Reviews for In the shadow of the empress : the defiant lives of Maria Theresa, mother of Marie Antoinette, and her daughters

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Most know the tragic fate of Marie Antoinette, the notoriously decadent queen of France who met her end at the newly invented guillotine before a crowd of onlookers. Her failed attempt to escape with the rest of the royal family is the opening anecdote in Goldstone's latest book about women royals, following Daughters of the Winter Queen (2018). Yet that high drama is but one memorable episode among many in this 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. Between her telling of Maria Theresa’s triumphant outmaneuvering of King Frederick of Prussia, a clandestine romantic relationship between Maria Christina and her sister-in-law, and the psychological unfitness of King Louis XVI for the throne, Goldstone weaves together a compelling and redefining tale of how character, decisions, and circumstance collided to shape modern Europe.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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 Theresas efforts to make propitious marriages for her daughters, preferably with royals who could enhance her empires 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 councilan 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); childrens deaths; raging smallpox; and, for Maria Theresa, Charlotte, and Marie Antoinette, unhappy marriages. Goldstone is an empathetic biographer, highlighting the womens considerable achievements as well as their shortcomings: Maria Theresas 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Back