The Forgotten Woes of Varvara Rasputina

A post-revolution portrait, damaged by Soviet authorities.

Varvara Rasputina was the youngest surviving daughter of Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), the infamous Russian mystic and holy man who used his supernatural abilities to wield political power over the Romanov royal family.

She lived in the shadow of her legendary father, and died quietly without any fanfare. Her more famous sister Maria Rasputina gained attention for her work as a lion tamer in Paris and then the USA.

But Varvara’s life ended early and in a depressing manner.

She was born in 1900, in Pokrovskoe, Tyumen Province- an isolated, cold, and distant village in the midst of the Siberian Urals. It lay on the Tura River, and its residents were simple farmers who lived a low-key existence.

Village of Pokrovskoe on the Tura River, photographed by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, 1912.

Except, that its, for her father.

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was not your typical turn-of-the-century Russian peasant. He claimed to receive sacred visions from God, and was said to have otherworldly powers which he used to lure believers into this thrall.

He had seven children with his wife Praskovya Dubrovina, but only three survived to adulthood: Dmitry, the oldest son; and two daughters, Maria and Varvara. It was a hard knock life for the rural family, but they were a mentally tough and spiritually enriched bunch. Maria wrote of her dad:

“My father would often take us on his knees, my brother Mitya, my sister Varvara, and myself. He would tell us wonderful stories with that tenderness he always showed and that absent look in which seemed to be mirrored the countries he had visited and the strange adventures he had met with on the road.”

Grigori and his 3 children: from L to R: Maria, Varvara, and Dmitry.

Rasputin left his boring village for St. Petersburg; abandoning his wife and children to pursue the existence of a Starets (which was, in the Orthodox religion, a spiritual pilgrim/monastic hermit).

In doing so, this supposedly simple and barely literate Siberian peasant quickly managed to ascend the ranks of Russian society; until Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna became convinced that Rasputin was indeed the holy healer he claimed to be.

Their poor son Alexei suffered from hemophilia. This left him unable to clot blood, and simple falls and accidents left the boy near death and with horrible complications.

Enter Rasputin: somehow, with no medical or scientific knowledge, an uneducated peasant from the lower classes repeatedly and successfully prayed away the Tsarevich’s pains and sufferings. How did he do it?

Grigori and his hoes

Even today, scientists are unable to explain what exactly allowed Rasputin to heal the Romanov’s son, on a consistent basis.

Back in Pokrovskoe, Varvara and her siblings missed their absent father. Despite his absenteeism, Rasputin was a dependable and devoted dad. Once, a family friend in Pokrovskoe attempted to rape Maria. Rasputin attacked the rapist, and took an ax hit on the skull while trying to defend his daughter.

Thanks to the Tsarina’s help, Rasputin managed to bring Varvara and Maria to St. Petersburg in 1913, and enrolled them in the best school there. He hoped to turn the girls into “little ladies.” How cute.

Grigori and his sister Feodosia

The elitist Smolny Institute rejected the girls due to their low social status, so they attended the Steblin-Kamensky private preparatory school. The girls lived in walking distance of their father’s residence. Their brother Dmitry, on the other hand, did not enjoy city life; so he stayed in Pokrovksoe and lived as a farmer.

Maria was the most popular and bold of the three siblings, and high society ladies fawned over the charming little girl. Varvara, the youngest, was more quiet and reserved. While Maria preferred to take French lessons (this would come in handy for her later in life), Varvara spent time studying intently for her classes.

Their mother Praskovya only came to St. Petersburg once a year, and lived in their home in Pokrovskoe for the most part. The girls learned to become independent quickly. They lived down the hall from their older cousins Nyur and Katya, who looked after the sisters on a daily basis.

Maria Rasputina, right, with her father and a follower in March 1911

Rasputin was said to have been a constant playa. Rather suggestively, their mother once said of their philanderous father:

 “He can do what he wants. He has enough for everyone.”

Rasputin was very protective of his daughters. He wanted to keep them away from degenerate modern vices, such as candies, gramophones, perfumes, and boyfriends. Only once they were 15- years old did Rasputin allow Maria and Vavara to go to out the theater- and even then they had to be accompanied by an adult and arrive home by 10 PM.

The girls were nervous to meet then Tsar’s children, but it went exceedingly well. Maria and Varvara found the Royal Palace to be luxurious and grand, and the princesses gave them beautiful porcelain dolls as a gift.

The girls’ shared room in their father’s apartment, which they often visited during school holidays. Source.

The Romanov children were curious about the girls’ life back home in Siberia. They asked Maria and Varvara the names of their cows in Pokrovskoe.

Varvara got along especially well with Grand Duchess Anastasia, as they were close in age (Varvara was one year older). It was said the Anastasia was very caring towards her.

The good times did not last. The tide was turning against Rasputin, as haters despised the lowly peasant for so swiftly ascending the ranks of Russian society.

They called him a Khlyst (a bizarre occultist sect present in Russia at the time), and a sex maniac; spreading rumors that the monk was a madman who was having sex with the Tsarina and cucking the Tsar.

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, c. 1914. She was close with Varvara.

The tension all came to a head on Dec. 30, 1916, when a gang of jealous noblemen (led by infamous cross-dresser and spoiled rich boy supreme, Prince Felix Yusupov) brutally murdered Rasputin at the age of 47.

Rasputin was not an easy man to kill, as he was supposedly poisoned, beaten, shot three times, and then thrown in the freezing Malaya Nevka river.

It took a band of cowardly men to kill the wily and powerful holy man.

Rasputin’s murder was devastating for his poor family. They were barred from attending his funeral, which was organized specifically for the Romanovs to pay tribute to their deceased holy friend.

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna with her children, Rasputin and the nurse Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova, 1908.

The girls were, however, later invited to the royal palace to play with the Grand Duchesses. The Tsarina had also paid for Varvara and Maria’s black mourning dresses.

Maria would go on to say, “I love my father. As much as others hate him. I have not the strength to make others love him.” It is clear that the girls adored their dad, no matter the bizarre rumors that surrounded him, and they mourned his memory for life.

Following their father’s death, the two girls moved in with their French teacher and were granted 62,000 rubles by the Romanovs, as Tsar Nicholas told the girls’ mother:

 “I will become the second father for your beautiful daughters. Alix and I always loved them as our own daughters. May they continue to study in Petrograd, and I will make sure that they do not need anything.”

Colorized portrait of Rasputin

Unfortunately, that promise could not last long.

In 1917, their mother and brother returned back to Pokrovskoe, and the girls stayed in St. Petersburg to investigate their father’s murder. The siblings were arrested and interrogated the following day by government authorities. Although they were pressed to talk about the royal family, the girls did not acquiesce.

The Russian Revolution had begun, and things were getting ugly.

Luckily, the girls were freed by Boris Soloviev, an admirer of their late father. Boris and Maria would go on to marry, even though the two were not attracted to each other.

The Romanov Family was mass murdered by the Communists in July of 1918, bringing in a dark era of totalitarian rule in Russia.

Rasputin had eerie, penetrating eyes, and was alleged to have used them for hypnosis, mind control and mesmerism.

The Russian Revolution did not bode well for Rasputin’s family. Maria and Boris escaped Russia circa 1920 to reside in Berlin, Paris, then finally L.A; but Varvara and the others did not have that luxury.

At first, the Rasputin family sheltered together from the Russian Revolution in their Pokrovskoe home. But Varvara wanted something more out of her life.

She was 17 years old when the Revolution occurred, yet she managed to complete her high school education. Varvara then left Pokrovskoe to go to Tyumen, the largest city and capital of the Oblast (province) that she resided in.

Varvara was searching for career + education opportunities that would allow her to save money and leave grim Soviet Russia.

Varvara and Maria playing with dolls

In 1919, she obtained a position as stenographer/clerk for the justice department of Tyumen Oblast. Varvara earned 1,560 rubles a month. She was miserable working there, but she had to do it as she was desperate for income.

Men offered Varvara money in exchange for sex, but she adamantly refused. Life was the gloomiest it had ever been for her.

In February of 1924, Varvara wrote Maria the following letter:

“Dear, Dear Marochka. How have you been? I didn’t write to you in so long because I didn’t have money, and you can’t buy a stamp without money.  

In general, life becomes worse and worse everyday. You think and cherish the dream that you will one day live well, but again it’s only a mistake.

Maria, Varvara and Dmitry

 And all thanks to our friends: such as [my employer] Vitkun and similar people, they are all liars, and nothing more, they only promise… Such a distance to work is a horror, it takes an entire hour and a quarter to walk there, because I have no money for the tram...

 Lord, how hard it is, the soul is torn to pieces. Why was I born? But I am reassured by the fact that there are so many of us who are unemployed, and that we are all just honest people trying to preserve our dignity.

How is [your husband] Boris Nikolaevich doing? Yes, I really want to see you, my joy. How is the health of your lovely children? I sort of envy [our brother] Mitya, because he does not beg, like us. Although we eat our piece of bread, it is not sweet...

The Rasputin family home in Pokrovskoe: A two-story log house built in the 1890s.

You see how I started to blabber, it’s really good to type on a typewriter; your hands don’t get tired and you can write a lot. God bless you and your children, and say hi to Boris. You are my joy.

– Varvara

Varvara complained that her bosses, the Vitkuns, were too wealthy and decadent. While Varvara did not even have any money for transportation, Mara Vitkun bought several fancy hats and drove around the city in a cab as Varvara braved wretched weather to get to work.

“May they choke on their greed. God will help the orphans,” said Varvara in the letter.

Varvara lived with a friend named Anna Fyodorovna Davidova in a shared apartment. In 1925, she left Tyumen for Moscow. However, the move would prove fatal.

The big city: Moscow in the 1920s.

Through working at her office job, Varvara had contracted a bad case of tuberculosis, which was then succeeded by typhus. The work environment was unsafe, unhygienic, and located in a damp basement.

TB is a dangerous disease that wreaks havoc on the lungs and weakens the body. Typhus begins with flu-like symptoms and rashes, then causes brain inflammation and death if it is not treated.

Poor Varvara no doubt went through a horrid last year of life, plagued by poverty and disease. Typhus overtook her, and Varvara died alone in Moscow in 1925. No family member was there with her.

Maria and Varvara

Did she see her father in her last moments? Whose death was also so untimely and tragic?

Her friend Anna Fyodorovna traveled to Moscow to assist in her funeral and burial. Varvara was buried at the Novodevichiye Cemetery. Anna described her funeral as such:

“Varvara lay in her coffin completely shaved, no hair. Written on her gravestone were the words:

Our Varya.

