Queen’s Confession, Victoria Holt, 1967

The Queen Has Been Slain

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Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was the last queen of France during the country’s ancien régime. Alongside Elisabeth I of England she is probably the most featured queen in books and films. In her take Victoria Holt, a prolific British writer of historical novels, attempts deeper and more personal approach to the tragic queen through actual letters that Marie Antoinette wrote, mainly to her mother Maria Teresia, the empress of Austria. The letters don’t offer much insight, though, due to their vapidity. One reads:

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Your Majesty is very kind to express her interest towards me, even so that She wants to know how I spend my days in Versailles. Because of that, I tell Her that I rise at ten or nine o’clock and after I have been dressed I say my morning prayer. Then I have my breakfast and go to my aunts and usually I also meet the King. Then it is half past ten. My hair is combed. At noon the doors are opened and all persons noble enough may come in. I put rouge to my cheeks and wash my hands. At noon, I go to mass with the King, if he is in Versailles, and Dauphin. Then we eat lunch that last until half past one. Then I go to see Dauphin. If he has work, I return to my own rooms. I read, write and sew a vest to the King. It progresses slowly but I believe that with the help from Almighty it shall be finished in a few years time…

According to Queen’s Confession, Marie Antoinette led outwardly fabulous but emotionally empty life in her lukewarm marriage with Louis XVI of France. In popular culture she is portrayed either a hapless victim of circumstances or an ultra vain and careless spendrift. Victoria Holt stands in a middle; she clearly brings front Marie Antoinette’s excesses, especially her dreamland Little Trianon, but presents her as a generally kind-hearted although intellectually mediocre woman who was woefully out of her depth as monarch and immensely helpless to overcome the complex political schemes and machinations which eventually took her to the gallows. Or the massive hate campaign against her, which enables juxtapositions to modern life as she could be likened to social media hate figures of nowadays.

Holt is not at her best at describing this intrigue as it materializes mainly as petty court gossiping and eavesdropping servants. Also Marie Antoinette’s real life romance to count Axel Von Fersen does not rise above your average Harlequin read. What I found frustrating is that once again Louis XVI is simply portrayed as a wimbster who let his throne slip through his fingers and his family laid to waste. There is another book by French writer Juliette Benzoni, Un Collier Pour Diablo, which concentraces to Diamond Necklace Affair and provides fuller picture of him.

Queen’s Confession is however a very strong reading experience, told as a flashback from already imprisoned Marie Antoinette’s point of view, full of sadness and regret, describing a materially lavish lifestyle with a sense of imminent doom hanging over it like a distant thunder. The book gets almost disturbing when it gets closer to its end and harrowing details of the Bourbon family’s imprisonment. This is why I cannot full-heartedly recommend this to those who get easily upset.