Susan Nagel – Marie Therese, Child of Terror

In December 1795, on the midnight stroke of her 17th birthday, Marie-Therese, the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, fled Paris’ 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.

She 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. However, the horrors she had witnessed and been a victim to would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Many believe to this day that the traumatized princess was switched with her “half sister” and spirited away to live as “the Dark Countess”, leaving the impostor to play her role on the political stage of Europe. Now, 200 years later, using handwriting samples, DNA testing, and a cache of Bourbon family letters, Susan Nagel finally solves this mystery.

Nagel tells a remarkable story of an astonishing woman, from her birth, to her upbringing by doting parents, through to Revolution, imprisonment, exile, Restoration, and, finally, her reincarnation as saint and matriarch.

Author: Susan Nagel
Narrator: Rosalyn Landor
Duration: 18 hours 14 minutes
Released: 8 Apr 2003
Publisher: Books on Tape
Language: English

User Review:

armature galvanized

The life of Marie Thrse de France, or “Madame Royale,” as she would be known, is brought to life in this fascinating biography. Nagel takes us from our heroine’s birth as an adored and pampered “Daddy’s girl” to her unspeakable experiences during the revolution, then into adult life, her travels in exile, and her marriage to Louis-Antoine, duc d’Angoulme. There is never a dull moment in this well-researched, beautifully written biography of a subject who has too often been forgotten.

For those who have studied the Bourbon monarchy and the revolution, most of what is written up to Chapter 10, “Two Orphans,” may be a review. However, it is essential background in such a biography. It will be accessible to those who are new to the subject, although it would be helpful if the audio had a PDF download of the geneaology charts included with the hardcover to help one keep track of the labrynthine royal inter-relationships.

Nagel makes a strong case against the “Dark Countess theory.” The Dunkelgrfin as she is known in her German home, was the comtesse des Tnbres, around whom controversy continues to the present day. It was said she was substituted for Madame Royale, and her unusually secretive and eccentric behavior masked her true identity.

Whatever one might conclude about Madame Royale, one would have to have a heart of stone not to grieve for any person of any station who would have lived through such tumult and terror. For me, Nagel revivified a memorable and heart-breaking character who will stay with me for a very long time.

Also recommended: “The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son on Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette” by Deborah Cadbury.