Cordelia Frances Biddle



I’m currently writing a biography of my ancestor Nicholas Biddle. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) at the age of 15 in 1800. From 1804-1807, he served as secretary to the American Minister to France. His diaries - believed lost - provide an intimate portrait of youthful zeal (yes, he had a love interest). After meeting the Marquis de Lafayette, who later became a close acquaintance, Nicholas decided to lie about his age. The journals also raise an intriguing question. I’ll let you know when I discover the answer.

An excerpt from Biddle’s account of Napoleon’s coronation:

December 3, 1804.

I was waked about 7 o'clock by the servant, and when I learnt the hour I was in despair for I was told I must be at the church by six. I made all possible haste sent for a carriage, none was to be found, set off on foot for Notre Dame. Arrived at the door I stood among epaulets & stars myself without sword or stiff collar & after about an hours standing, got in… The Corps Legislatif, the Tribunals, and the different public bodies took their different stations. (Then the) Bishops, the Cardinals, and the Pope appeared. He advanced towards his throne which was nearly opposite to me, and I now gazed at the successor of St. Peter. Being seated the Cardinals advanced & kissed his hand, the Bishops then advanced & on their knees kissed his knee or rather his robes under which both his hand & knee were concealed. The Pope is a hard featured man, if the extreme cold of the church did not contract his muscles more than ordinarily he is somewhere about 60 years of age & is said to be a good man. About an hour after the Emperor & Emperess came in. The Pope advanced to meet them... The Emperor was drest in a superb robe carried in his left hand, in his right the sceptre. His train was held by several great officers. Madame was also dressed elegantly & looked really handsome. Her long & fine train was supported by many of the great ladies. What a sight was this for a philosopher.