Tragic Queen, Best History Lesson Ever

Désirée Clary by François Gérard (1810)

Désirée Clary by François Gérard (1810)

I grew up in Sweden and like many writers, I have always been a voracious reader. Luckily, my mom is also a book addict and happily enabled her daughters addiction.

My favorite stories were about human connection. Relationships between siblings, strangers, and soul mates fascinated me equally. I don’t remember the first romance novel I read, but I do remember shocking my seventh-grade history teacher by my extensive historical knowledge of how the current ruling family of Sweden was founded. All the kids in my class knew the event took place in 1818 by a French general named Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte.  And that he changed his name to Charles XIV John when he was elected heir presumptive to the Swedish throne. (The royal family was dying out.) We learned those details from our textbook.

But I was the only student who rambled on about his queen, Desideria, and the challenges she faced when she first arrived at the Swedish court. I knew she’d once been the fiancée of Napoleon Bonaparte and that her real name was Bernadine Eugénie  Désirée Clary. I knew she was heartbroken when she had to leave Paris and go live in the cold north. I knew she found her new country chilly both in terms of the climate and the court’s opinion of her.

My extensive historical research came from only one book. In my mom’s library, I’d discovered Désirée by Anne Selinko. This 1952 melodramatic historical romance chronicles Désirée’s many tragic love affairs and unjust treatment by her indifferent husband and the snobbishness of the Swedish court. Although very one-sided, completely from the perspective of the queen, I ate it up. I didn’t even mind that the book was published twenty years before I was born.

If the melodramatic early teen-aged version of myself hadn’t sympathized with the Désirée character in Anne Selinko’s book, I’d remember as much about Charles XIV John’s reign as I do the other kings’ history that we covered in class that year—nothing. Not because I don’t like history—I do—and not because I had a bad teacher—my history instructor was my favorite and very good at his job. I just didn’t connect with the dull rendition of biographical details of the characters in my history book.

That’s why I read and write romance. I love the human struggle of the characters on the page and how readers connect and relate to the people in a novel. Without that connection, there is no story for me and the book won’t hold my interest. On the flip side, when I fall in love with a character and a plot, I’m likely to ramble on about it in to my teacher in history class, to strangers in the grocery store check-out line, and apparently—decades later—to distinguished readers of a blog dedicated to writing and publishing romance.

I leave you with Kid Snippets “Wedding Jitters.” It’s happily ever after imagined by two young girls and acted out by grownups, using the kids’ voice overs.


About Asa Maria Bradley

2016 Double RITA finalist, romance author, news junkie, physics instructor, and diver. Loves Norse mythology, ranch dressing, and cop shows. Lives with husband and rescue dog of indeterminate breed in Pacific Northwest. Represented by Sarah E. Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. Writers about sexy modern-day Vikings. More at and @AsaMariaBradley.

Posted on April 17, 2014, in Auth: Asa Maria Bradley and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Before I really knew the original telling of King Arthur, I read Marion ZImmer Bradley’s (Hey! Any relation?) MISTS OF AVALON which covers Morgan le Fey’s story from her POV. So I could never read the original without thinking, “That’s not how it happened” 🙂 A good story is more real than truth.


  2. “You should have told me these things before you decided to get married.” LOL. I can’t stop laughing.

    This is a great post. I appreciate the history lesson and of course I had to wikipedia the Queen… what an interesting lady. A very reluctant Queen (I would have put up with the cold weather for a tiara on my head 😛 )


  3. Isn’t it remarkable how fiction makes history so much more memorable? Everything I know about Richard III, I learned from reading Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey! I developed a major ‘tude about Shakespeare’s version.


  4. History is about people and comes alive in novels so I hope they start getting added to to must read lists in schools.


  5. Enjoyable history lesson. Desideria was not on my radar 🙂 Thank you.


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