Marie-Therese: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter

Written by Susan Nagel
Review by Lucinda Byatt

Marie-Therese was the sole member of the Bourbon royal family to survive the French Revolution. She was just seventeen in early 1796 when her Hapsburg relatives secured her release from the Temple prison in Paris in return for French prisoners of war held in Vienna. Her ten-year-old brother, Louis Charles, had died six months earlier as a result of the atrocious conditions and brutal maltreatment he received in the notorious jail. Both Marie-Therese and her ill-fated mother, Marie Antoinette, had been forced to listen to his screams. Marie-Therese’s reappearance quickly became the focus for inaccurate reports and a process of mythification that fuelled the rumours of ‘switched’ identities. She could easily have become a pawn in the hands of the two powerful warring factions, the supporters of the Austrian Hapsburgs and the exiled Louis XVIII, but instead, she proved astute in managing her own affairs, and her loyalties always lay first and foremost with France. Had she married the Archduke Karl instead of the Duc d’Angouleme, Louis XVIII’s chances of becoming king would have been dashed. In 1815 she was the only member of the newly reinstated Bourbon regime to remain in France after Napoleon’s escape from Elba and resurgence. The courage she showed when she remained in Bordeaux during the standoff with General Clauzel caused Napoleon to remark, ‘She is the only man in the family’.

Nagel provides a fascinating afterword, which uses handwriting analysis to prove Marie-Therese’s identity beyond doubt, quashing the rumours of switched identity focused on her rival claimant, the ‘Dark Countess’. This is a vivid and highly readable biography.