As Marie Antoinette took her last breath as Queen of France in Paris, another formidable monarch—Antoinette’s dearly beloved sister, Charlotte—was hundreds of miles away, in Naples, fighting desperately to secure her release from the revolutionaries who would take her life. Little did Charlotte know, however, that her sister’s execution would change the course of history—and bring about the end of her own empire.
A Pennie's Pick book club selection.
“You are the queen. You are the queen that Antoinette wanted to be.”
Austria 1767: Maria Carolina Charlotte—tenth daughter and one of sixteen children of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria—knows her position as a Habsburg archduchess will inevitably force her to leave her home, her family, and her cherished sister, Antoinette, whose companionship she values over all else. But not yet. The Habsburg family is celebrating a great triumph: Charlotte’s older sister, Josepha, has been promised to King Ferdinand IV of Naples and will soon take her place as queen. Before she can journey to her new home, however, tragedy strikes. After visiting the family crypt, Josepha contracts smallpox and dies. Shocked, Charlotte is forced to face an unthinkable new reality: she must now marry Ferdinand in her sister’s stead.
Bereft and alone, Charlotte finds that her life in Naples is more complicated than she could ever have imagined. Ferdinand is weak and feckless, and a disastrous wedding night plunges her into despair. Her husband’s regent, Tanucci, a controlling and power-hungry man, has pushed the country to the brink of ruin. Overwhelmed, she asks her brother Leopold, now the Holy Roman Emperor, to send help—which he does in the form of John Acton, a handsome military man twenty years Charlotte’s senior who is tasked with overseeing the Navy. Now, Charlotte must gather the strength to do what her mother did before her: take control of a country.
In a time of political uprisings and royal executions and with the increasingly desperate crisis her favorite sister, Queen Marie Antoinette, is facing in France, how is a young monarch to keep hold of everything—and everyone—she loves? Find out in this sweeping, luxurious tale of family, court intrigue, and power.
Includes a Reading Group Guide.
Giovinazzo (The Woman in Red) offers an exceptional portrait of 18th-century Austria's Habsburg royal dynasty through the eyes of spirited archduchess Charlotte, who becomes queen of Naples and breaks with France after her younger sister Marie Antoinette's execution. After Charlotte's older sister Josepha dies of smallpox, Charlotte takes Josepha's place at 15 as the bride of King Ferdinand, a weak and immature monarch. When Charlotte gives birth to a male heir in 1777, she is allowed to join Naples's ruling body, as stipulated in her marriage contract; she assumes control of the kingdom from her disinterested husband, modeling her reign after her ambitious mother, ruler of the Austria-Hungary Empire. With Prime Minister Sir John Acton, her confidante whom she loves deeply, Charlotte creates a legacy of wealth and beautification by cultivating wasteland with olive groves, completing dormant projects for gardens and palaces, and launching French-style salons with artists, authors, and musicians. Then the execution of Marie Antoinette leads a grieving Charlotte to join an English fighting coalition against France. Charlotte also repeatedly snubs the French ambassador and bans the speaking of French, and in 1798, Charlotte sees the fall of Naples to Bonaparte. Giovinazzo vividly depicts a formidable monarch from a turbulent era of European history. This sprawling tale of power, intrigue, and ambition is a winner.
I liked this book because it told the story of one of the “other” sisters of Marie Antoinette! Charlotte is an interesting character. Very interesting story. Well written too .