Queen of Exiles

Written by Vanessa Riley
Review by Janice Ottersberg

Hayti (Haiti) became a sovereign nation in 1804, free of slavery, after defeating Napoleon’s forces. The formerly enslaved now rule the new nation. In 1811 amidst continuing political unrest, King Henry Christophe sets up a monarchy modeled after European royal courts. Henry’s vision for Hayti was to raise it to a distinguished nation under Black rule, respected by the white nations of the world. But he never gains the respect of his subjects, who feared and disliked him. His tenuous rule is overthrown in 1820, and his surviving family escapes.

Queen Marie-Louise tells her story in first-person narrative. We meet her in England after she arrives, a widowed, exiled queen accompanied by her daughters, Princesses Améthyste and Athénaïre. As a devoted and loving wife, she recounts Henry’s rise to king and her efforts to play a meaningful role as queen. Shifting between Hayti when her husband ruled and her life in exile, the pieces of her life fall into place. But what happened to bring about the downfall and death of King Henry I and his son? This is the most painful part of Louise’s story, and one she vows never to tell… until 1847, after living many years in Italy.

Vanessa Riley has done a remarkable amount of research in giving Louise a more visible place in history. Louise was respected by her subjects and stood with majestic pride among her peers of Europe’s royalty, not bending to anyone who treated her less than she deserved. Her love and loyalty to Henry was unshakable, so the reader does not see much of the despotic Henry. Impressive is Louise’s strong sense of her Black beauty, which she also instills in her daughters. Do not miss this historically rich book of a remarkable Black woman who should not disappear from history.