“Wonderfully captivating.. an absolute delight to read. Wow… a heart-wrenching and page-turning book. I devoured this one.” @iheartbooks1991, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
One woman must choose between loyalty to her queen and the man she loves… Giselle always dreamed of making beautiful dresses, but never thought she would be chosen to attend to the elegant, but troubled, queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Within the glittering, mirrored walls of the palace, Giselle ensures the queen shines brighter than anyone, with not a single feather or ruffle out of place, no matter how she might feel inside. Being so close to the queen, Giselle is there for her most private and unguarded moments. As whispers spread through the court about the violent protests sweeping across the country and the growing threat to the royal family, Giselle sees the cracks in Marie Antoinette’s perfect image. On a visit home to her family in Paris, Giselle experiences the troubles first-hand, getting caught up in a dangerous riot. When handsome Léon comes to her aid, she falls in love with this kind, clever young man. But Léon does not share her admiration for the royals, siding with those who believe they should no longer be in power. Returning to the palace, Giselle is shocked to find the very lives of the royal family now at stake. Marie Antoinette appeals to her to help them escape France and Giselle faces a heart-wrenching choice. Will Giselle risk the guillotine herself to save the life of her beloved queen? And can she do so without betraying the man she loves? Based on true events, this is an absolutely gripping historical novel of loyalty, betrayal, power and passion. Fans of Les Misérables, Girl with a Pearl Earring and My Dear Hamilton will be totally swept away by this heart-breaking page-turner. Previously published as The Wardrobe Mistress. Readers are captivated by The Queen's Dressmaker : “ WOW! I stayed up all night to finish this incredible book! I was totally gripped… If you are missing Bridgerton, this will be your next obsession! Best book of the year!!!” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Absolutely brilliant!... I honestly think I have permanent indentations on my kindle from gripping it so tightly after reading this thrilling work created by Meghan… a must read for 2021! ’ The Secret Book Sleuth,⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ An addictive story!… I just could not stop reading… I was swept away by the story… A great choice for readers who love history and romance.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Sexy, absorbing, and suspenseful, this story sweeps you along to its riveting conclusion.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Had me utterly captivated from start to finish… Such a fantastic read, and one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to fans of historical fiction!” The Book Lover’s Boudoir, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I found myself captivated by this novel… Royal court intrigue, fashion… All of the ingredients are here to make for a page-turning story.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I adored the narrator, Giselle… I found myself wishing that I had a tricolor rosette for my own lapel. A stunning debut from a fresh new voice in historical fiction.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Fast-paced read that was tough to put down. Giselle is a brave heroine it was easy to root for her.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Masterson is masterful at historical fiction!… I recommend to those interested in the French Revolution and historical fiction alike!” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I felt like I was in the middle of Paris during this tumultuous time. I can't wait for Meghan Masterson's next book! ” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: March 19, 2021
Print pages: 350
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The Girl from Versailles
Though I’m the newest of her under-tirewomen, having only been here for five days, I know I ought not to speak to her without being addressed first. I can’t help but feel sorry for her, though, shivering in the chilly room in her nightgown, waiting for the heated bathwater to be wheeled into the chamber. The rest of us are fully dressed and warm, which heightens the faint awkwardness of this situation. I suppose I’ll grow accustomed to it, but for now it feels strange to be in a position of greater comfort than the queen. I don’t enjoy it. Perhaps I can soothe her a little by speaking. We’re strangers, and yet she stands before me in a state of undress, at a disadvantage. My tongue feels dry; her presence makes me nervous, in spite of the intimacy created by the situation, but I lick my lips and force myself to speak.
“It won’t be much longer, Your Majesty. It’s a cold morning—by the time you’ve completed your bath, the fire should have warmed the rooms.”
I half-expect her to ignore me, or scold me, especially when Madame Campan, the first femme de chambre, twitches her mouth in a disapproving manner.
Instead the queen smiles slightly, softening the line of her lower lip, which protrudes a little. “It is indeed cold. There’s frost on the window. It’s rather pretty.”
