A bust of Camille Desmoulins, whose impassioned speech at the Café du Foy, which he may or may not have made at the instigation of the Duc d’Orléans may or may not have kick started the assault on the Bastille. Yes, that’s right – no one is quite sure what happened that afternoon in the Palais Royale but the image of a shy, stammering young journalist leaping onto a table and giving a speech that began one of the most enormous upheavals in early modern history is a compelling one.
Camille’s love and future wife, Lucile Laridon Duplessis, painted by Boilly. Camille met and courted Lucile in the grounds of the Palais du Luxembourg and would later be hired as her tutor, during which time their love grew like that of Abelard and Héloïse. At first her father refused to countenance the match of his generously dowried daughter with the penniless Camille but of course his antics on Bastille Day would soon change matters…
We fans of Marie Antoinette generally imagine her dressed in blue silks and wimsically smiling as she fondled a perfect pink rose but in 1789, she was regarded rather differently by the populace of France – haughty, extravagant, insincere, uncaring, debauched and distant. I think that like a lot of shy people, Marie Antoinette suffered by being thought of as ‘superior’ when in fact she was just hiding her awkwardness.
Attaché case carried by the Jacobin and member of the CPS, Barère de Vieuzac. I always used to be quite fond of Barère because it used to be thought that he was born on the 10th October, which is also my birthday but it now seems that actually he was born on the 10th September so sorry Barère, I am sure you were delightful despite being a Jacobin but I no longer feel any sort of bond with you!
One of the most moving rooms in the whole museum is this little reconstruction of how the royal rooms in the Temple Prison may have looked, using furniture that was actually used by the family during their imprisonment. It’s a lot more cheerful and colourful than you might expect but then these niceties were not to last long as one by one the family’s luxuries were withdrawn and they were parted from each other.
A Wedgewood medallion of the Princesse de Lamballe, maybe dating from one of her excursions to England? I live only a few miles away from the city of Bath in Somerset and have visited the house on the Royal Crescent where the Princesse is said to have stayed during one sojourn in the spa town.
An ink well used by Camille Desmoulins, maybe when he was writing articles for his incendiary Vieux Cordelier or writing love notes to his beloved Lucile.
A bust of Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just, alongside a pistol carried by him at the battle of Valmy. Saint Just was always a huge hero of mine from about the age of twelve onwards when I got him confused with Marguerite’s dashing brother, Armand Saint-Just in The Scarlet Pimpernel (Armand was based on Antoine and I suspect Baroness Orczy was none too pleased when she realised Antoine’s true, less than charming nature).
Ever wondered what Danton’s fork and spoon looked like? Wonder no more! Yes, this fork and spoon have touched the lips of the great man himself.
Robespierre’s very battered looking attaché case that he would have used to cart documents to and from the Committee of Public Safety.
A lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair – not the pale ash blonde of popular imagining but actually a soft, amber.