The Queen’s Embroiderer: A True Story of Paris, Lovers, Swindlers, and the First Stock Market Crisis

Written by Joan DeJean
Review by Elisabeth Lenckos

What kind of man secures a royal decree to lock up his pregnant daughter and ship her to the colonies? Beauty and cruelty appear twinned in the person of Jean Magoulet, creator of the splendid needlework gracing the gowns of Louis XIV’s wife, who in 1719 accused his own child, Marie Louise, of prostitution and demanded that she be deported to Louisiana. Nor was Jean the only Frenchman willing to sacrifice his progeny to his greed and social aspirations; the father of Marie Louise’s lover, Louis Chevrot, also did not rest until Parliament annulled the star-crossed couple’s secret marriage. Antoine Chevrot furthermore conceived a testament, which prevented Louis from espousing Marie Louise after his father’s death and saddled his son with a ruinous debt he would never be able to repay. The descendant of a once affluent dynasty, Louis was buried in a pauper’s grave.

Can one excuse, much less explain, parental callousness, which involved sending the children of one’s first marriage to their deaths, while one contracted a second wedding? In The Queen’s Embroider, Joan DeJean draws the portrait of an age when men married for wealth and advancement, driving their offspring from home as it suited them, and defrauding their sons and daughters of their inheritances. She blames opportunity, luxury, and the lust for paper money for the destruction of the men’s moral values, but her analysis has a timeless, global quality; social climbers achieve their progress not through the application of talent, but through ruthless deceit. Identity theft ran rife in Louis XIV’s France, providing the clue as to why Jean Magoulet rose to the highest ranks of French society; his story reads surprisingly modern. As richly and intricately wrought as a French tapestry. Beautifully written and highly recommended.