“In Triumph’s Wake” explores the lives of three very successful royal mothers and their three very tragic royal daughters. The royal mothers chronicled, Queen Isabella of Castille, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and Queen Victoria of England were all Queens regnant who ruled powerfully over their countries. Their daughters, Queen Katherine of England (Henry VIII’s Katherine of Aragon), Queen Marie Antoinette of France, and Princess Victora/Empress Frederick of Germany, were all Queens consort whose lives took on various degrees of tragedy. Katherine was divorced in favor of Anne Boleyn, separated from her daughter, and forced into seclusion; Marie Antoinette was, of course, beheaded during the French Revolution; and Princess Victoria was despised by the German people – including her son who would become Kaiser Wilhelm – only to have her husband die almost as soon as they fianlly took the throne.
In some ways, I enjoyed this book very much. In the first two cases, I knew far more about the daughters (Katherine and Marie Antoinette) than about their mothers and in the last case I knew not a great deal about either woman, but certainly far less about Princess Vicky than about Queen Victoria. There was a nice historical sketch of each woman, hitting the high and low points of their reigns, what shaped them, their influences as monarchs, etc. The writing was very accessible, so this was a great way to learn about women who have shaped history.
However, the book didn’t really fully deliver as I thought it would. Perhaps I was wrong to assume, but the set-up of the book seemed to me that it would be making an argument about gender politics, power, or something similar. Perhaps the influence that having a Queen regnant mother had on girls who were fated to be Queens consort? The impact that being a Queen regnant had on mothering? Some similarities were made between women: Isabella and Maria Theresa’s religiosity, Marie Antoinette and Princess Vicky’s hatred by their subjects, but there were no overarching comparisons made and no thesis statements of any kind to be proven or disproven. This disappointed me, I though I would be learning about these women as they fit into an historical trend.
While I was interested in learning about all of these women, and while they made for an interesting grouping, I feel this book fell somewhat short of what it might have been.