"An Englishwoman in 'Gay Paree' — April 1814"


Eunice Shanahan

This letter is rather battered and looks as though it has been through the wars. It was written from Paris, and addressed to Mrs. Jenkinson, Coombe Cottages, Croydon, Surrey England. (Fig.1). It has five postal markings

1) a manuscript '7' — which I cannot explain, but it looks 'foreign', so it could be the amount paid from Paris to the border, but there is no stamp applied to indicate payment.
2) Circular date stamp FOREIGN MA 5 1814 applied by the Foreign Branch of the General Post, this type was in use 1806-1816.
3) the London Two Penny post stamp 7 O'Clock 1814 MA 9 EV in red (but very messy) — this type of oval stamp with the month before the day was in use in the Chief Office of the Two Penny Post from 1801 to 1822
4) Charge marks 1/2 (one shilling and two pence) which was the rate for a single letter from France to England, then amended to
5) 1/4 (one shilling and four pence) to include the charge delivery to Croydon which was in the Country area of the Two Penny Post. This was the total collected on delivery of the letter.

To put this letter into historical context, it was written less than three weeks after the Allies had taken Paris causing the fall of Napoleon, and only 6 days after Wellington's brilliant and successful battle of Toulouse, where he led his army to victory over Marshal Soult — April 14th, 1814. It was the end of the first French Empire. The crown of France was given to the eldest surviving grandson of Louis XV — the old and invalid Count of Provence — who took the title of Louis XVIII. As a result of Napoleon's defeat all of Europe began to disarm believing that the struggles of the last twenty two years were over at last.

Now to the letter, which has no street address, so presumably her mother knew where her daughter was living in lodgings at the time.

" Paris, 30th April,
Once more My dearest Mother I address you from this —
When I wrote the 26th I was still in doubt concerning the fate of our Soldiers thank God they are well & recompensed for all their hardships. Wednesday morning 27th they both (George & William ) came to our lodgings before we were dressed in the morning & my dreaded introduction took place to two of the finest young men I have seen for some time (at least George, he is very handsome) you will shortly know them as they intend taking this opportunity of visiting England & I suppose in a few days we shall all set off together."

(Note: The next sentence really surprised me :- (Fig.2)

click here for larger image

"Fanshawe asked for his passport today it cannot be given yet on account of some forms".
This is the earliest reference I have seen to a passport. So I checked on the internet and found this information, on the website for British passports

The earliest passports were little more than papers that a king or queen would give to their subjects and to favoured foreigners, asking that they be allowed to travel freely. From this they have evolved to become the documents we know today. In the next development, passports will contain computer chips and work with facial mapping software to verify the passport holder's identity.
The earliest passport still in existence was granted in 1641 and was signed by King Charles I.

The language of British passports has changed throughout history to reflect the culture and politics of the times. Before 1772 they were written in Latin or English. From 1772 to 1858 they were written in French. From 1858 onwards they have been written in English (with a French translation of certain sections since 1921). So, if Fanshawe had received his passport in 1814, it would have been written in French.
However, the modern passport came into existence in 1915, and remained almost unchanged for 50 years. The 1915 design did not last long. After the First World War ended, the League of Nations held an international conference on passports in 1920. At the conference they agreed on a new book-format passport for League of Nations member states.

Now, back to the letter which continues with information about their journey back to England.

"They have purchased a cabriolet today & travel with their own horses as we mean to do so too & sell them at Boulogne where we embark & shall land at Deal or Dover to which places I wish you would write directing to be left at the Post Office till called for."

Note : a cabriolet is a light two-wheeled, hooded one-horse chaise — interestingly the word is derived from the French meaning a goat's leap. It does not seem a very sensible idea to buy a carriage to go from Paris to Boulogne, as there would be an excellent Diligence service, and a cabriolet would not hold much luggage. Perhaps they wanted to take their time and enjoy the journey through the French countryside.
"I know nothing of you since 17th Feby & on landing shall be most happy if I can have a letter assuring me all is well with you & dr Fanny recovered — lose no time in doing this I pray as most probably if you write the same day as you get this, your letters will not arrive at Deal & Dover before we shall be at one of the two places."
Now that seems like a completely crazy request, as her mother cannot possibly reply until she receives this letter, and then her daughter thinks it may be too late. The writer is obviously not thinking straight.

"If afterwards you can gain any intelligence concerning F's court Martial — where it will take place — how long is likely to elapse first — do not grudge another letter as it would then guide him a little in his plans. I do trust he will gain his promotion from the time he was taken, both his brothers are higher in rank than himself to — a Colonel, and G — a Captain in the Guards."

Note : This reads as though the Court Martial is a review of rank, but why she thinks her mother would be able to find out before the officer in question is a mystery.

" They had a letter from their Father yesterday astonished at the wonderful events that have taken place & supposing us together at Paris. He is at Posen commanding the detachments that were in Dantzic. Frederick is with him, my brother seems to think he will be sent to England as Secretary of Legation, he will be the bearer of a letter to you from Papa as they call him."

Note: Both of these places were in Prussia at this time, Posen was the historical center of origin of the Polish nation in the 10th century and has always been one of the richest and most developed provinces of Poland. Dantzic was an opulent commercial city of West Prussia on the left bank of the Vistula river. Both of these places suffered attacks from Napoleon's armies.

From that paragraph is it obvious that this is a family serving in the forces, and after all the years of war, it looks as though they will be together again in peacetime.

"On Aug 7th Mother what a happy meeting we shall have. I hope our sailor is at home and all well in the little Cottage quietly employing yourselves there whilst I am swanning all over Paris stunned with noise & confused with the multiplicity of fine sights & making acquaintance with two foreign brothers.
If by any chance you see or write to Charles say F. wished you to tell him he was so taken up with his brothers & Paris he had not time to write to him, but hopes they will all meet in England. This is my own message so you may say anything else you think prettier."

The final sentence explains her muddled thinking in the earlier part of the letter.

"I am in haste as we are going out to dine at a traiteurs & then to the Theatre de Varieties & they are all talking round me, so accept my kindest love, distribute it around you, & believe me ever your affte Ann .F."

This is the kind of letter I really enjoy, as it puts such a personal slant on history, I am surprised that there were English civilians in Paris at this time, because of the decades of fighting between the two nations, but Ann Fanshawe seems to be having a great time in "Gay Paree".

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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