ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD ISABELLE IS A LACEMAKER IN THE TOWN OF VERSAILLES.
One day as she delivers lace to the palace, she is almost trampled by a crowd of courtiers only to be rescued by Marie Antoinette. Before Isabelle can believe it, she has a new job companion to the queen's daughter. Isabelle is given a fashionable name, fashionable dresses a new identity. At home she plies her needle under her grandmother's disapproving eye. At the palace she is playmate to a princess.
Thrown into a world of luxury, Isabelle is living a fairy-tale life. But this facade begins to crumble when rumors of starvation in the countryside lead to whispers of revolution. How can Isabelle reconcile the ugly things she hears in the town with the kind family she knows in the palace? And which side is she truly on?
Inspired by an actual friendship between the French princess and a commoner who became her companion, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley offers a vivid portrait of life inside the palace of Versailles and a touching tale of two friends divided by class and the hunger for equality and freedom that fueled the French Revolution.
About the Author
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the author of several historical novels, including For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy, which received starred reviews in Booklist and Kirkus Reviews and was an IRA Teacher's Choice, a VOYA Top Shelf Fiction selection, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and a Bank Street Best Book. She lives with her husband and two children in Bristol, Tennessee.
Read an Excerpt
When the Princess of Lamballe's lace was ready, Grand-mère decided that I should deliver it. Not because I was responsible I was not, as she often reminded me. Not because she trusted me she did not, as I well knew. It was because I was worthless, because Grand-mère had been more than usually unhappy about the lace I'd made the previous day, and because one of the very minor nobles had ordered ten yards of lace a vast amount that was to be picked up today, and it wasn't finished. "Stop for George. He'll point you to Her Majesty's rooms," Grand-mère said, stuffing me roughly into my one real dress. "He'll see you don't dawdle, or lose the lace."
George was my older brother. He worked in the stables at the palace of Versailles, caring for the Marquis de Lafayette's carriage horses. Our father had also been a servant of the Marquis. Papa was dead; I never knew him.
"Heaven forbid, lose the lace," murmured Maman, sitting up in her bed in the corner of the room, and crossing herself. Grand-mère was large and fat and mean; Maman was small and crippled and sad. "Take care, Isabelle, will you?" She glanced at Grand-mère. "Perhaps "
"I don't have a moment to spare, not one moment, not with us so behind," Grand-mère said. She looked at Maman. She did not say it was Maman's fault we were behind with our lacemaking, but she thought it, and Maman and I both knew she was thinking it. Some days Maman's knees and hands hurt so bad that she had to drink laudanum before she could sleep. The medicine made her groggy all the next day, and it made her hands shake, too, which was not good in a lacemaker.
Grand-mère thought that Maman only pretended to be in pain, despite the evidence of her swollen fingers and knees. Grand-mère never believed in any pain she didn't feel herself.
Grand-mère was an evil old goat. She made our house a misery.
Now she poked me with Maman's cane. "Don't you think for a moment that you're off the hook. If it weren't for your shoddy work yesterday, we wouldn't be in such a rush."
This was a lie. The lace I'd ruined yesterday and I had made a mess of it, the pattern was complicated and I'd gotten confused was not the lace that was supposed to be ready today. I wasn't trusted to make important lace. But I knew better than to contradict Grand-mère.
"It won't take her long," Maman said. "You, Isabelle, remember you have work waiting when you get home."
I jumped, trying to see myself in the tiny mirror that hung high above the bureau. "Come here," Maman said. She pulled my hair back and powdered it with the hare's foot and powder from the table beside her bed.
"George will be working," I said. He slept at the stables. He was rarely home.
"He can take a moment to help you," Maman said.
Grand-mère grabbed my shoulder and hauled me back to the center of the room. "Hold still." She gathered a handful of lace around the neckline of my dress and quickly sewed it into place. Her needle flashed near my throat. I held still. The lace was not ornate, but all lace was precious. If I moved and Grand-mère stabbed me and I bled on the lace, it would be my fault.
"Some at her wrists, too," suggested Maman.
"She'll ruin it," Grand-mère said. "Foolish girl. She'll fall in a mud puddle or slip on the stairs."
