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

Little, Brown. Sept. 2021. 624p. ISBN 9780316449335. $32. BIOG
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.
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