Thursday 13 October 2016

Breasts are very powerful things. Discuss.


What a great general paper question for undergraduate historians that would make.

Off the top of my head, I'd mention Lola Montez (whose bust measured 50 inches) and the Bavarian revolution of 1848. 

Lola Montez was a courtesan and dancer, famous for her 'spider dance', which involved her being forced to disrobe because of a spider that crawled into her dress. Lola Montez was her stage name. She was an Irishwoman of good family and her real name was Marie Gilbert. She was a liberal (by the standards of Germany at the time) and, in the year in which she was King Ludwig's mistress and had a lot of power in Bavaria, she made an enemy of the Jesuits and the Church. Her unpopularity led to her royal lover losing his throne.

Had her bust been smaller, as someone said of Cleopatra's nose...

I was meant to be a historian.

I know about her bust from a curious 19th century medical book that I once dipped into. She approached the author, a doctor, to see if she could have her breasts reduced in size.

Of course tastes in beauty change. I think a character in a Noel Coward play said that when you see photographs of women who are well attested to have made entire trainfuls of men spontaneously stand up to look you find that they look like men themselves. I fail to see from photographs why many women were considered famous beauties, including Marie of Romania, who modestly said  that she was not necessarily the most beautiful woman in Europe but she was certainly the most beautiful queen.

There are some unflattering pictures of Lola but this one explains why the King of Bavaria was captivated.

Image result for lola montez

Here, by comparison, may be King Charles II's famous mistress, Nell Gwynne, posing topless for a forgotten painter. She was a cockney, meaning born in the City of London, and once quieted a hostile crowd, who mistook her for King Charles II's Catholic girlfriend, with the words, "Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore".

Exposed again: The restored version of the 1680 portrait of King Charles II's mistress Nell Gwyn by Simon Verelst which shows the breasts which had been previously covered over

And this is certainly her, by a very much better painter, Lely.

Lord Rochester wrote an uncharacteristically tender poem, put into Nell's mouth, that begins
Ancient person, for whom I

All the flattering youth defy,

Long be it ere thou grow old,

Aching, shaking, crazy, cold;

But still continue as thou art, 

Ancient person of my heart.

The Dukes of St. Albans are the descendants of Nell's elder natural son by the King. 

I blogged about Marie Antoinette's bust here. The evidence that it was the same size as Jayne Mansfield's is now considered unreliable.

About Margaret Thatchers embonpoint I wrote here.


  1. Marvelous!

    Can we really and truly say that it was Helen's face that launched the 1000 ships? Ah... history!

  2. "Well-behaved women seldom make history."
    --Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  3. They are the Swiss Army knife of body parts. Can be used for nutrition, comforting, allure, eroticism, comedy and with ladies of a certain age and stature, intimidation.
    It is unfortunate that they're not detachable. You could have for instance a petite work pair, moderate every day pair and a back pain inducing going out pair. I have perhaps thought about this too much.
    Dominic Johnson