Montauciel, the Flying Sheep

Marin Ireland and David Greenspan (and some fake sheeps) in David Adjmi’s play Marie Antoinette (2012)

1783. French King Louis XVI has gathered his entire court to attend an experiment synonymous with a major breakthrough in aerospace science. It’s not rocket science, but close enough to have the King and his wig-wearing courtiers really curious about it.

The Montgolfier Brothers are giving in Versailles a demonstration of their new invention, a hot air balloon made with cloth and paper. A few months back, another representation had been successfully conducted in Annonay (southern France): it was now time to pass the word around to the King’s royal ears.

Moreover, the flying pioneers needed funding to pay for their experiments as all the previous had been financed with their own money. This was the occasion to show everyone it was not just about building castles in the sky.

A basket was tied up beneath a large balloon, but it was no time for a man-piloted flight: instead, still insecure about it, the Montgolfier Bros had placed aboard a duck, a rooster and a sheep… Ready to reach for the sky.

Representation of the 1783 experience (source: Wikimedia)

A cannon was shot to indicate the take-off. The balloon went up 500 meters-high (the previous experience had reached 1,000) and flew for about eight minutes before forced landing in the Vaucresson forest, a few kilometers away.

The audience had followed the flying balloon and wondered about the vital state of the animals. Both the rooster and the duck were stunned near the knocked over basket: the brave sheep was already enjoying his presence back on solid ground as he was calmly grazing.

The sheep named “Montauciel” (flying up to the sky) got then adopted by the King’s spouse Marie-Antoinette. He probably did not care about the successful piloted flights that were later conducted, synonymous with recognition and fame for the Montgolfier Brothers… Instead, he spent his life eating candy and marshmallow in the Queen’s sheepfold.

This is how you’re rewarded getting science forward. Worth a try.


Author: Nicolas

Ingrédients : 33% d'anecdotes insolites, 19% de livres poussiéreux, le reste de curiosité névrosée. Auteur du Petit dictionnaire des sales boulots (Vendémiaire, 2022). Chroniqueur chez Slate et RetroNews.

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