Died in 1925.”

Varvara’s head was most likely shaved because she had contracted the airborne form of typhus; which spreads through fleas, mice and ticks on rats, and often hides in the hair and scalp.

Anna Fyodorovna Davidova, loyal friend until the end.

She had wanted to save money to leave Russia and move to Paris with her sister. But both of them were too broke and powerless to make the dream come true, and Maria was forever heartbroken by her sister’s death.

Unfortunately, the Soviet government renovated the cemetery in 1927 to make space for the burials of high status politicians. In doing so they uprooted thousands of bodies, and Varvara’s was one of them.

What happened to her remains is unknown. It is depressing that she was not even allowed to rest in peace after her early demise.

Novodevichiye Cemetery in 1930

In 1930, the remaining Rasputin family’s property was confiscated by the Soviet government. As Maria had safely escaped Russia; brother Dmitry, his wife and children, and mother Praskovya were deported to Salekhard, to work in forced labor camps in the frigid Arctic Circle.

Each died one by one as they were slowly worked to death, and the entire family, save Maria, was wiped out by 1933.

Maria Rasputina lived a fascinating life; working as a restaurateur in Prague, a dancer in Berlin, a performer at the Cirque d’hiver in Paris, and a lion tamer in Miami. She published a biography of her father in 1977, the year she died. Maria always suspected that the Soviet government had poisoned Varvara.

Maria, Varvara and Dmitry

Rasputin’s killers had escaped the ordeal unscathed. Ironically, it was Rasputin’s family that suffered the brunt of the aftermath.

Felix Yusupov, the prince who orchestrated and took credit for Rasputin’s murder, was from one of the wealthiest families in Russia. He was an aristocrat who looked down on the poor, and continued to live a life of splendor and glamour after killing Rasputin.

Following the Russian revolution, Felix escaped with his wife to live in the fanciest arrondissements of Paris in impeccable apartments, and even founded his own short-lived couture fashion line. He lived until 80, and died in 1967 after a long life of wealth and privilege.

Felix Yusupov with his wife Irina, a niece of Tsar Nicholas II, 1910.

When you think about Varvara working herself to death in some dank Soviet cellar, to scrounge for money to leave a country where she had no future, it makes one nauseous. History is no fairy tale. More often than not, the good guys lose and the bad guys die in a plush manor and get buried in a coffin of gold.

What happened to Varvara’s remains? Are they buried in some strange corner of Moscow, unknown and unmarked? We will never know.

It is also very difficult to find pictures and information on her, but hopefully one day a hidden Soviet archive will be uncovered and shed a brighter light on the forgotten woes of Varvara Rasputina.

An eerie illustration of Rasputin taking tea with the Tsarina and her children. Was he a sinner or a saint?

How Marie Antoinette's BFF Lost her Head

The Princess of Lamballe, by JeanBaptiste Charpentier, c. 1760s.
"The queen wants me; I must live and die near her."

We’ve all heard of Queen Marie Antoinette, and her unlucky fate at the blade of the revolutionary guillotine. But not many know the tragic tale of her best friend, Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy, Princesse de Lamballe.

De Lamballe was killed a month before her beloved queen, humiliated and beaten to death in a crowded street by enraged revolutionaries. This is her melodramatic story:

Marie Thérèse was was born to a German princess and a Sardinian prince on Sept. 8, 1749. She was, quite simply, a bourgeois bitch: a descendant of the prestigious House of Savoy.

She would have been your typical dispensable aristocrat, had her family not arranged a prodigious marriage on her part.

A Lovely Wedding

Louis Alexandre de Bourbon

Thanks to internal connections, de Lamballe was swiftly married off to Louis Alexandre, Prince of Lamballe – great grandson of Louis XIV a.k.a. The Sun King, and consummate French royalty.

The prince was also a spoiled brat and a notorious womanizer.

He was red-haired, with a tall, strong build and luminous eyes. The prince was said to be attractive to women, who he pursued readily. He was even rumored to have been friends with the perverted libertine Marquis de Sade.

This arranged marriage was his father’s bid to subdue the wily prince: he felt the shy and reserved de Lamballe would chastise his perverse son.

Most importantly: she was nonthreatening and not the sharpest pencil in the box. Madame du Barry, infamous mistress of Louis XV, called Marie Thérèse “destitute of wit.”

The Princess of Lamballe in 1779, by Marie Victoire Lemoine

Marie Thérèse was not conventionally attractive: she had a big nose, a giraffe neck, and sloped shoulders; plain in both mannerisms and appearance.

There were some positives about her, like her smooth skin that was described as “delicately fair,” as well as clear blue eyes and long golden hair that was compared to Raphael’s madonnas. Overall, she was considered a righteous, moral, kind woman with a good temperament.

In January of 1767, the couple was married off in a luxurious 10 day ceremony with celebrations and feasts taking place in both France and Italy. She was now officially a princess!

She was only 17 years old and the prince was 19. The pair were both Virgos with close birthdays: two hard-headed individuals meant to clash.

Anita Louise plays Princess de Lamballe in Marie Antoinette (1938)

Before the wedding, the prince went to go see his future bride to bring her a bouquet of flowers, disguising himself as his own servant. Upon discovering his gag, de Lamballe was charmed and intrigued.

She said of it:

“I hope[d] my prince will allow his page to attend me, for I like him much. What was my surprise when the Duc de Penthièvre presented me to the Prince and I found in him the page for whom I had already felt such an interest!

 We both laughed and wanted words to express our mutual sentiments.  This was really love at first sight.”

The couple spent their honeymoon at the Château de Nangis, a pleasant mini castle where Joan of Arc had once walked.

The lovely Château de Nangis.

At first, the couple was said to be enamored by one another as there was a strong physical attraction between them. The princess must have been getting some good dick, as she wrote to her mother “it is very pleasant to find thus in my duties my sweetest enjoyments.”

Soon enough, however, the prince fell back into his degenerate, polygamous ways.

Sins and Punishments

After a few months of marital bliss, the prince began affairs with numerous women, even impregnating an opera singer at one point.

The prince also used his wife’s diamonds to pay off his debts, as well as cruelly re-gifting them to his mistresses.

Portrait of the princess by Pierre Claude François Delorme (1783-1859) 

Princess de Lamballe was humiliated by her husband’s errant behaviour and infidelity. She found consolation in her social life at the royal court at the Palace of Versailles.

The princess also became close with her husband’s father, Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre. The duke was one of the richest and most powerful men in France, and he was very fond of his daughter-in-law.

In May of 1767, the princess sent a lamentful letter to her mother:

Marie Thérèse in neutral wear, 1776

“Why is it that monsieur de Lamballe… warms my heart but all the fires of the love he has for me have suddenly changed?

In vain I seek in my conduct that which might have caused this change, but I cannot find any cause… Can it be because I’m not with child? Is that a crime? His indifference kills me.

But one thing that distresses me… is that I cannot doubt that the life he leads alters his health. A thousand forebodings overwhelm me. Oh my mother! Sympathize with my sorrows, and I will feel less bitter.”

Due to her husband’s neglect, she began to faint and have nervous fits. Doctors diagnosed the princess with hysteria and so-called “convulsive vapors” and melancholia, when she was really just an upset teenager who was dismayed at being cheated on.

The princess and her puppy, by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier,
1768.

Soon enough, the partying prince’s health began to deteriorate as well, but for different reasons. Louis Alexandre grew pale, tired, and ill, and was plagued with skin ulcers.

He also badly injured himself by falling off a horse, so he went home and had his cuckolded wife and sister care for him.

Karma was hitting him hard: the prince started wasting away, and was constantly feverish, exhausted and suffering from skin rashes. He had syphilis!

Louis Alexandre had contracted venereal disease from one of the orgies he had attended. Doctors prescribed seven pounds of mercury to treat the syphilis, but it was to no avail.

It completely was over for the pernicious prince. Louis Alexandre confessed his sins to a priest, and died on May 6, 1768, in the arms of his loyal wife. He was only 20, and their marriage had lasted a little over a year.

The death of the Prince of Lamballe, 1768.

Now a widow at only 18, the princess briefly considered joining a convent. But really, why would she? It would be such a waste, and so boring.

Marie Thérèse had just inherited a large fortune from her dead husband, and was ready for a new life. The Duc de Penthièvre took the young widow under his wing, and brought her to live with him in his gorgeous Château de Rambouillet.

The château was far removed from the hustle and filth of Paris; a lush green country castle where the super-rich spent their days in utmost leisure. The princess enjoyed her relaxing days at this fair château, taking long walks in beautiful country forests and sitting by the window-side writing letters and self-reflecting.

The princess and her father-in-law also spent time engaging in charitable projects to appease the jealous proles, and were called the “King of the Poor” and “The Angel of Penthiévre” respectively.

Château de Rambouillet, in northern France

And so began Princess de Lamballe’s grand courtly life: she was so well reputed that she was even considered for a time as a possible wife for King Louis XV.

However, nothing materialized of it, as he was already too enamored by his slutty mistress Madame du Barry.

A Beautiful Friendship

The princess was introduced to dauphine Marie Antoinette in 1770, at her wedding bash to future King Louis XVI. Despite being six years older than her, the princess became fast friends with the dauphine.

Marie Antoinette described her as “the only woman I know who never bears a grudge; neither hatred nor jealousy is to be found in her.”

Portrait of Marie Antoinette, circa 1767-1768. By Martin van Meytens.

The outgoing, fashionable, pretty, strawberry-blonde haired Marie Antoinette was, personality wise, quite the opposite of de Lamballe. But they enjoyed the stability and consistency of one another’s affections.

Marie Antoinette helped the princess grieve and heal from the recent death of her sleazy husband, for which she would be grateful for until the end. The princess said:

It was amid this gloom of human agony, these heart-rending scenes of real mourning, that the brilliant star shone to disperse the clouds, which hovered over our drooping heads…  

It was in this crisis that Marie Antoinette came, like a messenger sent down from Heaven, graciously to offer the balm of comfort in the sweetest language of human compassion…  

From that moment I became seriously attached to the Queen of France.”

Illustration by Michael Leonard for The Queen’s Confession, 1968.

In return, the princess gave her the utmost loyalty. Within the court of Versailles, Maire Antoinette was surrounded by bitchy haters who constantly criticized her for being unconventional and imprudent.

Many courtiers were incensed by her foreign heritage, and she earned the pejorative L’Autrichienne (the Austrian bitch).

