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How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair Hardcover – September 2, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (September 2, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306823551
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306823558
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for How to Ruin a Queen

"A murky story of the Ancien Regime including diamonds and sex, brilliantly told."—Antonia Fraser, author of the bestselling Marie Antoinette

"How to Ruin a Queen is a fascinating and impeccably-researched account of one of the great scandals of the 18th century. Jonathan Beckman is a master storyteller whose consummate skills are evident on every page."—Amanda Foreman, author of the bestselling Georgiana

"The narrative is like an ingenious chess game, a work of scholarship and imagination.... Jonathan Beckman is the new Wilkie Collins of biographical history."—Michael Holroyd, award-winning biographer and former president of the Royal Society of Literature

"With its exuberant use of language and subtly ironic storytelling, it is almost as colorful as the scandal it unfolds."—Sunday Times

"Jonathan Beckman skillfully unfolds the intricacies and absurdities of this extraordinary episode...[and] provides us with an engaging and finely-researched study of an affair that, despite having the plot of a frothy operetta, was of genuine historical significance."—Literary Review

"A hell of a tale and Jonathan Beckman gives it all the verve and swagger it deserves."—Spectator

New York Journal of Books, 9/1/14
“A book that can be read again and again, each reading providing another layer of understanding.”

PopMatters.com, 11/3/14
“It’s safe to say that never before had the story been told with such a masterful combination of historical research and insightfulness as in Beckman’s novel, which impressively also happens to be his first…If only all history were this deliciously told.”

Columbus Dispatch, 12/29/14
“Comprehensive, constantly surprising account of what must have happened, and how the scandal shaped history…Beckman has summoned a prodigious amount of facts and assembled them into an exciting, and scandalous, brew.”

Washington Times , 1/21/15
“Meticulously detailed account of a scandal that became a major aspect of the French Revolution…[Beckman] writes authoritatively…There are soap opera trappings to this fantastically true story that involves kidnappings, duels, poisoned pigs, assassination attempts and the kind of vicious politicking that makes current political squabbles look like kindergarten spats.”

About the Author

Jonathan Beckman is senior editor of Literary Review. He has degrees from the University of Cambridge and University of London. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The Observer, Times Literary Supplement, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Financial Times, Sunday Times, Spectator, New Statesman, and Independent. In 2010, he won the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

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Whether you're interested in the time period, Marie, the French Revolution, or the Diamond Necklace Affair, I highly recommend this novel.
Coleen Antoinette
A brilliant reconstruction, the Diamond Necklace Affair is the most exciting and compelling history, and How to Ruin a Queen a darn good book.
Linda's Lookout
Central to the story is Louis, Cardinal de Rohan, who had offended Marie Antoinette, but needed her good graces so he could advance in power.
R. Hardy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
France in the mid-1780s was a creaking old machine that was almost out of fuel. An uninspiring monarchy supported by a talentless nobility and an increasingly corrupt Church held all the political power, while the tax burdened bourgeoisie and peasantry struggled to survive in a declining economy strangled by debt and weakened by drought. In the middle of all this gloom and doom a sensational scandal erupted that implicated Queen Marie Antoinette herself in a byzantine plot that featured a garish piece of jewelry, an adventuress claiming royal ancestry, several other shady characters of both sexes, and the wealthy nobleman Louis Cardinal de Rohan. As Jonathan Beckman ably recounts, the Diamond Necklace Affair transfixed France and all of Europe for months and eventually led to the further discrediting of the House of Bourbon and the French nobility.

The scandal began several years earlier with the creation of what must have been the ugliest diamond necklace ever constructed: 2800 carats arranged in several loops and flourishes that threatened to break its unlucky wearer's neck. Not surprisingly, the jewelers who created this monstrosity had difficulty selling it, and it lay in their vault for years while they searched for someone wealthy and tasteless enough to buy it. Then in the 1780s came Comtesse Jeanne de la Motte Valois, as she styled herself. Illegitimately descended from a former ruling dynasty, Jeanne spent her life figuring out ways to con other people out of money. She was quite good at it thanks to her beauty and total lack of any sense of morality. Jeanne and her husband (a former soldier who had no real title) inveigled themselves into the outer edges of French high society until they finally managed to make the acquaintance of the Cardinal de Rohan.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Cofield's in depth recounting here on Amazon.com of the events in the affair of the diamond necklace renders it unnecessary for me and other reviewers to repeat those details. However, I have other observations that may help potential readers. The affair of the diamond necklace and its effect on the Bourbon dynasty and upon Queen Marie Antoinette in particular have been brilliantly described in Stefan Zweig's wonderful 1933 biography "Marie Antoinette" and also in Lady Antonia Fraser's excellent 2002 biography "Marie Antoinette: the Journey." When I embarked on reading Jonathan Beckman's book I therefore wondered why he had written it. I remain puzzled about that.

The author's answer to this question appears towards the end of the book on page 306 where he states: "The purpose of this book is to establish that the most likely explanation of the facts is Rohan's innocence, Jeanne's guilt and Marie Antoinette's lack of involvement..........." However, these have been accepted as facts for decades now and not a shred of evidence has emerged in over two centuries that the unfortunate Queen was anything but a totally innocent victim of an amazing fraud.

An interesting question though is whether Marie Antoinette was particularly vulnerable to and partly responsible for this type of conspiracy because of her general behavior. The Queen's love of brilliant and costly gems was well known in France. Also, she detested the stiff protocol of Versailles. She was known to visit the royal gardens at Versailles at odd hours accompanied by her carefree companions and relatives such as the princesse de Lamballe, the duchesse de Polignac and the Comte d'Artois thereby contravening the established protocol of the royal court.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Margot Comer on December 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very intellectual. Big words I had to look up, words I hadn't seen in my 70 years of reading. The story is fascinating and I read all the way to the last page. This is an academic, historical account of the often misunderstood affair of the Diamond Necklace based on years of research. It was interesting to get a glimpse of Pre-revolution France.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Tales of political scandal are fascinating, whether they are contemporary ones or historic. Among the most bizarre, and with the most repercussions, was the Diamond Necklace Affair, an implausible stew of bungling, misplaced credulity, and greed that occurred within the court of Louis XVI four years before the French Revolution. It caused a sensation at the time for it involved Marie Antoinette, and it was the subject of court and popular gossip. Napoleon was to say afterwards that the affair marked the beginning of the doom of the queen, and thus of the monarchy. It is a complicated story, liable to different interpretations, but Jonathan Beckman has worked for years on researching it, and seems to have read every contemporary document about the affair. His _How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair_ (Da Capo Press), is a comprehensive, constantly surprising account of what must have happened, and how the scandal shaped history.

Central to the story is Louis, Cardinal de Rohan, who had offended Marie Antoinette, but needed her good graces so he could advance in power. Such an aim seemed impossible until he met the other main character of the book, Jeanne de Saint-Rémy, Comtesse de La Motte-Valois, a schemer who was trying to get back the lands she felt the kingdom owed her family. Rohan wanted to be in the queen’s favor so fervently that he didn’t question Jeanne’s tales of how she was intimate with the queen at court. When Rohan, dupe that he was, needed more confirmation, Jeanne arranged for him to meet the queen himself. Of course, since she didn’t know the queen, she arranged a subterfuge.
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