Is For the King a sequel to Mistress of the Revolution?
No. The characters of my first novel had such a grip of my mind that I needed to establish some distance. But my readers will recognize the same setting, the familiar streets of old Paris. The action now takes place in 1800, six years after the fall of Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror.
Six years is a very long time during the Revolution. What had changed?
Indeed time flew then! France is still officially a Republic, and Bonaparte, the First Consul, is not yet Napoléon. He has seized power in a coup in 1799, a year earlier. The Royalists had at first naively believed that he would restore the exiled King Louis XVIII to the throne, but they have now lost all of their illusions as to the extent of Bonaparte's ambitions.
And Bonaparte is a master of propaganda. With the help of the greatest French artists, such as Jacques-Louis David and Antoine-Jean Gros, he cleverly uses his victories - and even his defeats - to craft the image of a glorious, invincible military hero.
At the same time, he pardons many of the former aristocrats who sought safety in émigration during the years of the Terror. He wants to attract them, and promises them new titles and generous stipends if they join the new Court he is forming around himself and his wife, charming Joséphine. The émigrés are now cautiously returning to France.
Have these former Royalists sincerely rallied to Bonaparte?
That is the question! Some have, but many, within Paris, are secretly conspiring for the return of the King. In the western provinces, Royalist insurgents, called the Chouans, under the leadership of the charismatic Georges Cadoudal, continue to defy Bonaparte in spite of the government's talk of pacification and amnesty.
But Napoléon Bonaparte also faces other determined opponents: the remaining Jacobins, partisans of the nearly defunct ideals of the Revolution. They, like the Royalists, are not prepared to accept quietly the emergence of a new monarchy.
So what happened on Christmas Eve 1800?
Bonaparte, accompanied by Joséphine, is going to the Opera to attend the premiere of Haydn’s oratorio The Creation of the World. On Rue Nicaise, along the path of their carriages, an infernal machine, a bomb of tremendous power, explodes. Fortunately the First Consul's coachman is alert and whips his horses. Bonaparte, Joséphine and their entourage escape unharmed, but there are over seventy casualties among bystanders.
Public opinion reacts to the attack with shock and outrage, much in the same fashion as we did after 9/11. The target of the assassins was not only Bonaparte, it was also the people of Paris. The victims are a fourteen-year old girl, a little street vendor, shopkeepers, musicians who had been hired for a nearby party, passersby, ordinary people who were going to celebrate Christmas Eve or simply waiting to see the First Consul's carriage pass by.
What interested you particularly in the Rue Nicaise attack?
The inquiry was headed by Joseph Fouché, the redoubtable Minister of Police, and it is considered to this day the first scientific criminal investigation. In many ways I was amazed by its modernity. What I also found fascinating was the power struggle between Bonaparte and Fouché, a former Jacobin who had betrayed everyone he had ever served. And Bonaparte brilliantly, if cynically, used of the attack to consolidate his power.
Regardless of the findings of Fouché's investigation, which soon pointed to Cadoudal's Chouans and exonerated the Jacobins, Bonaparte deftly exploited the public outrage to eliminate political opponents of all stripe and further consolidate his power. The path to Empire was now wide open to him.
With such a backdrop, all that remained was to weave a romantic intrigue between my fictional characters...