I held my breath. I loved to dress up, and I almost never got to wear the lace we made.
"She'll be careful," said Maman. "Consider that it's the palace, after all. Someone might notice her."
Grand-mère considered. She looked at me the way a hawk might look at a mouse. "Hold up your arms," she commanded at last.
I held them up. "What shall I do?" I said, while Grand-mère whipstitched lace around my sleeves. I tried not to sound excited, in case they changed their minds. "What do I say to the princess?"
I never got to deliver lace, not even when it was only a bourgeoise who'd ordered it, someone who lived and worked right in town. I never got to go to the Château, either, the great palace of Versailles, nor was I allowed to play in the parkland that surrounded it, nor go to the stables and bother my brother, even though he said he didn't mind.
I was a lacemaker, the daughter of a lacemaker, and the granddaughter of one. I had had a needle put into my hands when I was less than five years old. I made lace every day. Also I went to market for our bread and beer, and for the thread and linen that we used. I bought our dinners from the tavern downstairs. I swept out the fires in the mornings, and brought up wood, and emptied chamber pots. I swept our two rooms, and kept them clean. I took our clothes to the laundress down the street. Once we had employed a scullery maid, but that was before Maman's hands got so bad. Now, between the doctor's visits and the laudanum, we needed more money than we had.
I was eleven. Sometimes I still got lost trying to follow a lace pattern, but my stitches were even and my turns were careful and neat. Maman said that sometimes she couldn't tell the difference between my lace and hers. I knew this wasn't true, but I also knew that my lace was not the disgrace Grand-mère said it was. "We Bonnards have to work for our living," Grand-mère had shouted that morning, waving the piece I had ruined beneath my nose. "No one supports us. No one cares to. You, girl, how will you eat if you can't work?" She had flicked a glance at Maman in the bed, and I hated her for it.
Now Grand-mère was shouting again. "You won't speak to the princess! What insolence! As though the governess of the Children of France would bother to speak to such as you! All you are good for is wasting expensive thread," she went on bitterly. "When you get back from the palace, you'll sit on your stool and ply that needle of yours until I'm satisfied."
Grand-mère was never satisfied.
I noticed that she hadn't answered my question, not really, but I didn't want to ask again. She'd start hitting me with the cane if I wasn't careful. Once, she hit me so hard that my shoulder didn't work right for a week.
George would help me. George was my salvation.
Maman produced a ribbon to tie around my neck. Grand-mère shook her head. "Too much."
"Better to have her noticed," Maman said.
Grand-mère scoffed. "Who would notice such a sniveling child?"
"Lacemakers who can't afford fripperies, what kind of message does that send?" Maman murmured. I stole a glance at her, and she smiled. "You look very neat," she told me.
For once Maman won an argument; I left our rooms with a bright silk ribbon around my neck. I clattered down the stairs to the street, and raced down the dusty streets in my little satin shoes, holding tight to the paper-wrapped package of lace. It was a beautiful summer day, all gold sun and blue sky, and I was happy to be set free, if only for a short time. It seemed an age since I'd ventured farther from our apartment than the butcher shop or the chandler.
Versailles's stables, the big stable where the carriage horses lived, and the little stable for riding horses, were immense, but George always cared for the same three teams of horses, and I knew where their stalls were. I found George forking old straw out of one of the stalls into a wheelbarrow. "Maman says you must take me to the palace," I said. "I have lace to deliver." I puffed out my chest a little, pleased with my importance.
"You look beautiful, Bella," George said. He straightened and smiled warmly. "Powdered hair and all."
I twirled around so that he could admire me from all sides, then said, "I must take this to the Princess of Lamballe."
He nodded. "I can walk you to the palace now." He washed his hands in a bucket, then climbed the ladder to the loft where the stable boys slept. When he returned, he was wearing a fresh jacket and his hair had been retied into a queue. He carried his hat under one arm.
"I wish you could powder your hair," I said.
He smiled, but shook his head. "Powder is for postillions," he said. "I'm nothing but a common groom." He put his hat on his head, and took me by the hand. George was fourteen, a head taller than me, and thin as a rail. At first he walked so fast that I had to skip to keep up with him, but then he looked down at me and slowed. "No hurry," he said, and smiled.
