The Exchange of Princesses
French historian Chantal Thomas returns to fiction in The Exchange of Princesses, a sensitive and tragic novel about two child marriages. The author’s lavish prose and penetrating insights into the characters remind the reader that fiction can be a high art. Through the conniving of the Regent, the Duc d’Orléans, eleven-year-old Louis XV of France is betrothed to the four-year-old Spanish Infanta. The Infanta’s older brother, the teenaged Prince of the Asturias, is betrothed to Orléans’ twelve-year-old daughter, Mademoiselle de Montpensier. The two princesses are exchanged at the border, and each goes on to complete their childhoods in a foreign land.
We see how too often at royal courts the innocence of children was not spared, all depending on the vigilance of whoever was in charge. The little Infanta-Queen is cared for by the prudent Madame de Ventadour, the royal governess who saved the life of Louis XV when he was an infant. The three other children, Louis XV and the Prince and Princess of the Asturias, are older and not attended to so diligently. They encounter problems that they do not have the emotional maturity to handle. We are shown the enormous capacity for emotional and physical damage involved in such child “marriages,” which in the end benefit neither the countries nor the individuals.