Meet the Woman Who Was Jilted by Napoleon and Then Launched a Royal Dynasty That Lasts to This Day
In her new novel, The Queen’s Fortune, author Allison Pataki delves into a “good royal drama” — one that happened over two centuries ago.
Pataki tells the true story of Desiree Clary, a 19th-century Frenchwoman who fell in love with Napoleon Bonaparte, who went on to become the French Emperor and then broke her heart. Turns out getting jilted by the 5-foot-7-inch Bonaparte wasn’t such a bad thing for Clary, who eventually married Jean Bernadotte and became the Queen of Sweden for 26 years.
Though Napoleon is one of Europe’s most famous and chronicled leaders, Desiree’s story is largely untold, says Pataki, 35, the daughter of former New York Governor George Pataki.
“Desiree was an ordinary woman living during extraordinary times,” notes Pataki. “It’s fascinating for us when somebody who was not born into that lifestyle then ascends to that position.”
Pataki even likens her to modern-day royals.
“Desiree was like us. Meghan Markle was like us. Kate Middleton was like us. They weren’t born royal and that makes them relatable,” says Pataki. “But then they enter into this world and they go behind the veil and we’re always intrigued to get those moments of candor because it shows us what it’s really like.”
Desiree, who was born in 1777, was a merchant’s daughter in France and met Napoleon when his brother, Joseph, wed her sister, Julie, in 1794. The two fell in love and became engaged. But Napoleon broke it off after meeting another woman, Josephine, whom he eventually married in 1796, making her an empress.
But there is much more to Desiree’s story. She eventually became Queen Desideria of Sweden when she married Jean Bernadotte, who was appointed King in 1818. The couple had a son, Oscar, establishing the Bernadotte dynasty in Sweden that still rules today. The current king of Sweden, King Carl Gustaf, is Desiree’s descendent, as is his daughter and future Queen, the Crown Princess Victoria. “Crown Princess Victoria, who’s the young next generation leader, her middle name is Desiree,” Pataki notes.
Desiree lived through tumultuous times, from the French Revolution to the Napoleonic Wars, but ultimately found a happy ending. “Desiree got a loving family, a happy family, the next generation of children and grandchildren and great grandchildren,” Pataki says.
“Through it all, not only did she survive but she ultimately thrived and then reigned and established this dynasty that outlasted those of all of the power players around her at the time, including Napoleon Bonaparte. No king or queen alive today has the last name of Bonaparte but Desiree’s family still has her last name, Bernadotte.”
The Queen’s Fortune hits shelves February 11.