The Crimean War began in October 1853, having been triggered by disagreements between Russia and the Ottoman Empire regarding Russia’s right to protect the Orthodox Christian minority in the Ottoman-controlled Holy Land. Against a background of declining Ottoman power, Britain and France later joined the war to stop Russia gaining dominance around the Black Sea.

Having raged for two and a half years, with fighting mostly taking place around the Crimean Peninsula, the “notoriously incompetent international butchery” ended when Russia accepted preliminary peace terms after Austria mobilised with the opposing forces. The subsequent peace conference in Paris featured Russia on one side of the table and the alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia-Piedmont on the other.

The treaty guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire, and sought to achieve that with the ‘neutralisation’ of the Black Sea. This denied military access to the waters and also restricted Russia and Turkey from building military fortifications on the coast. Furthermore, the Treaty of Paris restored the territory that each nation controlled to that which had existed before the war, while Russia was forced to abandon its attempts to protect the Ottoman Empire’s Christian subjects.

In reality the treaty only returned temporary stability to Europe. The Ottoman Empire failed to reform and so continued to crumble as nationalist sentiment grew. The larger ‘Eastern Question’ itself remained unsettled and, in 1877, Russia and the Ottoman Empire again went to war.

Put on for an audience of 200 invited attendees at the “Society for the Development of the National Industry”, the reaction to the moving black-and-white pictures caught the brothers by surprise. They had attended the conference to share Louis’ recent work on colour photography and only showed the 45-second film La Sortie des Usines Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory), as a novelty after Louis’ lecture.

The machine used to project the film had been patented by the brothers the previous month. Their father owned a photographic materials factory in Lyon and told his sons about the Edison kinetoscope that he had seen in Paris in 1894. Inspired by their father’s enthusiasm they invented the Cinématographe which combined a camera, developer and projector into a single unit. Its drive mechanism was based on the “presser foot” used in sewing machines, and used a clawed gear to engage with perforations in the side of a roll of film. As the gear rotated, individual frames moved in front of the lens to capture the moving image at a rate of 12 frames every second. The same mechanism could later be used to project the captured images.

The positive reception to the first film screening led the brothers to refine their invention and, on 28 December 1895, they staged their first public show at the Grand Café in Paris. Within less than a decade, however, the brothers withdrew from the motion picture industry and instead turned their attention to the development of colour photography, a technology that they went on to dominate for a number of years with their Autochrome process.

Chappe was born into a wealthy family in 1763 and originally trained as a member of the church. However, the turmoil of the French Revolution meant that he was unable to continue in his position and he returned home to focus on science. Working with his brothers, Chappe began to experiment with optical telegraph designs.

Chappe was not the first person to attempt to create a system of long-distance communication. The English scientist Robert Hooke had presented a proposal a century earlier, but his idea was never implemented. Consequently the Chappe brothers were the first to successfully transmit a message when they demonstrated their system on 2 March 1791, covering more than 16km from Brûlon to Parcé.

Using what became known as the Synchronized System, Chappe was able to transmit the phrase ‘If you succeed, you will soon bask in glory’ in just four minutes. Two pendulum clocks had their faces modified with a series of symbols and, after being synchronised, were placed in the two locations alongside a telescope that pointed to the other. The transmitting station used black and white panels to alert the receiver to when the second hand of the clock was passing over the appropriate symbol, which they then recorded. The string of symbols, when decoded, produced the message.

Chappe soon abandoned synchronised clocks in favour of mechanical arms to portray the different symbols. When mounted on top of a tower, the arms could be seen through a telescope and their alignment either recorded or relayed onwards. A 230km semaphore line of these towers between Paris and Lille was installed in 1792.

On the 8th January 1918, United States President Woodrow Wilson made a speech to Congress in which he outlined his principles for world peace, known as the Fourteen Points. Keen to distance the United States from nationalistic disputes that fuelled European rivalries, he sought a lasting peace by securing terms that avoided selfish ambitions of the victors.

Three days earlier, on the 5th January, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had outlined British war aims at the Caxton Hall conference of the Trades Union Congress. It was the first time any of the Allies had shared their post-war intentions and, as a result Woodrow Wilson considered abandoning his own speech since many of the points were similar. However, he was persuaded to deliver the speech anyway.

