At the start of the story, Livia Drusilla is a woman of advanced years who recounts the events of her life. She reminisces about a time when she was a fourteen-year-old girl living under her father’s roof, before she was married. She was the daughter of Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, a respectable Roman nobleman who consequently plotted to murder Julius Caesar.
It is the height of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, a celebrated golden age. The seven-year-old Emilia Bassano is sent away from her mother to be entrusted to the care of the Countess of Kent, where she will be raised with propriety. Not long after that day, Emilia blossoms into a young woman who is a lover to two men, one of whom is William Shakespeare, the Queen’s playwright and poet. In time, Emilia becomes a poetess herself, something that is unusual in the Elizabethan era. Suffice it to say, Emilia, being of questionable birth, is an oddity in her own time.
Two Empresses centers around two young women who are cousins, Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie and Aimée du Buc de Rivéry, growing up in Martinique. The story opens up in 1779, on an evening where Rose (who history would known as Joséphine) and Aimée sneak out of the house to go visit a mystic by the name of Euphemia David, a woman who is something of a local legend.
Life is anything but easy for Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England. As a child she was married to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, and now as a young woman in her twenties, she is forced to marry again, this time Geoffrey of Anjou, whom she considers a nobody. Meanwhile Matilda’s heart belongs to the dashing auburn-haired Stephen, Count of Boulogne, but Stephen is already married, and Matilda’s father will not permit the match.
Catalina de Aragon is a fresh-faced, bright-eyed Spanish beauty who comes to the strange land of England to wed Arthur, Prince of Wales. The demure Spanish princess who thereafter is referred to as Katherine (in the English style) arrives in her new country amid great pomp and revelry. Surrounded perpetually by her cortege of Spanish ladies-in-waiting, Katherine is ruled by the iron fist of her imperious duenna, Doña Elvira. Katherine eventually meets with King Henry VII who is delighted by her as well as her betrothed, Arthur, although it is clear that the sickly young man’s attentions are lukewarm at best.
It is July 1853 and the plucky young Elisabeth (known as Sisi), Duchess of Bavaria lives happily with her family in the wild countryside. Much to the surprise of everyone in her family, Sisi’s sister, Helen (known as Néné) receives a proposal of marriage from the Imperial Austrian Court. It is proposed that Néné (the eldest daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria and Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria) wed her cousin Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria.
We have all seen that mysterious painting, the one known as “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” the seventeenth-century masterpiece of Johannes “Jan” Vermeer. One can even go so far to say that “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is “the Dutch Mona Lisa,” as some have taken to calling it.