Thursday, November 29, 2018

DAY 54: The Spoils of War

Prussian Invasion, by Meissonier
August, 1870: Sixteen year-old Jennie Jerome was stuck in Paris, her mother Clara nursing a sprained ankle and unable to stand, when the Prussian army invaded France.

Emperor Napoleon III fled as his troops surrendered at Sedan, but was captured and imprisoned in Prussia. The Empress Eugenie, Clara Jerome's intimate friend, escaped to England with the help of two American expatriates, who smuggled her to a private British yacht waiting on the Channel. The Jerome women caught the last train out of Paris for Calais and eventual safety in England--with pretty much just the clothes on their backs. 

Damaged Paris after Prussian siege
A provisional government in Paris refused to surrender the city to Bismarck, and by January, with Paris under siege and its inhabitants starving, the United States government decided to intervene. Leonard Jerome--Jennie's father--was dispatched along with Generals Sheridan and Burnside, of Civil War fame, to negotiate a peace with Bismarck, but before the men succeeded, Paris surrendered to the Prussians.

Leonard Jerome found Parisians eating rats and dogs to survive. All the trees in the Bois de Boulogne had been cut down and burned for firewood. A crust of bread was the price paid for the services of a prostitute. Sixty-five thousand Parisians died during the siege. Remarkably, when Leonard Jerome and Clara returned in the spring of 1871, after the Peace had been signed and the Prussian army had left France, they found Clara's home and belongings intact.  Leonard's valuable collection of Italian paintings, clothing, and some furniture were packed in crates and shipped just as the people of Paris began to riot.

Mobs set fire to the Palais de Justice and the Hotel de Ville. When the rioters moved on to the Tuileries Palace, former home of the Emperor and Empress, they auctioned the contents and burned the palace to the ground. 

The next morning, Clara Jerome ventured to the Tuileries to see the violence for herself. She found the mob auctioning Napoleon III's gilded Sevres porcelain dinner service, on which she had so often dined at the Imperial Court, and bought the lot, carting it back to a surprised Leonard in a hired wheelbarrow. 

Winston Churchill would eventually inherit the Sevres dinner service, pictured here, and use it for entertaining at his home, Chartwell--where the pieces can be viewed today under the auspices of the National Trust.
For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.  

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