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Oh Nancy!

Updated: Jun 11

The capital city of the Dukes of Lorraine possesses a flare of elegance!

On a glorious sunny spring day, I was dropped off a little out of the way but pointed in the right direction and once I went through the gates I found my way, not just any gates, these were glittering gold rococo gates on the Place Stanislas. Wow, the stunning scene made me stop dead in my tracks. Taking it all in this massive pedestrian square 410 ft by 348 ft paved with light ochre stones with two lines of darker stones forming a diagonal cross motif. Surrounded by an architecturally harmonious ensemble of buildings, most notably the Hôtel de Ville, Opera House (formerly the Bishop’s House), Beaux Arts Museum and The Grand Hotel (formerly the home of the finance minister), each lovely and sparkling in the sun. The Grand Hotel built in 1748 and was actually visited by Queen Marie Antoinette, with its 51 rooms decorated in the 16th century style was where I would evidently lay my head to sleep, a true grand dame.

The four corners and the west and east sides of the square features gilded wrought iron gates and lanterns, created by Jean Lamour, who was also responsible for the wrought iron balustrade on the main staircase in the Hôtel de Ville, and the balcony across the center of its main façade. Because of these gates, Nancy is nicknamed City with Golden Gates. This was my introduction to the town of Nancy, a jewel of Grand-Est! The north-west and north-east corners also feature ornate fountains designed by Barthélémy Guibal; for their inauguration they flowed with WINE! Talk about aerating a barrel.

Crowning the center of the square is a statue of honor to Stanislaw I Leszczyński, who was King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Duke of Lorraine and a count of the Holy Roman Empire. It turns out he was more than just an interesting man. And his contributions are still felt today. 

The strange history of Stanislaw Leszczyński: the two-time King who abdicated the throne twice. Poland used to choose its monarchs through elections, a unique system unthinkable elsewhere. But it turns out it wasn’t only Poles who were throwing their hat into the ring, including an English prince who nearly brought back the monarchical system in the 20th century. On 12th July 1704, an Election Seym in Warsaw convened in a Swedish military camp, where eight hundred nobility members elected Stanisław Leszczyński as the King of Poland for the first time. But Leszczyński was not officially the king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as the Primate Michał Radziejowski would have to proclaim him so.


When Russian army besieged the Polish city of Gdańsk on 27th June 1734, a man dressed in peasant clothing fled the city. But this was no ordinary man. It was Stanisław I, King of Poland. He was fleeing Poland for the second time. His escape led to his second abdication of the Polish-Lithuanian throne. However, his story did not end there. Despite leaving Gdańsk dressed as a peasant, he and his family settled in the province of Alsace, France where he managed to pull together his tattered legacy in France. 


His fortunes changed when he and his wife began looking for a royal suitor for their daughter Maria. The Leszczyńskis stumbled upon the First Minister of France, Ludwig Henry Bourbon, and his mistress, Madame De Prie, and set up Maria with the young Louis. The Leszczyńskis sent Maria to Versailles to be taught to act like a proper lady.


In 1725, his daughter Marie Leszczyńska married Louis XV of France. Interestingly she actually came from behind after eliminating 99 others in the running. Not by her beauty, but a matter of purging down to 17 and then 4. What actually sealed the deal was that Louis XV was only 15 and sickly. The Regent and powers couldn’t let him die without an heir. She, Marie was 22 and able to immediately produce heirs. Right place, right time and though being strapped for finances she was chosen. And then said it was love at first sight! The following year she produced twin girls, following that another girl, but the heir, Louis followed in 1729. She actually had ten children and was married to the King for 42 years and 9 months. She was the Queen Consort the longest of any queen in French history.


A devout Catholic throughout her life, Marie was popular among the French people for her numerous charitable works and introduced many Polish customs to the royal court at Versailles. She was the grandmother of the French kings Louis XVILouis XVIII and CharlesShe was born in Trzebnica in Lower Silesia, the year before her father was made King of Poland by Charles XII of Sweden, who had invaded the country in 1704. Her father, the Duke of Lorraine moved to Nancy to administrate the duchy, he was given a nice stipend by his son-in-law as advised by the finance minister; as he was already 63 years old, thinking he wouldn’t live that long. The Finance Minister advice was definitely wrong, as he lived until he was 88 years old and then only died because of an accident.

Under the reign of Duke Stanislas of Lorraine, the city blossomed. Thanks to Louis XV’s father-in-law and former King of Poland, Nancy now boasts the Place Stanislas – a piece of 18th-century UNESCO world heritage architecture – as well as countless religious buildings such as the church Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours, where Stanislas is buried. The Place is the pride of the inhabitants and is widely admired by visitors, not only because it is an attractive square but because it is also a wonderful place to meet people and exchange views. He became a very charitable man, donating his silver tableware to the French mint to raise money for the Duchy of Lorraine’s taxes, and annually donated 3,600 livres for healthcare to expectant mothers and to the sick not admitted to hospitals. Leszczyński also built the Royal College of Physicians, theatres, concert halls, and bookshops were all built on the square. He spent his own money to enhance life in France. 

In the 1730s or 1740s Stanislas published A Free Voice of Insuring Freedom, which was about proposed political reforms in Poland. He wrote in opposition to serfdom, as he believed in the personal freedom and welfare of Polish peasants. They should no longer have to stay working at a landowner’s estate, he claimed, as they had freedom to move and could finally sue their landowners in independent courts. 

King Stanislas, it seems just from his girth, was quite a gastronome! He started a craze in Paris for pigs' feet, tripe, and importantly, onion soup soon after his daughter became queen of France. According to legend, he was so taken with an onion soup he was served at an inn on his way to Paris that he visited the kitchen in his dressing gown and demanded the chef to show him how to make it.  This maybe culinary lore, but that Stanislas would drench kugelhupf with rum from the French West Indies to create Baba au Rhum. Though it is more than likely he did not name the dish "Baba au rhum", three points of truth indicate his possible involvement in some ways-- kugelhupf was a well-established dish in the regions of Alsace and Lorraine by the time Stanislas took up residence, he loved alcohol, and the word "baba" is derived from the Polish word for "good woman" or grandmother. Think "babka."

He had his fingers on the madeleine, too -- that shellshaped tea cake enshrined by the famously self-obsessed shut-in, Marcel Proust. Not everyone will agree that Stanislaw was the man who named it. The French say that a madeleine is something that triggers a memory or nostalgia. Few people, however, know that this classic French snack has Polish origins; the history of the small sponge cake, its literary life, and also how to make it. What is known is that the madeleine originated in the town of Commercy, in Lorraine, where Stanislaw was in residence. Some say he named it after a maid who served them to him. Others say they had long been baked by the local nuns of St. Mary Magdelen convent. You decide.


Sadly, Leszczyński’s chances of ever returning to Poland went up in flames. At the age of 88, he died as the oldest living Polish King. He did not die by execution, like other famous monarchs, but while simply relaxing inside his palace in Lunéville, France. On 5th February 1766, while Stanisłas was sitting in his chair near the fireplace, attempting to light his pipe in it, he leaned in too close and his clothes caught fire. He suffered burns to his face, left hand, stomach, and legs. The two-time Polish monarch fought valiantly, but his life’s arc had come to its end. On 23rd February, King Stanisłas I died.


"Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair make us lose courage at the sight of difficulties.”

Stanisław Leszczyński






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