"I'll get to meet Her Majesty," I said.
"You won't," he said. "She doesn't speak with lacemakers. Besides, you said it was for the Princess of Lamballe."
"Grand-mère said I should take it to Her Majesty's rooms. Isn't that where the princess lives?"
George laughed at me. "Her Majesty is the queen," he said. "The Princess of Lamballe is the queen's great friend. That's why she was named the Dauphin's governess." He paused. "The princess isn't royal. I don't know why they call her princess. She's not a near relation to the king and queen. But she's still very important. She has large rooms all her own."
I knew about the Dauphin, the heir to the throne. The Children of France were the sons and daughter of the king and queen. The oldest of them was Marie Thérèse, nine years old and a disappointment to the nation because she was not a boy. Next came the hope of France, the Dauphin, Louis Joseph, and then the three-year-old Duke of Normandy, Louis Charles. There had been another, a baby named Sophie, but she had died.
The Dauphin's governess would be a very important person, whether she was really a princess or not. "I know Grand-mère said 'Her Majesty's rooms,'" I insisted. I gave a little skip. "To think that someone so important bought our lace!"
George looked down again. "As much lace as the court wears, you'd think they'd keep every lacemaker in France fully occupied." After a pause he added. "Still, you're right. It's a great thing for us if we please her."
If we became fashionable, we would have as many orders for lace as we could fill. We could charge more too. Maman could have all the medicine she needed, and someone besides me could empty the chamber pots. The thought of that was nearly enough for me to love making lace.
The stables fronted the enormous palace. Already we were past the gates of the palisade, fighting our way through the crowd. The courtyard was like a marketplace, full of peasants and merchants and beggars. One fashionable man rushed by on very high heels, the skirts of his long yellow coat flapping. He held his wig to his head with one hand. I stared. The coat was silk, I was sure. I'd felt a piece of silk once, so smooth under the fingers, and light, and rich.
"Listen," said George. He stopped and lifted my chin. "You see why this is important, don't you?" I nodded, but he continued to look straight into my eyes. "This is the first time an important person ever ordered Maman's lace. You won't see the princess, but be sure you act respectful to everybody you do meet."
"Grand-mère made the lace," I said. "Not Maman."
"That's not my point," George said.
I frowned. "I know how to behave."
He patted my chin. "I know you do, ma belle. Just be sure that you actually behave as well as you know how."
"Ma belle" meant "my beautiful one." It was a play on my name, Isabelle. Only George ever called me beautiful.
I saw the enormous palace of Versailles from the town every day. It was like a mountain, part of the scenery; I hardly noticed it. But now, as we made our way closer, it seemed to grow bigger and bigger, more and more ornate. "This is nothing," George replied, when I said so. "You should see the back side, and the gardens."
We stopped at a booth near a door to the inside, where a man had a collection of small swords. George handed the man a few coins; he bowed, and handed George a sword. George buckled it around his waist.
"I'm renting it," he explained. "Men must wear a hat and a sword to enter Versailles."
"You aren't a man," I said.
George frowned. "I am too. The Marquis de Lafayette was hardly older than me when he joined the army."
"You're not a marquis."
He pushed me through the door. "Up that stairway over there. That's the Queen's Stairway." He pushed harder. "Move, Isabelle."
I was too busy staring. The palace was as grand as I'd always imagined. The stairs were marble, and so were the banisters, and the rail. The floors were marble tiles and the ceilings were hung with carvings painted gold. Every corner held a statue; every open spot a piece of furniture so beautifully carved and painted I wondered that anyone dared sit upon it.
Yet there was a beggar sitting on a tapestry-covered bench a one-eyed beggar wearing a hat and sword. "Look!" I whispered.
"Hush!" said George.
The smell was awful; it grew worse as we picked our way up the stairs. It smelled like the latrine in the back of our courtyard at home, only stronger. I lifted my sleeve and buried my nose in my lace cuff.
A beautiful woman swept down the stairs in wide panniered skirts and a tall, tall wig. The crowd made way for her, pressing George and me close against the rail. The woman looked neither right nor left; she expected everyone to give her room. Her Majesty, I thought. I elbowed George. "Is that "
"It's a nobody," he said. "Some country courtier begging a favor. Come on."
