Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped

Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped

by Tony Perrottet
     
 

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When Tony Perrottet heard that Napoleon's "baguette" had been stolen by his disgruntled doctor a few days after the Emperor's death, he rushed out to New Jersey. Why? Because that's where an eccentric American collector who had purchased Napoleon's member at a Parisian auction now kept the actual relic in an old suitcase under his bed.

The story of Napoleon's

Overview

When Tony Perrottet heard that Napoleon's "baguette" had been stolen by his disgruntled doctor a few days after the Emperor's death, he rushed out to New Jersey. Why? Because that's where an eccentric American collector who had purchased Napoleon's member at a Parisian auction now kept the actual relic in an old suitcase under his bed.

The story of Napoleon's privates triggered Perrottet's quest to research other such exotic sagas from history, to discover the actual evidence behind the most famous age-old mysteries: Did Churchill really send condoms of a surprising size to Stalin? Were champagne glasses really molded upon Marie Antoinette's breasts? What was JFK's real secret service? What were Casanova's best pickup lines? Napoleon's Privates is filled with offbeat, riotously entertaining anecdotes that are guaranteed to amaze, shock, and enliven any dinner party.

Editorial Reviews

Paul Cartledge
“It’s refreshing to find such an entertaining writer whose history is also meticulously researched. Perrottet’s take on the past is erudite, original and witty — even, frequently, hilarious.”
Norman Cantor
“The Naked Olympics presents the Greeks in all their glory, brutality, and vulgarity. It is a fascinating picture and popular history at its best.”
Boston Globe on Pagan Holiday
“A terrifically funny writer; this history-cum-travelogue is as enjoyable as it is informative and twice as quirky.”
New York Times on Pagan Holiday
“An appealing...mix of the zany and the arcane.”
Washington Post on Pagan Holiday
“A whimsical trek through classical history, famous sites and arcane trivia.”
Forbes on Pagan Holiday
“Required reading...a charming popular history of ancient Roman sight-seeing.”
Booklist on Pagan Holiday
“Brimming with humor, adventure, anecdotal tidbits, and fascinating historical information, this delightful travelogue offers a unique twist on some classic journeys.”
The New Yorker on The Naked Olympics
“This lively account of the classical Olympics portrays them as “the Woodstock of antiquity,” and claims that the Games, while taken seriously, were also where Greeks gathered for a five-day debauch.”
Booklist
“Brimming with humor, adventure, anecdotal tidbits, and fascinating historical information.”
Washington Post
“A whimsical trek through classical history, famous sites and arcane trivia.”
New York Times
“An appealing...mix of the zany and the arcane.”
Boston Globe
“A terrifically funny writer; this history-cum-travelogue is as enjoyable as it is informative and twice as quirky.”
The New Yorker
“This lively account of the classical Olympics portrays them as “the Woodstock of antiquity,” and claims that the Games, while taken seriously, were also where Greeks gathered for a five-day debauch.”
Salon.com
“Tony Perrottet’s sinfully entertaining survey of perversion.”
Forbes
“Required reading...a charming popular history of ancient Roman sight-seeing.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061257285
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/01/2008
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
1,268,426
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Napoleon's Privates
2,500 Years of History Unzipped

The Champagne Glass–Breast

Connection

(AD 1788)

How best to worship the perfect breast? Throughout history, men have dreamed of sipping fine wine from replicas of their lovers' busts, cast in glittering crystal. In antiquity, a temple on the island of Rhodes displayed a goblet that was believed to have been modeled on the breasts of Helen of Troy by her paramour Paris. In the Middle Ages, love besotted French king Henry II had his wineglasses fashioned on the "apple like" breasts of Diane de Poitier. And in the late 1700s, the legend sprang up that Queen Marie Antoinette's breasts were the model for the shallow, broadrimmed champagne coupes that are still often used today (although the modern fashion is more for the tall, thin, and decidedly un breast like champagne flutes).

There is no evidence at all in the case of Marie Antoinette, although the queen did have a passion for bubbly. If nothing else, her ample figure, admired by her lech of a father in law, King Louis XV, and others, would have provided a higher volume glass than the shallow coupes. But the royal breast stemware connection may have begun with another, slightly more plausible story: Marie Antoinette definitely did have a set of breast shaped porcelain milk bowls created for her by the French porcelain factory Sèvres— and tradition holds that they were modeled on her own. Known as the jattes tetons, the creamy white gourds balance on a tripod base that is decorated with carved goats' heads. Marie Antoinette was a devotee of the "back to Nature" movement that broughtbreastfeeding back into fashion in France, and she had ordered the cups for use at her fairy tale dairy at Rambouillet, an echo of her fantasy farm at Versailles, where the queen liked to dress up as a shepherdess and frolic with her children and ladies in waiting. The shamefully expensive service was delivered during the troubled year of 1788, the year before the Revolution exploded.

