About a decade after the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, France too worked to throw off its monarchy. On July 14, 1789, citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille in an act that would become symbolic of the French Revolution’s fight for liberty, equality and brotherhood. To celebrate, we have seven novels of France: five set in the Revolutionary era and two about queens who came before.
The Marie Antoinette series
In her Marie Antoinette series, Juliet Grey takes an in-depth and personal look at that most notorious of all French queens. Unlike most stories of the queen’s life, Grey’s first book, Becoming Marie Antoinette, begins when she is simply Maria Antonia of Austria, thus giving readers a better picture of who she was before she was the first beloved and then reviled queen. Grey continues to give us Marie Antoinette’s richly wrought world in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, which describes Marie and King Louis’ ascension to the throne and the beginnings of their fall. The third book in the series, Confessions of Marie Antoinette due out in September 2013, will focus on the French Revolution and the royal family’s part in it.
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
Catherine de Medici was the 16th-century daughter of Florence’s most powerful family and a niece of Pope Clement VII. Although she was not royalty, she still found herself a pawn in Europe’s dynastic games, given in marriage by her uncle to Henry, second son of King François of France. A quirk of fate brings Henry and Catherine, with their rocky marriage, to the throne of France, where they must contend with growing distrust between the Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots. Gortner humanizes an often vilified woman and brings 16th-century France brilliantly to life.
Mistress of the Revolution
In Mistress of the Revolution, Catherine Delors follows the life of an impoverished noblewoman in the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as the French Revolution begins. Gabrielle de Montserrat is only a teenager when her brother forbids her to marry the man she loves and weds her instead to her wealthy and much older cousin. She is only 20 when she finds herself widowed and caught up in the life of the court. As France goes through its own bloody struggle for freedom, Gabrielle must also attempt to figure out how to make a life for herself in a world so different from the one in which she grew up.
Mary, Queen of France
For those Tudor-philes who wish to explore the French court, here is the story of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary Rose from one of the grand dames of historical fiction. To satisfy her brother’s ambitions, Mary finds herself married to the elderly King Louis of France, a man many times her own age, despite her deep love for Henry’s best friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. When Louis dies not long after their wedding, Mary becomes desperate to be with the man she loves and to avoid being caught up in another unhappy dynastic marriage.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
The French Revolution is seething, but the guillotine keeps being denied its victims. Someone is spiriting aristocracy out of the country, right under the noses of the revolutionaries. If the people of France knew who the man was, they would string him up alongside those who they deem enemies of the people, but he is known only by his calling card of a blood-red flower — a scarlet pimpernel. If you typically shy away from classics, let The Scarlet Pimpernel be the book to persuade you to give one a try. In addition to the history and intrigue in this fairly brief book, there is a lovely little romance that makes The Scarlet Pimpernel a sheer delight.