As the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, conqueror of Europe and the wonder of his age, Josephine was assumed to be a worthy consort for her astounding husband, a woman as beautiful, wise and altogether remarkable as he was charismatic, brilliant, and invincible in battle. When in 1804 she knelt before Napoleon in Notre Dame and he placed the imperial crown on her head, making her Empress of France, her extraordinary destiny seemed to be fulfilled. The unknown woman from Martinique became the highest ranking woman in the land, as far above the average Frenchwoman as Napoleon himself was above the humblest soldier in his armies.
Yet the truth behind the glorious symbolism in Notre Dame was much darker. For the eight-year marriage between Josephine and Napoleon had long been corroded by infidelity and abuse, and for years Josephine had dreaded that her husband would divorce her. Far from the love match previous biographers have described, Erickson's Napoleon and Josephine were the ultimate pragmatists, drawn together by political necessity while their emotions were engaged elsewhere.
Carolly Erickson, the critically acclaimed biographer of the Tudor monarchs, as well as of Marie Antoinette and Queen Victoria, using her trademark ability to penetrate and explain the psychological make-up of her subjects, paints a fascinating portrait of an immensely complex and ultimately tragic woman.
General Alex Dumas is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiar—because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his larger-than-life feats as inspiration for such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
But, hidden behind General Dumas's swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: he was the son of a black slave—who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas made his way to Paris, where he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution—until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. TIME magazine called The Black Count "one of those quintessentially human stories of strength and courage that sheds light on the historical moment that made it possible." But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.
As the greatest heiress in Europe, she was in turn Queen of France and Queen of England; among her sons were Richard the Lionheart and King John. A magnificent independent ruler in her own right, she lost her power when she married Louis VII of France. She received neither influence nor fame by her second marriage to King Henry II, who jailed her for fifteen years for conspiring and supporting their son’s claim to the throne. Her husband was succeeded by their son, King Richard the Lionheart, who immediately released his mother from prison. Eleanor then acted as Regent while Richard launched the Third Crusade.
Her loveliness and glamour, her throwing-off of the constraints that shackled women of the twelfth century, and her very real gifts as a politician and ruler make Eleanor’s story one of the most colorful of the High Middle Ages.
Marie Antoinette has always stood as an icon of supreme style, but surprisingly none of her biographers have paid sustained attention to her clothes. In Queen of Fashion, Caroline Weber shows how Marie Antoinette developed her reputation for fashionable excess, and explains through lively, illuminating new research the political controversies that her clothing provoked. Weber surveys Marie Antoinette's "Revolution in Dress," covering each phase of the queen's tumultuous life, beginning with the young girl, struggling to survive Versailles's rigid traditions of royal glamour (twelve-foot-wide hoopskirts, whalebone corsets that crushed her organs). As queen, Marie Antoinette used stunning, often extreme costumes to project an image of power and wage war against her enemies. Gradually, however, she began to lose her hold on the French when she started to adopt "unqueenly" outfits (the provocative chemise) that, surprisingly, would be adopted by the revolutionaries who executed her.
Weber's queen is sublime, human, and surprising: a sometimes courageous monarch unwilling to allow others to determine her destiny. The paradox of her tragic story, according to Weber, is that fashion—the vehicle she used to secure her triumphs—was also the means of her undoing. Weber's book is not only a stylish and original addition to Marie Antoinette scholarship, but also a moving, revelatory reinterpretation of one of history's most controversial figures.
Married to the maladroit, ill-mannered Dauphin, Antoinette found pleasure in costly entertainments and garments. She spent lavishly while her overtaxed and increasingly hostile subjects blamed her for France's plight. In time Antoinette matured into a courageous Queen, and when their enemies finally closed in, Antoinette followed her inept husband to the guillotine in one last act of bravery.
In To the Scaffold, Carolly Erickson provides an estimation of a lost Queen that is psychologically acute, richly detailed, and deeply moving.