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  • John Murray
  • John Murray

How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne

Jonathan Beckman

8 Reviews

Rated 0

France, Biography: royalty, Prose: non-fiction, European history, Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900

A tale of greed, lust, deceit, theft on an extraordinary scale, charlatanry, kidnapping, assassination and escape from prison.

On 5 September 1785, a trial began in Paris that would divide the country, captivate Europe and send the French monarchy tumbling down the slope towards the Revolution. Cardinal Louis de Rohan, scion of one of the most ancient and distinguished families in France, stood accused of forging Marie Antoinette's signature to fraudulently obtain the most expensive piece of jewellery in Europe - a 2,400-carat necklace worth 1.6 million francs.

Where were the diamonds now? Was Rohan entirely innocent? Was, for that matter, the queen? What was the role of the charismatic magus, the comte de Cagliostro, who was rumoured to be two-thousand-years old and capable of transforming metal into gold?

This is a tale of political machinations and extravagance on an enormous scale; of kidnappings, prison breaks and assassination attempts; of hapless French police disguised as colliers, reams of lesbian pornography and a duel fought with poisoned pigs. It is a detective story, a courtroom drama, a tragicomic farce, and a study of credulity and self-deception in the Age of Enlightenment.

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Praise for How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne

  • A work of scholarship and imagination, that focusses new light on the famous and extraordinary affair of Marie Antoinette and the stolen diamonds. The narrative is like an ingenious chess game showing us the complex moves of bishops, knights and pawns round the king and queen. Jonathan Beckman is the new Wilkie Collins of biographical history - Michael Holroyd

  • A fascinating and impeccably researched account of one of the great scandals of the eighteenth century. Beckman is a master-storyteller whose consummate skills are evident on every page - Amanda Foreman

  • A murky story of the Ancien Regime including diamonds and sex, brilliantly told - Lady Antonia Fraser

  • Necklace to neckless! This is the murky tale of the diamond heist that lead to Marie Antoinette's demise - Tatler

  • A rollicking whodunit - Independent

  • Fascinating . . . a gripping detective story and a witty revelation of a scandal that shocked Paris - BBC History Magazine

  • In his intriguing history, Jonathan Beckman has spun out of this dirty tangle of source material a clear and compelling narrative line . . . with its exuberant use of language and subtly ironic storytelling, it is almost as colourful as the scandal it explores - Sunday Times

  • Gripped me like a whodunit . . . Beckman tells this scarcely believable story with flair - The Times

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Jonathan Beckman

Jonathan Beckman is senior editor of Literary Review. He has degrees in English from the University of Cambridge and Intellectual and Cultural History from Queen Mary, University of London. In 2010, he won the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction.

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