Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Marie Therese, Marie Antoinette's Daughter, Jane Austen's Contemporary

Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's DaughterMarie Therese (1778-1851) is the story of the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI of France. Because of their tragic end on the guillotine, the royal couple is a favorite of biographers and historical novelists, and the first third of the book recounts the circumstances that led to their execution, the difference being that, in Marie Therese, we are looking at these events through the eyes of a young girl. The downward spiral that began with the storming of the Bastille and led to the Reign of Terror started when Marie Therese was only 11 years old. While at Versailles, "Madame Royal" was forced to hide from armed mobs screaming for her mother's blood and to step over the butchered bodies of servants.

Three years later, the king, queen, Marie Therese, and her brother, the Dauphin, Louis-Charles, are incarcerated in the Temple Prison in Paris, and the horrors begin: the execution of her parents, the prolonged torture of her little brother who would die of neglect, and her own imprisonment. When she is finally released 3-1/2 years later, she is allowed to join her mother's brother, Emperor Franz II, in Austria. However, "The Orphan of the Tower" is now a young woman of steely resolve and one who recognizes the importance of her role as a representative of the Bourbon dynasty in exile.

In the years following her release from prison, Marie Therese and her husband, the Duc D’Angouleme, lived a peripatetic existence, finally ending up in England, where they watched the events unfolding in France. With Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, the Bourbon dynasty was again restored. For the next 15 years, France would be Marie Therese's home until, once again, the French wanted to be rid of their king, Charles X.

Marie Therese is an exhaustive, highly detailed account of the life of Madame Royal, the French Revolution, and the complexities of European politics in the early 19th century. In addition to the great events in the lives of the royals, minutiae, such as travel itineraries, meals, the appearances of numerous pretenders to the throne, are recorded. At times, the inclusion of so many mundane details bogs down the book, but for anyone who ever wanted to know what happened to the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, they will have to wonder no longer.

* * *

After exile in Vienna, Marie Therese and her husband moved to Great Britain in 1809 where she settled at Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire. Marie Therese's  father-in-law, the Comte d'Artois, spent most of his time in Edinburgh, where he had been given apartments at Holyrood House.

The long years of exile ended with the Napoleon's abdication  in 1814 and the restoration of Bourbon dynasty. The ascension of  Louis XVIII  to the throne of France took place twenty-one years after the death of his brother, Louis XVI.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this title! I absolutely adore this period of history, and I know many things (if not too many) about Marie Antoinette's life and about the pre-revolutionary times and the revolution itself. Still, I'm sure I can learn so much more from Marie Therese's perspective! I am so putting this book on my TBR list.

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  2. Interesting and informative post Mary. I had no idea. The politics of the Revolution always blow my mind but when the people are hungry and wnat revenge....nothing will step in their way. And lets not forget, the unthinking Royals too!
    Now how was their exile in England paid for, I wonder. Free pass due to royalty? Just curious :)

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  3. Irena, The first part of the book is really heart-breaking. Marie Therese adored her parents,so to see them so despised and then murdered, just makes you want to cry.

    Jenny, Dr. Charles Lee, an ancestor of Robert E. Lee, provided the house. According to Wikipedia, they "raised chickens on the lead roof." Why not the grounds? I'm sure they tapped the British government for some assistance to help pay for food, clothing, etc. Thanks for commenting.

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