It is June 1792. Roger & Amanda have been married for two years. Their marital home is ‘Thatched House Lodge’ Richmond and all seems well; but ... Roger was beginning to get restless and so when the Prime minister offers him the chance of returning to France he jumps at the opportunity. His tasks are to:
1) Exert such influence as you can on people of all shades of opinion, with a view to making it easier for the PM to prevent war breaking out between France and Britain. 2) To argue that, having brought their present monarch (Louis XVI) to heel, the French will do far better to keep him than to substitute any other for him. 3) The PM’s last comment is, “Bring me the Dauphin, Mr Brook, and I will pay you one hundred thousand pounds.”
Roger decides to take his companion and ex-Lymington smuggler, Dan Izzard with him.
On his arrival in Paris it became painfully obvious that law & disorder was rife. Bitter factional struggles, riots and counter revolutionary uprisings were consuming the public.
Roger heads for the Tuileries, as he hears that the Royal family are there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuileries_Palace
His visit was timed well as he inadvertently gets caught up in a ‘Mob storming’. Roger manages to locate the Royals; Marie Antoinette who was now 36 years old but looked older with her white hair, her eldest child who was a girl of 14 and the Dauphin, a beautiful little boy of 6.
Roger (with assistance) is able to quell the attackers that find their way to the royal quarters. This was just the start...the attacks on the Palace got worse and the murder and chaos in the streets became even more horrific - Pages 160 – 162 give a graphic overview of the hellish scenes.
Roger in the meantime has been getting himself known by the revolutionary leaders and becomes a powerful official within the municipality. He is able to have access to the Royal family at any time and decides to attempt to get them away from Paris by organising a ‘house of sanctuary’ not far from the palace. The plan fails but luckily RB is not implicated in the escape.
Pages 200 – 206 give even more detail of Paris running with blood.
RB is then sent to war. He is ordered to take on the role of ‘Citoyen Representant' en Mission’ to the army of General Dumouriez with full powers of life and death. The order is signed by Maximilien Robespierre, and from that order Roger knew there was no appeal.
The conditions that the Royals were living in were becoming more difficult. The guard was increased and the King was separated from the family after being condemned to death on the 10th August.
Then irony of Ironies..Roger is sent to England as a diplomatic representative of revolutionary France.!! RB is to ask the Prime Minister to accept that France will renounce the Scheldt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scheldt
& withdraw troops from Belgium if England keep out of the French wars & accept peace. In reality the French army is falling to pieces and they are afraid that if the King is executed, England, Holland & Spain will declare war on them.
A dispatch came through whilst RB was still in England advising that at 10.20 a.m. on the 21st January 1793 Louis XVI had been guillotined. (The only king of France ever to be executed).
On the 1st February France declared war on both Holland & Britain and early in March declared war on Spain.
On RB’s return to France he was given another role to carry out as it had been decided that the Royalist risings must be suppressed at all costs and he had been selected as one of the small band of Commissioners which were to be dispatched with absolute power to crush the rebels. On the 10th April he left Paris as Representant en mission but this time he was escorted by a troop of cavalry together with a heavy wagon containing a portable Guillotine and a squad of executioners.
RB was a powerful man now but he tried to keep the number of executions down as much as possible and then one day he was presented with a ‘typical scheming aristocrat’.....Athenais de Rochambeau. It had been six years since he had seen his ex-lover.
He admits to her that he has been responsible for the Guillotining of not less than 200 self confessed murderers.
RB eventually manages to get Athenais back to Paris but then finds out that his wife Amanda has crossed the channel and in Paris to assist in saving Marie Antoinette.
He naturally wants to keep them apart!!
In the meantime the queen is being imprisoned in abysmal conditions, her son has been separated from her and she is distraught. You really feel for her.
At 12:15 pm, two and a half weeks before her thirty-eighth birthday, she was executed at the Place de la Révolution (present-day Place de la Concorde). Her last words were "Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it", to Henri Sanson the executioner, whose foot she had accidentally stepped on after climbing the scaffold. Her body was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery, rue d'Anjou, (which was closed the following year).
Robespierre sends RB to Toulon with an important dispatch. He has to deliver it to his old enemy Citizen Representative Fouche. Surprisingly Fouche doesn’t recognise RB. The war zone is nearby and RB is introduced to the commander of the republican artillery. His name is Napoleon Bonaparte.
RB is injured in a nearby skirmish and is picked up by a Spanish ship. They believe him to be a Frenchman and is taken to Palma he then manages to semaphore to a nearby English ship and taken back to Lymington.
Whilst in England he goes to visit his true love Georgina at White Knights Park, Northampton.
Whilst there she tells his fortune by looking into a crystal goblet full of water; after a while she says,
“I see you in a rowing boat....a boy, I think, but I cannot be certain. A woman, too, is in the scene. How prodigious strange! She seems to walk upon the water”
RB then visits Droopy Ned only to find out that Dan Izzard is still imprisoned in Boulogne. So RB goes back to France again!! Due to RB’s status he is able to free Dan quite easily – Dan is sent packing back to England. RB returns to Paris only to be told that Athenais had been guillotined.
After a substantial period of shock, RB gets back to his prime objective.....to get the Dauphin back to England. I won’t spoil the very unusual ending but it’s certainly one that I hadn’t foreseen.
There is one review in the library written by Diamondhairdan in 2006. He obviously loved the book. There was only one response which was from Toohey completely slating it!!
Although in the past I have criticised the ‘overlong historical content’ I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story. How you can not when there is so much happening to keep the reader engaged.
I do agree that it is too long but that does not detract from the content.
The vivid descriptions of the horrendous times that the French citizens lived (and died) through are almost too difficult to imagine; and yet DW manages to combine the horrors of the time with the tenderest of moments.
DW seems to have a great affection for Marie Antoinette http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinette
even though the history books seem to regard her as one of the main causes for the civil unrest. The fact that she was rich, powerful and from Austria – a country with which France was fighting against didn’t help.
DW had obviously read more on her than I have so I reserve judgement. Whatever the truth is, DW was desperately sad to have read what actually happened to her and her family, as I was whilst reading about it.
This is Dennis Wheatley’s longest novel with 568 pages in Arrow paperback
Page 54 - Roger meets with Monsieur Gouvernour Morris who is surprised that he is an Englishman points out to him that, “Those exceptionally long ‘little fingers’ of yours tell their own tale. A long fourth finger, particularly on the right hand, is a sure sign that anyone possessing it enjoys the gift of tongues”
Page 146 – Dan & Roger were chatting over a ‘noggin’ of cognac. (A term used to describe a small, carved wooden mug used to serve alcohol)
Page 283 – Athenais is very impressed with Rogers rise to fame but states “I can hardly wonder at the high standing you have achieved among these Satanists”
Page 496 – The great terror brought business to a standstill, Paris was near starvation and children were born prematurely owing to the shock of having their husbands torn away from them. Hundreds committed suicide. Seven thousand people were crammed into the prisons. In France 200,000 people were held in prison awaiting death. In the place St. Antoine, to which the guillotine had been removed, a great conduit had to be dug to carry away the blood and four men were needed to clean the channel daily so that this river of gore should not clot, but flow freely to the sewer.
Page 554 – RB has the perfect opportunity to kill his ‘arch enemy’. He leaves him tied up??????
Unlike DW’s ending – the Hutchinson encyclopaedia states that Louis XVII probably died in prison with his parents.
A copy of this book was sent by DW to King George VI in the autumn of 1951 as he was a fan of DW’s writing. Unfortunately the King died in the February of 1952 so I’m not sure if it was actually read or not. DW received a thank you note from the Kings equerry.