Within this sea of bitterness, is it any wonder she needed a friend?

Marie Antoinette and the princess bonded by going on wintertime sleigh rides together, resplendent in fine ermine and sable furs. They were pulled through snowy Paris by horses that were decked in jingling bells and lux white head-plumes.

Portrait of the princess in wide panniers.

On May 10, 1774, King Louis XV died of smallpox. His grandson, the awkward and portly Louis XVI, succeeded him. Marie Antoinette went from despised dauphine to Queen of France in the abrupt blink of an eye.

Princess de Lamballe was now in a place of immense power and influence.

When the princess was away from the court for two months, Marie Antoinette missed her dearly, and had de Lamballe’s portrait painted in her looking-glass room. The two even started wearing matching coordinated outfits. They were, like, total BFFs forever.

The Queen was said to have remarked to Louis XVI that “the Princesse de Lamballe’s friendship is the charm of my life.”

In September of 1775, Marie Antoinette attracted controversy when she appointed de Lamballe the title of “Superintendent of the Queen’s Household.”

Marie Antoinette with the rose, 1783, by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

This post was so contentious that it had been left vacant for 30 years, as it was a very highly-paid and influential position. And now, with this honor bestowed upon her, Princess de Lamballe was the highest-ranking Lady in Waiting in all the court.

Many were unhappy with this appointment, as they felt de Lamballe was too much of a fragile drama queen to handle such responsibility. She was once said to have fainted of shock when a lady-in-waiting unexpectedly and noisily yawned near her.

The princess’ brother Eugène was also promoted to regiment commander in the French military, thanks to his sister’s connections.

Marie Antoinette’s mother Empress Maria Theresa grew concerned with the amount of influence the Princess de Lamballe was accumulating.

Comte de Mercy-Argenteau, an Austrian diplomat that Marie Antoinette’s mother used to keep an eye on her, reported to the Empress that:

Miniature of the princess by Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, late 18th century.

“This lady joins to much sweetness a very sincere character, far from intrigue and all such worries… the choice is excellent…

All the same, I have taken the precaution to point out to the Queen that her favour and goodness to the Princesse de Lamballe are somewhat excessive, in order to prevent abuse of them from that quarter.”

Rivalry

In the spring of 1775, starving French peasants rioted due to extensive grain shortages. This was nicknamed the Flour War. Louis XVI was not doing a good job feeding his people. Consequences were to come…

But not yet. Marie Antoinette was still enjoying her sexy, exciting royal life. And she had made a new friend: Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, Duchess of Polignac.

The Duchess de Polignac by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1782

The pretty, violet-eyed, charismatic duchess caught the Queen’s eye immediately. The duchess was more attractive and smooth than the neurotic and humble de Lamballe, but she was also more gossipy.

Marie Antoinette was turned on by the duchess’ cavalier devil-may-care attitude. The Queen paid off the duchess and her husband’s 400k franc gambling debts so they could permanently move into Versailles.

There was also a strange coincidence: Princess de Lamballe and the Duchesse de Polignac were born on the exact same day, of the exact same year! This bode well for a blooming friendship, right?

Wrong.

The two hated one another, and vied for Marie Antoinette’s affections. The Queen began to prefer the duchess’ company over the princess. She was, after all, way cooler than the dorky, fainting Princess de Lamballe.

La princesse de Lamballe by Antoine-François Callet, circa 1776.

At this time, the Queen’s advisers complained de Lamballe was getting paid way too much for her Superintendent position. She was already rich via her father-in-law, and owned many empty homes that she did not even live in.

De Lamballe refused to relinquish any privileges or her 50k crown salary, and rumors spread that she was a greedy bitch.

Princess de Lamballe began to get an inkling that the tides were turning against the monarchy.

Many peasants and courtiers alike began to make apparent their disdain for Marie Antoinette’s expensive and bimboish obsession with fashion and fancy living, which was seen as especially distasteful during periods of terrible famine and starvation for the lower class.

The Queen laughed off the princess’ advices against being too decadent, and joked with the Duchess de Polignac at what a bore the princess was.

Detail of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and their son in a 1782 portrait of The French Royal Family.

Comte Mercy-Argenteau witnessed their constant disagreements, noting:

“Constant quarrels, in which the Princesse seemed always to be in the wrong…

The Princesse de Lamballe loses much in favour. I believe she will always be well treated by the Queen, but she no longer possesses her entire confidence…

The Princesse is very little seen at court. The Queen, it is true, visited her on her father’s death, but it is the first mark of kindness she has received for long.

The cunty duchess also did her best to create a wedge in the princess and the Queen’s friendship.

When the Queen retreated to the colossal 1,500-room Château de Fontainebleau in autumn of 1776, she chose to bring the princess with her, instead of the duchess.

Marie Antoinette’s Boudoir at Fontainebleau by Jules-Marc-Antoine Frappaz, 1876.

At the end of 1776, de Lamballe was plagued by a bad attack of measles. The Queen sent her heartfelt, touching, worried letters inquiring about her health.

In 1778, when the princess’ mother died, the Queen and King both wrote sweet letters of consolation.

Marie Antoinette signed off with “I embrace you again with my whole heart, as I shall love you all my life.”

Louis XVI added “You know how much we love you. May God be with you.”

Despite the fact that both her parents had died that year, the princess was there for moral support when the Queen gave birth to her first child: Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, or Madame Royale.

It was a horrible 12-hour labour, in which Marie Antoinette almost died of suffocation. The delicate de Lamballe of course fainted after witnessing this.

Portrait of the princess by Louis-Édouard Rioult,
1843 (copy of a lost 18th-century portrait).

Extravagance and Depravity

There were rumours spreading around Paris that Marie Antoinette was cheating on her husband, as well as having lesbian relationships with the Princess de Lamballe and the Duchess de Polignac. Did the Queen really eat muff? Who knows?

One must note that Princess de Lamballe was not known to have taken any lovers after her husband died. She appeared to have a limited interest in love affairs and men. Could it be that she was into women? It is impossible to prove or disprove.

Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, really knew how to trigger people. She was a gambling addict, took the company of men who were not her husband, and loved the theatrical arts.

The Queen, herself, acted in plays, and was said to have been a terrible performer. The Duchess de Polignac ensured that the Princess de Lamballe was barred from attending any performances.

Interior of the magnificent Hôtel de Toulouse, home of Princess de Lamballe.

In 1790, when Marie Antoinette’s mother died, she withdrew to mourn with the princess and the duchess in private. Subsequently, the Queen increased de Lamballe’s salary to match her loyalty.

The princess was having a fun time giving tea parties and riding hot air balloons at the wonderful Hôtel de Toulouse, which was owned by her father-in-law, the Duke of Penthièvre. Her bedroom was an opulent salon gilded in gold and velvet.

In December of 1784, a bandit named Pierre Poulailler tried to burn down the Hôtel. The princess awoke the duke at 1 AM, and they escaped the inferno. Police extinguished the fire promptly.

As for Pierre, he was said to have killed 150 people in his life of crime. He once even sealed a man alive inside a building. When Pierre was captured, his bones were broken on a torture wheel and then he was burned alive.

Wasn’t 18th century France just lovely?

Illustration of a man being executed on a breaking wheel, 1721, Paris.

Downfall

Following the infamous 1785 Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette’s already questionable reputation was irreparably tarnished. The peasants nicknamed her “Madame Deficit,” blaming the Queen for the country’s dire financial plight.

In 1787, the princess was in poor health and France was on the brink of bankruptcy. Political troubles were brewing steadily.

The princess set off to England for a health retreat. She viewed Herschel’s Forty-Foot Telescope, and had dinner with writer Horace Walpole.

Like the condescending gout-ridden Englishman he was, Walpole remarked “I have no particular penchant for sterling princes and princesses, much less for those of French plate.”

A portrait of Princess de Lamballe with her titty out. By Joseph Duplessis.

By 1788, most of Louis XVI’s parliament and a veritable array of aristocrats had turned against him for attempting to tax them. They simply refused to pay up, even though there was a poor harvest that year and French citizens were facing starvation.

This was the period when the Jacobins banded together, and republican Maximilien de Robespierre started his rise to glory and power.

The conflict between the King and his unruly subjects finally climaxed with the Storming of the Bastille prison in 1789.

The prison was supposed to symbolize all of the King’s tyrannies and evil. But when the approximately 1,000 partisans of the Third Estate broke in, there were only seven prisoners within!

99 citizens died during the action.

The Storming of the Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël, 1789.

Bernard-René de Launay, governor of the Bastille, was captured and horribly beaten.

When he could no longer take the abuse, he cried out “Enough! Let me die!” and kicked a pastry cook in the nuts, as his final act of defiance. In return, he was stabbed, beaten, and shot to death by the angry mob. Afterwards, his head was sawed off then paraded around on a pike.

A British Doctor by the name of Edward Rigby described the scene:

“[We] perceived two bloody heads raised on pikes, which were said to be the heads of the Marquis de Launay, Governor of the Bastille, and of Monsieur Flesselles, Prévôt des Marchands.

It was a chilling and a horrid sight! … Shocked and disgusted at this scene, [we] retired immediately from the streets.”

A 1789 French hand tinted etching that depicts the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution.

This was a disturbing omen of violent things to come.

The Unraveling of the Monarchy

Unable to control the angry mobs of rioters any longer, the King advised his supporters to flee the country for their own safety, as he could no longer protect them.

While this was all going down, Princess de Lamballe was in Switzerland on a leisure trip.

When the third estate demanded that the nobles cough up some of their baubles to help pay France’s national debt, the princess was very hesitant to contribute.

Marie Antoinette was the same: she unwisely chose to wear her most beautiful and expensive jewelry while attending a delegation in August.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in the Gardens of Versailles with their Children, by Charles Louis Lucien Muller, 1857.

Three months later, another monumental event occurred: The Women’s March on Versailles.

On October. 5, following a large feast at the king’s palace; a mob of almost 10,000 starving, enraged women and revolutionary agitators set off from the Parisian marketplace to Versailles, armed with weapons.

Why were the starving peasants forced to pay taxes, while the comfy aristocrats were exempt? It was time for an answer.

When they arrived, the mob demanded the king provide grain for their hungry families. Louis XVI relented and promised to take care of the issue, then he and his family settled in to sleep for the night.

The Queen’s bedchamber at Versailles.

But the suspicious mob broke into the palace and attacked and murdered the guards. Again, they decapitated their victims and placed the guards’ heads onto pikes.

