Book Review: Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days by Will Bashor

Marie Antoinette's Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie


Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie by Will Bashor


This book is an in-depth account of the two and a half months Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, spent in the Conciergerie Prison before her trial and execution on October 16th, 1793. The book is meant for those who already possess a passing familiarity with Marie Antoinette’s life; events prior to her imprisonment are handled sparingly–Bashor focuses almost entirely on her imprisonment, trial, execution, and the aftermath.

On August 1st, 1793, Marie Antoinette was removed from the Temple prison, where she had been kept prisoner with her family for nearly a year, to the Conciergerie, a dank prison where those awaiting the guillotine were kept. Marie Antoinette was separated from her children and sister-in-law (King Louis XVI was dead by this point) and sent into solitary confinement. Her new prison was built below the level of the Seine, so the damp rotted everything within, and rains would cause water to run down the walls. Despite several rescue attempts, the “Widow Capet” stayed there until October 16th, when she was brought to trial and ultimately beheaded.

Marie Antoinette Darkest Days Will Bashor.jpg

Tuckerby the papillon helping with pictures. Thisbe, Marie Antoinette’s dog, has long been rumored to have been a papillon.

The book is exhaustively researched, and Bashor sources first person accounts for much of his writing. We are also provided with the transcripts of Marie Antoinette’s trial (translated from the French by the author), which allows the reader to step into the spectacle and hear the queen’s words and those of her prosecutors. Bashor’s downfall is in repetition: several key events during this period are told from several points of views (or, occasionally, reiterated later in the text) and at each point the wording of the event is identical. While the use of first person accounts is of course desirable and preferable, using the same phrasing from one source, when the incident is being described multiple times, becomes rather vexing for the reader. Additionally, the trial transcripts, while fascinating, are naturally a bit long-winded. One wonders if Bashor could have played with the formatting (gone with dialogue-style prose, rather than keeping the transcript format) without compromising the academic merits of the book.

In all, this is a scholarly book and should be approached as such. Bashor has assembled a great deal of information for his depiction of Marie Antoinette’s final days. History buffs will appreciate his attention to detail.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days will be available for purchase on December 1st, 2016.


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