The Fourteen Points were greeted with some reluctance from France in particular. Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, is said to have remarked that, “The good Lord only had ten!” as a comparison to the Ten Commandments. However, the Fourteen Points speech became an instrument of propaganda that was widely circulated within Germany. Consequently it later served as a basis for the German armistice that was signed later that year.

However, France’s vastly different intentions meant that, when the time the Paris Peace Conference began on the 18th January 1919, there was significant tension between the negotiators. The fact that Wilson himself was physically ill meant that he was less able to argue for peace terms that reflected the Fourteen Points against Clemenceau – the Tiger – and his demands to cripple Germany. Consequently many Germans felt incredible anger over the final terms of the Treaty.

French aristocrat Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat set the world’s first officially recognised land speed record.

Chasseloup-Laubat’s older brother, the 5th Marquis of Chasseloup-Laubat, was one of the first members of the Automobile Club de France and bought an electric car from the French manufacturer Jeantaud sometime around 1893. The younger sibling was immediately fascinated with the chain-driven vehicle, and he became his brother’s driver.

The first recorded motoring competition took place in 1894 and saw a range of vehicles undertake the route from Paris to Rouen. Focus turned to the raw speed of a vehicle a few years later when the French automobile magazine La France Automobile organised a competition in the commune of Acheres in the Yvelines department in north-central France. Situated less than 15 miles outside Paris, the long straight road on the outskirts of the village was deemed the perfect place to conduct a time trial. As a keen advocate of the electric car, Chasseloup-Laubat took the Jeantaud along to compete.

The day was cold and wet, but this didn’t stop Chasseloup-Laubat from completing a single flying 1 kilometre run in 57 seconds. The time-keepers calculated that this gave him an average speed of 63.13 km/h or 39.24 mph, and this is universally recognised as the first official automobile land speed record. While this record was in turn broken by the Belgian driver Camille Jenatzy a month later on 17 January 1899, Chasseloup-Laubat regained the title later that day in the same car with which he had set the original record.

The current world land speed record is held by British Royal Air Force fighter pilot Andy Green, who broke the sound barrier in ThrustSSC.

On the 22nd October 1895, the Granville–Paris Express train ran across the station platform, crashed through a 60cm wall, and fell 10 metres to the street below after it overran the buffer stop at the Gare Montparnasse terminus. Posters showing the train standing on its nose have since become an obligatory feature on the walls of many student bedrooms.

131 passengers were on board the train as it left its final stop behind schedule. The heavy train of six passenger coaches, three luggage vans and a post van was being driven by Guillaume-Marie Pellerin. Despite nineteen years of experience he was concerned that he was running late as he approached Montparnasse. In an attempt to claw back some time, he drove much faster than normal into the station and applied the Westinghouse air brake, which operated the brakes of each carriage, in an attempt to slow down the train.

Unfortunately the Westinghouse brake failed and the locomotive’s own brakes were insufficient to stop such a heavy train travelling at high speed. The conductor on board was also preoccupied with paperwork and realised the danger too late to be able to apply his own handbrake. As a result the train ran through the buffer stop and crashed through the wall onto the street below.

Falling masonry hit and killed a woman selling newspapers on the street outside, but amazingly she was the only person who died. The fireman, two guards and two passengers sustained injuries but everyone else was left unharmed. The driver was found guilty of driving too fast and fined 50 francs.

On the 25th August 1944, the Nazi German garrison in Paris surrendered the city to the Allies. Having been rules by the Nazis for over four years, the liberation of the capital was not a priority for the forces under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Furthermore, the Allied commanders were unwilling to risk the destruction of the city since they were aware that Hitler had said it, “must not fall into the enemy’s hand except lying in complete debris”.

A series of actions by the Nazis against French political prisoners and members of the resistance sparked mass civil unrest that began on the 15th and climaxed on the 18th August with a general strike. Aware that the US Third Army led by General Patton was close to Paris – but unaware that they did not intend to attack the city – the Nazi military governor ordered explosives to be placed at strategic points.

When the German military withdrew down the Champs Élysées on the morning of the 19th, the French Forces of the Interior – the French resistance – seized the opportunity to begin a full-scale uprising. Barricades were erected the next day, with fighting reaching a peak on the 22nd. It was this that persuaded Eisenhower to change his plan and allow Allied troops to enter Paris.

