Tragedy, Bravery, Royal Weddings and Queer Riders – why I can’t stop researching the nineteenth-century circus

At the Circus: Work in the Ring (1899) Toulouse-Lautrec
C/o Art Institute Chicago

Following on from essays for the Paris Review Daily about Selika Lazevski (here, with research notes here) and Sarah l’Africaine (here, with research notes here), I’ve written a third essay about my obsession with the horsewomen of the nineteenth-century Parisian circus who “lived at the center of public attention while simultaneously being marginal”. You can read it at the Paris Review‘s blog site here.

Here are some notes about the research and out-takes.



Countess Ugarte

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just an obsession with horses that forced Countess Ugarte into the circus ring, but I also couldn’t find anything about her performing, just this from a New York newspaper:


She Is to Make Her Debut in a Paris Circus

A Countess of ancient lineage, and who for many years has been one of the ornaments of the Austrian court, is about to make her debut as a circus-rider of “Haute Ecole” at the “Nouveau Cirque” at Paris. She is the daughter of the late Count Ugarte, Austrian Envoy to Wurtemberg, and is married to Hector Baltazzi, the uncle of the ill-fated Baroness Marie Vetzera, who perished, together with Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, at Meyerling [you can read about poor Marie here].
A few months ago Countess Ugarte obtained a legal separation from her husband, whose diminutive stature contrasts ridiculously with her tall, slender and handsome appearance. She is one of the most superb horsewomen with whom I have ever ridden, and at one time owned and managed a famous racing stable.
Knowing that her insane extravagance with regard to horseflesh often led to financial ruin, Renze, the celebrated circus proprietor, repeatedly made her magnificent offers to become the star equestrienne and school-rider of his circus, and now that she is separated from her husband, without sufficient resources, I suppose that she has cast to the winds her scruples concerning the adoption of a professional career.
Hector Baltazzi, her tiny husband, is just as enthusiastic about horses as she is herself. Indeed, I have always been of the opinion that this passion constituted the only bond of sympathy between them. For Hector Baltazzi is a Levantine, from Constantinople, who has merely been tolerated by the sporting section of Austrian society on account of his good riding and perfect knowledge of the turf, but who has never been permitted to penetrate the exclusive circles to which his wife belongs and in which she moves.
Indeed, she was invited everywhere, and used, when I knew her, to go to most places without him, her husband being pointedly ignored by both court and society, and not a day passing without her being made to feel that she has been guilty of a dreadful mesalliance. – N Y Recorder

The Morning Call, 3 August 1891, page 6.

According to this Chicago Tribune piece from 1912, Anna Ugarte always felt dogged by association with the Meyerling scandal. After leaving Austria she alternated between Paris and hunting in Leicestershire. She shot herself through the heart in Melton Mowbray in 1901.

Two Adèles

I mentioned one hippodrome horsewoman called Adèle who ended up as a conwoman and thief. Here’s an earlier blog post where I tell her story and that of Adèle Drouin, who performed with neither bridle nor saddle.

Antoinette LeJars on the Facade of the Cirque d’Hiver in Central Paris



Like actresses and dancers, these were public women. Racy novels and erotica elided the circus écuyères with famous demi-mondaine courtesans of the period, like Cora Pearl, who was said to treat horses better than her lovers, and “pretty little horsebreaker” Catherine “Skittles” Walters, who carved up the bridlepaths of the Bois de Boulogne in a skin-tight riding habit in the 1860s. Like these “soiled doves,” the circus horsewomen sometimes married into the aristocracy. Céleste Mogador, who graduated from sex worker to hippodrome rider to countess, and Clotilde Loisset, a circus child who married a prince, are just two examples. In the foreword to circus critic Baron de Vaux’s Écuyers et Écuyères, the playwright Meilhac offers a teasing “true” tale of a well-brought-up young girl whose mother wants her to have diamonds, houses and horses without losing her honor, and who is advised to send her into the ring on a sidesaddle as an écuyère. She can’t ride but nobody notices – she still bags a wealthy fiancé.

This paragraph came between “…faded down through the ranks” and “This combination of sex and sexism…”.

Contemporary Performers

An interview with Camilla Naprous of The Devil’s Horsemen.

Here’s Camille of Théâtre du Centaure


And Sabrina Sow of Equinoctis:


Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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  1. loved this. Fascinating and easy read leaving you wanting more.

    xx Mum

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