Del Mar author specializes in powerful women in European history

The book cover of “In the Shadow of the Empress”
The book cover of “In the Shadow of the Empress”

A report that ran recently in the San Diego Union-Tribune and other media worldwide related how researchers uncovered evidence in Marie Antoinette’s letters supporting the notion that the 18th century French queen had a clandestine love affair with a Swedish count.

Author Nancy Goldstone
Author Nancy Goldstone

The news should have come with a footnote: “For details of the affair, see ‘In the Shadow of the Empress’ by Nancy Goldstone; Little, Brown & Company.”

Goldstone, who moved to Del Mar from Long Island, NY, earlier this year, devotes numerous pages to the relationship between Marie Antoinette and Count Axel von Fersen in her book released Sept. 21.

To Goldstone, the intimacy between Marie Antoinette and the count was a foregone conclusion before French scientists were able to unveil amorous words and phrases in the queen’s messages to von Fersen that he had blacked out with ink.

“They didn’t really know the import of what they had,” Goldstone said of the scientists. “I have just spent four years with Marie Antoinette, so I know exactly what those letters are and what they mean and when they were written and all this stuff.”

The re-emergence of details and discussions of the affair has encountered resistance among some admirers of Marie Antoinette. She was beheaded along with her husband, King Louis XVI, in 1793 after the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution.

“This has been like an ongoing thing: Did she or didn’t she?” Goldstone said of the affair. “Marie Antoinette is hugely popular still. She has this enormous fan base. ...

“A small portion of these people think she was as pure as the driven snow and they’re upset when anyone says otherwise. But these letters are in fact just more proof of what clearly happened.”

The romance is but one thrust among many within the 549-page narrative, as indicated by its subtitle: “The Defiant Lives of Maria Theresa, Mother of Marie Antoinette, and Her Daughters.”

Goldstone said she will eagerly discuss the issue of the queen’s affair and any other questions on the book when she appears Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Coronado Public Library for a luncheon and talk.

The event is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Winn Room. A $40 ticket includes the meal and a hardcover copy of the book.

Goldstone said she is also happy to inscribe the book for anyone who contacts her, which can be done through her website:

Goldstone said the Coronado appearance will be her first in-person discussion of the book, although she has done some video-conference talks, including one with Warwick’s in La Jolla.

“I will address the Marie Antoinette controversy and things like that, and I’ve got a nice little slide show,” she said. “I love to talk to an audience. I’m dying to do it. It’s just fun. They’ll have fun. I’ll have fun. They will learn something.”

One thing they will learn stems from Goldstone’s own research on Louis XVI, which makes the theory of his wife’s infidelity even more plausible.

While Marie Antoinette and the king are bound to be among the headliners in any historical account of 18th century Europe, “In the Shadow” is much more encompassing.

It is the saga of Maria Theresa, empress of the vast European realm of the Habsburg Empire, and her family, notably the three daughters who rose to power and became prominent leaders on the world stage.

As Goldstone illustrates, Maria Theresa was a formidable and respected leader of a realm that included the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary and the Netherlands.

“Maria Theresa was a wonderful ruler in many ways,” said Goldstone, while noting the ruler was intolerant but not murderous when it came to non-Catholics.

“She made every decision. She threw herself totally into the job in a way that most rulers never did, and she was always thinking about ways to help her people.”

She managed to maintain her rule through much of the 18th century despite the challenges presented by the warmongering Prussian ruler Frederick the Great.

Frederick is one of the major historical figures with roles in Goldstone’s book besides the empress and the daughters. Others include Maria Theresa’s son Joseph (the future emperor), Catherine the Great of Russia, Ferdinand IV (king of Naples), Napoleon Bonaparte and even George Washington.

Maria Theresa’s fourth daughter, Maria Christina, nicknamed Mimi, went on to become governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands and was engulfed in the constant turmoil involving Europe in the mid-to-late 1700s.

Maria Theresa’s 10th daughter Maria Carolina, nicknamed Charlotte, became the queen of Naples and had to confront the threat posed by Napoleon in the aftermath of the revolution.

“In the Shadow” is the sixth book penned exclusively by Goldstone and the fifth to rivet on prominent women in European history.

Her first one, “Trading Up: Surviving Success as a Woman Trader on Wall Street,” stems from her experiences entering the center of the financial world as a novice.

The book was snapped up by a major publisher and fulfilled Goldstone’s dream to be a writer since she was six. Yet, she never pursued that wish until she was urged by her husband, Lawrence Goldstone, also a prominent author and essayist.

His 2020 release, “On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights” is widely acclaimed and won the Lillian Smith Book Award.

Nancy and Lawrence Goldstone collaborated on six books together. But, she said, their literary relationship began to fray because of differences on approach.

While working on their last collaboration, “The Friar and the Cipher: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World”, Nancy Goldstone wanted to include a section on four female rulers whom she viewed as relevant and fascinating.

Her husband responded: “If you want to write about those four queens, you just go right ahead and do it,” she said.

So she did, the fruit of which was “Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe.”

“Now, we don’t write together anymore and we get along much better,” she said.

Her experience with the “Four Queens” sharpened her focus on women in European history from the 13th century on.

It was followed by “The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily”; “The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc”; “The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom”; and “Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots”.

Said Goldstone, “In every century, there are all these fabulous women that nobody had ever heard of that I get to write about. It’s like a movie that plays in my head all the time and I get to play all the parts.”

She admits her passion can be a bit taxing on her loved ones when they go vacationing in Europe:

“For me, I’m visiting my friends, my long dead girlfriends.”

“In the Shadow of the Empress” is available at major bookstores and on Amazon.