Susan Nagel,
Marie-Therese, Child of Terror:
The Fate of Marie Antoinette's Daughter

(Bloomsbury, 2008)

King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are probably history's greatest rebuttal to the phrase "It's good to be the king." Both perished by way of the guillotine. Their daughter, Marie-Therese, also suffered imprisonment during the French Revolution, but she survived and lived to the age of 73.

Marie-Therese saw the change from royal to representative rule in Europe. After her release, she married and lived in exile. Although she never had children, she always hoped for the return of the Bourbons to the French throne.

The book is divided into two mostly equal parts, between the era of the Revolution and her time as a prisoner, and her life in exile in various foreign countries. The second part is not as compelling, but Nagel's narrative skill makes it engaging reading.

The exiled Bourbons, led by Louis XVIII, maintained much of their court life. Whether you find their daily rituals tedious or interesting is likely to determine how well you will enjoy this book. Actually, some readers might see the constant visits to different countries as something like mooching, particularly since Marie-Therese's most productive activity seems to be needlework.

Nagel gives a lot of insight into how royalty thought of themselves and how they behaved. There is also a lot of intrigue, as might be expected, by some historical figures who are loyal, and others who switch sides to join the Revolution or Napoleon.

Nagel also includes an afterword about the many rumors that the real Marie-Therese died in prison and a substitute was presented to the public. The rumors are dismissed with Nagel's original research of letters and other documents.

It was a different time, as this book shows in vivid detail. And considering the attention lavished on political figures here, maybe we have more royalist sentiment in the United States than we would like to admit.

review by
Dave Howell

16 August 2008

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