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In the Shadow of the Empress: The Defiant Lives of Maria Theresa, Mother of Marie Antoinette, and Her Daughters

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The vibrant, sprawling saga of Empress Maria Theresa—one of the most renowned women rulers in history—and three of her extraordinary daughters, including Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of France. Out of the thrilling and tempestuous eighteenth century comes the sweeping family saga of beautiful Maria Theresa, a sovereign of uncommon strength and vision, the only woman e The vibrant, sprawling saga of Empress Maria Theresa—one of the most renowned women rulers in history—and three of her extraordinary daughters, including Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of France. Out of the thrilling and tempestuous eighteenth century comes the sweeping family saga of beautiful Maria Theresa, a sovereign of uncommon strength and vision, the only woman ever to inherit and rule the vast Habsburg Empire in her own name, and three of her remarkable daughters: lovely, talented Maria Christina, governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands; spirited Maria Carolina, the resolute queen of Naples; and the youngest, Marie Antoinette, the glamorous, tragic queen of France, and perhaps the most famous princess in history.   Unfolding against an irresistible backdrop of brilliant courts from Vienna to Versailles, embracing the exotic lure of Naples and Sicily, this epic history of Maria Theresa and her daughters is a tour de force of desire, adventure, ambition, treachery, sorrow, and glory.   Each of these women’s lives was packed with passion and heart-stopping suspense. Maria Theresa inherited her father’s thrones at the age of twenty-three and was immediately attacked on all sides by foreign powers confident that a woman would to be too weak to defend herself. Maria Christina, a gifted artist who alone among her sisters succeeded in marrying for love, would face the same dangers that destroyed the monarchy in France. Resourceful Maria Carolina would usher in the golden age of Naples only to face the deadly whirlwind of Napoleon. And, finally, Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen whose stylish excesses and captivating notoriety have masked the truth about her husband and herself for two hundred and fifty years.   Vividly written and deeply researched, In the Shadow of the Empress is the riveting story of four exceptional women who changed the course of history.


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The vibrant, sprawling saga of Empress Maria Theresa—one of the most renowned women rulers in history—and three of her extraordinary daughters, including Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of France. Out of the thrilling and tempestuous eighteenth century comes the sweeping family saga of beautiful Maria Theresa, a sovereign of uncommon strength and vision, the only woman e The vibrant, sprawling saga of Empress Maria Theresa—one of the most renowned women rulers in history—and three of her extraordinary daughters, including Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of France. Out of the thrilling and tempestuous eighteenth century comes the sweeping family saga of beautiful Maria Theresa, a sovereign of uncommon strength and vision, the only woman ever to inherit and rule the vast Habsburg Empire in her own name, and three of her remarkable daughters: lovely, talented Maria Christina, governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands; spirited Maria Carolina, the resolute queen of Naples; and the youngest, Marie Antoinette, the glamorous, tragic queen of France, and perhaps the most famous princess in history.   Unfolding against an irresistible backdrop of brilliant courts from Vienna to Versailles, embracing the exotic lure of Naples and Sicily, this epic history of Maria Theresa and her daughters is a tour de force of desire, adventure, ambition, treachery, sorrow, and glory.   Each of these women’s lives was packed with passion and heart-stopping suspense. Maria Theresa inherited her father’s thrones at the age of twenty-three and was immediately attacked on all sides by foreign powers confident that a woman would to be too weak to defend herself. Maria Christina, a gifted artist who alone among her sisters succeeded in marrying for love, would face the same dangers that destroyed the monarchy in France. Resourceful Maria Carolina would usher in the golden age of Naples only to face the deadly whirlwind of Napoleon. And, finally, Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen whose stylish excesses and captivating notoriety have masked the truth about her husband and herself for two hundred and fifty years.   Vividly written and deeply researched, In the Shadow of the Empress is the riveting story of four exceptional women who changed the course of history.

30 review for In the Shadow of the Empress: The Defiant Lives of Maria Theresa, Mother of Marie Antoinette, and Her Daughters

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    This is definitely history light. Its fun, easy to read or in my case listen to and is interesting as well. Unfortunately its also inaccurate. The details on Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette aren't based on the most current info. I'm only passingly familiar with the Hapsburg empire but I've studied the events leading up to The French Revolution in some depth and serious study as well. John Hardman's biographies on Louis XVI as well as Marie Antoinette are seriously handled, in depth and fully sourced. Mun This is definitely history light. Its fun, easy to read or in my case listen to and is interesting as well. Unfortunately its also inaccurate. The details on Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette aren't based on the most current info. I'm only passingly familiar with the Hapsburg empire but I've studied the events leading up to The French Revolution in some depth and serious study as well. John Hardman's biographies on Louis XVI as well as Marie Antoinette are seriously handled, in depth and fully sourced. Munro Price's 'The Road from Versailles: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the Fall of the French Monarchy' offers richness and depth to the politics of the French Revolution and the fall of the Ancien Regime. This book, however, is both light on actual facts and heavy on presenting conjecture as fact. I believe personally that Marie Antoinette had a long term affair with Axel von Fersen and I think its likely Louis XVI knew about this relationship. The thing is I'm aware that there's no direct evidence to this effect. It's possible that Louis Charles, Louis XVII, was the child of Fersen, though I find it extremely unlikely. Treating these fun conjectures as if they are facts is wrong, to do so without direct sources to support such statements renders this 'biography' largely fiction. That's really the issue for me. If I can catch the authors repeated inaccuracies given my limited expertise in this area that renders the rest of the work suspect as well. This isn't well sourced when these claims would need to be heavily cited. Honestly, I'm not sure the author really even read the books cited in the text as I find it hard to believe given how the author characterized Louis XVI that she actually read John Hardman's bio on him. I purposely read this slowly so I could check sources, none were really offered in the audiobook but even in the Kindle copy sources were light until the end of the book and even then simply a 'Selected Bibliography' which is not sufficient to cover the claims put forth in this biography. Still, I double checked as I could with the books I'd read on Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette as well as the French Revolution as a whole. This lacks adequate sourcing for the sheer amount of historical conjecturing. This is entertaining but heavily biased and really of no use as a history source. I have enjoyed this author's previous biographies and wish her no ill will. I was asked for a review in exchange for a free copy but I turned that down when I read the early reviews and purchased my own copies, so I could fairly review this and this is simply my honest review. I returned both my kindle & audible book copy because I feel strongly that it is not okay for nonfiction history books to go off-script like this.🤷🏾‍♀️ Its not okay to pass off fiction as history.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nijinsky