Marie Anoinette nearly escaped being bayoneted to death in her bedchambers by angry rioters.

By now, the mob had reached 60,000, and they forced the King and Queen to leave Versailles and return to Paris: to live in the dilapidated Tuileries Palace. Louis XVI was now at the mercy of his people.

Two days after this chaotic event, the ever-loyal princess went to Tuileries to provide emotional support to her Queen. Upon her arrival, Marie Antoinette collapsed into the princess’ arms and began sobbing.

Marie Antoinette faces the mob on her Versailles balcony. By Michael Leonard for The Queen’s Confession, 1968.

The princess resumed her superintendent position, and moved into the Pavillon de Flore to stay close to the Royal family. She referred to her apartment there as a “dungeon” compared to what she had had in Versailles.

Since the King and Queen were virtual prisoners at this point, they decided to try and escape Paris to go to the royalist stronghold of Montmédy; which bordered Marie Antoinette’s beloved Austria.

The Queen gave the princess a very affectionate farewell before her escape. The princess found out next morning, and set off to meet them in Montmédy.

The attempt failed disastrously, and the King and Queen were captured in Varennes on June 21, 1791, and forced to return back to Paris.

The Florist and the Pavillon de Flore (ca. 1900), by the painter Émile Baré.

De Lamballe was steadfast, and after waiting in Montmédy for a week, she sent Marie Antoinette this lamentful letter:

“I … wait [for] your Majesty’s command… When your Majesty wears fetters, can liberty be of any value to me? When your Majesty is bathed in tears, can any tranquility enter in to the bossom.”

The princess desperately wanted to help her Queen, but was advised to stay afar in Brussels. Marie Antoinette did not want the princess to return as she feared for her dear friend’s life.

The Queen wrote to de Lamballe:

Your friendship is my consolation and my only happiness… Do not return, do not throw yourself in the tiger’s jaws; the present is too terrible.”

Princess de Lamballe by Anton Hickel, 1788.

Marie Antoinette sent the princess a gold ring which was looped with strands of her own her that had been “turned white by misfortune.” Oh the drama.

Even the Duc de Penthièvre tried to halt his daughter-in-law’s return; entreating de Lamballe’s cousin, the King of Sardinia, to try and convince her to go hide it out with the Savoy family.

She wrote him an epic letter declining all help:

“I do not recollect that any of our illustrious ancestors of the house of Savoy… ever dishonored or tarnished their illustrious names with cowardice.

I cannot swerve from my determination of never quitting them, especially at a moment when they are abandoned by every one of their former attendants, except myself…

A 1791 ring encasing the entwined hair of Princess Lamballe and Marie Antoinette that Antoinette kept with her while she was imprisoned. 

During the most brilliant period of the reign of Marie Antoinette, I was distinguished by the royal favor and bounty.  To abandon her in adversity, Sire, would stain my character, and that of my illustrious family, for ages to come with infamy and cowardice, much more to be dreaded than the most cruel death.”

Princess de Lamballe would never betray her friend of more than 20 years. It was unthinkable.

Transcendent Loyalty

Against all safety and common sense, de Lamballe decided to return to Paris and go down with the sinking ship. She made out her last will and testament, then arrived back in France on Nov 4, 1791.

Princess de Lamballe brought the Queen a red and white spaniel as a gift to cheer her up, but a dog could not fix Marie Antoinette’s busted life. She was now aged and haggard, with her hair turned totally white.

On the other hand, the Queen’s old friend the, Duchesse de Polignac, was far away; not one to be found near any danger. The Queen wrote to the duchess that “the good Lamballe … seemed only waiting for danger to show what she was worth.”

A 1770 portrait of Marie Antoinette and Princess de Lamballe. Artist unknown.

Only five ladies-in-waiting remained at the court, and de Lamballe was one of them.

At this time, the Jacobins wanted the King’s young son Louis-Charles to have a tutor who was sympathetic to the revolution. For that purpose, the princess suggested future psychopath dictator Maximilien Robespierre as a candidate.

Marie Antoinette adamantly refused, and after that, Robespierre held a hateful grudge against the Princess de Lamballe.

By 1792, Paris was saturated by pamphlets accusing Marie Antoinette of being a whore. A particularly comedic one told a story where de Lamballe supposedly supplied the Queen with massive dildos, implying that the King was too small to satisfy her.

Marie-Antoinette feeding birds at the Trianon by Joseph Caraud (1821–1905). 

After Louis XVI vetoed a decree for a constitutional monarchy, partisans stormed into the Tuileries Palace on June 20. The violent mob threatened Marie Antoinette, who responded that her place was by the King’s side.

Fearing for the Queen’s life, the princess cried out “No, no, Madame, your place is with your children!”

The princess courageously stood by the Queen through the whole debacle, and was more protective of the Queen’s life than her own.

While revolutionaries declared war on Austria, Louis XVI went behind France’s back to make a deal with Prussian royals. The Brunswick Manifesto declared that if the French monarchy were harmed, then French civilians would be attacked in turn.

Marie Antoinette with her children and Madame Élisabeth, facing the mob that had broken into the Tuileries Palace, 1792.

Now that Louis XVI was viewed as a traitor, French revolutionary insurrectionists became bold and attacked Tuileries Palace on August 10.

When she saw the approaching army, Princess de Lamballe declared to the Queen: “My dear, my dear, nothing will save us. I think we are lost.” It was completely over.

The King and Queen, as well as their frightened children and entourage, were forced to take refuge in the Legislative Assembly.

Once the most dignified crop in Paris, they were now relegated to sleeping on the floors of dingy jail cells on flimsy mattresses.

Imprisonment

The Condemnation of the Princess de Lamballe. Engraving by Samuel Sartain, 1849.

On August 19, the Princess de Lamballe was forcibly separated from the Royal family. Marie Antoinette was devastated. Who would she get her nails done with now?

Like a movie, the princess fell to her knees to kiss the Queen’s hand. But before she could do so, the indignant guards dragged the princess off.

Marie Antoinette’s daughter Madame Royale claimed that “they tore her away, saying that such an act was enough for a slave toward tyrants.”

The princess was taken to the La Force Prison and interrogated by members of the Paris Commune.

The princess was imprisoned alongside the Royal governess Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel, and her daughter Pauline.

Mme. de Tourzel said that “the Princess de Lamballe bore her sad lot perfectly. Sweet, good, and obliging, she showed us every little attention in her power.”

The princess in a bonnet, unknown date and artist.

But the princess had her haters too. The Duc d’Orléans’ (ex-brother in law and now enemy of the princess) salty mistress, the Comtesse de Buffon, took pleasure in kicking the princess when she was already down:

“The princesse de Lamballe is without a maid and has to look after herself. For a person who affects to feel ill before a lobster in a picture this must be a rude position.”

Not very nice, bitch!

The princess showed major toughness of character by having none of her usual fainting attacks while imprisoned.

Meanwhile, the princess’ loving father-in-law, the Duc de Penthièvre, was doing his best to try and free her; even offering the Commune half of his massive wealth as a bribe.

The principled fellows declined the cash.

Final sketch of Princess de Lamballe on the day of her trial. Attributed to R. Gabriel.

Princess de Lamballe was dead meat. The revolutionaries would have no mercy for the delicate and refined 42-year old widow with Savoyan blood. She was just another head soon to be impaled sky high.

A Savage and Vicious Murder

On Sept 3. 1792, the last day of her life; the princess was dressed in angelic white silk with her curls neatly arranged under a cap.

At 6 AM, jailers came into de Lamballe and Mme. de Tourzel’s cell, and asked the women their names. Immediately knowing something was wrong, they began to pray.

The princess gazed out the window of her tiny cell, frightened. She saw a rabid, screaming, bloodthirsty mob gathered outside. A man threw a rock at her face, which cut her cheek and drew blood.

Princess Marie Louise of Savoy is lead through the prison gates and greeted by a marauding mob. Wood engraving.

At 11 AM, a jailer led the two women out of their cell into the nightmarish courtyard. Drunk and belligerent, the men outside taunted and insulted the princess.

The princess bore her lot with dignity, according to de Tourzel:

“We clasped each other’s hand … and I can state positively that she displayed much courage and presence of mind, replying without hesitation to all the questions put by the monsters who joined us for the sole purpose of contemplating their victims before leading them to death.”

De Tourzel managed to escape the courtyard, due to the help of a mysterious man known as Monsieur Hardi.

The princess, however, was not so lucky. She waited with other doomed political prisoners, to be sent before an impromptu revolutionary tribunal.

Engraving of the Trial of de Lamballe.

The trials, of course, were a farce: they existed only to expedite the killings of political enemies. This was the period of the September Massacres, where thousands would be put to death under the guise of revolution.

And it was the princess’ turn.

Brought before the tribunal in a dank, grim room; the revolutionaries demanded that she “take an oath to love liberty and equality and to swear hatred to the King and the Queen and to the monarchy.” The dialogue went as follows:

Princess de Lamballe had become fearless in her indignation.

Unlike the other cowardly courtiers who once swarmed Louis XVI’s bustling court- and then fled like rats when trouble hit, the princess actually had values and ideals.

She would not beg for her life like a dog, or shit on the hand that once fed her.

The horrified princesse walks unwittingly into the bloodbath.

The princess simply responded: “‘I have nothing to answer. Whether I die sooner or later is a matter of indifference to me. I have made the sacrifice of my life.”

And with those words, she sealed her fate.

The tribunal called out “Let Madame be set at liberty,” which was actually code for “throw her to the wolves.” Without understanding what was happening, the princess was escorted into the street by two guards.

She was greeted by the scene of a horrific massacre. Piles of naked, bloody corpses were laid out in the open.

An angry mob of men, women, and even children were assigned to slaughtering those who the tribunal deemed as guilty; and they seemed more than happy to do so.

Death of the Princess de Lamballe by Gaetano Ferri, c. 19th century.

The frightened princess fell back on the guards and tried to escape, crying out “Fi horreur!” or “I am lost!But they clamped her mouth shut to prevent her screams, and pushed her further into the bloodthirsty mob.

A member of the mob described the princess years later as a mere “little lady dressed in white.”

That did not prevent them from murdering her in a terrible manner. A witness described the scene:

“A journeyman barber, staggering with intoxication and infuriated with carnage, endeavored, in a kind of brutal jesting, to strike her cap from her head with his long pike.

The blow fell upon her forehead, cutting a deep gash, and the blood gushed out over her face.”

Etching from 1838 depicting the murder of the princesse de Lamballe during the French Revolution.

