Such was the life of Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria and new wife of the most powerful man in the world circa 1810, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France. As beautifully illuminated in Michelle Moran’s new novel, The Second Empress, their marriage put to rest ongoing conflict between Austria and France, yielded the male heir Napoleon desperately desired, and led to some of the most deliciously intriguing royal court drama in European history.
Thrust into a court full of rivals for her husband’s affection – including Napoleon’s exceedingly ambitious sister, Pauline – Marie-Louise was forced to adapt to her new life or risk losing her position as the most powerful woman in continental Europe. Cast against the simmering backdrop of the Emperor’s fight to maintain his increasingly unstable empire, Marie-Louise’s struggle for identity, legitimacy, and adoration makes The Second Empress a compulsively readable addition to Michelle Moran’s amazing series of historical fiction novels.
Not everything was a struggle for Marie-Louise, though. While it can’t be easy for any girl to be ripped from her native country and forced to a foreign land (and man), Marie-Louise enjoyed the absolute best of comforts that French culture offered. One of her delights was French food – particular the lavish deserts that chefs in the Royal kitchen whipped up for her:
“After announcing my pregnancy to the court in September, Napoleon forbade me to leave the palace. Even taking Sigi outside is now prohibited. As the future mother to the heir of an empire, nothing dangerous—physically or morally—is permitted. When I argued, warning him that a prison is no place for a child to be born, he asked me which amusements I’d miss the most. “Everything,” I replied indignantly. “The fresh air, the gardens . . .” So he had a winter garden planted inside the palace. And when that wasn’t enough to stave off boredom, he ordered an artist’s studio built as well.
It’s true, there are unexpected freedoms in being pregnant. I am enjoying the nights in my bed alone and the privilege to eat whatever I please. This morning I had coffee with thick cream and rolls, and tonight I shall have almond milk with pastries. But these are small compensations for living like a monk.”
Partly in celebration of Michelle’s new novel, partly out of our own spirit of competition, and partly out of a desire for an abundance of pastries, we’re holding our own competition to see who can whip up the best French pastry in the office. And just to give a little twist to the female-dominated struggles of Napoleon’s court, we’ve convinced two guys from the office to compete – making this the first ever Napoleonic Bro Bake-Off to grace the pages of the Recipe Club.
Next week, Kevin Sweeting and Jonathan Lazzara will attempt to re-create the classic French Cream Puff, with chocolate sauce. We will judge their results, and appoint the winner as temporary Pastry Emperor of the Crown Publishing Group, the coming Friday. Stay tuned!
In the mean time, here’s an excerpt from The Second Empress, for your enjoyment:
The Second Empress by Michelle Moran – Excerpt