    I will start out by saying that I was overwhelmingly disappointed with this book. I was shocked by the amount of historical inaccuracies, falsehoods, unfounded speculations, and flimsy theories that I came across, page after page, as I made my way through the stories of Maria Theresa and (a selection of) her daughters conveyed here. It’s unfortunate, too, because I found the project admirable and necessary — there hasn’t been a new, standard English biography of Maria Theresa in nearly five deca I will start out by saying that I was overwhelmingly disappointed with this book. I was shocked by the amount of historical inaccuracies, falsehoods, unfounded speculations, and flimsy theories that I came across, page after page, as I made my way through the stories of Maria Theresa and (a selection of) her daughters conveyed here. It’s unfortunate, too, because I found the project admirable and necessary — there hasn’t been a new, standard English biography of Maria Theresa in nearly five decades, and her daughters, save for Marie Antoinette, get such little attention from published historians. Luckily, the English translation of Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger’s impressive biography of Maria Theresa is being released in the winter, so if I were you, I would just hold out for that release and skip this one. “In the Shadow of the Empress” is riddled with so much misinformation that it makes it more or less worthless to read. What is the point of reading history that is in no way concerned with relaying actualities and facts and instead relies on an avalanche of falsities? I was astonished with the quality of the writing here. This is not history. As an ardent enthusiast of Marie Antoinette, I can say with deep conviction that the chapters dedicated to her made my head spin. I have never, even in historical fiction, come across so many misrepresentations and incorrectness about the last queen of France, which says a great deal considering she is arguably one of the most maligned and misunderstood characters in history. I am not an expert on Maria Theresa nor her other daughters in the same way as I am about Marie Antoinette, but after I came across the almost countless problems with Goldstone’s assessment of Antoinette in these pages, I do not trust her take on any of these other Hapsburg women either. For starters, Nancy Goldstone is determined to pass off as fact that Axel von Fersen, the dashing Swede of Marie Antoinette lore, was the father of her two youngest (of four) children. Even in the preliminary genealogy of the book, he is listed as such. Let me make this clear … there is no concrete evidence whatsoever to support this theory as truth. It is speculation fueled by a romantic story that has only grown in popularity over the last 200 years that Marie Antoinette and Fersen were lovers and that their relationship went beyond the emotional into the physical. There is no evidence to prove with certainty that these two figures had a sexual relationship. There are letters, documents, bills, architectural plans, etc. that historians have used, over the centuries, to suggest that the queen and the count MIGHT have consummated their relationship, but this has never, and most likely will never, be proven as fact. Now, there is nothing wrong with a historian suggesting the possibility of their relationship, as it very well could have happened. Likewise, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest that it would have been entirely out of character for Marie Antoinette to have behaved in such a way. Nancy Goldstone, however, does not seem concerned with presenting this situation as an uncertainty and giving it the fair balance of maybe they did vs. maybe they didn’t that would have been responsible and instead flat out writes that Fersen was the father of two of the royal children and that they were definitely physical lovers. It’s incredibly irresponsible as a history writer to take something so unclear and pass off an opinion on the matter as the truth. There are so many details about their relationship in this book that are incorrect, as well as some wild claims I have never come across before in any book on Marie Antoinette. My favorite was the idea that Fersen shared the Queen’s bed on the night of the Women’s March on Versailles. Yes, the night when Versailles was surrounded by an angry, restless mob, in the wake of the attacks on the Bastille, when Marie Antoinette removed herself from her family’s presence for fear of their safety and stayed up all night in her bedchamber with her ladies in frozen dread, she made time to cozy up to her lover to await the onslaught. I have never once seen mention of this story anywhere in modern or contemporary texts (and this particular night is a well-documented one) — and do you want to know the author’s source? A friend of a friend of somebody who was there that night, an Englishman who Goldstone admits can’t be entirely relied upon in her notes, but has no problem passing off this hearsay as fact in the text, because, since the two were definitely lovers, it must have been the case! Another favorite was that Marie Antoinette, when writing to Fersen, mentioned the comfort that her youngest son gave her, and because she mentioned this child to Fersen and not her other children, it’s evidence that he was the child’s father. That’s a new level of reaching. Another issue with her paternity theory is that Goldstone actually declares that the heart of Louis XVII (who died not long after his parents, in captivity) was DNA tested against Marie Antoinette’s and several of her relation’s DNA to validate that the heart belonged to him, but that it wasn’t tested against Louis XVI’s DNA, as if intentionally. This isn’t true. There was DNA testing done to match Louis XVII to Louis XVI which came back positive. There are those who suggest that the DNA wasn’t Louis XVI’s, but even then, the testing was done and there was no scandalous, intentional omission, as if modern officials blatantly avoided it out of skepticism of Antoinette’s fidelity. The drama that she tries to interject here doesn’t exist. The amateur diagnosis of Louis XVI as autistic is another issue that comes across as incredibly irresponsible, unfounded, and offensive to people with autism. Goldstone suggests that his social awkwardness and inability to be emotional or physically responsive, among other things, are definite signs of Louis XVI being autistic. Not that he MAY have been, that he definitely was. She constantly refers to it as a “disorder” in the text, and as autism in her accompanying notes. I found this incredibly offensive to people with autism and irresponsible as a historian. You cannot diagnose a historical person with certainty. You can present a theory, but Goldstone is determined, as with her Fersen preoccupation, to declare it fact. She mentions in one of her notes how she consulted a doctor, and that said specialist determined the patient (Louis XVI) as showing signs consistent with a person with autism. Interestingly, Goldstone admits that she didn’t tell the doctor who this patient was, which I can’t help but imagine may have been intentional, as any professional would know better than to try and diagnose someone who’s been dead for two centuries. She clings to this professional diagnosis though, as if it’s full validation of her suspicions. Like I said before, a historian is more than welcome to present a theory. but you cannot say these things are 100% certainties, and, especially in this case, you cannot use such flimsy (and sometimes offensive to people who do have autism) evidence to back up your assertions. One of the worst is when Goldstone declares that Louis XVI’s inability to understand how sex worked before it was explained to him step-by-step by his brother-in-law was a sign of autism. Are you serious? People with autism don’t understand sex? It’s outrageous. There are several suggestions like this that are just so insensitive. It is possible that Louis XVI was autistic, but the evidence presented here is not convincing, and what’s worse, is that a lot of it is in poor taste and insulting to people with autism. Furthermore, her explanation of the sex life between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI is incredibly incorrect and seems to rely on information to be found in biographies from at least a century ago. The two had consummated their marriage by 1773, but Goldstone seems to rely on the outdated idea that this didn’t happen until after 1777, when her brother Joseph visited from Vienna to help solve their marital issues. Even beyond these major problems with her narrative, there are just so many little inaccuracies, errors, and strange ideas presented in the text. I’ll list a few selections. Goldstone suggests Louis XV was a senile drunk. No, he wasn’t. Mme du Barry was a malicious gold digger? No, she wasn’t. Maria Theresa “didn’t understand” the situation between Marie Antoinette and du Barry? Yes, she did. Marie Antoinette did not go to Trianon to evade her husband. She did not try to ignore and avoid him at every turn. They certainly had their problems as a young couple, more or less due to communication problems than anything else, but the presentation of Louis XVI as essentially uncaring towards his wife for many years until eventually he became obsessed with her, and the idea that she, at the same time, was an immature manipulator of her shy husband and tried to steer clear of his company at all costs is so, so incredibly based, once again, in the kind of myth that you see in outdated material and not in any way representative of the truth to be found in documentation of the time or in modern, fair histories. Goldstone’s assessment of Marie Antoinette’s political role is very superficial and incorrect — please read John Hardman’s new academic biography of Marie Antoinette for a thorough understanding of this side of her personality, especially for the 1789-1793 years. Some of the things Goldstone suggests in this regard are quite inventive too. Louis XV worked with his younger grandsons Provence and Artois to disinherit their older brother, Louis XVI, from the line of succession? That didn’t happen. Marie Antoinette felt guilty about throwing balls to celebrate French victories in the American Revolution because of Frederick II of Prussia’s aggression towards Bohemia? The two issues aren’t related, nor does Goldstone attempt to connect them. I will end by just mentioning as well the smaller bits of misinformation, or honestly, just odd or out-of-place observations, to be found in these pages. Goldstone explains the ritualized Versailles as archaic and “fossilized”, even though the palace and its society were still the envy of all European kingdoms at the time. Marie Antoinette may have struggled with its mightiness and rigidity, but it was anything but archaic or out-of-touch with a world that still operated around the ancien régime. There’s a bit that explains how she wore “ugly clothes” as a dauphine … I mean, that’s all up to opinion, but I would dare you to find mention of anybody then or now referring to those fashions as ugly. Along the same lines, there’s a mention of hoop skirts being outdated at the time at Versailles, which is completely untrue. The pannier skirts of the robe à la française were still very much the fashion. Marie Antoinette may have disliked her tight corsets as a newcomer at Versailles, but those skirts were not out of style. It wasn’t until the next decade that she popularized muslin/chemise fashions and even then, court dress remained more or less the same. I do feel like I could go on and on with the inaccuracies in this book, but I think you get the point. The tl;dr version of my diatribe is to steer clear of this book. It is filled with misinformation, falsehoods, unsupported theories, offensive ideas, strange conclusions, and overall does not seem concerned with a loyalty to fact and history. Please, I implore you, if you want to read a biography of Marie Antoinette, pick up Antonia Fraser’s or Caroline Weber’s works or Dena Goodman’s essays or Chantal Thomas’ study. This book was more damaging to Marie Antoinette’s history than anything else. As I said before, I’m not an expert on the other subjects of this book in the same way as I am about Antoinette, but with the dismay in mind that I feel in regard to the author’s treatment of her story, I can’t trust her takes on Maria Theresa, Maria Christina nor Maria Carolina either. It is incredibly disheartening to think that there are so many people who will pick this book up, read it, and accept its misinformation as fact. Hold out a few more months for Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger’s Maria Theresa biography, consult one of the many other biographies of Antoinette, and treat yourself to some of the academic works to be found online about Carolina, Christina, and the other Imperial Archduchesses until a better popular biography of them comes along.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    I haven't even finished Daughters of the Winter Queen yet but I want this book tomorrow. How Empress Maria Theresa has gone without an English-language biography (at least that I'm aware of!) so long I do not understand. I haven't even finished Daughters of the Winter Queen yet but I want this book tomorrow. How Empress Maria Theresa has gone without an English-language biography (at least that I'm aware of!) so long I do not understand.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    DNF as soon as I saw the genealogical ‘cast of characters’ where two of Marie Antoinette’s children are listed as those of Axel von Fersen. There is no historical evidence that the two were lovers. This makes me call into question the entire biography. I cannot suspend disbelief.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This is extremely hard to get "into"- to embed. It is classified non-fiction and it is filled with 100's, literally, 100's of characters. At least the same 3 or 4 names in each generation, if not also in each siblings' descendants. You need to have a fairly accurate overview idea of the political divisions of Europe and the history of all these monarchies or district's nomenclature, as well. Maria Theresa (Empress of Holy Roman Empire, Archduchess of Austria, titled Sovereign of Hungary, Croatia This is extremely hard to get "into"- to embed. It is classified non-fiction and it is filled with 100's, literally, 100's of characters. At least the same 3 or 4 names in each generation, if not also in each siblings' descendants. You need to have a fairly accurate overview idea of the political divisions of Europe and the history of all these monarchies or district's nomenclature, as well. Maria Theresa (Empress of Holy Roman Empire, Archduchess of Austria, titled Sovereign of Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, Austrian Netherlands etc. etc. etc.) She was the core- 3 of her daughters' lives and governance all entwined follow with chronological varying between the 3 or 4 of them. One is Vienna, one in Austira/Poland, one in Naples, one in Paris. The book is so sectioned that I was engaged but not enthralled until Maria Theresa was reigning and into the years of her first wars and council challenges. She had 16 children in her first 20 years of marriage. Her stamina, physical energy, incredible intellect of inquiry is only in the shade of her protection of the dynasty. Boys matter. Girls for alliances. Most of her children also had large families although many, at least half of every generation died from either smallpox or TB. Many of them also in childhood of these and other ailments of infection. At about the 200 page mark I became absolutely enthralled and read overnight. And then after about page 419 I read some reviews. That changed my enjoyment to the max. As much as this author uses correspondence and very worded witness- she also makes assumptions. Some of them worse than what Zinn did to Columbus. There is just too much partiality and bias that can't be proven. Like the accepted truth here of paternity for Marie Antoinette's two youngest children- but other issues too. So I think it is a very insightful read- especially upon the American and French Revolutionaries characters and the inputs of money to those enablers etc. But beyond the very real facts of marriage, coronations, titles, laws, war and illness recorded etc.? It might have been classified fiction to be more honest? But I loved the footnotes. Especially upon Frederik the great and all of his personality quirks formed and observed. And his honesty in negotiations and "word". Every time I have studied his methods and outcomes I have thought the same thing. Also the author making the case for Autism syndromes of Louis XVI from birth on- I don't at all disagree. But labels like that are always subjectively changeable. Rather like the political language of 2021. Subjective information distorted is not far from lies. Most of the time it is lies. But the read was a 5 star of enjoyment for me. Because you saw / felt/ could view with full color portrait pages of high quality- these lives. These people did NOT own their own lives. Very few could BE for more than 2 hours a week- just base human. I loved the very detailed daily schedule of Maria Theresa. Up at 5 am and with Mass and at least 4 hours of religious or other formal dignitary meetings or councils. Lunch at 1 and dinner at 9pm. Dressing for all of those too. Plus time to read and compose plays or conduct /entertain with music? No wonder Ferdinand, King of Naples, only wanted to hunt or fish and never ruled at formal council at all but left it to his wife. Just joking. But not really. Oh don't forget the traditional required a few times a month too. Like dressing in 200 year old heavy cloaks and carrying a silver saber (all weigh about 1/2 as much as yourself) while jumping a stallion and having to ride it up a hill with the saber raised. Part of the continual job. (She did it for her Hungarian investment when she was about 5 months pregnant with her 6th or 7th kid.) The life of the Queen of Naples (Charlotte, her Maria Carolina) was just as poignant. Also a mother of 16 or 17 (depending upon if you counted stillborn or not?). Regardless, Lafayette to Napoleon- all the French Jacobins. What HORRORS! And who can say how long Antoinette's marriage was unconsummated? They all of them covered up witness or distorted their own avenues/paths after about age 25, IMHO. The time of the Enlightenment to ideas, vaccinations, political word definition changing- all of it reflects this current period to an immense degree. The vast personality characterizations for the Maria Theresa offspring, those siblings, was phenomenal in its layers. And placements in housing and within the family over structure. Do I know how the youngest get away with murder and often at the same time ignored! (Can you tell I was the eldest.) The reviews for this giving it 1 star? There is so much of worth here. If Zinn could be taught in grade or high school or college as valid history- than this is 4.5 stars. Marie Antoinette was not a fraction as bad as her publicity. She was a hate fixture for a vile political action agenda far more. This book made me realize something else. How PR can be made to victimize and discredit and slurr nearly anyone it wants to under the right circumstances. Like the witch hunts or other crazy offense violence targets- it's mostly subjective judgment lies for something else altogether.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This is a hard review for me to write because I like Nancy Goldstone. I like that she chooses to write popular history about networks of women and I like how her writing makes historical figures flesh and blood. This book was no different — she's great at linking the political with the personal, and her writing is super engaging. However, I think there's something immensely troubling, not to mention harmful, about diagnosing a historical figure with autism and then blaming this diagnosis on the This is a hard review for me to write because I like Nancy Goldstone. I like that she chooses to write popular history about networks of women and I like how her writing makes historical figures flesh and blood. This book was no different — she's great at linking the political with the personal, and her writing is super engaging. However, I think there's something immensely troubling, not to mention harmful, about diagnosing a historical figure with autism and then blaming this diagnosis on the suffering that occurred under his reign. She relies on stereotypes of people with ASD to make claims about Louis XVI's behaviour drawn from secondhand and thirdhand accounts. The way that she asserts that he was on the autism spectrum, and uses that as a crutch to explain why he failed both as a monarch and as a husband is deeply deeply fucked up. It reinforces harmful stereotypes and enacts prejudice on a community. To a lesser extent, she does the same thing when discussing Frederick the Great and his father. She blames his father's physical and emotional abuse on unsubstantiated claims that he was a closeted gay man, linking violence to homosexuality. She does the same thing with Frederick the Great's well-recorded misogyny, tying it to his sexuality in a way that suggests he was a misogynist because he was gay. Though not as harmful, she also seems to be unwilling to allow any of her central characters (other than Maria Theresia) to take accountability for their own actions. When discussing Marie Antoinette's early disinterest in the French kingdom and its politics, she somehow blames Marie Antoinette's removal from the common people and their plights on... Madame du Barry? Not to mention, she all but calls du Barry a slur multiple times, seemingly disgusted by the fact that a poor woman became a mistress to the king of France — and gasp, had sex with him and got material benefits out of it! It's hard to take a book that seeks to peel back the misogyny about women in power seriously when it's also so misogynistic towards women of lesser social status. Then, there's the weird von Fersen bits, which posit without proof that Marie Antoinette's two younger children were fathered by him. I don't feel in any kind of strong way about whether or not Marie Antoinette had an affair, but to basically say "von Fersen was a romantic so he was definitely in Marie Antoinette's bed on the night of the Women's March on Versailles" and "he mentioned the Dauphin one time in a letter" is just awful scholarship. Presenting his fatherhood of the children was indisputable fact — going so far as to refer to these children as von Fersen's consistently throughout the book — is bad history. I found these bits of the book so troubling that I couldn't appreciate the rest of it. I did enjoy the Maria Carolina and Maria Christina sections much more than those on Marie Antoinette and Maria Theresia, though I think that that might just be because I'm less-familiar with those two. I especially loved the focus on Maria Carolina's relationship with Emma Hamilton, and I would love to see an entire book focused on that rich alliance. I also appreciate that Goldstone acknowledged the relationship between Isabella of Parma and Maria Christina, and really enjoyed the focus on the relationships between Maria Theresia and her children. All in all, I'm just not comfortable giving this a higher rating because I think it espoused some biases and stereotypes that could really hurt people. Worse than disappointing, this was really just offensive. PS: Bonus points for completely erasing Madame Clotilde, Louis XVI's sister, so deeply from the narrative of her family that I too almost forgot that she existed. PPS: The way this book talks about Hungary and the Magyars is weird.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Meyer