“One of my father’s poems is about frosted windows,” I say impulsively. Her gracious tone eases my nerves. “At least, the imagery is. I think the poem itself is really about time, but he will never confirm it. He dislikes talking about his poems in detail.” I avoid Madame Campan’s glance, since I can imagine what it looks like after my casual, impetuous chatter, and stare apologetically at the sloped tile floor. My cousin Eugénie teases me that I can converse with anyone I want. She probably exaggerates, but I like connecting with others. A thrill darts through me that I’m speaking to the queen, and I glance up again.
“Perhaps you will be kind enough to read the poem to me someday,” says the queen.
Before I can reply, the bustle of the bath being wheeled into the room ends all opportunity for more conversation. The queen withdraws behind a curtain with Madame Campan, to change into the long English flannel gown she customarily wears in the bath. Her modesty is such that the gown buttons all the way from her neck to her ankles, and the collar and sleeves are trimmed with linen. It surprised me greatly on my first day at the palace. The satirical newspaper cartoons and marketplace gossip led me to believe she would flit about her rooms in shockingly wispy silks and transparent shifts, possibly even flaunting scandalous piercings or painted nipples. It’s a relief to find she behaves with elegance and decorum. I wouldn’t know where to look if she dressed and behaved like one of the maenads in Papa’s books of Greek plays. Once she is seated in the bathtub, with a tray perched on the edges of the tub, no skin except that of the queen’s hands and face can be seen.
“Would you like coffee or chocolate this morning?” asks Madame Campan, going to the table on which both selections have been placed. Though her tone is deferential, she has served the queen long enough that she doesn’t always address her by a title when they are in private.
“Chocolate, please, Henriette.” The queen gives Madame Campan a glance tinged with fondness.
It’s rather dull, waiting while the queen has her bath, although the heavy scent of sweet almonds and jasmine wafting through the air with the steam makes the room a pleasant place to linger. In spite of the sloped back of the tub, her posture stays correct and firm, and she sips at the chocolate placed on the tray, her large gray-blue eyes misty and unfocused, as if she dreams of something else.
Afterward Marie Antoinette climbs back into bed, tucking the chemise about her and pulling the warmed blankets over her legs, and unfolds a swath of tapestry. Her eyes squint as she concentrates on making tiny stitches.
“I wager you never knew it could take a grown woman four hours to get dressed,” whispers one of the other tirewomen, once we are out of sight and earshot. “Lord, I wish I could go back to bed now, like she does. It sounds heavenly.”
Though slightly taken aback by her tone, I can’t help smiling in response to her infectious grin. “Especially in such a huge bed. It must be like sleeping on a cloud.”
“You’re Giselle?” she asks. “The new girl? Nice to meet you. I’m Geneviève.”
Together, we lay the queen’s dresses for the day out on the large tables within the wardrobe, making sure they are ready to wear. As soon as she discards one gown, changing to another, we immediately clean and press it. Even dresses that have been worn multiple times look nearly new, because we take such care brushing the skirts clean and mending loose threads. Most of them are new, though, stored in three wardrobe rooms lined with enormous cupboards.
“Have you ever managed to get a good look at the book of dress samples?” I ask Geneviève. Madame Campan brings the book to the queen every morning so she can choose the costumes she wishes to wear by poking pins into the sample swatches of fabric. I long to get my hands on the book, to pore over the patterned squares, examining the flowers and stripes and dots while brushing my fingertips over the smoothness of chiné silks and soft muslin, imagining the creations I could design someday.
“No,” replies Geneviève. Her tone of longing matches mine. No wonder Madame Campan closely guards the book. We’re all eager to see it, but it’s too delicate to be pawed at by all the wardrobe women.
At noon Léonard, the queen’s hairdresser, arrives, along with an entire entourage of people, including the Duchesse de Polignac, famed both for her beauty and her spending habits. Following Geneviève’s lead and discreetly peeking through the door of the wardrobe, I eagerly try to see if her eyes really are violet, as the rumors say, but the distance between us tells me nothing. The Princesse de Lamballe has arrived too, and the queen seems quite happy in the presence of her friends. Her mouth forms a small, perpetual smile, and her expression lightens. She sits at her dressing table while Léonard works with her fading reddish-gold hair, and the other grand ladies perch on sofas arranged specifically for this function of the queen’s day.
