Thursday, 10 May 2012

Moustaches and Umbrellas...

It’s amazing the bits of information you pick up when you research historical facts for a novel. Moustaches and umbrellas, what can they have in common? The answer is: Napoleon’s great army and Waterloo.

‘Angel Heart’, my soon-to-be-published historical romance with Muse it Up Publishing, takes place in 1815. The hero, Hugo Saintclair, is a French cuirassier officer. I was rather put out to learn that Cuirassiers had to wear a moustache for nine months of the year, between March and December. For the remaining three months, they had to be clean shaven.  I tried, and tried, but I just couldn’t picture my hero with a moustache… So how did I get around it? I decided that my novel would start in January!

Here are a few other facts about France and moustaches.

Did you know that French waiters had to wait until 4th May 1907 to win the right to wear a moustache? It wasn’t easy. They had to go on strike for it. At the time wearing a moustache was the prerogative of the middle and upper classes and military personnel (the gendarmes were obliged by ministerial decree to wear a moustache until 1933). House staff, coach drivers, delivery boys at the Banque de France, waiters and other men employed in subordinate positions, were all banned from wearing one, which they felt was grossly unfair.

Indeed, ever since Napoleon’s great army, the moustache was a symbol of absolute virility, the mark of the dominant male. At a time of social struggles in France, at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, ‘garçons de café’ considered therefore that to deny them the right to wear a moustache was both an attack on their masculinity and an attempt at marking them as belonging to the inferior classes. They went on strike, and they won…

So what about umbrellas?
During my research on Napoleonic wars, I learnt that English officers were so often seen sheltering under umbrellas on the battlefield that Wellington, who found the habit 'not only ridiculous but unmilitary', had to give specific orders before Waterloo stating categorically that ‘Umbrellas will not be opened in the presence of the enemy.’

I must say that I would never have thought officers would carry an umbrella to battle, and even less open it and hide under it!


  1. That's hilarious. Nice little tidbits.

  2. Thanks Kyla! I must say I particularly liked the anecdote about the umbrellas!

  3. Wonderful photos! I loved the story about the soldiers hovering under the umbrellas and the directive that they not use them when in the presence of the enemy. Great historical tidbit.