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Review: ‘How to Ruin a Queen’ by Jonathan Beckman

August 16, 2015
How to Ruin a Queen

The event that is the ‘Diamond Necklace Affair’ is perhaps one of the most exciting and enigmatic cons in history. Its effects were more far reaching than the players could ever have envisaged, and it played a huge part to toppling the French monarchy. This is the first book I have read on the subject, and it certainly served as a great introduction to the character of Jeanne de la Motte Valois, but unfortunately did very little to discuss the subject of its title ‘How to Ruin a Queen’.


From the historical documents that remain, Beckman does a wonderful job of extrapolating the fact from the fiction. He paints a vivid picture of Jeanne, her childhood and her upbringing, and places her firmly in her milieu to show just how the affair could have arisen. She is characterised with as much depth as in any novel, and the Diamond necklace affair itself given a blow by blow narration which was truly outstanding.

Where Beckman’s ‘How To Ruin A Queen’ falls short however was in its failure to attempt anything more than a passing analysis on the effect the affair had on the royal family and public opinion. Close to the end there was a poignant moment where Beckman very succinctly pointed out that essentially what the outcome of the trial amounted to for Marie Antoinette was that by exonerating the Cardinal de Rohan the courts essentially admitted that it was acceptable and understandable that a commoner and a prostitute could have been mistaken for the Queen. A deeper analysis of this would have been wonderful. Rather than being a tale of how the Queen was ruined and the political effect the scandal had, it was instead a narrative of Jeanne and the affair itself.

‘How To Ruin A Queen’ was an exciting read about a fascinating period and event in history. It brings the affair in to stark focus, but lacked any deeper thought in to how it related to the bigger picture of the French Revolution. A deeper analysis of this would have turned a good book in to a great one.

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