By the end of the 16th century in Europe, cream was whipped with willow or rush branches, sometimes for as long as an hour, until it formed a foam that could be sweetened with sugar or flavored with chocolate, coffee, fruits or liqueurs. Originally called neve di latte in Italy and neige de crème in France, the Oxford English Dictionary reports that it was first called whipped cream in 1673.
Whisks now replace willow branches, and the time required to introduce air bubbles into cream has lowered substantially. To whip properly, cream must have a reasonably high fat content, at least 30%, and should be well chilled. (Cream only whips at temperatures under 50 degrees. Any warmer, it becomes butter.) And it will not retain its foamy bulk for long without assistance, often from egg whites or gelatin.
In France a distinction is sometimes made between unsweetened whipped cream and cream that has been sweetened with sugar and, often, flavored with vanilla. The latter is called crème Chantilly, after the famous chateau which, by the 1840s, was considered a symbol of refined food. Today the two terms are often treated as synonyms. Modern mousses, including mousse au chocolat, are descendants of this crème fouettee tradition.