"How do you know?"
"I know. When you see them often enough, you can tell the difference, the ones who are important and the ones who aren't."
At the top of the stairs was an enormous guardroom, black and red marble, the ceiling painted with pictures of cherubs and people wearing sheets. A huge fire blazed on golden andirons, and over it three guards in uniform were cooking sausages. One of them looked barely older than George. More guards played cards at a small table near the door, and a little black dog lay at their feet.
The crowd had thinned near the doorway of the room. George put the lace parcel into my hands and gave me another push, so that I fell a few steps across the threshold. "Go ahead," he whispered. "When you're done, go out just the way you came in."
"Wait," I said, "what do I " It was no use. He had already turned and ducked back into the crowd.
I shouldered my way past the last few people and took one step into the cavernous room. The walls towered over me. One of the card-playing guards stood and came toward me. He was not one of the young ones; he was broad-shouldered, bearded, and tall. "Your purpose, little miss?"
I curtsied. "Please, sir, I come to bring lace ordered by the Princess of Lamballe."
The first guard spoke to another, who went out a small door in the back of the room. He came back with a girl not much older than myself. She was dressed in a black gown, possibly silk, I thought, but without panniers or lace; even I could see she was a servant of some sort.
"Give it to Jeannette, here," said the first guard. "She'll see the princess gets it."
I didn't think Maman would like me handing our lace to a servant named Jeannette. Plus I still hoped to catch a glimpse of someone important. "But sir," I said, clutching the package more tightly. "That's not the princess. And the payment " I didn't know, actually, if I was supposed to collect any money. Grand-mère hadn't said. I didn't know how much she wanted for the lace.
Jeannette marched forward. "You'll have to send a bill, then, won't you?" she said. She snatched the parcel out of my hands. "The nerve of these tradespeople!" She laughed, and the guards joined in.
"But how will I know the princess "
The big guard cut me off. He shepherded me out of the room. "Don't worry, little bourgeoise," he said. "Jeannette will see that the lace comes to no harm."
He was mocking me, laughing at my concern. My face flamed with anger. I wanted to kick him, hard, and run after that Jeannette. I wanted to tell him how Maman and Grand-mère had worked over that lace, how many hours it had taken them to make it, how many hours I myself worked every day. I opened my mouth to say something. The guard covered my mouth with his hand. He picked me up and carried me to the door. My skirts hampered my kicking, but I still landed several good blows. "OUT," he roared, setting me down in the hallway and shoving me toward the stairs.
Perhaps I had not been respectful, as George had said, but no one in the hallway seemed to notice. I stood in the midst of a dozen people, maybe more. I didn't see any beggars now; everyone was richly dressed, gorgeously dressed, dazzling embroidery and more lace than I'd ever imagined. They were all hurrying one direction or another as fast as they could. The instant my guard got rid of me, a man stepped in front of him, and began talking very fast. He said he had business with Her Majesty.
"Her Majesty is not in," the guard informed him. The man slunk away.
The red marble walls looked like giant slabs of beef with white veins of fat running through them. The odor of the guards' sausages filled the air, masking the smells of the puddles fermenting on the staircase. I didn't see George anywhere.
Rotten boy, gone back to the stables already, I thought. And was that all I was supposed to have done with the lace? It didn't seem worth the trouble of dressing up. Perhaps I should have demanded payment. Perhaps I had failed. Maman would say so, and sigh. Grand-mère would make me sit on my chair for hours. I'd be plying my needle by candlelight today.
My stomach rumbled. What I wouldn't give for a sausage!
A finely dressed lady bumped into me. She gave off an odor of perfume almost as offensive as the general stench. "Watch what you're about, little girl!" she said. I curtsied and apologized, but she didn't notice. She'd already hurried by. I was not important enough to pay attention to.
I've been abandoned, I thought. Abandoned and ignored, inside the Palace of Versailles. My heart gave a skip. What a wonderful place to be ignored! I thought one last time of Grand-mère and her stool. Then, instead of heading down the queen's staircase toward home, I turned right and started down a long, long hall. I may have failed in my errand, but no one would know it until I went home.
