Chantal Thomas translated from the French by John Cullen

The Exchange of Princesses

Publication Date: Jul 07, 2015

336 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $16.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 9781590517024


List Price US $16.95
ISBN: 9781590517031

Set in the French and Spanish courts of the eighteenth century, this novel is based on a true story about the fate of two young princesses caught in the intrigues and secrets of the moment

Philippe d’Orléans, the regent of France, has a gangrenous heart—the result of a life of debauchery, alcohol, power, and flattery. One morning in 1721, he decides to marry eleven-year-old Louis XV to the daughter of Philippe V of Spain, who is only four. Orléans hopes this will tie his kingdom to Spain. But were Louis to die without begetting an heir—the likeliness of which is greatly increased by having a child bride—Orléans himself would finally be king. Orléans tosses his own daughter into the bargain, the twelve-year-old Mlle de Montpensier, who will marry the Prince of Asturias, the heir to the Spanish throne.

The Spanish court enthusiastically agrees and arrangements are made. The two nations trade their princesses in a grand ceremony in 1722, making bonds that should end the historical conflict. Nothing turns out as expected.

Excerpt from The Exchange of Princesses

On the other hand, there is one person whose opinion is indispensable: Louis XV. The fact that he’s only eleven in no way authorizes his subjects to disregard his views. It should be an easy matter to coerce acquiescence from a boy of his age, but the regent’s not certain of success. And without Louis XV’s consent, the entire scheme will collapse. Broaching the subject of marriage to the young king, a nervous, melancholic, suspicious child, is not a prospect the regent relishes. The king dreads surprises, from which he expects only catastrophes. When he was still very little, he fell ill and cried out to his Maman Ventadour, “I’m dead”; later, having experienced his first ejaculation, he will be convinced he’s unwell and consult his valet de chambre. Since he has spent by far the greater part of his young life in an orphan’s solitude, his early childhood darkened by the succession of deaths in his family and by the malevolent rumors they nourished, his first reaction is mistrust. This tendency is only enhanced by the fear he constantly reads in the eyes of his entourage, prominent among them his elderly tutor, Marshal de Villeroy: the fear that he too, the Boy-King, will perish. Marshal de Villeroy never leaves his side, day or night. He sleeps beside his bed and permits nobody but himself to offer him a handkerchief. He monitors the slightest gesture made by the king or to the king at table, carries the key to the butter dish destined for the king’s use, and would in no circumstances, not even under torture, agree to resign his post. As a child of five, Louis XV was brought to his great-grandfather Louis XIV’s deathbed, kissed his august ancestor, and heard him predict, “Little one, you are going to be a great king”; now the boy uses that memory as a charm capable of making the Grim Reaper delay his scything. 

“This is one vivid, engrossing, weird little book…[O]ne of the most fascinating historical narratives I’ve ever read.” —Diana Gabaldon, The Washington Post

“A meticulous and vivid chronicle.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This exchange of princesses is delivered with cool-eyed cinematic detail…A brightly polished portrait of royal pomp and custom for historical fiction fans with big-picture tastes.” —Library Journal

“[Chantal] Thomas has crafted a pointed and witty novel that sheds light on two eighteenth-century princesses trapped by familial obligations and the capricious whims of the court.” —Booklist

“Chantal Thomas evokes with passion and clarity the cruel fates of two princesses exchanged for the greatest glory of France and Spain and treated like inanimate pawns. She evokes the four-year old infanta uprooted and parachuted to Versailles only to be disdained by her royal fiancé, and gives a moving and glowing portrait of the French princess who refuses to submit to the harsh demands of the royal Spanish family. A rare and beautiful example of distant history brought back to life with verve and feeling.” —Anka Muhlstein, author of Monsieur Proust’s Library

“King Louis XV plays at war; the Queen Infanta of France plays at dolls. He is eleven; she is four. Chantal Thomas has written a shocking and brilliant historical account of two sets of royal alliances—or, more accurately, misalliances—written with verve, irony and whimsy—even the Infanta’s dolls weigh in on this absorbing tale of unrequited conjugal love and political venality.” —Lily Tuck, author of I Married You for Happiness

“Two child princesses may be pawns in a ruthless game of state, but they triumph as characters [through whom we witness the absurdities of fate] in Chantal Thomas’s shrewdly observed and hugely entertaining novel of 18th century Spain and France.” —Molly Haskell, author of My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation

“It’s a grim tale of the abuse of children for royal purposes, entertainingly told. A gripping and eventful novel, sad and at times amusing.” —Martha Saxton, writer and professor of History and Women’s Studies at Amherst College

“[Readers will] devour this story like a fairy tale.” —Elle (France)

“The exchange of these princesses is straight out of a Cold War spy novel, taking place on an island in the middle of a river that serves as the border between the two kingdoms. But none of these young protagonists will play the adults’ game and the princesses will end up going home. Chantal Thomas excels at humanizing history and exposing what is at stake (or “revealing its relevance”). How do these children, sold in such a way by their parents, feel? Will they love or hate each other? These are the universal, timeless, questions, that this “historical” novel plays with, and which render it strikingly contemporary.” —Vogue (France)

“Chantal Thomas made history a pungent, political, and intimate epic, told by a narrator whose empathy does not detract from the satirical irony.” —Le Magazine Littéraire

“[With this] little known episode in history, Chantal Thomas writes a superb novel about violence against women and children, [showcasing] marriages as absurd as they are forced.” —Phosphore

“[Thomas] shows strength and sensibility with an inglorious episode in the ordinary lives of the great (…). Impressive.” —La Vie

“A fascinating novel . . .terrifying at times where the finery of fiction enhance historical rigor.” —L’express

“Delicious like childhood and cruel like life.” —Telerama

“. . .the true historic event serves to both deconstruct and illuminate the monstrosity of the political machine and the way 18th century society functioned, subjects the author of Farewell, My Queen understands perfectly. While the authors of the pact ‘didn’t give a single thought to the ages of the fiancés,’ it is Thomas’ main concern. Through her voice—sensitive, alive, contemporary, sometimes raw—she manages to recreate how these sacrificed children lived, felt, feared, hoped and suffered.” —Point de Vue (France)

Praise for Farewell, My Queen:

“Elegant, powerful … No ordinary historical novel. It’s a bravura glimpse into a time past and a dreamlike life that seemed to have nowhere to go but into oblivion.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Delightful … Vivid and elegant … [A] rich tableau vivant … In these pages the ill-fated queen is allowed to be human.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Graceful, exquisitely detailed . . . the delights of this rendition lie in the details. . . . Like the tiny enamel painting of Marie Antoinette’s bright blue eye that inspires Laborde’s reminiscences, this is a cunning, gem-like miniature.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Compelling . . . Thomas’s formidable skills as a researcher gives the book authenticity, and her keen eye for human behavior makes it sing.” —Booklist (starred review)

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