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 ...

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Napoleon's Privates

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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 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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061863417
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 858,154
  • File size: 2 MB

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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Read an Excerpt

Napoleon's Privates

The Champagne Glass–Breast


(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 brought breastfeeding 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. Copyright © by Tony Perrottet. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 27, 2010

    An OK read with some fun tidbits

    Perrottet's book is a quick and fun read. I had purchased the book thinking it would have a number of interesting stories about the chain of possession some artifacts have as they move amongst museums and collectors. That isn't really what Perrottet wanted to do with the book so, evaluating what he set out to do rather than what I was hoping he would do, the book is really little more than a series of vignettes, largely unrelated except for Napoleon, that contain amusing fun facts.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2012

    E-book version is buggy!

    Though Ifound the book entertaining, the e-book version I purchased was frustrating and ruined the experience. Missing pages, a chart that could not be viewed, and several segments of missing text made me hate reading this book. Buy the hard copy if you want to read this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An entertaining romp

    It's easy to think of famous historical figures as the dignitaries they professed to be. Larger-than-life accomplishments and the filter of hundreds of years of historical propriety lend a gloss that tends to obscure their more human attributes. Prepare to remove those rose-colored glasses. Tony Perrottet's collection of risqué stories could have been titled Everything You Wanted To Know About History (But Were Afraid To Ask). It's packed with amusingly revealing peeks into the personal lives of some of the world's most famous entertainers, artists, politicians and rulers. Nothing is off-limits: medical conditions, sexual preferences, bathroom habits, and things you didn't even know you wanted to know about people you thought you already knew. Eye-popping tales of lavish parties and excess abound, from the Romans and Greeks of the ancient world ("Holding Your Own at Caligula's Orgies," "Imperial Roman Sleaze") to the rise of modern industry ("Those Dastardly Robber Barons [What Did They Really Get Away With?]") and American politics ("JFK's Home Delivery Service," "What Was J. Edgar Hoover's Favorite Party Outfit?"). The 50-some one- to three-page articles that comprise this book are dated by year and titled according to subject matter. On page 2 of his introduction, the author urges the reader to "crack its spine the way you might open a museum's mahogany doors, and poke about at random." An analogy about peeping through a keyhole might be more apt. Fair warning: once you look, it's hard to look away! In addition to the famed Frenchman of its title - whose private woes are a recurrent theme - the book's subjects range from Abraham Lincoln to the Marquis de Sade, from Catherine the Great to Adolf Hitler, and everyone in between. (For those with specific interests, there is an index at the back of the volume.) Included are the answers to all those unasked questions about chastity belts, castrati, and the terrifying levels of self-indulgence practiced by human beings with and without means. Who among us has not wondered if wine glasses were really designed in the shape of female anatomical features? Or what was served at the final meal aboard the Titanic? Also included are handy easy-reference charts with titles like "Where Are They Now? Celebrity Body Parts" and "How Wretched Were The Impressionists?" plus a number of entertaining sidebars with additional interesting tidbits of information. Did I mention that the author gets up close and personal with the privates in question? The book appears to be well-researched and is thoroughly annotated, citing numerous first- and third-person references. The author notes when records have been destroyed (an unfortunate habit common among the surviving relatives of foolhardy individuals who commit their transgressions to paper) with little or no comment, leaving the reader to arrive at their own conclusions. Tony Perrottet's degree in history and background in journalism serve him well here, and he treats the delicate subject matter with a perfectly detached combination of honesty and light humor, resulting in a read that's deliciously naughty but still within the realm of good taste. Quill says: This entertaining, er, romp through history is sure to amuse any fan of history and juicy gossip. One thing is for sure: you'll never feel the same way in a museum again!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2009


    This is a book that covers some things that would actually make history class more interesting for students, though most of this would never get past a school board and that's a shame. I love books like this that covers the odd, weird and interesting in history rather than who fought what battle.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2008

    Makes you love history.

    This is a genuinely fun, very smart and witty assortment of the wildest stories from the last 2500 years, spanning everything from Alexander the Great to J. Edgar Hoover and JFK. I bought it for my sister who is going to college soon, it's an ideal gift book, beautifully produced and surprisingly economical for such a nice hardcover. It's filled with risque stories but unlike other books of the genre, this one is also obviously very well researched, with sources for further reading and the like cited at the end of each anecdote 'I'm going to follow up on Catherine the Great and the horse!'. An excellent choice for anyone interested in the past or just wants to entertain friends at dinner parties! PS -- have a look at the video, it's hilarious.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 20, 2010

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    Posted January 7, 2010

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