    I wanted to like this book. I really really did. It has the hallmarks to be an amazing story with so much drama set in a magnificent time period. To an extent this book achieves that, it's entertaining, fun, and easy to read. Unfortunately, this book has a fatal flaw. It's mainly its speculative nature in regards to Marie Antionette & her relationship with Count Axel von Fersen. Did she have an affair with Fersen? Possibly, I would border on probably in my opinion based on my own research. Did h I wanted to like this book. I really really did. It has the hallmarks to be an amazing story with so much drama set in a magnificent time period. To an extent this book achieves that, it's entertaining, fun, and easy to read. Unfortunately, this book has a fatal flaw. It's mainly its speculative nature in regards to Marie Antionette & her relationship with Count Axel von Fersen. Did she have an affair with Fersen? Possibly, I would border on probably in my opinion based on my own research. Did he father her last two children? Again, it's possible, but highly unlikely. The issue comes as the author assumes both of these items are true. To the point where the genealogical tables in the beginning place Fersen as the father of her last two children. She provides no evidence of this besides mere speculation. If someone is to make the claim this large it needs to be backed up with sources, evidence, etc. Yet there is little to none of this. In a non-fiction biography this is just reckless and really tanked the rating of the book. Which is a shame. I love Goldstones previous books. The Rival Queens is one of my favorite books of all time. So this leaves me disappointed. Even more so as the rest of the book is accurate in most things, coming from someone whose done research on this time period, this book does the story well. But I can not rate it higher due to this recklessness. If she backed up her claims with evidence it would be different. That's why I have to rate this 2 stars with a heavy heart.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ally

