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The rampant ambition of Blanchard the balloonist, from Petit Andelys

Jean Pierre François Blanchard was born in Petit Andelys, the second son of an odd-job man, on July 4, 1753.  Perhaps the vast remains of Chateau Gaillard that tower above the town inspired him to the possibilities of human endeavour.  Whatever the cause, Jean Pierre was destined to go down, sometimes literally, in history. The…

The life of a small harbour; Le port du cap Lévi, in Cotentin

The top left of Normandy is the Cotentin Peninsula and within that, the Val de Saire.  A region with timeless pockets of wildness and a shoreline that has been battling the sea since time began. All around its maritime boundaries are ports; from stately Cherbourg to little stone pockets by small villages that huddle against…

Normandy in the 19th century – maps by Alexandre Vuillemin

Parisian Alexandre Vuillemin was born in 1812, the year Napoleon invaded Russia.  During his life (Alexandre died in 1880) France would be invaded, gain and lose territories and embrace the industrial revolution. As France evolved, it’s borders and in turn it’s cartographers became increasingly important. Alexandre studied his art under the esteemed Auguste Dufour and…

The slandering of Princesse d’Harcourt

  Pretty and fair with skin like cream, Françoise de Brancas Princesse d’Harcourt lived in that strange world Versailles, when the Sun King Louis XIV ruled. He demanded his aristocrats paid court to him in his glorious over stuffed castle and so there they lived, squeezed into every last corner and cupboard. Privacy was unthinkable. Which…

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