The Queen’s Fortune by Allison Pataki



This is a novel about Desiree Clary, one-time fiancee of Napoleon, before he threw her over for Josephine, and later the first Bernadotte queen of Sweden.  The story’s told, in the first person, by Desiree, but it’s dominated by Napoleon and Josephine … which is a shame, really, because there are hundreds of novels about them but no others (AFAIK) about Desiree.  Maybe Napoleon had a big personality that he will inevitably dominate any novel in which he appears.

It’s quite a light book, but there’s plenty of historical information in it, and no glaring inaccuracies.  And it’s an interesting portrayal of Napoleon.  I’m not sure whether this was what the author intended, but it comes across as a story which is common in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, if not the late 18th and early 19th – lad from an ordinary background suddenly becomes a celeb, moves to the bright lights of the big city, starts hanging around with the in crowd and being featured all over the gossip columns of the papers, becomes somewhat alienated from most of his family and old mates, throws over his faithful sweetheart in favour of an experienced, glamorous, sophisticated socialite … and it all ends in tears.  And I suppose that that actually is what happened.  It’s just that it involved a war which dragged in most of Europe and some countries beyond, and the temporary or permanent placing of numerous relatives and friends of Napoleon on a large number of thrones.

General Bernadotte, by contrast, comes across as someone far more scrupulous, steady and loyal.  And true to the principles of the Revolution, before a) it turned into the nightmare of the Terror and b) it was overturned by Napoleon.  It’s rather ironic that it was Napoleon, the ordinary boy, who overturned most of the changes which had enabled him to come to power, and made himself an Emperor.

With, initially, Josephine as his Empress.  I’m not overly keen on the portrayal of her in this book.  She comes across as a high-class tart.  The author herself does seem to acknowledge that that’s unfair,  and keeps reminding us that Josephine was an outsider from Martinique and then suffered horribly during the Revolution, and about all the awful pressure on her to produce an heir; but she still shows her as a high-class tart.   And the book makes an interesting point about Napoleon restricting the rights of women.  However much you may dislike the man, he deserves credit for promoting the rights of religious minorities, and for having relatively liberal views towards homosexuality; but he definitely didn’t do much for the position of women.

To get back to Desiree, she and her sister Julie, born in Marseille to a wealthy family which had sought ennoblement, met Napoleon and his brother Joseph whilst attempting to get their brother released from prison.  Soon afterwards, Julie and Joseph married, and Desiree and Napoleon became engaged.   But then Napoleon met Josephine, and Desiree was history – although they did continue to play a part in each other’s lives, because of the family relationship.  Desiree eventually married General Bernadotte, who became Marshal of France, Governor of the Hanseatic cities and Governor of Hanover, before being elected heir to the throne of Sweden in 1810.   Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden had been overthrown in 1809, and his uncle proclaimed Charles XIII, but Charles was in ill health and had no heir.  In 1818, Bernadotte became King Charles XIV John of Sweden, and Desiree became Queen Desideria.  And their descendants sit on the throne of Sweden to this day.

However, Napoleon and Josephine manage to dominate the story even once the Bernadottes are in Sweden.  Or, rather, once General Bernadotte’s in Sweden, because Desiree continued to spend much of her time in France.  We do hear, interestingly, about how they were both torn psychologically between France and Sweden – but much of that’s about Napoleon.  And then their son marries Josephine’s granddaughter, and Desiree reflects on how her life is still dominated by Josephine.

It’s a bit light and fluffy sometimes, but generally it’s a very enjoyable book.  I just wish that the book about Desiree had actually been a bit more about Desiree!




6 thoughts on “The Queen’s Fortune by Allison Pataki

Hello! Please let me know what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.