    2 Stars Snarky but baseless and inaccurate Previous Nancy Goldstone books I've quite enjoyed for several reasons: easy-to-understand writing, enthralling subjects, and I love her witty notes (she's right - there's no originality in royal names). However, while I appreciated the humor and side comments, and while I enjoyed Maria Theresa's tale, along with her daughters, Maria Christina and Maria Carolina, the author's assumption that Fersen was the father of two of Marie Antionette's children is ab 2 Stars Snarky but baseless and inaccurate Previous Nancy Goldstone books I've quite enjoyed for several reasons: easy-to-understand writing, enthralling subjects, and I love her witty notes (she's right - there's no originality in royal names). However, while I appreciated the humor and side comments, and while I enjoyed Maria Theresa's tale, along with her daughters, Maria Christina and Maria Carolina, the author's assumption that Fersen was the father of two of Marie Antionette's children is absurd and not based on historical fact. If anything, it's based on the author's own opinions and theories. While I, perhaps unfortunately, have to take the author's words for the former three ladies, I have done a fair amount of reading on Marie Antionette and can say with confidence that Fersen fathering any children off Marie Antionette is only gossip and hearsay, and quite frankly - absurd. Even the queen's contemporaries were certain that Louis XVI was the father of all their children. Moreover, I disliked how she breezed through the lives of these remarkable women. Perhaps Goldstone needed to meet a deadline, or perhaps there wasn't enough material she could add (which explains the rather odd addition of Emma, Lady Hamilton's life tale), or maybe she just wanted to finish writing and didn't care about the final outcome, but whatever it was, the book felt rushed. Basically, due to the aforementioned reasons above, overall In the Shadow of the Empress: The Defiant Lives of Maria Theresa, Mother of Marie Antoinette, and Her Daughters is definitely a disappointment.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    An epic...and one that flows like crystal clear water, thanks to Nancy Goldstone's effortless writing style. It's been a long time since I read a book that juggles so many characters successfully. Not one of the extraordinary women in this volume are given short shrift, and any number of supporting characters have their time in the sun. It manages to be concise yet span over a century of material as if it were just a week's worth of stories. A book to read if you want to experience a kick-ass fa An epic...and one that flows like crystal clear water, thanks to Nancy Goldstone's effortless writing style. It's been a long time since I read a book that juggles so many characters successfully. Not one of the extraordinary women in this volume are given short shrift, and any number of supporting characters have their time in the sun. It manages to be concise yet span over a century of material as if it were just a week's worth of stories. A book to read if you want to experience a kick-ass family of female royalty who took charge of their destinies with a resolute force that put all the men around them to shame.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the opportunity to read In the Shadow of the Empress and provide an honest review. Nancy Goldstone is an enormously gifted writer who continues to bring history to life in her latest treasure, In the Shadow of the Empress. Those who have read Goldstone's works previously know that she enlivens the text of her exhaustive research with insightful asides and quips, resulting in an immensely enjoyable reading experience. I live for her footnote Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the opportunity to read In the Shadow of the Empress and provide an honest review. Nancy Goldstone is an enormously gifted writer who continues to bring history to life in her latest treasure, In the Shadow of the Empress. Those who have read Goldstone's works previously know that she enlivens the text of her exhaustive research with insightful asides and quips, resulting in an immensely enjoyable reading experience. I live for her footnotes! There is an enormous amount of history covered within the pages and even though I have read portions of these stories many times, Goldstone's retelling is fresh and inspired.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Romero

