J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Chevalier and the Chavelière

Yesterday I described the busy, accomplished life of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a champion swordsman and celebrated musician in pre-Revolutionary France.

In the late 1780s he spent a couple of years in London. And there he encountered an old acquaintance, the Chevalier d’Eon. Reportedly D’Eon had seen Saint-Georges fence as a teenager in Paris.

D’Eon had had an eventful military and diplomatic career before going into exile in Britain in 1760s. Starting in 1777, D’Eon had lived in France full-time as a woman. In 1785 the chevalier returned to London, where people still remembered him as a skilled swordsman.

On 9 Apr 1787, Saint-Georges and D’Eon performed a fencing exhibition in front of George, the Prince of Wales, and his entourage. Charles Jean Robineau painted the scene, and by 1789 it was turned into a print for the popular market. The print’s caption referred to D’Eon as “Mademoiselle La chevalière.”

I’d seen this image in connection with D’Eon, who certainly stands out in dress and bonnet. But Saint-Georges was also a celebrity and, as a man of African ancestry, a curiosity. His dark tan skin is not evident in the print, at least not in some hand-colored examples, but it’s clear in the painting.

1 comment:

Jimmy Dick said...

You just have to really appreciate the Chevalier. History is loaded with characters that add life to the events we study and he is a prime example of one. Too bad they were glossed over so much with the Great Men approach.