The princess’ golden hair came undone, and from her cap fell a letter from her beloved Marie Antoinette.

As blood dripped onto her white silk dress, the mob became emboldened. A man came forth to deliver the final death blow; by bludgeoning her head.

The princess was piled upon and stabbed; then grabbed by the hair and decapitated by a random maniac with a sabre. They went full on slasher movie villain, it seems.

There is also this dramatic firsthand account from a bystander by the name of Jean Némery:

De Lamballe’s Murder by Pierre Méjanel and François Pannemaker, 1887.

A quick and horrific scene unfolded before my eyes. On seeing the bodies lying on the ground, the Princess made a gesture of horror and stepped back sharply.

The two men who stood beside her seized her by the arms and spoke to her; she replied, with gestures, but I could not hear her words.

Some of the executioners approached the small group and laughed, probably mocking the fear of the princesse. One of them threatened her with his pike.

She stepped back and raised her arms, as if to protect herself. The executioners had parted and I thought they were going to pass.

I breathed when, suddenly, two of those devils stood before her and beat her, one with a pike, the other with a sword.

She screamed, staggered, put a hand on her chest, then fell onto a pile of bodies … she tried to get up, but she received fresh blows, her arms fluttered a moment, then did not move again.

The Death of the Princess de Lamballe by Leon Maxime Faivre, 1908.

Wild rumours later circulated that the princess was raped, dismembered, and sexually mutilated. However, that is all unsubstantiated.

It is fairly likely that they stripped the princess’ corpse naked, and disemboweled her.

What indeed was factual was that the mob placed the princess’ severed head on a pike, and grotesquely paraded it around the streets of Paris.

The deranged procession screamed out the Princess de Lamballe’s name in a macabre trance of celebration and drunken dancing. And to be fair, can you imagine being an 18th century French peasant? This was the highlight of their week.

Execution was an art, a form of entertainment. And here was the Queen’s best friend: whose fortune had been enough to buy whatever she desired, a million times over. She was now headless; a dismembered body in the hands of those who despised what she stood for, of those barely able to even afford bread.

French revolutionaries dragging the naked, headless, body of the Princess along the streets with her head on a pike. Etching by T. Wallis after W.M. Craig, 1815.

The mob first stopped at a barber shop, and insisted he groom the decapitated head by applying makeup and curling her hair.

The mob then stopped to show the severed head off at a café, where spectators drank to de Lamballe’s death.

Finally, the mob attempted to break into the Temple: the fortress where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned.

  If they had succeeded, the mob would have forced her to kiss the decapitated de Lamballe’s lips, as many had assumed she and Marie Antoinette had once been lesbian lovers.

*Insert obligatory joke about giving head here.*

Fortunately, guards managed to prevent the mob from breaking into the Temple, and the King and Queen’s windows were kept closed to prevent them from seeing the princess’ severed head.

An 1889 illustration of Princess de Lamballe’s head on a pike. From the Daily Monitor newspaper.

When Louis XVI asked why their windows were being shuttered, a guard responded “they are trying to show you the head of Madame de Lamballe.”

A horrified Marie Antoinette nearly fainted away.

Their daughter, Madame Royale, described the scene as such:

“My mother was seized with horror; that was the sole moment when her firmness abandoned her.

The municipals scolded the officer, but my father, with his usual kindness, excused him, saying it was not the officer’s fault, but his own for having questioned him…

 My unhappy mother did not even try to sleep [that night]; we listened to her sobs.”

Jean-Baptiste Cléry, valet of Louis XVI, described in his journal the peasants’ attempts to try and show Marie Antoinette her BFF’s decapitated head:

Princess de Lamballe’s head on a pike paraded beneath the windows to show the Queen.

“They had raised the victim’s head so that it could not escape her sight; it was that of the Princesse de Lamballe. Though bloody, it was not disfigured; her blond hair, still curling, floated around the pike.”

It’s nice to know that the princess still looked pretty, even after they cut her head off.

Like a marauding circus, the celebrating mob next went to seek out the Duc d’Orléans and his mistress the Comtesse de Buffon (who as I mentioned before, were not fans of the princess.)

The pair were dining with English gentlemen at the Palais-Royal, when the mob started waving the princess’ severed head by an open window.

The irritated Duke brushed off the bizarre spectacle, commenting “‘Oh, it is Lamballe’s head: I know it by the long hair. Let us sit down to supper.”

The Comtesse, on the other hand, was duly alarmed and cried out “‘O God ! They will carry my head like that some day!”

A gory 1792 engraving features a mob running amuck with the princess’ body.

Luckily for her, that would not happen. However, the cavalier Duc d’Orléans was guillotined the very next year.

The mob couldn’t play with the princess’ detached head forever, could they? They had to be stopped.

Knowing she was in deep trouble, the Duc de Penthièvre had send emissaries to the princess’ trial. They had tried to help her, but they were no match against the thronging mob.

As she was being beaten to death, the emissaries cried out for mercy to try and halt the killing. But the mob disdainfully screamed “Death to the disguised lackeys of the Duc de Penthièvre!’

Now that the princess had been slaughtered, they were charged with obtaining her remains. It was not an easy task. They had to pretend to befriend the mob, so they took the exhausted marauders to an ale house to get them shitfaced.

A creepy wax tableau at the Musee Grevin depicting the royal family seeing the head of the Princesse de Lamballe.

While the drunks were distracted, an emissary named Jacques Pointel managed to steal the princess’ head off the pike it was impaled on. He wrapped the head in a napkin, and whisked it away; secretly burying it in a children’s cemetery.

Her skull was never found, despite attempts to unearth it in 1904. As for the rest of her body, that is also a mystery.

Poor, old, sickly Duc de Penthièvre was heartbroken when he found out what happened to his much-adored daughter-in-law. She was the light of his life, and he had took her to his bosom like she was his real daughter. He never forgot her, and said:

“I think I always hear her … I always think I see her sitting near the window, in the little study … with what assiduity she used to work there, from morning till night, at the labours of her sex, for the poor? … and this is the angel they have torn to pieces!”

If that doesn’t bring a tear to one’s eye, then what the hell will?

A morbid 1793 engraving entitled “The reception of Louis XVI in hell.” The Princesse de Lamballe is seen holding her own head on a pike.

Louis XVI was guillotined in January of 1793. His last words were, “I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge. I forgive the authors of my death, and I pray God that the blood which you are about to shed may never fall on France.”

Marie Antoinette was inconsolable after this, and her daughter said she became wholly indifferent to life and death.

She met her end via guillotine in October of the same year. Marie Antoinette accidentally stepped on her executioner’s foot, so her last words came to be, “Pardon me, Sir, I did not do it on purpose.”

Their daughter Marie-Thérèse Charlotte (aka Madame Royale) managed to survive until age 17, after which she escaped France to live in Vienna with relatives from her mother’s side.

Louis-Charles, their son and heir to the throne, was not so lucky. He was imprisoned, abused, and neglected- dying from tuberculosis at the age of 10.

The preserved heart of Louis-Charles inside a crystal urn.

Addendum

Who was this murderous mob of aristo-killers anyways, and why were they so violent?

They were the sans-culottes (without breeches), the lowest of the low; the poorest of the poor.

The sans-culottes were radical militant revolutionaries from the bottom class of French society. There were some career criminals among them, and many seemed to take delight in bloodshed and carnage. Years of destitution had made them monstrous.

There are stories of cannibalism, the murder of priests, and of boiling people alive; all said to have been perpetrated by the sans-culottes. It becomes hard to tell fact from fiction. Marxists brand them as misunderstood heroes, and conservatives as commie devils.

Yet another gratuitous sketch of the sans-culottes partying with the princess’ decapitated head.

Under Robespierre’s control, these frustrated poor became pawns to carry out acts of violence and mayhem.

Throughout the Reign of Terror, 17,000 French citizens were said to have died. Princess de Lamballe was just one of many victims.

Was it better to be a puppet of the psychopathic Robespierre and his hypocritical bourgeois Jacobins, or a puppet of the decadent and buffoonish King Louis XVI and other selfish monarchs of his ilk?

In the end, the French Revolution achieved everything and nothing. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were deposed and executed, but what followed?

A Napoleonic dictatorship and wars that claimed millions of lives, and a Bourbon monarchy that was restored in 1814- only to be overthrown yet again.

Princesse de Lamballe Dancing with Death by Henry Chapront (1876-1965)

France went through several revolutions and republics, the way Marie Antoinette went through pastries.

And yet- would we claim that any of us are truly free men and women? Why celebrate Bastille Day when there is now a Bastille around every corner?

It also begs the question: did the Princess de Lamballe deserve her headless fate?

It depends on how you look at it. To some, she was just a dutiful member of the monarchy; wrongfully caught up in the zeitgeist of her time, inside something that was totally beyond her control.

Anita Louise as Princess de Lamballe in Marie Antoinette (1938)

The princess was not a particularly offensive royal, unlike vulgar thots such as the Duchess de Polignac, or Madame du Barry.

By all accounts, the princess was a restrained, dutiful individual- not one for excessive indulgences, starting feuds, or participating in racy love affairs. She was a surprisingly chaste and upright woman.

Not only this, but the princess showed remarkable strength of character and bravery towards the end of her life. She died with dignity, unlike Madame du Barry- who, in comparison, begged for her life like a dog before the executioner guillotined her.

The princess lived a life of wealth and privilege, and, grateful for all that fate had given her; she chose to give her life in return, as payment for the fabulous existence she was briefly granted.

An antique brooch with a portrait of the princesse de Lamballe, circa 19th century.

Her loyalty is inspiring, and even surprising. Not many would die for a friend the way she did.

A contrary argument could also be made: why should we pity a woman who had so much, in a time where others had so little?

She had two extremely wealthy benefactors: Marie Antoinette, the literal Queen of France + her father-in-law, the richest man in France, the Duc de Penthièvre. She refused to reduce her salary or riches, even though she knew those below her were suffering.

The princess received a massive dowry at her wedding: it was said that the amount of jewels that the Duke gifted her could fill up literal pages of text if recorded. When she made out her will, she left a comedic amount of monetary provisions to care for her dogs.

A 19th century illustration of the Princesse de Lamballe.

Meanwhile, the diet of the average Frenchman was limited to overpriced bread, and even that was difficult to obtain due to famine and shortages. The princess could arguably be described by her detractors as just another clueless rich bitch.