    The vibrant, sprawling saga of Empress Maria Theresa—one of the most renowned women rulers in history—and three of her extraordinary daughters, including Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of France. That is the blurb on this very interesting look at this Empress and her daughters. And with Nancy Goldstone as the author, I knew this would be good. She has such a way of making Non-Fiction read like the best story you can imagine. Never dull or dry. I adored this book. This is the story of eighteent The vibrant, sprawling saga of Empress Maria Theresa—one of the most renowned women rulers in history—and three of her extraordinary daughters, including Marie Antoinette, the doomed queen of France. That is the blurb on this very interesting look at this Empress and her daughters. And with Nancy Goldstone as the author, I knew this would be good. She has such a way of making Non-Fiction read like the best story you can imagine. Never dull or dry. I adored this book. This is the story of eighteenth-century Maria Theresa, a strong woman who ruled the entire Habsburg Empire. We also learn about her daughters, who were also strong rulers in their own right. The Governor-General of the Austrian Netherlands, Maria Christina. Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples, and of course, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and the one you have probably heard the most about. But all of them were extraordinary. The imagery of the royal courts is well done. The research put into this book is astounding. Reading this was a history lesson inside a story. A story of hope, desire, betrayal, and every hardship one could imagine. This is one I shall keep and share for a long time. NetGalley/ September 21st, 2021 by Little, Brown, and Company Tagged