“Sometimes the princes of the blood and the captains of the guard come at this hour too, to pay their respects,” whispers Geneviève. “It’s like a madhouse of etiquette in here then. Even more than today.”
“I know. They were here yesterday.” I’d been struck by the queen’s ability to maintain her composure during what surely must be a taxing daily routine, and the seamlessly elegant way she bent her body, leaning slightly on the dressing table as if ready to rise in greeting to the princes. Secretly, I want to try to imitate the gesture, once I’m home again for my days off. The routine seems faintly ridiculous to me, though. Why should everyone want to watch as her hair is dressed? It seems the completed effect would be more remarkable if some mystery remained to it.
Geneviève grabs my arm. “Oh, hush. They’re talking of politics now, I think.”
Although I hadn’t been speaking, I obediently refrain, straining my ears. The beautiful dresses are the main reason I leapt at the chance to work in the queen’s household, for I’d love to design my own someday, making a name for myself as Rose Bertin has. The chance to pick up a smattering of interesting political information is an extra benefit, especially with the current troubled state of the economy.
“Do you suppose the recent election of representatives will matter a great deal?” That soft voice belongs to the Princesse de Lamballe. “They officially decreed for the books of complaint to be drawn up.”
The duchesse scoffs, setting her cup down on a table with a soft clink. “Yes, but that’s a tradition. I shouldn’t wonder if no one reads the cahiers. There must be hundreds of them in the end, gathered from all over the country, and probably half of them are incomprehensible.”
Geneviève and I exchange a glance, silently appalled by the duchesse’s derisive tone. My brief time at court has already shown me that the nobles have a limited understanding of what life outside the palace walls is like, but her scorn for the legislative processes of the Estates-General, the assembly that represents the states of the realm in the government, is practically offensive. There are three Estates, although my father has been wont to say that there might as well be only two. The first and second, made of nobles and clergy, outweigh the third, comprised of the rest of the people, in influence but not numbers.
The duchesse has not finished speaking. Even through the cracked opening of the wardrobe door, I see the arrogant tilt of her head. Her pale hands, gleaming with rings, flick dismissively through the air.
“The people of France cannot understand the great responsibility of ruling that falls upon the shoulders of the king. He has been bred for it, trained for it. The Estates-General likes to imagine it understands everything about running a country, but the king is the only one who does. It is his duty—it’s in his blood. Besides, state secrets and diplomacies can hardly be shared among the masses.”
“They would not be secrets, then,” remarks the queen dryly. “Louis tells me he may read the essay published last month by Abbé Sieyès. It has apparently become quite popular. He thinks it shall be interesting.”
“I think it’s rather nice he wants to share the interests of the people,” says the duchesse.
Geneviève presses her fingers to her lips, as though she can hardly keep from confronting the duchesse about the condescension of this remark. I motion with my hand that she must keep quiet, and she nods, rolling her eyes at the same time.
“Of course he does. He’s always been very proud of the people’s affection for him. He loves his subjects dearly. And he does enjoy reading.”
Geneviève nudges me, her voice scarcely audible. “I have a copy of that essay, What Is the Third Estate? I could lend it to you, but you must keep it a secret.”
I don’t need to ask why. It wouldn’t make a good impression to be caught reading such an inflammatory text at court, provoking new ways of viewing society. From what I’ve heard, the essay suggests that the Third Estate, the common people, should have as much representation in government as the nobles. “I’ll not breathe a word, I promise.” The idea of reading it intrigues me, especially after overhearing this conversation between royal ladies. Their naïve callousness shocks me. I’ve never before questioned the king’s right to rule—it is the normal way for society to function—but I didn’t expect such condescension about serious issues affecting so many people. I return Geneviève’s solemn look. “Thank you.”