Marie Antoinette did not actually say the words “Let them eat cake.” However, her ignorant actions were sufficient to prove that she was not fit to govern. But then again, how many political leaders are today? There are many others who deserve the guillotine, yet she was just unlucky enough to actually receive it.

The Royalists (those that were for the monarchy) used the princess’ horrific death as propaganda to discredit the Revolution, and to depict the lower classes of France as senseless barbarians. In death, the princess became a politicized martyr, and many depict her as positively Christ-like

 Scarcity and privation in Paris during the 4th year of the French Revolution, 1795-96. Gouache by Pierre-Etienne Le Sueur.

On the other hand, corrupt and degenerate elected officials tell us that the French Revolution was necessary, as the flesh and blood of fallen monarchs paved the way for a more equal, democratic society. Ironically, we now need a revolution in our current time period more than ever.

There is no clear-cut conclusion to be reached in this story, no obvious moral lesson to be preached.

But! If a woman as mild-mannered as de Lamballe can be slaughtered in the name of liberty, we can surely guillotine a celebrity or politician or two…right?

To conclude, the internet is full of histrionic individuals worshiping the tragic bromance of Princess de Lamballe and Marie Antoinette. The princess perhaps may be the ultimate Ride or Die. She is the type of girl we all need by our side.

A cute 1900 illustration of Marie Antoinette, the Princesse de Lamballe and the Duchesse de Polignac at the Queen’s hamlet.

Images of the princess’ gory demise have consistently been painted and engraved, for hundreds of years after the fact. The world is obsessed and captivated by this woman’s death, as it came to symbolize everything that was deranged and scary about the French Revolution.

Regardless of everything; the princess and her decapitated head will definitely live on forever in infamy, tragedy and controversy. She embodies the darkest side of glitz and glamour; the highest high, and the lowest, bloodiest end.

And now, I will definitely have nightmares about levitating disembodied heads after writing this massive wall of text.

The Strange Afterlife of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos

It was 1930 in sunny Key West, Florida, and Maria de Hoyos was dying of tuberculosis. Victorians described consumption as an illness that heightened the elegance and refinement of its victim, and that it was tragically beautiful to waste away with pallor and fragility. Maria would soon become the object of somebody’s very morbid obsession.

Maria was 21 years old, and the daughter of a Cuban cigar maker, whose life was already marred by tragedy. By all appearances, she was an attractive dark haired beauty queen who often wore red roses in her hair, drawing the attention of strangers who desired to photograph and court her. But death was creeping up close and fast.

Maria’s two sisters would later go on to die of tuberculosis, and her brother-in-law died while trying to save a construction worker from electrocution. Maria was married at the age of 16 to a man named Luis Mesa, who abandoned her after she miscarried their child. She would remain legally married to Luis until her death.

Maria’s life was not going well. And when she fell ill and her mother brought her into Marine Hospital in April of 1930, the disease would prove to be fatal. In the early 1900s, approximately 110,000 Americans would die each year from tuberculosis. The prognosis did not look positive for poor Maria.

Enter Carl Tanzler von Cosel, a German-born radiology technician who worked at the hospital. He was a cultured and intelligent man who had traveled across the world, to countries like Italy, India, Australia, Cuba and the Netherlands.

In fact, he had escaped from an Australian internment camp during WWI by building a makeshift sailboat after secretly studying engineering books. He claimed to have 9 academic degrees (most likely false), and was also purported to have aristocratic blood, going by the title of Count whenever he could get away with it.

Countess Anna

Although he was already married with 2 daughters, Carl was immediately struck by Maria’s appearance. He recognized her from a vision he had many years ago, when his dead ancestor Countess Anna Constantia von Brockdorff came to him in a dream and showed him the face of his true love and soulmate: a gorgeous dark-haired woman who looked exactly like Maria.

The Countess had an interesting story herself; being the mistress of 18th century King Augustus II of Poland. When the King grew tired of the feisty and headstrong Countess, he had her exiled, and she stayed that way for 49 years until her death. Historically, the Cosel family seemed to be haunted by bad luck.

Back to Carl: despite being in his 50s and resembling Sigmund Freud, he did not inhibit himself from making strong advances towards young Maria. He dedicated all his time to curing her, or at least attempting to do so.

The mad scientist at work

Like some medieval wizard, Carl conjured up odd concoctions, potions, tonics, elixirs, and herbs in order to treat her TB. He made house calls to Maria’s home, stealing the hospital’s x-ray machine to monitor her progress. He lavished her with gifts, and professed his undying love, telling her he would love and care for her even if she died.

Unfortunately for Carl, Maria did not reciprocate his romantic feelings, and turned down his proposals of marriage. Carl simply did not care, and continued indulging himself in unrequited love.

On October 25, 1931, Maria finally succumbed to TB, after struggling against the illness for a year and a half, which was how long Carl had spent orbiting her. She was only 22. He was devastated.

Before she died, Carl wrote in his journal how he “had hopes that, despite the extensive damage, the lesions would heal again. I had hopes that, when Elena was out of danger, we would get married. As long as she lived I never abandoned hope.”

The mausoleum, more like a tiny home than a crypt

Sadly, the story does not end here, and it takes a Weekend at Bernie’s sort of twist, but with some added necrophilia. Carl could not get over Maria’s death, so he decided to pursue her from beyond the grave.

With the consent of her family, Carl paid for Maria’s funeral and erected an elaborate mausoleum for her corpse. He had her coffin lined with formaldehyde and other preserving agents, and had a special key made for himself so he could come and go as he pleased. Carl spent hours at Maria’s gravesite everyday, talking to her corpse, singing songs to her, reading stories, and other crazy activities that are best left unspoken. This went on for two years.

Eventually, this was not enough. Carl claimed Maria began talking to him from the other side, telling him she was afraid of decaying and rotting. One night in 1933, he snuck her body out from the mausoleum in a toy wheelbarrow, and took her home with him. Maria’s family soon became puzzled when Carl stopped visiting her grave, but they just assumed that he had finally moved on. Little did they know…

Carl wrote in his memoirs:

“Elena, my darling, we are alone on this shore. He who has given you to me, will not reject our souls, united as they are in His undying love.”

Strong words from a man who was already technically rejected by Maria several times. Now that she was dead, she could not protest. Her body belonged to him. At home with her corpse, Carl set to work repairing the damage done by decomposition.

He replaced Maria’s brittle broken bones with coat hanger wire, and stuffed her torso with rags to keep her body in its original shape. He inserted glass eyes into her orbitals, and replaced her rotting skin with silk cloth coated by plaster of paris and wax.

For some reason, Maria’s mother possessed a wig made out of her daughter’s hair, and she gifted this to Carl. He would use this wig on Maria’s corpse, as the decomposition process had caused her hair to fall out.

Carl had to continuously preserve Maria’s decaying body, and mummification isn’t easy. He constantly applied disinfectants, deodorizer and formaldehyde to counteract the smells of putrefaction.

Maria’s corpse after the creepy makeover

Now the big necrophilia question arises: did he or didn’t he? Surprisingly, there are no contemporary sources that mention anything about necrophilia. All of the sources that make claims about this are modern. In 1972, two doctors who were present at Maria’s 1940 autopsy recalled how Carl had inserted a paper tube into the corpse’s vaginal canal to facilitate intercourse. There are no photographs or other sources to prove this.

In Carl’s autobiography, he does confess to kissing and cuddling Maria’s cadaver. He slept with the body in his bed, but he kept a curtain between them because he was an extreme gentleman. It isn’t very far off to believe that necrophilia played a part in this twisted romance, but it’s important to remember these claims are not fully proven.

At this point, Carl had lost his job at the hospital and was living in a remote shack which also housed his laboratory. His behaviour became too erratic to hold a job, and the hospital had found out he was stealing medical equipment from them.

Carl had basically abandoned his wife and children, and was more content living with a dead body than a live woman. For some reason, his wife Doris took pity on him and regularly mailed him money to help him survive his destitute situation.

The peculiar lab shack

He was seen shopping for women’s clothing, jewelry and perfumes, and everybody assumed Carl was seeing someone new and had finally moved on. Nosy neighbours who peered through Carl’s window saw him dancing with the figure of a woman, and some thought it was a large doll. However, he managed to keep Maria’s body in his home for seven years without being discovered.

In 1940, it was finally over. Maria’s sister heard weird rumours about Carl. She went over to his home to confront him, and found out his terrible secret. She reported him to the police, and Carl was arrested. He was charged with “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization,” but the statute of limitations saved him from prosecution.

Surprisingly, a psychiatric evaluation by the court found Carl to be mentally competent. That seems extremely dubious.

As if this case wasn’t already bizarre enough, it takes an added sci-fi turn. Authorities found a homemade spaceship outside of Carl’s lab. Being a radiology technician, he of course had to go full mad scientist and attempt to go “high into the stratosphere, so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena’s tissues and restore life to her somnolent form.” Is necrophilia legal in outer space?

The homemade spacecraft

The jig was up, and authorities confiscated the corpse. Carl had the nerve to ask them to return it back to him, but his request was rejected.

Instead, Maria’s mummified remains were put on display at Dean-Lopez Funeral Home. The case was now the center of a media circus, and 6,800 spectators came to gawk at the macabre spectacle, paying $1 each for the privilege. After this, Maria was finally laid to rest at Key West Cemetery in an unmarked grave, to deter Carl from disturbing her eternal rest.

Oddly enough, the public found Carl to be a sympathetic figure; a tragic romantic who had lost his beloved to cruel fate. They either ignored or were unaware of the necrophilic aspects of the “relationship.”

An egregious display

A defeated Carl shuffled off to Pasco County, Florida to patch together some semblance of a life. Before leaving, he dynamite bombed the mausoleum he had created for Maria, to spite authorities.

Not surprisingly, he was still obsessed. He created a life-like effigy and mask of her face, to replace the confiscated cadaver. He wrote his autobiography in 1947, and received American citizenship in 1950, because what’s more American than defiling a dead body? Doris continued to support her deranged and estranged husband financially.

Carl died alone in 1952, at the age of 75. His body was not discovered until three weeks after his death. Ironically, the man who prevented Maria from decomposing was himself rotting alone on the floor of his home for several weeks.

Carl holds a death mask of Maria

For his final diary entry, Carl had written:

“Human jealousy has robbed me of the body of my Elena, yet divine happiness is flowing through me for she has survived death. Forever and ever, she is with me.”

Standing above him as he died was a wax figure of Maria. From 1930 to 1952, he had endlessly obsessed over this woman. For nearly 22 years, she had been the focus of his life, alive or dead. To some, it is the ultimate romance, and to others, it is a grotesque tale of violation.