  12. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    I've had a hard time reviewing this one because most of the book was enjoyable, entertaining and informative but I had a really hard time with a lot of the Marie Antoinette chapters, especially in regards to her relationship with Fersen. While there's plenty of evidence to suggest a long term relationship with Fersen (and most likely that Louis XVI was aware of it), the evidence just isn't there to support that Fersen was Louis XVII's father and to state that as fact rather than a personal opini I've had a hard time reviewing this one because most of the book was enjoyable, entertaining and informative but I had a really hard time with a lot of the Marie Antoinette chapters, especially in regards to her relationship with Fersen. While there's plenty of evidence to suggest a long term relationship with Fersen (and most likely that Louis XVI was aware of it), the evidence just isn't there to support that Fersen was Louis XVII's father and to state that as fact rather than a personal opinion felt jarring and out of place in this book. I rounded up to a 3 because the majority of this book was good!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    IN THE SHADOW OF THE EMPRESS is an impressive and entertaining book that traverses time and the map of Europe, following the lives of four extraordinary women: Empress Maria Theresa and her three daughters: Maria Christina, Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette. Nancy Goldstone covers large swaths of history and in the process brings readers into contact with Frederick the Great, Lord Nelson, Napoleon and many more European luminaries. Arriving at the start of the 18th century, Maria Theresa was a IN THE SHADOW OF THE EMPRESS is an impressive and entertaining book that traverses time and the map of Europe, following the lives of four extraordinary women: Empress Maria Theresa and her three daughters: Maria Christina, Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette. Nancy Goldstone covers large swaths of history and in the process brings readers into contact with Frederick the Great, Lord Nelson, Napoleon and many more European luminaries. Arriving at the start of the 18th century, Maria Theresa was a woman born to destiny. Sitting atop the Habsburg Empire, she bore 16 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood. Goldstone does a great job of illustrating what this means to an imperial dynasty: marriages of alliance for the defense and growth of the empire. The modern reader may be excused for believing that Maria Theresa, given the existential problems she faced, spent an inordinate amount of time and energy marrying her children in the interest of her empire. In the 1700s, however, these efforts were seen as a solution, not a diversion. With so many children to “place,” Maria Theresa was a matchmaker par excellence. Marrying them to enemies or trading pieces of property here and there was always about the family. On one page the family would speak of the love their people had for them. Next, when faced with invasion, they were loading ships filled with jewels and clothes --- all personal belongings --- in what can only be seen as selfish and self-serving. Even the child-rearing dynamic was aimed at furthering the dynasty, with children slotted for either a kingdom or the convent. Perhaps my favorite parts of the book are the challenges that the Empress and her daughters confronted for their survival. While over a lifetime there were many, some stand out as imperative. For Maria Theresa it was Frederick and the rise of the Prussian nation. It was Napoleon for Maria Carolina, the French Revolution for Marie Antoinette, and for poor Maria Christina it was, sadly, her brother Joseph. Goldstone makes it clear that Maria Theresa fixed upon Frederick early as the most grave threat to her empire. She notes that the Empress “identified the king of Prussia as her mortal enemy and was keenly aware that he would take advantage of any misstep, any lapse in vigilance or downturn in fortune to strike again. She was determined to thwart him and reclaim Silesia.” While her fight with Frederick was not her only battle, Goldstone uses this relationship to flesh out all that was compelling about the Empress. When Prussia took Silesia, instead of capitulating as she was pressured to do, Maria Theresa went against her advisors and gambled on the unruly and unpredictable Hungarians. She traveled to Pressburg and participated in a grueling coronation ceremony that is well worth the read. So when most of Europe was aligned against Austria and preparing an attack on Vienna, the fearsome Hungarians came to her defense. Buffeted on all sides, winning and losing in the constant roil of battle, the Empress fought tooth and nail to maintain her lands when many advised surrender. She insisted that courage was needed, and now was a time of sacrifice. With great finality, she exclaimed, “You will say that I am cruel, and it is true...but at this moment I close my heart to pity.” The young woman, who ascended the throne at the tender age of 23 (while pregnant), was sending a clear message to the king of Prussia --- she was not just another petticoat. IN THE SHADOW OF THE EMPRESS is a compelling read. Using Maria Theresa as a familial anchor point was a brilliant idea. Through these four women, readers are treated to a Forrest Gump-like journey through one of the most dynamic periods of European history. With such a storied family, one can only hope that a sequel is in the works. Reviewed by John Vena

