The full title of this book is Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terrror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's Daughter by Susan Nagel.
Marie-Thérèse was born into the world already a celebrity. The first born child of the vivacious Marie Antoinette and the very reserved King of France, Louis XVI, all eyes were on her. Louis wasn't disappointed that she was a girl. She became the apple of his eye. She always spoke of her parents as loving and kind. They taught her about duty and charity even though they would be accused by enemies as being greedy and cold hearted. The Reign of Louis XVI was doomed from the start. Years of opulent living by previous rulers angered the masses who also hated the foreign Queen. By 1789, it was all over for the Bourbons.
During the Reign of Terror, Marie-Thérèse, a teenager, could hear her little brother being tortured in the cell near her. She would not know the fate of her parents, Aunt Elisabeth or brother until years later. In prison, the girl displayed the strength and dignity she would become known for. When she was questioned by various authorities, she refused to answer unless told of her parents' whereabouts. They never told her and her voice was permanently damaged by lack of use.
Finally freed at the age of 17, Marie-Thérèse lived in exile with various relatives: members of European royalty. She became a pawn in political games but could never be swayed from her own convictions.
She would eventually return to France a married woman and enjoyed a brief time as the Dauphine until her family was ousted once again. She would die in exile far from her beloved France.
Susan Nagel puts to rest some of the rumours surrounding Marie-Thérèse during her life. Was Marie-Thérèse switched with her supposed half-sister Ernestine? Was the real Marie-Thérèse actually the mysterious Dark Countess hiding in a remote castle? Was her brother Louis the next King of France still alive somewhere and not the boy who died in prison?
I rarely read biographies unless I'm really interested in the subject. Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution always fascinated me. I'll admit that I didn't know a thing about Marie-Thérèse. When I was offered the chance to read this book, I didn't hesitate. Nagel writes an factual yet fascinating account of the only surviving child of the doomed couple. The detail is impressive. The research must have been monumental.
The earlier years of Marie-Thérèse had me glued to the page. I found I was thinking of Marie-Thérèse and little Louis when I wasn't reading. What those children went through is heartbreaking and I think something the French felt ashamed of later. Her later years weren't quite as fascinating but I couldn't help but admire her as she grew from a serious young woman to feisty lady. Napoleon would call her 'the only man in the family'. Having gone through the worst, what was left for her to fear?
This is a must read for anyone interested in the French royal family.
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