Maria Elena lies in some unmarked Floridian grave, in an 18 inch casket. The former corpse bride is now at rest.

A Hairy Situation: The Peculiar Case of Antonietta Gonzalez

Animalia Rationalia et Insecta (Ignis): Plate II, ca. 1575/1580 by Joris Hoefnagel

How many women out there have felt that they were too hairy to exist in a smooth-skinned world of constant razor advertisements? As in, the sight of your leg hair has caused you great dismay and discomfort? Imagine that everyday, but times a million and on your face.

This is what life was like for Antonietta Gonzalez and her hairy sisters, who stunned and puzzled 16th century observers with their rare and unique genetic condition: hypertrichosis, or werewolf syndrome. An excessive growth of hair about the face and body, of which only 50 congenital cases have been recorded since the Middle Ages.

Little Antonietta was the daughter of Petrus Gonsalvus, a Spaniard from the Canary Islands who also had the same condition. He did not have it any easier than his children would, and was shuffled around Europe by noblemen who were all scrambling to gawk at the man’s hairy condition in morbid fascination.

Animalia Rationalia et Insecta (Ignis): Plate I, ca. 1575/1580 by Joris Hoefnagel

This was a man who dressed in fine robes, was educated, cultured, spoke fluent Latin, and kept in the courts of royalty. In his 30s, Catherine de Medici ordered Petrus to marry one of her servant girls, also named Catherine. The girl did not know who she was marrying until she reached the altar. She must have been startled, but went along with it as she had no choice.

Luckily for Petrus, he had found a loving and devoted wife who adored her wolf-husband with much care, and stayed with him for all her life. Catherine could have left him after the marriage, but chose not to, and stood proudly by him in portraits of the couple. Rather cruelly, their pairing went on to inspire the tale of Beauty and the Beast. Talk about mean gossip.

They went on to have seven children, four affected with hypertrichosis. Antonietta became the most famous girl in the family after talented artist Lavinia Fontana painted a striking portrait of her.

Portrait of Tognina Gonsalvus by
Lavinia Fontana , circa 1580s.

In 1594, physician Ulisse Aldrovandi wrote that:

“The girl’s face was entirely hairy on the front, except for the nostrils and her lips around the mouth. The hairs on her forehead were longer and rougher in comparison with those which covered her cheeks, although these are softer to touch than the rest of her body, and she was hairy on the foremost part of her back, and bristling with yellow hair up to the beginning of her loins.”

From a very young age, Petrus’ children were considered rare oddities which the people around them tried to observe, analyze and explain away. Was the family’s appearance an act of God? Were they werewolves? Were they man or beast?

Anonyme allemandMaddalena (Madeleine) Gonzales, v. 1580. 

In the modern era, we can easily grasp that they were merely just excessively hairy Spaniards. But in Antonietta’s time, and especially applicable to her and her sisters, people had a hard time reconciling their hairiness to their humanity and femininity.

In portraits of Antonietta, she is doll-like and petite, clearly just a wide-eyed little girl who is amused that her picture is being painted. Lavinia Fontana herself was also a rarity in her time, as one of the only respected and revered female painters of the Renaissance era. Could it have been a cute moment?

It wasn’t cute for long, because to nobles in France and Italy, her portraits were strange collector’s items, to be displayed and scrutinized on a prominent mantel. A conversation piece to be dissected with curious visitors.

Monstrorum Historia, Bologna, Typic Nicolai Tebaldini, 1642.

Sadly, the Gonzalez family’s life becomes a mystery in the 17th century, but it was of their own choosing. They settled in rural Italy to escape the circus that constantly followed them around Europe. The little knowledge that remains of them is fuzzy.

Antonietta’s sister Maddalena married and had children, one of which was affected with the same condition. Her sister Francesca remained unmarried. And depressingly, little Antonietta was said to have died young.

One wonders what Antonietta felt as her pictures were being painted and then spread across Italy. Did she mingle with other girls her age? Was she ever courted by a suitor like her sister Maddalena? We have no window into her mind. But we do have a window into her soul, in Fontana’s immortal portrait of her.

Maharani Jind Kaur: The Warrior Queen Who Fought Back

Maharani Jind Kaur (1817 – 1863) was the beautiful, courageous and tragic wife of Ranjit Singh, the king of the Sikh Empire. The empire fell apart 10 years after his death and was annexed by the British, although she led many military campaigns fighting the colonization.

She was not militarily experienced, but she was brave and determined to retain Punjab’s sovereignty. After the British East Indian company won the First Anglo-Sikh War, they imprisoned Jind Kaur and took her nine year old son Duleep away from her.

Jind Kaur fiercely campaigned for Duleep’s rights as a regent, but the British Crown refused to recognize that he had any and reneged on the treaty they had made with her. They smeared her publicly as “the Messalina of the Punjab,” demonizing her as a “seductress” because she dared to oppose them. 

Duleep and his mother

Her son Duleep was taken to England and was kept under the watchful eye of the Queen Victoria, and was forced to convert from Sikhism to Christianity. Although the British tried to brainwash Duleep into rejecting his mother and her ideals, he missed her throughout his life and yearned to be re-united with her.

Jind Kaur managed to escape prison and hid out in Nepal, where the British envoys surveilled her as they suspected she still had ambitions to revive the fallen Sikh Empire. After 13 years of separation, the British finally allowed her to meet her son again and she died 2 and a half years later.

Jind Kaur did her best to undo the Anglicization of her son and to educate him about his heritage, and wanted the priceless Kohinoor diamond that the British had stolen from her late husband to be returned to Punjab and for her son to rule his father’s great empire once again. This never happened. The only consolation for Jind Kaur was that she was finally reunited with her son after thirteen years of separation from him.

Duleep had requested the Login family (who had housed him in his youth) to provide his mother a home in England. When Lady Login went to visit Jind Kaur, she described her as being aged by stress and suffering partial blindness, “yet the moment she grew interested and excited in a subject, unexpected gleams and glimpses through the haze of indifference and the torpor of advancing age revealed the shrewd and plotting brain of her, who had once been known as the ‘Messalina of the Punjab’.”

Duleep had also negotiated the return of his mother’s jewels, which made her overjoyed. Lady Login claimed that when she visited Jind Kaur after the jewelry’s return, “she forthwith decorated herself, and her attendants, with an assortment of the most wonderful necklaces and earrings, strings of lovely pearls and emeralds.”

Portrait of the Queen in England wearing her jewels, by George Richmond. The painting was sold in 2009 for £55,200

After a life of sorrow and struggle, Jind Kaur died at age 46 in England. The British government refused to allow Duleep to cremate his mother as per Sikh tradition since it was illegal in England. Her body remained in a Dissenters’ Chapel in a rural cemetery for a year until her son was allowed to returned to India to cremate her.

Unfortunately, none of Jind Kaur’s wishes were fulfilled. The Kohinoor diamond was never returned, Punjab would be ruled by the British until 1947, Duleep was only allowed to visit India in two tightly controlled visits, his body was buried in England with Christian burial rites against his wishes, and their royal bloodline eventually died out, just as the British monarchy hoped it would.

Although depressing, Jind Kaur’s story symbolizes Sikh bravery and she remains an inspirational figure in Punjab’s history and resistance of colonialism. She died with honor, never forgetting once that she was once, and would always be, a warrior queen.

Bettie Page and the Bondage She Freed Herself From

Bettie Page was the biggest sex symbol of the 1950s. Her pin-up spreads are iconic, her body was unreal, and she’s forever known for her trademark vantablack hair with those sleek brow-sweeping bangs. Bangs that have unfortunately been imitated by cringeworthy indie hipster girls everywhere, but she has yet to be outdone by them.

But what happened when the most famous sex symbol of the 1950s got tired of being ogled by dirty old men? Unfortunately, psychological decline, violence and disaster. Her later years were punctuated by schizophrenic and scary mental breakdowns.

Bettie before the pin-ups

To best understand what brought poor Bettie to point of insanity, it would be advisable to peer back into her troubled youth. Although she looked like a sweet clean-cut girl next door, Bettie was tormented by her abusive rapist father and neglectful mother. She was the second of six children and was horribly deprived of loving, normal parental relationships.

Her mother even deigned to tell Bettie what a period was, and Bettie claims “when I started menstruating at 13, I thought I was dying because she never taught me anything about that.” When her mother’s lover hit on her and tried to pull her into his car, Bettie was blamed and accused of seduction, and sent to go live with her creepy father. The girl who would go on to sell sex had her views of it warped at an early age through no fault of her own.

After graduating school, Bettie tried to become a teacher. She could not control the leering boys in the classroom. She tried her hand at secretarial work, became a typist, learned to sew, do her hair and makeup, got married and subsequently divorced.

In 1945, Bettie landed a screen test with Fox. She declined the advances of a perverted studio head, and they declined her contract. In 1947 she went to New York to try and become an actress. Instead, she was raped by a group of men and quickly left the city.

At this point, anybody in Bettie’s shoes would have lost it. Can you blame her? But she soldiered on and in 1950, an ex NYPD officer with a roaming eye approached Bettie while she walked alone along the dreamy Coney Island shore to offer up a card for his services. Services which were: pin-up model fetish photography. She accepted. As a girl, she had always dreamed of becoming an actress. This wasn’t exactly what she had prayed for, but it was something.

Bettie said of herself at the time ; “I had lost my ambition and desire to succeed and better myself; I was adrift. But I could make more money in a few hours modeling than I could earn in a week as a secretary.” She had a point.

At this time, Bettie grew her trademark bangs to cover her large forehead, which she disliked, or was made to dislike by the cop photographer. He told her the bangs would prevent the sheen of her large forehead from being reflected by the flash of the camera.

From this time onwards, Bettie would do a lot of bondage and S&M photography, partnering up with talented sleaze-makers like Irving Klaw and Bunny Yeager. She starred in striptease movies, she was on magazine covers. The 1950s were a time of prosperity for Bettie Page. Even the FBI tried to have her cheesecake dance clips burned. Everybody wanted a piece of Bettie.

But what did Bettie want? Sci-fi authour Harlan Ellison wrote her salivating praise: “She is simply pure fantasy. A dream girl in all the nicest ways, in that undiluted human passion way that we all shared at some point in our innocence. She is lust in an ice cream cone (two scoops), enthusiasm in the whisper of nylon, postpubescent rambunctiousness in the back seat of a Studebaker Commander. … She was an icon, Venus on the spike heel, the goddess Astarte come again, smoother and sleeker and possibly available.”