“I’ll get it for you later. You can take it home during your leisure time.”
My whispered conversation with Geneviève ends abruptly when the queen rises from her seat, her coiffure perfected, and turns to her companions before moving toward the wardrobe.
“Here she comes,” says Geneviève quickly. “You know, she used to dress out there as well. It’s only since she insists on having Rose Bertin as her dresser that she retires to the closet. The duchesse and the princesse would not suffer sharing the task with a common woman like Rose, so the queen changed the way things are done. She is very fond of Rose’s creations.”
“Don’t you like Rose Bertin?” I ask, surprised. I haven’t spoken with her much, and she seems rather smug, but it’s difficult not to admire her brisk efficiency and the beauty of her gowns.
“Oh, I do. But she is common. You and I are no duchesses, but our fathers are gentlemen, at least. Her mother was a nurse for sick people, for heaven’s sake. I don’t mind, though—she certainly rose higher than anyone could have expected. That’s admirable ambition.” Geneviève winks and then wipes her expression solemn as the queen reaches the doorway, Madame Campan in tow.
Marie Antoinette looks serious now, and the light smile she wore earlier has vanished, emphasizing the haughty angle of her nose. I curse myself for letting Geneviève distract me from the conversation, for the look in her eyes suggests it must have saddened her, and I wonder what had been said.
She catches my eye, startling me out of my thoughts. I smile tentatively.
“The sun has decided to shine,” she says. “A welcome sight. I hope we shall have an early spring this year. It would do us all good.” She looks wistfully at the patterned spray of flowers on the dress laid out.
“All will be well, Your Majesty.” Still surprised that she has addressed me again, I can’t think of anything cleverer to say, and she looks like she needs reassurance, somehow. Even royalty grows weary of winter, I suppose.
“Of course,” she says confidently. “Of course it shall.”
As I walk home, a billow of smoke rises into the dusky violet sky, and the muted roar of wild voices tumbles through the air. My steps slow, and a middle-aged man with a tattered hat nearly bumps into me.
“There’s a riot outside the Réveillon wallpaper factory—everyone who believes in change is there now.” Eyes glazed with excitement, he dashes off in the direction of the thundercloud of smoke.
I edge toward the street. Around me, dozens of people hurry toward the smoke and the sound of shouting, wearing mingled expressions of excitement and nervousness. I’m not the only curious one. Revolution has sparked in Paris, and I want to see it. For months the subject of conversation in the marketplace, and everyone’s parlor, has centered on the exorbitant price of bread, the shamefully low wages, the extravagance of the royal family. On the last, I have personal experience. People have been threatening riots over the cost of bread, but I never truly believed it would happen.
I’ve often walked past the Réveillon wallpaper factory, sprawled along the corner of the rue du Montreuil and the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, admiring the lavish windows overlooking the street. The owner of the factory, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, lives above it, and one can frequently see a fancy carriage pausing outside, while Madame Réveillon alights, swinging the voluminous skirts of her opulent gown. She’s probably one of the few women outside of nobility who can afford to wear Rose Bertin’s supremely fashionable creations. Her prices are fit for a queen, and with good reason, since she’s Marie Antoinette’s favored dress designer.
The view of the factory and the house are blocked by a swarm of people, clogging the street and shoving past one another. Everyone’s clothes are dusted with soot and ash, and a dozen or so nearby watchers carry uncorked wine bottles. All around me voices are calling and boots are stomping in a cacophony of manic excitement. I can hardly pick out individual words, just muffled cries of wages and wine and change. “First Réveillon’s wine, then his blood!” someone shouts near my ear, painfully. The jumbling crowd sweeps me into the maelstrom of people. I turn back, wanting to escape.
When a group of people make a mad dash for the thick of the fray, one of them collides roughly against me. A buckle from his coat snags the sleeve of my dress, ripping the seam.
“Watch it, clumsy elephant!”
The culprit, a man with a long brown coat and a matching beard, misses my scathing glare, already busy knocking into someone else several strides away.
