Library Journal-- Starred Review:
*"This is a fascinating, readable, and engrossing book that should interest general readers and scholars alike. Nagel (comparative literature, Marymount Manhattan Coll.; Mistress of the Elgin Marbles), known for her work in unraveling historical mysteries, tells the story of Marie-Antoinette's only surviving child. The first major biography of Marie-Therese, it details her very public birth, the horrific suffering she endured in prison during the evolution, and the personal and political roles she assumed following her release in 1795. Here the story of "Madame Royale" morphs into a mysterious one, because since the 19th century rumors have abounded of an identity swap that enabled the princess to live obscurely as a reclusive "Dark Countess" in a remote German castle. Nagel attempts to solve this intriguing puzzle, using archival sources, family letters, handwriting analysis, and the latest scientific tools with DNA evidence to piece together the true fate of a woman whom she sympathetically presents as a loyal daughter of France and an honorable symbol and representative of the Bourbon line. The skillful use of maps, chronological and genealogical charts, and historical narrative provides context for readers. Highly recommended.
"Few historical tales can match the family drama of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Beheaded in 1793 during the French Revolution, they left behind a daughter, Marie-Therese, who did everything she could to help restore the Bourbons to the throne. Author Susan Nagel puts to rest most of the doubts about the Bourbons (Was Therese the legitimate daughter? Did her brother the dauphin really die in Temple Prison?) via a thorough analysis of DNA samples and handwriting in family letters. But the best part of the tale isn't the clarification of the historical record -- it's the engaging portrait Nagel paints of a young woman who gave up everything for the love of France and her family."
"masterly and compelling...a triumph!"
---Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles
"A powerful story told with wonderful verve: a triumph!"
--Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
"Taking one of those fascinating lives that have remained too long untold, Susan Nagel's Marie-Therese is a well-researched, entertaining and often poignant biography that recreates royalty, terror, tragedy, revolution, and restoration with verve and vividness."
--Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Young Stalin and Stalin: The Court of the Red Star
"If there is a more fascinating or unbelievable life than the one led by Marie-Therese Charlotte, Marie Antoinette's sole surviving child, I certainly am not familiar with it. In this lively, gripping new biography, Susan Nagel recounts Marie-Therese-Charlotte's roller-coaster itinerary from a revolutionary prison, where she spent three years of her girlhood, to the throne of Restoration France, where she reigned for a mere twenty minutes. Royal orphan and republican bete noire, the subject of fervent monarchist adoration and the object of obsessive conspiracy theories, this princess emerges in Nagel's telling as one of the nineteenth century's most captivating heroines. A must-read for lovers of French history and royal biography alike.
--Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
BOOKLIST (Feb 1 issue) -- STARRED REVIEW:
*"THIS HIGHLY DETAILED, EXHAUSTIVELY RESEARCHED, OFTEN RIVETING ACCOUNT WILL APPEAL ESPECIALLY TO ALL THOSE READERS WHO'VE IMMERSED THEMSELVES IN THE MANY RECENT BOOKS ABOUT MARIE ANTOINETTE."
Read why Napoleon I, Emperor of the French called her "the only man in the family."
In December 1795, on the midnight stroke of her seventeenth birthday, Marie-Therese, the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, fled Paris's notorious Temple Prison. Kept in solitary confinement after her parents' brutal execution during the Terror, she had been unaware of the fate of her family, save the cries she heard of her young brother being tortured in an adjacent cell.
Marie-Therese emerged to an uncertain future: an orphan, exile and focus of political plots and marriage schemes of the crowned heads of Europe. Throughout she remained stubbornly loyal to France and to the Bourbon dynasty of which she was part.
The horrors she had witnessed and had been a victim of would haunt her for the rest of her life, and, in fact, many believe to this day that the traumatized princess switched places with her 'half sister' only to live in a remote castle in Germany while the imposter played her role on the political stage of Europe. Using handwriting samples, DNA testing and Bourbon family letters, the mystery is finally solved.
From Susan Nagel:
People often ask how a playwright and professor of Comparative Literature began to write historical biographies. I give all credit to the American Girl Doll books, which I began to read to my daughter when she was three years old. One day, she looked up at me, when we had nearly completed the entire series, and asked, "Mommy, are there books like this for big girls?" I assured her that there were, and when the story of Mary Nisbet, Lady Elgin came to my attention, I was able to prove myself correct.
The story of Marie-Therese haunted me the moment I found out that her brother's heart had been placed in the family crypt in St. Denis. As it turned out, one of the princes involved in the ceremony, a direct descendant of Charles X and the duc de Berry, was a longtime friend of mine -- Prince Charles Henri de Lobkowicz. Once "Lobster Bisque" found out about my obsession, he volunteered to help me tell the complete story of his forbear's sister-in-law and niece. It was a thrilling ride from the Temple Prison throughout Europe, the Napoleonic Wars, the grandest castles from France, Austria, Russia, Poland, England...but, wait, I mustn't divulge the outcome here...