Copyright © 2007 by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book when I was about 11. Though the plot is not very realistic, it is a highly interesting story, filled with twists and turns. There's some really neat history woven in as well, which will be even more relevant if you are learning about or are interested in the French Revolution. Overall, an entertaining read.
this was one of my first book about historical, other than those royal diaries lol. but its great, i wont give any important details but i will tell you it is a great comparison to how the royal lived and how the commoners lived during the time of revolution in France. better yet it is a story of friendship and even though Theresa is a bit of a brat she changes and Isabelle helps make that. Its about decision making and between whats right and wrong, emotions and heartache. its a definite book for any young reader or older. and it teaches young readers alot of the French Revolution but in a way its easier for them to understand than in a textbook.
I thought this was a great novel for younger readers who are about to be introduced to the history of the French Revolution. It's fitting for younger readers, as the main character and narrator is a child. Isabelle's naivete really shows, she's happy to be a playmate of the Princess and prefers to be there instead of back at the shop making lace while her Grandmother makes snide comments, and her mother who is sick also tries to help out (with little success). Isabelle doesn't really realize the severity of the situation happening in France until her brother points it out. Then as the story develops, Isabelle's eyes open and they do see what's really happening outside of the palace. Isabelle also gets another reality check when she comes home to find it in disrepair I had no sympathies for the Grandmother, she was mean and although it's true that earning money was the main focus and priority, she belittled Isabelle and her mother and didn't treat them so nice. To me, she was just a bitter old woman who needed an attitude adjustment. The plot was well written and an easy read. I liked the relationship between the Princess and Isabelle. The Princess does shed a few secrets of her own, mostly on how she feels about her mother, the Queen (Marie Antoinette). Although she might act like a typical Princess, spoiled, selfish, and self centered. She's also a young girl who just needs a bit of love, care, and decent friends who are not friends with her just because of her title and status. I thought Isabelle was a good friend, who not only was supportive and caring but also gave the Princess an eye opener or two about how life was really like out there outside of the palace. Overall, it's a great novel for younger readers to introduce them to this aspect of history. Those who love historical fiction will also enjoy reading this quick read.
Isabelle and her family make lace in the town of Versailles. They're behind on their rent and work to keep up with the bills. If only they could get someone from the royal household wearing their lace, then they might stand a chance.
When Isabelle delivers some lace to the palace, she purposely takes a wrong turn to view more of the castle. She bumps into Marie Antoinette, who introduces the young girl to her daughter. The princess and Isabelle become friends and Isabelle changes from the lacemaker to a member of the royal household each day she visits, only to return to reality when she leaves for the day. Problems at home force Isabelle to take over the family business and to live the life she's come to despise.
Then she hears grumbling from the townsfolk and even her brother. There's talk of a revolution of change for the common people. Isabelle defends her friend without question, but soon she hears and sees things that make her mind whirl. Can friendship conquer family?
This story addresses the question of loyalty and what happens when you're torn between two sides. An alternative look at the court of Marie Antoinette is also entertaining. THE LACEMAKER AND THE PRINCESS is a historical novel that fans of the new movie Marie Antoinette will enjoy.
Isabelle and her family make lace in the town of Versailles. They¿re behind on their rent and work to keep up with the bills. If only they could get someone from the royal household wearing their lace, then they might stand a chance. When Isabelle delivers some lace to the palace, she purposely takes a wrong turn to view more of the castle. She bumps into Marie Antoinette, who introduces the young girl to her daughter. The princess and Isabelle become friends and Isabelle changes from the lacemaker to a member of the royal household each day she visits, only to return to reality when she leaves for the day. Problems at home force Isabelle to take over the family business and to live the life she¿s come to despise. Then she hears grumbling from the townsfolk and even her brother. There¿s talk of a revolution of change for the common people. Isabelle defends her friend without question, but soon she hears and sees things that make her mind whirl. Can friendship conquer family? This story addresses the question of loyalty and what happens when you¿re torn between two sides. An alternative look at the court of Marie Antoinette is also entertaining. THE LACEMAKER AND THE PRINCESS is a historical novel that fans of the new movie Marie Antoinette will enjoy. **Reviewed by: Jennifer Rummel