The Betray­al of the Duchess: The Scan­dal That Unmade the Bour­bon Monar­chy and Made France Modern

September 1, 2019

The year was 1832 and the French roy­al fam­i­ly was in exile, dri­ven out by yet anoth­er rev­o­lu­tion. From a drafty Scot­tish cas­tle, the duchesse de Berry — the moth­er of the eleven-year-old heir to the throne — hatched a plot to restore the Bour­bon dynasty. For months, she com­mand­ed a gueril­la army and evad­ed cap­ture by dis­guis­ing her­self as a man. But soon she was betrayed by her trust­ed advi­sor, Simon Deutz, the son of France’s Chief Rab­bi. The betray­al became a cause célèbre for Bour­bon loy­al­ists and ignit­ed a firestorm of hate against France’s Jews. By blam­ing an entire peo­ple for the actions of a sin­gle man, the duchess’s sup­port­ers set the terms for the cen­tu­ry of anti­semitism that fol­lowed. Brim­ming with intrigue and lush detail, The Betray­al of the Duchess is the riv­et­ing sto­ry of a high-spir­it­ed woman, the charm­ing but volatile young man who dou­ble-crossed her, and the birth of one of the mod­ern world’s most dead­ly forms of hatred.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Mau­rice Samuels

  1. How did the Rev­o­lu­tion of 1789 change France? How did these changes affect the duchess and her fam­i­ly? How did they affect Simon Deutz and his fam­i­ly? How did they affect Jews in general?

  2. How did the mod­ern­iza­tion of France fuel anti­semitism? Why did Jews become scape­goats for those who opposed modernization?

  3. What led Deutz to con­vert to Catholi­cism? How did his fam­i­ly back­ground and per­son­al psy­chol­o­gy dri­ve his actions?

  4. Did Deutz have any redeem­ing fea­tures? Do you feel sym­pa­thy for him?

  5. Was the duchess a smart and coura­geous hero­ine? Or was she an extreme right-wing zealot fight­ing against democ­ra­cy? Can we admire her even if we don’t agree with her pol­i­tics? Why were so many peo­ple devot­ed to her cause?

  6. What was the duchess fight­ing for? Were her moti­va­tions more per­son­al or political?

  7. On the one hand, the duchess defend­ed tra­di­tion­al and con­ser­v­a­tive fam­i­ly val­ues. But on the oth­er, she defied gen­der stereo­types. Can we rec­on­cile this contradiction?

  8. Was Louis-Philippe fair to the duchess? What could or should he have done differently?

  9. Why did the French Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty turn on the Deutz fam­i­ly? Were they right to do so? Did you feel sym­pa­thy for Rab­bi Deutz (the father)? Should he have denounced his son’s actions?

  10. The Bour­bons nev­er did recap­ture the French throne. What were the rea­sons for this fail­ure? What mis­takes do you think the duchess and her asso­ciates made?

  11. Do you believe that Simon Deutz died in New Orleans? What oth­er pos­si­ble end­ings can you imag­ine for him?

  12. How did the sto­ry of the betray­al live on in French nation­al mem­o­ry? Why did it fade away after WWII?

  13. How does this case help us under­stand the ori­gin of mod­ern anti­semitism? How can it help us under­stand anti­semitism today?