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ginny T.

    Empress Maria Theresa is one of the three most powerful women leaders in the history of Europe (along with Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great). So much happened during her reign, and she had so many children who married into other royal houses, that it was a monumental task to make the mass of information into a book for non-academic readers. Nancy Goldstone did this well. The first section is about Maria Theresa’s consolidation of land and power during the Seven Years War of the Austrian succes Empress Maria Theresa is one of the three most powerful women leaders in the history of Europe (along with Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great). So much happened during her reign, and she had so many children who married into other royal houses, that it was a monumental task to make the mass of information into a book for non-academic readers. Nancy Goldstone did this well. The first section is about Maria Theresa’s consolidation of land and power during the Seven Years War of the Austrian succession (as well as having 16 births in 20 years). This got a tad tedious for me, but once the author introduced the three most important daughters, the narrative picked up speed. The early lives of Maria Cristina, Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette, leading up to their marriages, are laid out in sequence. Happy days in a loving, large family. Then their busier lives and problems as sovereigns are laid out in sequence, and finally the sad endings of their lives are presented. This was a good way to sink deeply into each woman’s story without too much confusion about their sisters. Years ago I read Victoria’s Daughters by Jerrold Packard, which has a similar concept. This is a more exciting book because Maria Theresa's daughters were involved in enormous changes and challenges in Europe. The author has done deep research into all of 18th-century European history and the book is loaded with treaties gone wrong, duchies stolen, and cousins marrying into dynastic marriages. But it’s balanced with enough witness descriptions of events and excerpts from letters to personalize these historical figures with color and detail. Two good maps and selected genealogies of several royal houses help keep things straight. A burnished 4 stars

