June 15, 1215: King John puts his seal to the Magna Carta.
June 16, 1816: Lord Byron challenges Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and John Polidori to write a ghost story at his villa in Italy.
June 17, 1839: In the Kingdom of Hawaii, Kamehameha III issues the edict of toleration which gives Roman Catholics the freedom to worship in the Hawaiian Islands.
June 18, 1815: The Battle of Waterloo results in the defeat of Napoleon Bonapart by the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher forcing him to abdicate the throng of France for the second time.
June 19, 1862: The US Congress prohibits slavery in United States territories, nullifying Dred Scott v. Sanford.
June 20, 1837: Queen Victoria succeeds to the British throne.
June 21, 1791: King Louis XVI of France and his immediate family begin the Flight to Varennes during the French Revolution.
I do like improbable combinations, and this week’s Favorite may just top them all. In time for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the town itself has decided to put on an exhibition of of Napoleon’s life.
Built entirely of Legos.
Everything from Jacques Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps to the Arc de Triompnh to Napoleon’s bicorn hat are part of the massive display.
Sabrage is the art of opening bottles of champagne with a sabre.
That’s right, an actual sword.
The story goes that this technique was developed by Napoleon’s Hussars (light cavalry), who were given bottles of champagne as they traveled through the region of Champagne after a victory. Since they were on horseback, removing the cork from the bottle conventionally proved troublesome. Popping off the top of the bottle with a cavalry sabre was much easier.
Want to see how it’s done? In this video, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan uses a knife-like instrument.
And in this video, Captain Rupert Campbell-Jones uses a ceremonial sword.
This is one of those activities that definitely falls in the don’t-try-this-at-home category, but you can hire professionals for you next party or gathering 🙂
No, that’s not a typo. This article is not about Napoleon’s victories on the battle fields of Europe. It’s about his victory in the farmers’ fields in France.
With sugar beets.
Sugar beets (Beta vulgaris) are white, conical roots, with a rosette of leaves above ground. The leaves absorb sunlight and produce sugar by photosynthesis (remember your high school biology?). The sugar is then stored in the root—the part we dig up and process. Sugar beets are grown in temperate climates like Germany, France, the UK, and the northern US, rather than the tropical locales sugar cane prefers.
But what do they have to do with the self-proclaimed Emperor of France?
In 1806 Napoleon attempted to destroy British trade lines and weaken the country by banning the import of British goods into Europe (including those from Britain’s colonies). George III and his Parliament responded by ordering a blockade of all French ports. So the only goods Napoleon and his people were getting (legally) were those they could grow or make themselves. Since all of the sugar in use at the time came from plantations in the West Indies, that meant no sugar for France.
Sugar beets were already known at this time—in the mid-1700’s, a German chemist named Andreas Margraff discovered that the sucrose contained in the beet’s root was indistinguishable from the sucrose in sugar cane. One of Margraff’s students, Franz Karl Achard, later experimented with ways to extract the sugar from beets, and was successful (he’s now considered the father of the sugar beet industry).
So when France found herself sugarless in the first decade of the 1800’s, a starting point already existed for her scientists. In 1809, a commission repeated Achard’s experiments, producing two loaves of beet sugar. One of them was eventually passed on to Napoleon himself, who realized he held the answer to his problem (one of them, anyway). He ordered 32,000 hectares of sugar beets to be sown, and more than 40 small factories were built to process them. In January 1811, the order was upped to 100,000 hectares and licenses were given to build 334 factories throughout the French empire.
In 1813, however, the tide of the war turned. Napoleon was on the run, and the blockade was lifted. Cane sugar once again became readily available, and beet sugar was no longer competitively priced. All of the beet processing factories that had been built in Germany and Austria (part of Napoleon’s territory) were closed down. The following spring the Sixth Coalition defeated the French empire, and Napoleon—champion of the sugar beet—was exiled to the island of Elba.
Then why do we eat beet sugar today?
France never quite gave up on sugar beet refinement. Between 1820 and 1839, the number of factories began to slowly climb again in response to a duty imposed on imported cane sugar. Once again, beet sugar was a cheaper alternative. The production of cane sugar also had an ugly stigma attached—it was only possible on large plantations using slave labor. Sugar beets could be grown and processed right at home, in factories that employed paid workers.
The process of refining sugar beets later became popular in Germany, the UK, Russia, and even spread across the Atlantic to the US. My home state of Michigan is one of eleven states that continue to produce beet sugar today, though the European Union is the world’s largest producer with about 50% of the total. Overall, beet sugar accounts for about 35% of the world’s production.
Beet sugar: just one example of the silver lining on a very dark cloud.
Another silver lining of the Napoleonic Wars? Wounded warrior romance heroes! To celebrate the Summer Banquet Blog Hop, I’m giving away one of my very favorites: a signed, print copy of Grace Burrowes’ The Solider, direct from the author herself!
Leave a comment below to enter: tell me what you learned today, what you really think of Napoleon, who your favorite historical soldier/sailor is, what draws you to this period of history, your obsession with sweets (or wounded warriors!), or whatever else you’d like.
Comments must be left by midnight EDT on June 7, 2013 to be eligible to win. Open worldwide.
Don’t forget to check out the posts and giveaways of all the Hop participants: