Including Important Events, Scientific Discoveries, The Lives of Significant Personalities, Cultural Milestones, and Sundry Oddities.
This timeline is to be used in conjunction with “Incidents and Scandals of the 1780s – Part I (1780 – 1784)”. Together they form picture of a fascinating decade, dripping with opportunities for thrilling, terrifying, and poignant stories. Naturally, it is only practical to include the most noteworthy events, along with a selection of the salacious, bizarre, and outrageous.
The chronology is a set of opportunities, not restrictions. There are many events here to inspire historical and Gothic role-playing. Perhaps a Libertine character is involved in the “Affair of the Necklace”, or a Magician is initiated in Count Cagliostro’s “Egyptian Rite” of Freemasonry. Certainly the early events of the French Revolution will suggest numerous scenarios of doomed love, daring escapes, and horrible atrocities!
Its perfectly fine to bend historical facts in the interest of a good story. For example, the real Marie-Antoinette was probably guilty of nothing more than misunderstanding the plight of the poor in France. She certainly never said “let them eat cake”. However, the petty, sex-crazed sociopath of popular imagination makes a far more interesting character!1785
The Year of Controversies
- Winter: French Cardinal de Rohan signs a note of credit for the purchase of the diamond necklace, which he believes the Queen will actually pay off once Jeanne de la Motte delivers the jewelry to Versailles. Once Jeanne has obtained the necklace, however, her husband breaks it up and sells the diamonds in London.
- January: Count Cagliostro and Serafina arrive in Paris.
- January 7: First crossing of the English Channel in a hot air balloon.
- August 15: Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan, arrested in the “Affair of the Necklace”.
- August 18: Jeanne de la Motte is arrested, as is Nicole d’Oliva. Jeanne accuses Count Caglisostro of involvement, so he and and his wife Serafina are also arrested and thrown in the Bastille (where the Marquis de Sade is currently housed).
- October 31: Transylvanian peasant revolt begins.
- November 27: British natural philosopher John Michell proposes that certain stars could be so massive that that not even light could escape from their gravity.
- December 15: George, the Prince of Wales (and future King George IV) secretly (and illegally) marries Catholic Maria Fitzherbert.
- Autumn: Poor harvests continue in France.
- Autumn: Franz Mesmer leaves Paris, and begins wandering Europe.
- German intellectuals become embroiled in the “Pantheism Controversy” regarding the validity of Baruch Spinoza’s philosophy, and whether God is knowable through reason or faith.
- Etteilla publishes “Manière de se récréer avec le jeu de cartes nommées Tarots” (“How to Entertain Yourself With the Deck of Cards Called Tarot”), the first book in print to explain a complete method of divination using Tarot cards.
- Count Cagliostro arrives in Paris.
- The “Learned Pig” causes a sensation in London. The animal can apparently answer questions and do arithmetic by selecting letters from printed cards set in front of him.
- The Marquis de Sade writes “Les 120 journées de Sodome ou l’école du libertinage” (“The 120 Day of Sodom; or, the School of Libertinage”) on paper smuggled into the Bastille. The pages are pasted together into a single scroll that he hides in his cell. His intention is to write “the most impure tale ever told since our world began”. The resulting work is a catalog of the worst extremes of human depravity.
The Year of Unearthed Secrets
- January 1: Nineteen-year old Anne Louise Germaine Necker marries Swedish diplomat Baron Erik Magnus Staël von Holstein, becoming “ Madame de Staël”. Her father Jacques Necker was formerly “Director-General of Finance” for the King. The French intelligentsia frequent the Paris salon of her mother, Suzanne Churchod (Madame Necker).
- April 7: Bodies begin to be moved from the cemeteries in Paris into the network of abandoned mines beneath the city. The work continues every night for the next two years, until the Paris Catacombs are filled with bones.
- May 1: Premiere of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” in Vienna.
- May 31: Conclusion of the trial of the accused conspirators in “The Affair of the Necklace”, which embarrasses and scandalizes the French royal family. Jeanne de la Motte is convicted. Without warning she is dragged from her cell, publicly stripped nude, whipped, branded with a “V” on each shoulder, and imprisoned in the Salpêtrière prison. Cardinal de Rohan and Nicole d’Oliva are acquitted. Cagliostro is banished from France, and flees to London with Serafina. Despite the results of the trial and her protestations to the contrary, the public believes that Queen Marie-Antoinette was involved and actually wanted the necklace.
- June 14: The Dey of Algiers agrees to stop piracy and slave raiding against Spain, as a result of years of heavy bombardment of Algiers by the Spanish Fleet.
- Claims that the Freemasons, Bavarian Illuminati, and Jesuits conspire to control the world become current.
- Yet another poor harvest in France.
The Year of the Damned
- Spring: In Naples, Sir William Hamilton’s mistress Emma Hart (already well-known as an artist’s model) begins performing her “Attitudes” for guests. Dressed in faux classical drapery, she strikes poses from Greek and Roman sculptures while audience members try to guess the reference. The performances become famous across Europe.