  15. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Johnson

    I found this to be a very interesting read on Maria Theresa of Austria and several of her highly influential children, including Marie Antoinette. Lots of humanizing information about them, not merely dry historical detail. If done properly this could the basis for a good "prestigious" limited TV series! I am holding back on giving 5 stars because I've seen some reviews questioning some of the book's accuracy especially about whether Marie Antoinette had an affair with and children by Count Fers I found this to be a very interesting read on Maria Theresa of Austria and several of her highly influential children, including Marie Antoinette. Lots of humanizing information about them, not merely dry historical detail. If done properly this could the basis for a good "prestigious" limited TV series! I am holding back on giving 5 stars because I've seen some reviews questioning some of the book's accuracy especially about whether Marie Antoinette had an affair with and children by Count Fersen of Sweden, but it does seem obvious there was an affair of some kind, unless the author has totally fabricated letters between the 2 (or they were forged). Also the author speculates that Louis XVI was autistic, but it is not totally clear that he was and very hard to diagnose 250 years later, although he seems at least to have been very socially anxious and emotionally withdrawn.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    One of those books that won me over the more I listened to it in spite of not being overly interested in the topic to begin with and not really enjoying the cast of characters laid out here. But good writing, detail, and exploration of the subjects kept my interest intact from beginning to end. As thousands marched off to what must have been a grueling death, Maria Theresa plotted to regain her slice of land and subjects in Silesia. Then her three daughters occupied pivotal roles in history, one One of those books that won me over the more I listened to it in spite of not being overly interested in the topic to begin with and not really enjoying the cast of characters laid out here. But good writing, detail, and exploration of the subjects kept my interest intact from beginning to end. As thousands marched off to what must have been a grueling death, Maria Theresa plotted to regain her slice of land and subjects in Silesia. Then her three daughters occupied pivotal roles in history, one of which has gone more unnoticed than the other. Really good historical work.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This review is delayed as I found the book difficult to rate. I did enjoy it and found it entertaining but there is several inaccuracies. If reading just for entertainment you will find this book enjoyable. There is a great amount of factual information within but just keep in mind not all is correct. I will say the book itself is beautiful! I received several comments about it while reading in the park. I received “In the Shadow of the Empress” in a gracious giveaway of on Goodreads by Hachette This review is delayed as I found the book difficult to rate. I did enjoy it and found it entertaining but there is several inaccuracies. If reading just for entertainment you will find this book enjoyable. There is a great amount of factual information within but just keep in mind not all is correct. I will say the book itself is beautiful! I received several comments about it while reading in the park. I received “In the Shadow of the Empress” in a gracious giveaway of on Goodreads by Hachette Book Group.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Janett Recore

    I am in love with this book! Absolutely amazing read! Gossipy but informative it gives you a chance to see these people as people! Good bad and all sorts of in between. I've read quite a few books about Marie Antoinette and I always came away finding Marie Theresa as cold. Now I see her as a woman trying so very hard. Be the perfect wife the perfect mother the perfect queen! Talk about pressure! Kudos to her and kudos to you Nancy Goldstone... can't wait for your next book! I am in love with this book! Absolutely amazing read! Gossipy but informative it gives you a chance to see these people as people! Good bad and all sorts of in between. I've read quite a few books about Marie Antoinette and I always came away finding Marie Theresa as cold. Now I see her as a woman trying so very hard. Be the perfect wife the perfect mother the perfect queen! Talk about pressure! Kudos to her and kudos to you Nancy Goldstone... can't wait for your next book!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Another excellent narrative nonfiction work by Goldstone. This is not academic history writing but for readers who are looking for well researched but easily readable history, this will be an enjoyable read. Goldstone does speculate based on historical evidence but I thought she was pretty clear when she was speculating and why rather than stating that her speculations were proven fact.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cen

    Another work of phenomenal scholarship from Nancy Goldstone. She breathes life into each of her subjects, using their own words as often as possible to support her conclusions. Her distinct dry humor slips through (particularly in the footnotes), adding a levity which prevents the tone from ever slipping into a dry regurgitation of facts. This was a delight to read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eve

    She writes women’s history better than anyone. They aren’t just story of the men of the period with a few extra mentions of the ladies. And like Goldstones other histories you get a good look at these remarkable women who I am glad to know in a new way. Very readable

  22. 5 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    A repetitive and so so look at the lives of Maria Theresa, empress of Austria and three of her daughters.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Strong

    There's a little solid history here and a crap-ton of speculation, opinion, and rumors masquerading as history. This just made me want to read better books on the many subjects this one touches upon. There's a little solid history here and a crap-ton of speculation, opinion, and rumors masquerading as history. This just made me want to read better books on the many subjects this one touches upon.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marshall

    Great book on the women of the house of Hapsburg in the 18th century.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jan Daulton

    Tedious book, but fascinating insights in to Maria Theresa and her offspring! Marie Antoinette is especially interesting. IF you are a history buff, you will like this.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lezley

    Recommended by Airmail

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kate Eminhizer

    Nancy Goldstone is one of those authors who has the ability to write non-fiction in such a way that the reader doesn't feel like they are reading a textbook. This book is not a comprehensive biography of these women. It it more of an overarching look at how each woman's life defined, and were defined by, the politics of the world around them. The ever shifting political alliances are enough to make ones head spin and certainly had a definite impact on Maria Theresa and her children. The parts of Nancy Goldstone is one of those authors who has the ability to write non-fiction in such a way that the reader doesn't feel like they are reading a textbook. This book is not a comprehensive biography of these women. It it more of an overarching look at how each woman's life defined, and were defined by, the politics of the world around them. The ever shifting political alliances are enough to make ones head spin and certainly had a definite impact on Maria Theresa and her children. The parts of the book dedicated largely to Maria Theresa and Marie Antoinette were very informative and interesting to read but did not reveal anything new. The chapters focused on two of the other daughters, Maria Christina and Maria Carolina were fascinating and rich with content. It was very interesting reading about how the differences in ruling styles and beliefs by their brothers, Emperor Joseph II followed by Emperor Leopold II, impacted their ability to successfully govern and maintain their families' safety. Not only does this book provide context n Maria Theresa's family, but it also showcases the rise to power of Frederick the Great, the French Revolution, and the rise of Napoleon. I received a copy of this title via NetGalley.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karen Timko

  29. 5 out of 5

    siouxzee

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joe Stewart

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