In The Star of Versailles, a scandalous French dandy, Alexandre Gaudet, and William Knowles, a brooding British spy, flee Paris in search of a treasure once owned by Marie Antoinette.
They are pursued by Vincent Tessier, the murderous Butcher of Orléans whose hatred for the doomed queen burned with a maniacal fervour even after she died on the scaffold.
As historians, we strove to recreate a world of suspicion in which terror had seeped into the land itself, where death lay in constant wait and where trust and love could not be given lightly. As a former Versailles favourite, Gaudet counted the late queen as one of his closest friends and we wanted to evoke the lost world of the ancien régime in which he had flourished. Of course, we all know that Marie Antoinette lived a life of luxury and lost her head as a result, but those last, terrible days in prison could not have been more different than the world she had once known.
Marie Antoinette, who arrived in France as a wide-eyed teenager to marry the heir to the Bourbon throne, died in Paris on 16th October 1793, aged 37. She was exhausted beyond her years, battered by grief and loss and beset by ill health. Known now as prisoner 280, the former queen was condemned to death by a merciless show trial that accused her of everything from incest to treason. Her husband was dead, her children torn from her arms and now, with only her faith left, she waited in the condemned cell for her date with the National Razor. In the darkest hours before her final dawn broke, the heartbroken woman took up her pen and wrote in her prayer book, ‘My God, have pity on me! My eyes have no more tears to cry for you my poor children; adieu! adieu!’.
The memory of that humble prayer book haunts Tessier, whose greatest desire was to see the Widow Capet’s composure crack just once before she went to her death. He never got his wish, for Marie Antoinette remained dignified no matter what horrors her persecutors threw at her.
Dawn found the former queen at her devotions, her prayers only ceasing when the administrators and officials arrived to carry out their duties. Eventually she was joined by Sanson, the legendary Revolutionary executioner who would be with her until the moment of her death. Marie Antoinette’s hair was shorn and her wrists bound before the woman who had once travelled in France’s most opulent coaches was taken to a rude tumbrel on Cour du Mai. She made a quiet protest that her late husband, Louis XVI, had made his last journey in a closed carriage but was told that the time for such niceties was passed: she was to face the people of Paris head on.
A crowd of thousands had gathered around the immense revolutionary guillotine that towered over Place de la Révolution, desperate to see it claim its most famous victim. When Marie Antoinette stood before the infamous instrument of death that had taken so many lives, her husband’s among them, she showed none of the fear that must surely have gripped her very soul. It was as though she didn’t hear the frenzied jeers or see the contorted faces of the crowd as she made her dignified way to the scaffold. She said her last words to Sanson when, having stepped lightly on his foot, she told him, “I did not do it on purpose”.
Fifteen minutes after midday the deadly blade of the guillotine thundered down, sending Marie Antoinette to her grave. Her opponents hoped that she would be forgotten but instead her death made her an icon, as divisive today as she ever was.
The late queen is never too far from the pages of The Star of Versailles. As Gaudet mourns the friend he has lost, Tessier is tormented by the knowledge that she took her greatest secret to the grave. Locked in a battle that will change their lives forever, Alexandre Gaudet, William Knowles and the murderous Butcher of Orléans battle to uncover the secret of the legendary Star of Versailles.
As the Reign of Terror tears Paris apart, a dandy and a spy are thrown together on a desperate race through France.
In the darkest days of the Reign of Terror, rumors grow of the Star of Versailles, the most exquisite treasure ever owned by the doomed Marie Antoinette. For Vincent Tessier, the notorious Butcher of Orléans, this potent symbol of the ancien régime has become an obsession and he’ll stop at nothing to possess it.
When Alexandre Gaudet arrives in France to find his missing sister and nephew, the last thing he expects is to fall into Tessier’s hands. With Gaudet tortured and left for dead, salvation stumbles accidentally, if rather decorously, into his path.
For Viscount William Knowles, life as a spy isn’t the escape he had hoped for. Yet a long-held secret won’t let him rest, and the fires of Revolution seem like the easiest way to hide from a past that torments him at every turn.
Adrift in a world where love, family and honor are currencies to be traded, the world-weary Viscount Knowles and the scandalous Monsieur Gaudet have no choice but to try to get along if they want to survive. With Tessier in pursuit, they search for the clues that will lead them to the greatest treasure in revolutionary France—the Star of Versailles.
💕 Meet the Authors
Catherine Curzon is a royal historian who has been published on matters as diverse as Marie Antoinette’s teeth and Grace Kelly’s love life. Her work has been featured by BBC History Extra, All About History, History of Royals, Explore History and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has provided additional material for An Evening with Jane Austen at the V&A.
Catherine has spoken at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Lichfield Guildhall and Dr Johnson’s House.
Catherine holds a Master’s in Film Studies from the University of Nottingham. When not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she writes fiction set deep in the underbelly of Georgian London.
She resides atop a steep hill in Brontë country with a rakish colonial gentleman, a boisterous hound and a tranquil feline.
Willow Winsham is a published historian and author who spends her time delving into the tantalising world of witchcraft history; combining a passion for research and history with a love of storytelling, she dedicates her time to exploring some of the most intriguing stories from the history of the British Isles.
When she isn’t digging out tantalising historical titbits or tracing elusive family members, Willow is busy crocheting enormous blankets and home educating her children.