing her pale face, the dark shadows under her eyes and her anguish, the Archduchess asks the Court doctor, Dr Seeburger, to examine the Empress.  The examination is reassuring, Elisabeth is pregnant and her indispositions are the classical ones of early pregnancy.  The Archduchess is enchanted, Heaven has not delayed in blessing her son’s marriage.  The Court is organized so as to remove all initiative from the expectant mother, and the care that surrounds her transforms her joy at the news into a nightmare.  So, while awaiting Franz-Josef’s return, Sissi spends hours among the animals of her menagerie.  Her dogs in particular are a cumbersome passion, for she chooses them as big as possible, and has them always near her, or in her arms.  Scandalised, the Archduchess writes to Franz-Josef, on 29 June:

“I do not think that Sissi should spend so much time with her parrots, for if a pregnant woman looks at animals too much in the first months, the children risk looking like them.”

The Archduchess’ knowledge of genetics is limited.

In July, the Court returns to Bad Ischl, there where everything had started barely a year ago.  The Archduchess buys the villa where the imperial family has spent all its summers since 1844, for Sissi and Franz-Josef.  Very quickly, the house becomes the Kaiservilla, “imperial villa”.  Of Palladian style, with columns in the region’s pink marble, and a fresque in honour of hunting, the imperial villa, which has only one storey, is yellow with green shutters, few balconies and a wrought iron balustrade, and is nestled in the heart of a park which climbs through the hills.  The whole gives an impression of simplicity.  Inside, one is in a bourgeois hunting lodge.  Franz-Josef likes this house;  he will spend sixty Summers of his life there, and Sissi will savour a few days there, where her mother-in-law’s influence is weak.  Liberated from protocol and from public scrutiny, the relations between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are almost harmonious.

This first stay transfigures Sissi, even more so because her mother, her sister Helena and her brother Karl-Theodore arrive with their tenderness and their memories.  Sissi is radiant.  The relaxation is such that Louis-Victor, Franz-Josef’s brother, writes to his mother, who has left Bad Ischl:

“Since you have gone, the Empress does whatever she wants.”

Everyone breathes more easily, even if Franz-Josef laughingly complains about the disorder every morning at breakfast.

But Heaven does not allow prolonged joy in Sissi’s life.  Messages arrive from Vienna recalling the Emperor to his task.  Sissi accompanies him to his carriage, again in tears.  She had so hoped that these holidays would continue, at least until the end of August.  But European events counter her dream.

One protocol, called of the Four Guarantees, had been signed at the end of July.  It annuls the Russian “protectorate” over Moldavia and Valachia and reduces to nothing the Tsar’s ambitions for the Danube provinces.  Not without reticence, Austria accepts this agreement initiated by France and England.  Napoleon III wants to have his revenge on dominant Russia which benefits from the Europe cut into pieces at the Vienna Congress, while England cannot leave a sea without her ships assuring London’s supremacy.  Drunk with anger, Nicolas I talks of “unparalleled perfidia” and indignantly complains to the King of Prussia, Frederic-Wilhelm IV, who is also his brother-in-law, in a letter of 25 August:

“Since the unworthy comportment of the Emperor of Austria against Russia which saved him, he has lost all right to the credibility of his assurances.”

The Anglo-French troops debark in Crimea on 14 September.  A modern war begins, the first war of position, with the Sebastopol siege, which will last eleven months, in a very rigorous climate and epidemics of fevers and cholera.  The Zouaves and miners at the Front find celebrity there, and the English Light Brigade its finest hour.  At a high cost:  one hundred and eighteen thousand dead on this near-island that the survivors call “the abattoir”.

Back in Vienna, Sissi is worried, for her mother-in-law is having a child’s room set up beside her own apartments, instead of leaving the heir – or the heiress – near his or her parents.  Franz-Josef, who had held up against the fearsome Tsar, gives in to his mother, and worriedly plunges back into the news from the Crimean War.  Opposing his former Russian ally, he has placed his faith in Paris’ alliance with London, but the war is stagnating.

To be continued.

Most women get urges to eat specific things at one time or another during their pregnancies.  Mine were for salty, deep-fried stuff, and salady things with vinaigrette dressing.

Some recorded envies do not run along the same lines.  Several medical writers tell of avidity for human flesh.  One doctor wrote of a lady who appreciated her husband’s blood.  She would gently cut him while he slept beside her, and suck the blood from the wounds.

Dr Pare mentions pregnant women eating plaster, ashes, garbage, charcoal, flour, salt, spices, and drinking pure vinegar. Plot gives an example of a woman gnawing and eating a mattress.

Another woman, aged thirty-two and married for ten years, developed a strong taste for charcoal.  She couldn’t get enough of it, and preferred charcoal made from hard wood.  It seemed to give her energy and cure a supposed dyspepsia.

Then there are the women who drink their own milk, which they express from their breasts.  Other women want very hotly spiced food, and are capable of eating a pound of pepper in a very short time.  The wife of a Hassfort-sur-le-Main farmer ate her husband’s excrements.

Sometimes, diverse emotions take over during pregnancy.  Some women become very sexual, others become very pious.  There are women who, when not pregnant, have a charming disposition, but become extremely irritable and bad-tempered when pregnant.

Does anyone know of any other strange envies or personality changes during pregnancy?

Occasionally, during their wife’s pregnancy, men suffer the same symptoms as the future mother.  This can be assimilated to hysterical pregnancies (or all the signs of pregnancy, without the baby) in women.

In the late nineteenth century, S. Weir Mitchell gave a series of lectures on psychosomatic illnesses, and included the following story concerning an hysterical pregnancy, associated with the husband’s morning sickness:

The woman was the mother of two girls and wanted to have a boy.  Her periods stopped for one month, then returned for the following three, but less abundantly, which was what usually happened when she was pregnant.

From the second month, she started vomitting every morning, which was also usual for her.  At the same time, she put on weight and, as this was mainly around the abdominal area, she was certain that she was pregnant.

The wife was not Dr Mitchell’s patient, but her husband consulted him for his own morning sickness which started at the same time as his wife’s, as it had for her preceding pregnancies.  Dr Mitchell advised him to leave home, which he did.  His morning sickness then stopped.

The doctor later learned that the wife continued to gain weight and vomit every morning until the seventh month, when her periods returned.  She was examined and, when she was convinced that she couldn’t be pregnant, she started to lose weight and was back to normal within a few months.

Doctor Mitchell does not report when (or if) the husband reintegrated the family home.

Another case of morning sickness in a husband appeared two weeks after his wife’s periods stopped.  He vomitted daily before his wife reached her second missed period.

Her only symptoms up to this point had been her husband’s morning sickness, which only lasted two months.  This was identical to the sickness experienced during his wife’s preceding pregnancies, except that, for the other pregnancies, his symptoms had not appeared until both he and his wife knew that she was pregnant.

The Lancet (476, 1878, 66) describes a case where the morning sickness of both the husband and the wife began and ended at the same time.

A Dr Judkins mentions a man being ill in the morning during his wife’s pregnancy.  The same thing happened each time that she was pregnant, and the man told the doctor that his own father had suffered from morning sickness during the first months of his mother’s pregnancy when she was expecting him, which the doctor thought showed an hereditary predisposition.

Do any modern husbands suffer from morning sickness during their wife’s pregnancy?  We don’t seem to hear much about it.  Perhaps, if they do, they are too self-conscious to make it public.

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