If the story is true, the cast of the queen's breast would probably have been made from wax under the control of one Jean Jacques Lagrenée, the factory's co artistic director. The four original bowls survive in the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres in Paris, and the porcelain company still makes reproductions for connoisseurs.

Standing Up in Court

The Dreaded French Impotence Trials

(AD 1657)

Think the Spanish Inquisition was harsh? Just as intimidating to many men were the French impotence courts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when husbands charged with erectile dysfunction were obliged to prove their virility before witnesses.

A husband's inability to perform was one of the few reasons that the church would allow a marriage to be annulled, so disgruntled women who could afford the legal costs would regularly charge their husbands with "injurious non consummation" before ecclesiastical courts. The legal tradition dated to the 1300s, when theologians agreed that the true aim of matrimony was procreation. Statistics are vague, but by the 1500s, says French historian Pierre Darmon in his detailed account Damning the Innocent, courts were faced with "a tidal wave of accusations."The onus was placed on the husband to demonstrate his powers of erection before an expert team of priests, surgeons, and midwives. These learned observers would carefully examine his equipment to reach an opinion on its "elastic tension" and "natural motion," before demanding "proof of ejaculation." Many men found that their powers would fade on first examination. "Just looking at you makes me shrivel," one humiliated husband moaned to his tormentors.

Any man who failed this test had only one recourse to avoid becoming a laughingstock. He could demand Trial by Congress,wherein he would carry out his conjugal duty before the team of experts as 100 percent proof that he could perform. As recounted in a string of contemporary chronicles, this astonishing piece of legal pornography would take place in a neutral territory agreed upon by both parties. The married couple were examined by the court to make sure they were not concealing any devices—men were known to smuggle tiny vials of blood onto the scene, which would fool observers into thinking that the wife's maidenhead had been taken without actual penetration—then ordered to the conjugal bed. The male surgeons and priests repaired behind a partition to enjoy discreet observation, while the female midwives perched by the pillows watching every move like hawks. With the husband and wife long estranged, the wrestling beneath the sheets was far from amiable: there was bickering and harsh words, with one wife crying that her husband had "put his finger therein [to] dilate and open her by such means alone." One critic of the trials noted that it would take only a "marvelous determined man and even brutish not to turn flaccid." After one or two hours, the experts approached the battle scene with candles to establish whether or not there had been penetration and suitable "emissions." One defeated husband, a certain Monsieur De Bray, although his member had been declared by the doctors "big, stiff, red and long . . . in place and in good order," lost his case as he had only scattered "aqueous" seed upon the mattress.

The women who had the funds to start impotence trials were almost all from the aristocracy, so it is not surprising that each new charge provoked a salacious scandal that was disseminated by Parisian pamphleteers—the pre de ces sors of the modern tabloid press— to a bemused wider audience. By the mid seventeenth century, a carnival atmosphere was attending the trials, as shown by the case of the handsome young nobleman René de Cordouan, the Marquis de Langeais, recorded in detail by the contemporary chronicler of Parisian life Tallemant des Réaux. Accused of impotence by his wife of four years in 1657, the marquis appeared to have an open and shut case when the fi rst examination suggested that his wife was not a virgin. But there was lingering doubt and innuendo, so the marquis decided to restore his sullied reputation through Trial by Congress.

In Paris, bets were laid on the outcome of the trial and dirty songs composed. Society ladies fl irted with the marquis, with a certain Madame d'Olonne declaring openly, "I would so like to be condemned to Trial by Congress."

Napoleon's Privates
2,500 Years of History Unzipped
. Copyright � by Tony Perrottet. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Norman Cantor
“The Naked Olympics presents the Greeks in all their glory, brutality, and vulgarity. It is a fascinating picture and popular history at its best.”
Paul Cartledge
“It’s refreshing to find such an entertaining writer whose history is also meticulously researched. Perrottet’s take on the past is erudite, original and witty — even, frequently, hilarious.”

Meet the Author

A long-term denizen of Manhattan, Tony Perrottet is the author of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists and The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Greek Games. His irreverent yet thoroughly researched approach to history has made him a regular contributor to Smithsonian Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Outside, The Believer, National Geographic Adventure, and the New York Times, with frequent appearances on NPR radio and the History Channel, where he has discussed everything from the Crusades to the birth of disco.

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