The Princesse de Lamballe is one of the most well-known peripherial figures in the life of Marie Antoinette. A friend, a favorite and ultmiately, a tragic figure whose loyalty to the queen played both a symbolic and literal role in her untimely death. Although the princesse de Lamballe is frequently featured in modern fictional media about Marie Antoinette, she is rarely studied today as a figure in her own right.
Marie Antoinette's Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton is the first English-language study focused on the titular princesse to be published in more than one-hundred years.
The life of the princesse de Lamballe was not as extensively recorded as that of more famed figures--therefore her story is often the story of Marie Antoinette, or the story of the court as a whole. Thankfully, Walton has teased out many smaller records of the princesse that help provide a fuller picture of her life, personality and the forces that shaped her ultimate fate.
These smaller records include mentions of the princesse in the letters of Marie Antoinette and secondhand accounts, such as a record of Madame Du Barry quipping that the princesse was "destitute of wit.' With oft-neglected figures such as the princesse de Lamballe, every small piece helps to create a fuller picture of the puzzle. The peripheral sources--tales of family matters, court intrigues, and the wider movement of the revolution--also help create a clearer picture of the princesse's life.
There are some moments in the book when the focus on secondary events does make the book feel more like a general 'life and times' rather than a biographical look at the princesse herself. This may feel slightly frustrating for some readers, particularly when it comes to information that they may have already absorbed from other sources, such as information about Marie Antoinette.
Walton does her best to keep the material relevant to Lamballe as much as possible, tying the supplemental material into the princesse’s whereabouts, influences and experiences. But there are still some sections where I wished for the focus to narrow in on the titular subject.
Readers familiar with Marie Antoinette and the 18th century French court will find some overlap with this book and books about those topics, but when Walton's focus hones in on the princesse de Lamballe herself, there are many unique details to be found within these pages that were previously overlooked in English-language publications.
Overall, I would recommend Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton to anyone looking for a modern, readable biography of the princesse de Lamballe.
[A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher]