Saturday, January 24, 2009

Marie-Thérèse Confronts Madame Hervagault

The novel Madame Royale contains a scene in which Marie-Thérèse of France confronts the mother of one of boys who had claimed to be her brother Charles, known as Louis XVII. There were rumors about many claimants and Marie-Thérèse felt it her duty to follow the various trails which led either to dead ends or to horrors. In 1827, she finally tracked down the mother of Jean-Marie Hervagault, one of the original pretenders. Nicole Bigot Hervagault may have been related to the police commissioner, Rémy Bigot. Bigot identified the body of the ten year old boy who died in the Temple prison in June of 1795 as being Louis XVII. Marie-Thérèse, of course, had not been allowed to see the body. Nicole's son Jean-Marie was the natural child of the Duc de Valentinois, a Habsburg relative. Marie-Thérèse thought perhaps Jean-Marie had been substituted for her brother. (The grave had not yet been found, and there was no DNA testing in those days.) Here is the excerpt from Chapter 24, "Jewels:"
Nicole said nothing, but only sobbed. Thérèse reached into a small velvet purse, and drew out an emerald brooch, surrounded by diamonds, as well as two garnet bracelets, and a ruby ring. The jewels, luminous in the dark room, flashed with their own sparks of flame. The tailor's widow's eyes widened.

"Madame Hervagault, I would like very much to make you the gift of these jewels," said Thérèse. "I have receipts for each setting, so that you can sell them if you desire, and have a more comfortable life than you have now. But first, I must know everything that you can tell me about Jean-Marie and if he was exchanged for my brother. The boy who was arrested in Chalons in 1798, I do not think that he was your son. Was he my brother Louis XVII?"

"I do not know," said Nicole. "Oh, Madame. I can say no more. Forgive me, but I swore...never to speak of it. I am too afraid...."

Thérèse put the jewels away. "I am very sorry that you will not accept my gift, Madame Hervagault. I truly want to help you, and protect you from whomever it is you fear. I cannot and will not force you to speak. But I do have something that I will be able to leave with you."

Thérèse reached into her purse again and took out the lock of chestnut hair that had been taken from the boy who died in the Temple on June 8, 1795 and which did not belong to Charles. She handed it to Nicole.

"This lock of hair was taken from a boy who died not far from here," said Thérèse.

Madame Hervagault examined the lock with trembling fingers, then kissing it several times, she sank to her knees in a storm of weeping.

At that moment, Thérèse was almost certain what had become of Charles. Slipping a few gold coins onto the chair, she departed from the cobbler's shop.

~from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal, Chapter 24 "Jewels." (Copyright 2000 by E.M. Vidal)


May said...

This must have been a real torment for Marie-Therese, all this doubt about what had happened to her brother.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it became part of her inner journey, which is one of the things the novel explores.