Over 800 resistance fighters died before the Free French 2nd Armoured Division arrived to assist the uprising just before midnight on the 24th August, led by Captain Raymond Dronne. On the 25th, the US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. Von Choltitz, the German military governor, surrendered later that day.

On the 13th July 1793, the radical French journalist Jean-Paul Marat was stabbed to death in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday.

Marat, the second of nine children, had left home at sixteen in search of opportunities to pursue his interest in medicine. Having decided to move to northern England in 1770, he settled in Newcastle upon Tyne where he gained a reputation as a highly effective doctor, but also developed an increasing suspicion of the established political order.

Marat moved back to France six years later where his medical skills earned him the patronage of various members of the aristocracy. He used the wealth he earned from this position to establish a scientific laboratory where he engaged in research regarding fire, heat, electricity and light. Although he was visited by the American polymath Benjamin Franklin, the French Academy of Sciences was sceptical of his conclusions, and relations between Marat and the powerful Academy quickly broke down.

Despite Marat’s wealth and privilege, he maintained his passion for social justice throughout the years preceding the French Revolution. As Louis XVI struggled to secure his rule in the late 1780s, Marat put his scientific and medical career on hold, and instead dedicated his time to writing arguments in favour of political, economic and social reform. In the wake of the Storming of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, he established his own radical newspaper which soon adopted the name L’Ami du peuple (“The People’s friend”).

Marat’s writings were vicious in their attacks on all those he perceived as being enemies of the people, by whom he meant the lower classes of the Third Estate. His newspaper often called for violence against the upper class and members of the government, even resulting in him fleeing to London for a few months in early 1790. On his return to Paris he continued his fierce criticism of the government, and even began to target less radical revolutionaries with his call for their execution as enemies of the people. He continued to have to go into hiding on occasion, and began to utilise Paris’ extensive sewer network, where it is believed he developed the debilitating skin condition that later saw him confined to a medicinal bath for hours on end.

Despite his reputation as a radical agitator, Marat was elected to the National Convention in September 1792 where he was a passionate supporter of the decision to declare France a Republic. He soon turned his anger on the members of the Girondin component of the National Convention who opposed the execution of the King. Within six months these moderates had been ousted from the government, and Marat turned to working from home due to his worsening skin condition.

On the 13th July 1793 Marat granted an audience to a young woman from Normandy while he soaked in his medicinal bath. The 24-year old Charlotte Corday claimed to have information about Girondin deputies who had escaped Paris, and presented Marat with a list of names of supposed traitors. Corday, however, was actually a Girondin sympathiser. After Marat told her that he would arrange for the execution of the Norman Girondins, she pulled out a five-inch kitchen knife and stabbed him once in the chest, severing a major artery and causing him to die almost immediately of massive blood loss.

Corday was placed on trial and was guillotined in Paris just four days after killing Marat. She claimed in her trial to be a supporter of Republicanism, but described Marat as a ‘monster’. She explained that she had ‘killed one man to save 100,000’, but the assassination contributed to the growing fear of counter-revolution that fuelled the subsequent Terror – in which thousands of moderate and conservative Frenchmen and women were guillotined on charges of treason.

In the immediate aftermath of the murder, Marat was virtually deified by the revolutionaries. At his funeral, the Marquis de Sade – the infamous sexual predator who had joined with the most radical elements of the National Convention after being freed from prison – gave the eulogy. Marat’s bathtub, and the knife that he was killed with, were later bought by the Musée Grévin in Paris and are now on display as part of a waxwork scene depicting the assassination.

Interestingly, Madame Tussaud’s waxwork museum had also offered to buy the bathtub – but their letter got lost in the post and arrived after a sale had already been agreed. Madame Tussaud’s in London does, however, own the guillotine blade that beheaded the former queen Marie Antoinette on October 16th 1793. The founder of the museum, Marie Tussaud, was a famed wax sculptor before the revolution, and had even had her hair cut in preparation for execution during the Terror due to her connections to the aristocracy. However, it was decided that her talents could better serve the Revolution, and so she was spared in order to create death masks of the guillotine’s many famous victims.