The thirst was real.

In 1967, Ellison would write the iconic science fiction short story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. And in the late 1950s, Bettie had no mouth (it was revoked from her), just her body, but she was ready to scream.

Bettie left fetish modelling in 1959 to become a born-again Christian. She was 35 years old, in a dull marriage, and felt used and regretted her nude photos. Some claim that Bettie had been informed that a man had died in a bondage session which had somehow involved her photos. This was just too much.

Bettie became a disciple of the showboating reverend Billy Graham. She said of it, “When I gave my life to the Lord I began to think he disapproved of all those nude pictures of me.”

In 1958 she attended a multiracial sermon and became inspired by ideas of peace and equality. She tried to become a missionary in Africa, but was rejected due to her several divorces. She dropped out of college while pursuing a master’s degree.

And then, her life fell apart. 1972 was not a good year for Bettie Page. It reads like one long rap sheet.

In January, Bettie ran wild with a .22 caliber pistol screaming about “the retribution of God” at a ministry retreat. Her sympathetic ex-husband took her home with him.

 In April, however, Bettie threatened to stab her ex-husband and children if they refused to pray in front of a portrait of Jesus. “If you take your eyes off this picture, I’ll cut your guts out!,” were her words. She was taken to a mental institution for 4 months, then released.

In October, a cop was called to her ex-husband’s place yet again after Bettie went on a destructive rampage inside. After the officer left the car and returned, he “saw Bettie in the back seat, with her dress pulled up, panties around her knees, masturbating with a coat hanger that the officer had left.” She spent another 6 months in a mental institution.

Things were quiet for awhile until 1979, when she attacked 2 neighbours with a knife. The neighbours were forced to knock her out with a wrench. This time she spent 7 months in an institution.

 The worst was yet to come. In 1982, she stabbed her landlady 20 times while yelling “God has inspired me to kill you!” The poor landlady woke up to a possessed Bettie sitting on top of her with a foot-long serrated bread knife. Bettie stabbed her four times in the chest, narrowly missing her heart, stabbed her hand eight times, severing the top of her third finger.

When police came, they “found Bettie in the shower with her clothes on, trying to wash out the blood stains. She kept the police waiting for an hour before she dried herself off.” Afterwards, Bettie would spend 10 much-needed years back at an institution.

Following these deranged incidents, Bettie managed to get the help she desperately needed for her schizophrenia, and she stopped attacking people. Sadly, she was penniless for many years, until her son and a team of lawyers helped her profit from royalties of her likeness which were being used in the media. She signed autographs of her pin-ups in her old age, and managed to gain a semblance of stability. Bettie died of a heart attack in 2008.

Her conflicted legacy still remains to this day. Every girl obsessed with vintage glamour wants to look like Bettie. But did we really understand her? Said Bettie in 1998 of her career, “I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.”

With her looks and brains, she never had to pound on a typewriter again. Instead, we intrigued devotees pound on our keyboards to churn out her tragic yet thought-provoking life story.

Jeanne Hebuterne: Devoted Companion Until Death

Jeanne Hebuterne (1898-1920) was the love of Amedeo Modigliani’s life and his biggest artistic muse. She was described as “shy” and “delicate,” but was often asked by famous artists to pose for paintings because she was so beautiful. Painters were obsessed with her long dark hair and mesmerizing eyes. Not one to be outdone by others, Jeanne was a talented painter in her own right.

Self Portrait by Jeanne, 1916

Jeanne met Modigliani in Paris at a prestigious art academy in the spring of 1917. They experienced intense chemistry and began an affair.

She was disowned by her wealthy conservative bourgeois Roman Catholic family after moving in with Modigliani, who considered him to be nothing more than a perverted degenerate. Jeanne also gave up her artistic and modelling career to be with him. She was deeply in love, enough to defy her family.

Portrait of Jeanne by Modigliani, 1918

They were the It Couple of the Bohemian art community. The introverted, melancholic and pale girl with the braided hair had captured the promiscuous artist’s heart, and he was infatuated as well. It was, unfortunately, a doomed liaison.

The pair moved into a home together by the lush and sunny French Riviera, but the alcoholic and drug-abusing Modigliani came down with tuberculosis and died slowly and painfully. The couple’s daughter Jeanne was born in Nice in November of 1918, but this did nothing to lift the impoverished and ill couple’s spirits. Tuberculosis was overtaking Modigliani.

Death by Jeanne Hebuterne, 1919.
This was her last drawing, made in the 40 hour window between her lover’s death and her own suicide.

When he was dying, Jeanne was one of the only people who still stood by the broke and destitute artist. He was not rich in his lifetime, and had been giving his paintings away in exchange for restaurant meals. Friends found Modigliani in his deathbed with Jeanne crying and holding onto him, refusing to let him surrender to death’s embrace.

 Though they were unmarried, Jeanne considered herself to be his wife and vice versa. She had been obsessed with thoughts of death and suicide even as a teenager, and Modigliani’s death would be the last straw for her. He died at 9 pm on January 24, 1920, and Jeanne’s heart died with him.

Amedeo Modigliani , “the prince of vagabonds”

Jeanne had been pregnant yet again when Modigliani died and she couldn’t take the pain of her loss. At the tender age of 21, she jumped out of the 5th floor of her family apartment, 2 days after her lover’s death. She had killed herself and her unborn child, and left the couple’s baby an orphan. Jeanne’s body was found by a servant at 4 am, who brought it to the doorstep of her family’s home.

She and Modigliani are buried together in Pere Lachaise cemetery. Modigliani’s eptiaph reads “Struck down by death at the moment of glory,” and Jeanne’s epitaph reads “Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.” If not for the cruelty of fate, talented and ethereal Jeanne would have been able to pursue her artistic talents as well.

As for Modigliani’s paintings? The man who died ill and penniless has paintings selling for up to $170 million USD in our time. The man who said “It is your duty in life to save your dream” was unable to save himself or the love of his life, but the cosmically corrupt universe consumed his art for profit. 

How the Black Dahlia Became a Gruesome 1940s Beauty Icon

 Elizabeth Short AKA The Black Dahlia was a gorgeous young woman found murdered in an empty lot in Los Angeles in January of 1947, at the age of 22. She was naked, bruised, severed in half at the waist, and mutilated. Her face had been cut ear to ear in a hauntingly perverse Glasgow smile. She had been beaten, tortured and possibly raped. Horrific photos of the crime scene and autopsy are plastered rather distastefully across the internet.

 Even during her time, the media was captivated by her. They quickly picked up on the fact that the young girl was an aspiring actress, and endlessly reported on her many love affairs and striking looks. The American news press couldn’t get enough of her. The fame that Short had desired in her lifetime had only come to her in death, and it had become a national morbid obsession.

An alluring mugshot of Beth taken in 1943. She had been nabbed for underage drinking at a bar.

 People who knew her described her luscious mane of black hair, her stunning blue eyes, her mysterious and charismatic presence, and of course, her immaculate sense of style and penchant for dark, heavy makeup. The Black Dahlia quickly became a bizarre and disturbing 1940s fashion icon.

Short’s friend Lauretta recalled “how Beth was drawn to the unusual, such as the brooch she wore in the shape of a large black flower with a sterling silver Egyptian face in the center. When asked where it came from, Beth just smiled and wouldn’t say.” – From“Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder” by John Gilmore.

Other passages from Severed continue to depict Short’s penchant for beautiful and strange personal effects: “Once she showed Lauretta an ivory colored cigarette case in the shape of two clasped hands, which she used to keep business cards in. ‘She was unusual wherever she went, and for Hollywood, especially at that time, that’s a bold statement.’

Lauretta also recalled giving a fine piece of lingerie to Beth: ‘She adored black lace. Elizabeth was of the night. She was of the dark…’” 

By all descriptions, Short looked and acted like a film noir heroine. She was mysterious with everyone she knew, and refused to divulge intimate secrets even to lovers or friends. Nobody was ever truly close to her. She was cool, attractive and impossible to get to know.

Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia

It’s also worth noting that her “Black Dahlia” nickname was ascribed to her after the 1946 Alan Ladd film noir The Blue Dahlia, starring the similarly tragic and femme fatale-ish Veronica Lake.

Short wanted to break into Hollywood badly, and was an avid fan of film who went to watch movies in theaters whenever she could fork up the money for it. It’s possible that one dark and lurid L.A. night, she could’ve walked by a poster for The Blue Dahlia plastered on a wall by some lonesome alley, and thought: Will this ever be me someday? Will I see my name on the marquee? She had yet to know her name would be scrawled across newspapers for something much more terrifying.

And now, let’s take a look at Short’s make up routine.

 Crime historian Joan Renner described how:

  “rather than following the post-war vogue for a natural looking makeup, Elizabeth Short used a heavy hand to create a dramatic contrast between her complexion and her hair color. If anything, her look leaned more towards Goth girl than glamour girl.“

I’m seeing a little Siouxsie Sioux in her

 Short’s roommate Linda Rohr, who worked in the Rouge Room at Max Factor, stated that:

  she was always going out and she loved to prowl the boulevard. She had pretty blue eyes but sometimes overdid with makeup an inch thick. She dyed her brown hair black, and then red again.”


She also said Short’s makeup was startling, “like a geisha… The way she fusses over details and spends three times as long as anyone I know with her makeup. I can come and go and she’s still in the bathroom putting on her face.” 

Beth and her handsome army beau Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr.
He would die in a plane crash in 1945 less than a week before the end of WWII. Beth never forgot him.

Short’s roommates did not appreciate the immense amount of time she would take getting ready in the bathroom, but her dates sure did. Men would come knocking on the door late at night asking for her, while she hid inside and pretended not to hear.

 One of Short’s most fabulous beauty secrets was using candle wax on her teeth to fill in cavities and to make her teeth shine, since she could not afford dental work. She was constantly broke and had to rely on the kindness of others to stay stylish and camera ready.

Beth in front of what seems to be a poster for the 1943 film adaption of Elvira Madigan

The brutal Black Dahlia murder symbolizes the loss of innocence and beauty in 1940s L.A. (just as Sharon Tate’s murder at the hands of the psychotic Manson family did for the 1960s), and has become a sort of myth or legend. Underneath the evil of her murder, there was just a unique and fascinating young woman trying to make it in a literal cutthroat industry, which took her life too soon. We are left only with the mystery of what could have been, and with pictures and stories of the 22 year old’s hypnotic beauty and grace.