My fingers curl around a fold of soft wool at the same time that a deep voice speaks, near enough to my ear to keep the words from being lost in the din.
“Watch it, yourself—that’s my sleeve you’re yanking on.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry. I was trying to catch my balance.” I look up into the glittering dark eyes and sharp features of a man approximately my own age.
His mouth quirks in a small smile. “As long as you weren’t referring to me as the clumsy elephant, I don’t mind.”
A woman shoves past me, her elbow stabbing into the small of my back. “Réveillon deserves all of this!” she shrieks. “He wants to reduce wages—death to the rich!”
I stumble again, victim to her battering-ram steps. In retaliation, I stomp my foot down on hers, raising my arms to make spears of my elbows.
“Come on.” The man grabs my wrist, dragging me forward a couple of steps and then slides behind me, moving his hand to my shoulder, pushing me forward. His breath hisses through his teeth once, sharply.
“What are you doing?” I try to plant my feet, but he’s strong, and if I don’t walk, he’ll probably push me over. “Stop at once.”
He doesn’t reply until we have traveled all the way across the street, where the crowd thins. I hadn’t realized how many people had swarmed around me. The perimeter of the raucous crowd had grown quickly.
“I’m getting you clear of the riot,” he says crossly. “Unless you’d like to be beaten and crushed?”
“What? Of course not.”
“Then stop insulting already-incited people and stamping on their toes. I took a blow meant for you, I’ll have you know. The woman whose toes you attempted to crush whacked me across the back with a heavy book.” Shaking his head, he raises a bottle of wine to his lips and swallows.
“I’m sorry.” I promise myself it will be the last time I apologize to this stranger. Only a dozen words spoken, and half of them expressions of regret—how ridiculous. “Er, why do so many people have wine bottles?”
“The mob raided Réveillon’s wine cellar. He’s rather a connoisseur, as it turns out. Apparently, there were nearly two thousand bottles stored away, all very good quality.” He tilts the bottle to me. “Would you like a sample?”
More shaken than I want to admit, I reach for the bottle. My fingers tremble, and I grip the smooth glass tightly to quell the motion. It’s good wine, ranking among the best I’ve tasted, even given my uncle’s fondness for collecting exceptional vintages. Rich and smooth and intense, it washes away the tension, warming my insides. Even after one sip, I feel braver.
“Apparently? Didn’t you see the wine cellar for yourself?”
“No.” He grins sheepishly and pushes a strand of dark hair away from his forehead. “Someone pushed the bottle into my hands, shouting ‘share the wealth.’”
My laughter makes his smile widen, which softens his sharp features, making him look less fierce. “Thank you for helping me out of the crowd, and for the wine. I only wanted to watch from the edge, but somehow I got swept into the thick of the fray. I’m Giselle Aubry, by the way.”
“Léon Gauvain,” he says. “And you’re welcome. Even the edge of a riot can be dangerous. In fact, we should probably retreat a little farther. Unless you do want to start a fight after all?” He takes the wine bottle back from me, drinking again.
“No, I’ve had enough for one day.”
“Come on, then.” He marches down the street, away from the smoke and shouts of the riot.
Scarcely hesitating, I follow. I’m afraid to linger near the crowd, but that isn’t the real reason. The air practically hums with exhilaration, and I’m not ready to go home yet.
“Do you know what started the riot?” I ask. “I know Monsieur Réveillon made a suggestion about wages that wasn’t well received, but that was nearly a week ago.”
“Was it? I suppose it takes time for the word to spread.” Léon passes the wine back to me.
“I know about the wine now, but what about the smoke? Is the factory on fire?”
“Just wallpaper, I think, although I didn’t see it well. I wasn’t eager to linger near a bonfire surrounded by a thousand raging men and women.”
“A pity, as the wallpaper was already made,” I observe. While it would be worse to see the factory burned, the wallpaper is still a significant loss. “It seems almost unfair to the workers to burn it now.”
He narrows his eyes. “Unfair? I’ll tell you what’s unfair here—Réveillon owns a mansion filled with expensive wine and first-edition books, while his workers labor long hours, six days a week, for less than fifty sous per day. And then he has the gall to suggest lowering their wages.”
