Historian Goldstone (Daughters of the Winter Queen) recounts in this fascinating saga the personalities and power struggles of Maria Theresa, ruler of the Habsburg Empire, and three of her daughters, each of whom served as official or de facto rulers of their own realms during periods of upheaval. Maria Theresa (1717–1780) learned boldness from countering Prussian king Frederick the Great’s incessant attacks, and honed her diplomatic skills as she sought to retain the loyalty of her sprawling empire’s subjects. Stalwart Maria Christina (1742–1798) ensured a strong alliance between the Austrian Netherlands and her family’s other territories, while energetic Maria Carolina (1752–1814) ushered in the “Golden Age of Naples” before the kingdom was conquered by Napoleon—who married into the family he overthrew. In Goldstone’s compassionate retelling, French queen Marie Antoinette (1755–1793) transitioned from a frivolous high-spender into a more serious sovereign, but was doomed to the guillotine by her early reputation. Adding wry humor to her lucid narrative, Goldstone clarifies the era’s complex politics and pinpoints how these commanding women helped give shape to modern Europe. This mesmerizing history isn’t to be missed. Agent: Michael Carlisle, InkWell Management. (Sept.)
Rich storytelling… humane and balanced portraits… In the Shadow of the Empress is elegantly written, in a brisk style that plays to Ms. Goldstone’s strengths in portraiture and the theatrical set-piece. The author deftly interweaves the ups and downs of Maria Theresa’s running contest with Frederick with the vicissitudes of her life as Europe’s most prolific procreator.”—A. Wess Mitchell, Wall Street Journal
“A vivid exploration of four female royals who altered the course of history.”—People
“In this entertaining and thoroughly researched book, you’ll get a new perspective on these women who changed the course of history.”—Nina Garin, San Diego Union Tribune
“A virtuoso performance, Goldstone at the peak of her creative abilities… The interlocking lives of these formidable women are played out against a turbulent century of social unrest, revolution and war… the depth of her research and the acuity of her insights are outstanding.”—Gerard DeGroot, The Times (UK)
“If you like biography, if you like history, this wonderful tome is for you. Deeply researched, In the Shadow of the Empress is written with a light hand and occasional humor.”—Ana Daniel, East Hampton Star
"A fascinating saga... Adding wry humor to her lucid narrative, Goldstone clarifies the era’s complex politics and pinpoints how these commanding women helped give shape to modern Europe. This mesmerizing history isn’t to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A panoramic history of 1700s Europe… Goldstone vividly depicts a resplendent, glittering milieu. Her fast-paced, populous narrative teems with gossip, court intrigue, and head-spinning political machinations… A colorful collection of dynamic, prodigiously researched portraits.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Compelling and redefining… [An] expert account of the lives of the extraordinary Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and three of her most illustrious daughters, Maria Christina, Maria Carolina, and Marie Antoinette. Goldstone employs colorful secondary-source accounts and strong, character-driven narration to present fresh insights into the personalities, attitudes, gifts, and fatal flaws of this family of powerful, now legendary women.”—Jasmine Liu, Booklist
“Meticulously researched… A dizzying and dazzling foray into the intricacies of 18th-century European history… A masterful look at a long-gone era.”—Marie M. Mullaney, Library Journal
“Nancy Goldstone has the amazing ability of taking on huge subjects and turning very complicated stories into a thrilling and coherent narrative. Her deep knowledge of the period, her clear-eyed empathy for her subjects, and her effortless style make for a riveting, entertaining, and enlightening book.”—Anka Muhlstein, author of The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels
“Maria Theresa is a study in contrasts. She was an extraordinary female power in a man’s world, the creator of a vibrant and warm family life from which daughters were farmed out to the highest-paying prince, and a bold leader brought to her knees by insecurity and fear. Goldstone pulls all the messy, human incongruities of a pugnacious late eighteenth-century Europe together into a page-turner of a book.”—Kara Cooney, author of When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt
“Engrossing historical storytelling, filled with suspense, tantalizing mysteries, intimate family drama, and details of terror, cruelty, courage, and passion, set in the revolutionary cauldron of eighteenth-century Europe.”—Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World
“Brilliant, delightful, and fun! Centered on the remarkable Austrian empress Maria Theresa and her diverse brood of daughters, this book reveals events engineered by these intelligent and powerful women in all their complexity, ingenuity, and, ultimately, fatal error. Chock full of penetrating modern insights into the psychological failings that bedevil the human condition.”—Kirstin Downey, author of Isabella: The Warrior Queen
The latest work by historian Goldstone (Daughters of the Winter Queen) is a dizzying and dazzling foray into the intricacies of 18th-century European history as experienced by the extended family of Maria Theresa (1717–80), the only woman ever to inherit and rule the Hapsburg Empire in her own name. After a lengthy description and assessment of the reign of the empress herself, Goldstone focuses on three of her 16 children and their interwoven lives: Maria Christina (b. 1742), who married Albert of Saxony and became governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands; Maria Carolina (b. 1752), who married Ferdinand, king of Naples, and remains reviled in Italy even today; and the most famous, Marie Antoinette (b. 1755), who met her death in the French Revolution. Goldstone's particular attention to women's history is evident; she is careful to mention numerous other women whose lives intersected with Maria Theresa and her descendants. Maps, illustrations, and genealogical charts enrich this masterful look at a long-gone era. VERDICT While there are fascinating details here about royal childhoods, courtships, marriages, and extramarital love affairs, this meticulously researched collective biography is best for serious readers of 18th-century European politics and history.—Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
The opulent, eventful lives of four dynamic 18th-century women.
Goldstone, who specializes in collective biographies of queens, creates a panoramic history of 1700s Europe in her story of a remarkable female dynasty: Maria Theresa (1717-1780), “Holy Roman Empress [and]…the only female member of the Habsburg family, for centuries the predominant dynasty in Europe, ever to rule in her own right”; and her three daughters: Maria Christina (known as Mimi) (1742-1798), governor general of the Austrian Netherlands; Maria Carolina (Charlotte) (1752-1814), queen of Naples; and Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), infamous queen of France. Drawing from histories, biographies, memoirs, and letters, Goldstone vividly depicts a resplendent, glittering milieu. Her fast-paced, populous narrative teems with gossip, court intrigue, and head-spinning political machinations, not least Maria Theresa’s efforts to make propitious marriages for her daughters, preferably with royals who could enhance her empire’s fortunes. Charlotte was sent off to Italy at the age of 15, fearful and distraught, with only a letter from her mother hinting at the demands of married life and her political future. Maria Theresa had stipulated in the marriage contract that after she produced a son, Charlotte would claim a seat on the royal council—an event that catapulted Charlotte to power in 1775, when she was 22. Marie Antoinette was married at 14 to the French dauphin, a man who was probably autistic and needed instruction from his brother-in-law on the mechanics of sex. Goldstone illuminates the military, political, economic, cultural, and social complexities that each woman faced as well as the personal challenges, including continual pregnancies (Maria Theresa had 16 in 20 years); children’s deaths; raging smallpox; and, for Maria Theresa, Charlotte, and Marie Antoinette, unhappy marriages. Goldstone is an empathetic biographer, highlighting the women’s considerable achievements as well as their shortcomings: Maria Theresa’s “intractable anti-Semitism,” for example and the frivolity, extravagances, and self-indulgence that eventually sent Marie Antoinette to her death.
A colorful collection of dynamic, prodigiously researched portraits.