The guillotine is, of course, synonymous with the worst violence of the French Revolution, but the machine was actually created to represent equality. In France prior to 1789, beheading as a form of execution had been reserved for the nobility.  Commoners were usually subjected to longer and more painful deaths through hanging, or worse. To end the privilege of the nobility, and to bring about equality in death as well as life, the new revolutionary National Assembly therefore made decapitation the only legal form of execution.

It was recognised that manual beheading was, however, still a gruesome way to carry out the death sentence.  Mary Queen of Scots, who I mentioned earlier as someone who visited the town of Buxton where we are recording this episode of HistoryPod, was only beheaded after three blows of the executioner’s axe. The Yorkshire town of Halifax had tried to improve the precision of beheadings with the creation of the Halifax Gibbet – a guillotine-like machine in which an axe head was fitted to the base of a heavy wooden block that ran in grooves between two tall uprights – a whole two centuries before the French invention. However, this device didn’t make it out of Yorkshire. In the face of continued manual beheadings therefore, on 10th October 1789 French physician Joseph Guillotin argued that the new government of France should ensure that every execution was both swift and mechanical. The National Assembly agreed, acknowledging that capital punishment should simply end life, not purposefully cause pain as well.

Another physician, Antoine Louis, was appointed to lead a committee to develop a quick and efficient decapitation machine.  Although Guillotin was a member of this committee, it is actually therefore Antoine Louis who should be credited with the device’s invention, even though it carries Guillotin’s name.

The first execution using the device was conducted on 25th April 1792.  Nicolas Jacques Pelletier, a French highwayman found guilty of killing a man during one of his robberies, had the dubious honour of being the guillotine’s first victim. Contemporary accounts reveal that the execution went smoothly – much to the disappointment of the crowd who expected better ‘entertainment’.  Excited to see the new machine in action, they were disappointed at its speed and efficiency…although this was, of course, the whole point.

On the 1st July 1903 the first Tour de France cycling race took place over 19 days and six stages. Each stage was more than double the length of today’s equivalents, although the majority of the 2,428km course was flat. Whereas today’s competition involves a series of aggressive mountain climbs throughout the race the 1903 course featured a significant ascent in just one of the six stages, although there were a number of smaller climbs.

The first Tour de France was organised as a promotional tool to boost circulation of the French newspaper L’Auto. An initially disappointing number of entrants led to the race being delayed for a month from its original start date of 1st June, the entrance fee reduced, prize money increased, and the promise of a daily payment made to every rider who completed the six stages at an average speed of 20km/h or more.

60 competitors began the race at Montgeron, south of Paris, of whom 39 were private entrants. A further 24 cyclists joined individual stages of the race, although this meant that they were not eligible for the full prize money. When the race finished at the Paris Velodrome on the 19th July, 21 competitors had successfully completed every stage and their times were totaled to give an overall result, known as the general classification. The winner, with the fastest total time over all six stages, was Frenchman Maurice Garin who finished almost three hours ahead of his nearest rival. He won the title again in 1904, but was later disqualified for unspecified reasons.

On the 28th March 1871 the Paris Commune was proclaimed and met for the first time. However, the refusal of the Communards to accept the authority of the French government led to the Commune being brutally suppressed by the regular French army in May during “The Bloody Week”. By the 28th May the Commune had been defeated; estimates say that between 10 and 50,000 Communards were killed or executed.

Paris had been besieged by the Prussian army since September 1870, but following the surrender of the moderate republican government the following January many Parisians, of whom thousands had joined the “National Guard” militia to defend the city, revolted. They refused to hand over the 400 cannons positioned in Paris to government forces and, on the 18th March, killed Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte of the regular army who had been sent to take the cannons by force.

The government, regular forces and police evacuated the city for Versailles and the vacuum of power was filled by units of the National Guard. By the next evening, the red flag of the Commune was flying over the Hôtel de Ville. Elections were called, and on the 26th March 92 representatives were elected to a Commune council. However, as a result of some nominees securing victories for multiple seats, and refusals by some elected candidates take up their seat, only 60 representatives actually joined the Council.

With the results declared on the 27th March, the Council held its first meeting on the 28th. Within a week, however, the first skirmishes between the Commune’s National Guard and the regular army from Versailles had begun.