I don’t flinch back from his stare, although he leans closer and the corners of his mouth are tight with anger. “I do think it’s unfair. You talk of the laborers, and they worked hard to create that wallpaper. Now it’s destroyed. And Monsieur Réveillon didn’t suggest reducing wages, as a matter of fact. At least, not only that—it’s complicated. He said that if the price of bread would go down, wages could also be slightly decreased, and it would still stimulate the economy. The economy needs that.”
“Slightly decreased.” He rolls his eyes at my too-diplomatic phrasing. “How do you know he said that?”
“My uncle told me.”
“And he knows Réveillon?”
He throws his head back derisively. “No wonder you were about to get trampled. You’re one of them, aren’t you? Privileged and wealthy?”
“No. My family isn’t so badly off as some, but we’re still Third Estate.” I do know more about the nobility than most, though. I wonder what he would think if he knew of my connection to Versailles, that I live there when on duty as one of the queen’s under-tirewomen.
His brow tilts suspiciously, but he doesn’t question me further. “Pass the wine back.”
Meeting his eyes, I take a deliberately slow sip before handing it back.
He shakes his head, but the sternness in his expression melts back into amusement. I like the way his mouth softens, a smile blossoming at the corners of his lips. It makes his straight brows and sharp jawline seem less severe. “Where are you from, Léon? Your accent is not quite Parisian.”
“Toulouse.” He lifts his chin with the air of someone who has seen much of the world.
I realize he’s forgotten the bottle of wine in his hand and hasn’t taken any since I returned it. I snatch it back, laughing. “What brought you to Paris?”
“I’m a watchmaker’s apprentice, at a shop not too far from here.” He reaches for the wine again, and this time his warm fingertips brush mine.
“You work for Monsieur Renard?”
“Yes.” He stares in surprise.
“I know him, a little. My uncle used to be a watchmaker too. They worked together occasionally. My uncle designed a ring with a watch mounted on it, and the old king purchased it as a gift for his mistress, and I think Monsieur Renard was always a little envious. Uncle Pierre writes plays now, though.”
“Your uncle must know everyone,” Léon observes.
“Almost,” I concede.
“Now that you’ve learned so much about me, I think it’s my turn to ask you a question, Giselle.”
Inexplicably, I like the way my name falls from his lips, the second syllable dropping into a purr. “All right.”
“Where did you learn to lift your head in that haughty way?” His eyes gleam wickedly. “Your uncle again?”
“I do that?” I feel a little shocked, and thrilled, too. I can think of only one person I could be unconsciously imitating. In my three months as part of Marie Antoinette’s household, I’ve secretly admired her poise. Even though a revolutionary like Léon might not approve, I’m pleased to possess even a fraction of her elegance.
“Yes. To the first man who bumped into you, and then the woman who clobbered me with a book, and again to me, at first.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“I don’t think you’ll like the answer, Léon.”
“You have to tell me. I shared my wine with you.” His voice is teasing, but I can see by his expression that he really wants to know.
“Not here,” I relent. “We have to move farther away from the crowd.”
“How mysterious you are.”
“I’m one of the under-tirewomen serving the queen,” I say at last, once we have found a quiet patch of street.
He sighs. “I can see why you didn’t want any of the rioters to overhear that. Wait—you learned that haughty expression from the queen? In person?” He sounds faintly stricken.
Annoyed, I shove at his chest and take the wine bottle again, sipping quickly to hide my distraction by the hard warmth of his body. “I suppose I must have. And don’t look like that. It’s a good job, Léon.” It’s a coveted position in the queen’s wardrobe, only a step below her ladies-in-waiting.
“I’ll bet. How much do you make?”
“What a rude question.”
“In regular times, yes. But this is different—the majority of people can hardly afford food, and in Versailles no one wants for anything. Help me put this into perspective, please, Giselle.”
“I have a salary of two thousand and one hundred livres per year,” I say reluc. . .
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