It feels a little strange to continue as normal with our posts on research and whatever strikes our fancy when the world is in such turmoil. But we’ve decided that a little “normal” is probably good for all of us. (Especially things that make us smile.)
And today, it so happens that my research topic is a fun one. So, let’s all take a roller coaster ride—quiet literally—through one of the most popular entertainment to arise in Regency Paris! (Who says history doesn’t take you on some wild rides!)
My new Lady Arianna Regency mystery, A Tangle of Serpents, is set in Paris, right after the Battle of Waterloo. (It releases on April 6th and is now available for pre-order.)The city became a hotbed of intrigue as diplomats flocked there to negotiate how to keep Europe at peace.
Just to refresh your history, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Allied armies—the Prussians and Wellington’s forces—did press on into France, scattering Napoleon’s troops and forcing the emperor to flee west. France surrendered in early July, the Bourbon King was restored, and the Allied military leaders gathered in Paris to work out a plan for the occupation of France to ensure that stability was established. It was agreed that Wellington would serve as supreme commander of the Occupation forces, so his appearances in the book are grounded in actual history. (Though I have of course taken artistic license with his involvement with Lady Arianna and Saybrook.)
The Russian army joined the other Coalition forces in the city, and Tsar Alexander I did visit Paris, though I have taken a little liberty in the actual dates (and to my knowledge there was no actual assassination plot!)
In the beginning, there were nearly 200,000 Allied troops in Paris. Imagine! They were camping in the parks, cutting down all the trees for firewood. And of course, they were looking for entertainment . . . enter the montagne-russe—or roller coaster!
A bit of backstory: The montagne-russe (which means ‘Russian mountain’) originated in Russia as a winter diversion for the aristocracy during the 17th century. Called katalnaya gorka in Russian, which means ‘sliding’ mountain, it was a hill—typically 70-80 ft high, with a 50 degree drop—made of snow and reinforced with wooden supports. The top was also coated with ice. Sleds (or sometimes wheeled carts) would be carried up to the peak, and then used hurtle down the incline.
Catherine II was a great fan of this exhilarating activity, and had katalnaya korka built in the gardens of the Oranienbaum Palace outside of St. Petersburg, where she had elaborate sledding parties, including a refreshment pavilion where tea (and likely other stronger libations) were served to her guests.
As it happens, the Russian soldiers serving as part of the occupation forces in Paris after Waterloo and the final defeat of Napoleon brought their expertise in daredevil fun with them to France! Diversions were needed to keep the vast number of soldiers entertained, and so the Russians had the bright idea of constructing a wooden “sliding mountain” in some of the Parisian parks and using wheeled sleds to whizz down the inclines.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into my research. I love discovering totally unexpected things in history, and had such fun writing about the montagne-russe. But I have to admit, I’m not a fan of riding one. What about you? Do you like scary rides? And do you have any other weird inventions or objects from history that you didn’t expect to exist in a certain era?