16 Glorious Historical Figures with Inglorious Deaths
16 Glorious Historical Figures with Inglorious Deaths

16 Glorious Historical Figures with Inglorious Deaths

Tim Flight - August 7, 2018

16 Glorious Historical Figures with Inglorious Deaths
Engraving of Madame Blanchard by Jules Porreau, Paris, 1859. Wikimedia Commons

Madame Blanchard

Sophie Blanchard (1778-1819) had one great, dominant passion: aeronautics. She was the wife of the ballooning pioneer, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, but was not content merely to observe her husband’s interests. Madame Blanchard was of a nervous disposition, and easily startled, but she found that she was, paradoxically, free of anxiety when airborne. Her first ascent with Blanchard took place at Marseilles in 1804, and she became the first woman to work as a professional balloonist. Sadly, Jean-Pierre, the first professional balloonist of all, fell from his balloon after suffering a heart attack in 1809. Madame Blanchard however refused to be discouraged.

In all, she completed over 60 ascents. Her great fame and popularity transcended even the change of rule in France following the French Revolution: Napoleon Bonaparte named her ‘Aeronaut of the Official Festivals’, and Louis XVIII made her ‘Official Aeronaut of the Restoration’ after the monarchy was reinstated. She was also popular across Europe, and in 1810 her ascent was blamed for the poor attendance of Carl Maria von Webber’s opera, Silvana, in Frankfurt. Alongside the unusual spectacle of seeing someone go up in a balloon, Madame Blanchard also performed elaborate tricks, such as parachuting dogs from the basket.

As competition from other aeronauts increased, her routine became increasingly extravagant, and eventually incorporated firework displays. Since her balloon was filled with hydrogen, lighting fireworks was a dreadful idea, and her luck finally ran out on July 6, 1819 at the Tivoli Gardens, Paris. Shortly after she emerged from a line of trees, the balloon caught fire. The balloon plummeted towards the ground, with Madame Blanchard entangled in the netting and thus unable to escape. It crashed into a roof, flinging her to the ground, which killed her on impact. At least she died doing what she loved, however foolishly.

16 Glorious Historical Figures with Inglorious Deaths
Clement Vallandigham, photographed at Washington between 1855 and 1865. Wikimedia Commons

Clement Vallandigham

Clement Vallandigham (1820-71) was born in New, Lisbon, Ohio, and was home educated by his father, a Presbyterian minister. He had a strong commitment to justice, and the confidence to stand by his beliefs, as evidenced by a dispute with the president of Jefferson College which saw him honorably dismissed, without a degree. He then became a lawyer at his own practice in Dayton, Ohio, and almost immediately entered politics as a Democrat. His beliefs, however strong, were not always right: he was fervently anti-abolitionist, and voted against the repeal of laws restricting the civil rights of African-Americans.

After becoming a Congressman in 1858, Vallandigham was one of the government officials who interrogated the radical abolitionist, John Brown, after Harper’s Ferry. Vallandigham was also an outspoken supporter of state rights, and became one of the loudest dissenting voices in the Democrat party against Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. His rampant anti-war stance led to his many critics accusing him of wanting The Confederacy to win the war and his being voted out of Congress by a huge margin in 1862. Lincoln finally tired of Vallandigham’s rabble-rousing, and sent him to The Confederacy as a POW.

After the Civil War ended, Vallandigham returned to law full time, whilst maintaining his stance against African-American suffrage and equality. In 1871, Vallandigham was representing a client accused of fatally shooting someone in a barroom brawl. Taking the line that the deceased had accidentally shot himself, Vallandigham decided to give a practical demonstration of how this was possible. Unfortunately, Vallandigham did not realize that the gun was loaded, and shot himself in the abdomen, which killed him. Though the demonstration was far more practical than even Vallandigham had anticipated, it did succeed in getting his client acquitted of murder.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Baxter, Colin, and C.J. Tabraham. The Illustrated History of Scotland. Graphic Arts Center, 2004.

Bisson, Thomas N. The Medieval Crown of Aragon: A Short History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

Blackson, Thomas A. Ancient Greek Philosophy: From the Presocratics to the Hellenistic Philosophers. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Edwards, Paul, and Hermann Pálsson, trans. Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney. Penguin Classics, 1981.

Jenkins, Simon. A Short History of England. London: Profile, 2011.

Klement, Frank L. The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham and the Civil War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970.

Prebble, John. The Lion in the North. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

Seward, Desmond. The Hundred Years War. London: Constable, 2003.

Smith, Matthew Clark, and Matt Tavares. Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, The First Woman Pilot. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2017.