How to Ruin a Queen

Written by Jonathan Beckman
Review by Delmer Baer

How could a beautiful Austrian princess become Queen of France only to be satirized, scorned, slandered and slain by the cruel blade of the guillotine? Some say the process began in 1785 with the so-called Affair of the Necklace. Cardinal de Rohan, a highly born and wealthy noble, wished to ingratiate himself with Marie Antoinette for political advancement and/or amorous advantage. An adventuress of diluted royal bastard blood persuaded the cardinal to buy an outrageously expensive and uncommonly vulgar diamond necklace which she eventually stole. The gullible cardinal was fooled by a midnight meeting with a prostitute resembling the queen. Blame fell on the innocent Queen.

The story has been told many times, by Goethe, Carlyle and especially by Alexandre Dumas in The Queen’s Necklace, which emphasized the role of the shady Count de Cagliostro. This valuable non-fiction book rescues the innocent queen from fictional calumnies and shows her to be not guilty of greed, extravagance and infidelity. This is the kind of history which must be read as a corrective to the excesses of historical fiction. Recommended.