- May: Civil war begins in the Dutch Republic, between the pro-British supporters of Stadtholder William V of Orange and the anti-British Patriots.
May 13: The first ship of 700 convicts leaves England to begin the colonization of Australia.
- May 22: “Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade” founded in London.
- July 8: The Marquis de Sade finishes “Les Infortunes de la Vertu” while imprisoned in the Bastille. The novel is better known by its later title, “Justine”.
- September 22: Prussian forces invade the Dutch Republic on behalf of the Orangists. A mass exodus of the Patriots to France begins.
- October 29: Premiere of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in Prague.
- Famed jeweler and maker of automata James Cox purchases the severed head of Oliver Cromwell from drunkard and failed comedian Samuel Russell, who used to pas it around as a novelty at parties.
- Good harvest in France relives mass starvation.
- Jeanne de la Motte escapes from the Salpêtrière prison in Paris, and joins her husband in London.
- Count Cagliostro leaves London, and begins wandering Europe again.
- Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun scandalizes the art world again by exhibiting a self portrait that shows herself smiling with visible teeth, in defiance of classical standards.
The Year Gone Mad
- January 22: Birth of poet George Gordon Byron, later known as Lord Byron.
- May: Severe drought across the north and west of France.
- May: In London, an unidentified man in begins stabbing attractive women on their buttocks (and sometimes faces). The press calls him “The Monster”.
- June 7: A riot breaks out in Grenoble, France, when the local government sends in troops to prevent the meeting of local nobility resisting new taxes.
- July 13: A severe storm of extraordinarily large hail strikes Paris. Some hailstones take three days to melt.
- August: The ship carrying Aimée du Buc de Rivéry disappears at sea. Rumors state that she was abducted by Barbary Pirates and sold as a harem slave to the Ottoman Turks. She is the cousin of the woman who will one day be Empress Josephine of France.
- October: King George III of Great Britain becomes obviously insane, promoting a crisis in Parliament.
- Winter temperatures across Europe fall as low as -10 Fahrenheit (@-23 Celsius).
- Food shortages again in France.
- Jacques Necker is re-instated as “Director-General of Finance” by King Louis XVI.
The Year of the End
- February: The price of bread nearly doubles in Paris.
- May 5: The French Estates-General meets for the first time in 175 years. The meeting is called by King Louis XVI to help find solutions for the financial problems of the French state. The meeting becomes deadlocked over discussion of how the Estates should organize and vote.
- June 17: The Third Estate of the Estates-General, representing the commoners, declares itself to be the “National Assembly” of France. Some members of the nobility and clergy defect from their own Estates and begin meeting with the National Assembly.
- June 20: The deputies of the National Assembly are locked out of the meeting of the Estates-General. They meet instead in an indoor tennis court in the city of Versailles, where they take an oath to continue meeting until they write a constitution for France.
- June 23: King Louis XVI orders the nobility and clergy to meet together with the National Assembly.
- July 2: The Marquis de Sade shouts “They are killing the prisoners here!” from his window to the crowd around the Bastille fortress in Paris. He is quickly transferred out of the prison.
- July 9: The National Assembly renames itself the “National Constituent Assembly”, and begins writing a constitution.
- July 11: King Loius XVI dismisses Director-General of Finance Jacques Necker from his post, fueling rumors that the King intends to stop the National Constituent Assembly.
- July 14: An angry mob storms the Bastille, looking for gunpowder to arm themselves against a rumored crackdown by Royal troops. The manuscript scroll of de Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom” is found and smuggled out by a guard.
- August 4: The National Constituent Assembly of France votes to abolish all remaining feudal rights and privileges, as well as the mandatory tithe to the Church. A stipulation that peasants pay the landowners to be released from their obligations is widely ignored, and then rescinded in 1793.
- August 18: The Prince-Bishop of Liège in the Austrian Netherlands is overthrown, and a Republic is declared.
- August 26: “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” issued by the National Constituent Assembly.
- September 22: A numerically superior Ottoman army is destroyed by a combined Russian and Austrian force in Wallachia.
- October 5: 7,000 women seize arms and march from Paris to Versailles, demanding that action be taken to lower the price of bread.
- October 6: The mob occupying Versailles forces the royal family to return with it to Paris.
- October 10: French doctor Joseph-Ignace Guillotin addresses the National Constituent Assembly, calling for a more humane implementation of capital punishment through the creation of a machine for decapitation.
- October 24: The Austrian Netherlands is invaded by a pro-republican army from the Dutch Republic.
- December 23: The Marquis de Favras is accused in print of organizing a conspiracy to rescue the royal family from Paris, lay seige to the city, and assassinate leading reformers. The Marquis is arrested the next day.
- December 27: Count Cagliostro is arrested and imprisoned in Rome for attempting to establish Freemasonry in the city.
- Publication of Antoine Lavoisier’s “Traité élémentaire de chimie” (“Elements of Chemistry”), the first textbook of modern chemistry.
Nobles begin fleeing France.