Letters to my Grandson: Cat Warfare….The Ferocious Kitty


Dear Grandson,

Well, the big news here is the puppy boys and myself had a bird get into the house. It was a bit of a circus with the bird flapping and dogs barking, but I caught it and set it free. No harm, no fowl!

I heard that you are getting a musical instrument. Seeing as how our family has French ancestry, I thought it was interesting that the trombone was probably invented in France. It was a variation of the medieval trumpet and made its appearance during the 1400’s.  The first trombones were called sackbuts and are actually pictured in some old paintings from around 1490.  That is before Columbus sailed for America!

When the trombone was invented France was ruled by kings. Kings liked their entertainments…art, music and war. War to the royalty was almost like a chess game.  They would win land one generation and lose it the next. This was especially so in France.  For example King Louis the XIV, while a great partier and builder of palaces was also almost always at war.  While he and his rich friends dined in style, the vast majority of his people lived in terrible poverty, went hungry, supplied men for his armies and paid huge taxes to fund his seemingly endless wars.

After King Louis the XIV, the all-powerful Sun King, came King Louis the XV, his great-grandson.  King Louis the XV was known as a man with many girl-friends.  After the XV, came Louis the XVI.  As kings go, this guy was a real dud. He did not like being a king. He married the beautiful Marie Antoinette and they ruled a bankrupt, hungry country right up until they both got their heads chopped off by a guillotine during the bloody French Revolution.

The French Revolution was a nasty one which lasted from 1789 to 1799. The revolution’s leaders, known as the Revolutionary Tribunal, ordered thousands of innocent people killed.  In the streets of Paris and throughout France angry mobs beat people to death.  Some people were killed because they were born rich.  Others were condemned because of their political opinions and actions.  Many were killed for no justifiable reason what-so-ever other than the leaders had the power to do so, so they did. “Off with their head, off with their head,” was actually shouted in the streets. The French Revolution is called, “The Reign of Terror.”  It was terror. Nobody knew who the tribunal would summon, convict and execute next.

Most people think that only the rich, noble and royal went to the guillotine during the revolution. This is not true.  Only 8% of those condemned to die were rich, noble or royal. Christians were targeted and 6% of those ordered killed were their pastors, 14% were the middle class and 72% were poor workers or peasants.  It really was a bloody mess with 16,593 people executed using a guillotine to chop off their heads and another 25,000 killed by other means.

When a person is in charge of government, it pays to pay attention to the mood of the country. That is as true today as it was then.  King Louis XVI was totally politically tone deaf. It cost him and a lot of other people their lives. While he and his rich friends were spending huge amounts of money building palaces throwing parties, and buying expensive clothes and jewels their country was going down the toilet.

Actually, the word toilet is from the French term, “toilette” with means dressing room.  It specifically meant the cloth draped over someone’ shoulder while they are getting their hair done. People during the time of the King Louis’ wore wigs that sometimes were several feet tall. It was reported that during dinner parties at the palace you could see mice playing in those wigs.  They shaved their heads to get rid of lice only to let their wigs get invested with mice.  Honestly, some people’s kids.

Back to the French revolution. Going down a toilet is never a fun ride, especially for an entire nation.   People who are suffering while others have it great eventually get very angry and fight back. This is what happened to the French.  The French Revolution did get rid of the King and establish a representative form of government called a republic, but at a terrible price.

While the leaders of the French Revolution may have started out with good intentions, they eventually became corrupted by power and greed. The Bible says that the root of all evil is the love of money and humans have provided the validity of this scripture time and time again.  The revolutionaries were soon no longer interested in justice or a government of the people, for the people or by the people, but sought to destroy anyone and any group that threatened their power…including the Church.

France was a very dangerous place to live during those revolutionary years. Their streets were violent and often mobs resorted to vandalism, victimization and murder. After years of chaos,  a man named Napoleon Bonaparte established a dictatorship and ended the lawlessness and chaos of post-revolutionary France.

Now, Napoleon was interesting guy.  He only stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but was such a ferocious military leader that his military enemies felt just having him present on a battlefield was like having another 40,000 soldiers. During a battle in 1806, King Fredrick William III of Prussia outnumbered the French by almost 30,000 soldiers.  When the king was told, mistakenly, that Napoleon was in command of the French troops he ordered a retreat, which turned into a quick victory for the French.

Napoleon is often portrayed as being a really short guy with a big ego who liked to pose for portraits with one hand stuck inside his uniform. While he did pose that way and had a very big opinion of himself…he wasn’t actually short, but was an average-sized man for that time period.  Most people were short back then. Napoleon was a hard worker, well-organized manager and very good military officer.  He is known as one of the world’s great generals.

Napoleon hated to lose. So much so that he would cheat at card games just to win. In cards, politics and war this general sometimes overplayed his hand.  For much of his military and political career his must win attitude was an asset, until he met his…Waterloo.

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, June 18, 1815 in the country of Belgium.  At Waterloo Napoleon’s army was beaten and beaten badly. The defeat resulted in the end of Napoleon’s political and military power.  No longer was he emperor of the French Empire, living in grand palaces with untold riches, but he lost everything, even his wife did not visit him, and was sent to live alone in exile on a small island.

As brave a Napoleon was on the battlefield, he did have one great fear….he was afraid of cats.  Terrified of them.  Napoleon became infamous for his fear of cats. There is a story about how one of his servants caught him half-dressed in a cold sweat with fear because he thought a cat had entered his room.  The mighty soldier was swinging his sword wildly at the rugs that hung on his walls trying to protect himself from a kitty.

It is often said that what goes around, comes around.  This means life is like a circle and that how you treat others is how the world will eventually treat you.  From a young age Napoleon used his intellectual gifts and noble rank to gain influence. He used influence to gain power.  He used power to make war to advance his military and political career. He used war, which caused the deaths of almost six million people, to gain fame. He used fame to become an absolute ruler of France.  Napoleon did not have much use for people he could not use. People who use, will eventually get used and the consequences are often unpleasant.

This man who had the world at his feet, in the end had nobody’s respect.  In fact, the people on the island where he was sent in exile decided to humiliate him.   Before his arrival they put out the word that the island was infested with rats and mice and that they would pay money for any and all cats that were delivered to them.  When Napoleon reached his prison home, he was mocked by the villagers and greeted by something he feared worse than losing….lots of cats.

While Napoleon did do many things that were bad, he also did good…like saving and funding the Paris Conservatory music school…so that its students could learn how to play band and orchestra instruments including the….trombone.  In the end, Napoleon, like this letter, came full circle.  He was born on the Island of Corsica and he died of arsenic poisoning on the Island of Saint Helena.

I hope you like your clarinet when you get it.

Have a great week.

Love and Hugs

Grandma Pat


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