2016 TBR Pile Challenge: In Triumph’s Wake

Yesterday was a holiday in most of Canada. In 2016 we still have a holiday dedicated to Queen Victoria.

In my world, anything celebrating the Royals is a-ok but most people probably don’t share my enthusiasm. Except when it means a day off.

To keep up with my unofficial 2016 TBR Pile Challenge, I’m trying to ensure that I read one book off the list every month. With Victoria Day looming, this seemed like an excellent time to finally read In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters and the Price They Paid for Glory by Julia P. Gelardi.

This book looks at the reigns and lives of Queen Isabella of Castille, her daughter Catherine of Aragon; Empress Maria Theresa and her daughter, the ill-fated Marie Antoinette; and Queen Victoria and her equally unlucky daughter Empress Frederick of Prussia.

And it was SO GOOD. For real – I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, without reservation.


First of all, Gelardi is one of the very best biographers. She knows her stuff, she clearly cares for her subjects but manages to write about these august persons in such a real way. She knows they were flawed humans and she doesn’t try to gloss over those flaws but she also understands the burdens placed on them. Her books are such accessible reading, even for those who don’t flex their non-fiction muscles that often.

I think In Triumph’s Wake is actually a perfect introduction to biography reading for those of you that are intimidated by the genre.

This book is only 343 pages and that ably covers the lives of these six incredible women. It more or less breaks down to about 50 pages per Queen. This means that Gelardi had to really pare down the times in which these women lived –you will not find long, meandering, complicated passages about the politics or military exploits of the times.

There are some good tidbits in this one as well. For example, Isabella of Castille basically ran away from home to marry Ferdinand of Aragon and then asked for forgiveness afterwards. Queen Victoria was called Gangan by her great-grandkids – just like Queen Elizabeth II is now. And Maria Theresa’s marriage was a love match that produced 16 children. All of her daughters were Maria-something.

Before I read this, I was familiar with the lives of Catherine of Aragon, Marie Antoinette and Queen Victoria but I knew next to nothing about Isabella, Maria-Theresa and the Empress Frederick. I’m glad that it was Julia P. Gelardi who introduced me. I sincerely hope she is working on something new and that I can read it soon because her work always brings me such joy.

I leave you with this quote from the end of the book, which I think really shows you where Gelardi is coming from when she writes about these women:

In the end, what is most fascinating and moving from the storied past of these unique sets of royal mothers and daughters is that the three daughters, though left in their mothers’ triumphant wake, faced their tragic fates with heroism. […] These courageous, dignified responses were the ultimate legacies of their august mothers. In that respect, Catherine, Marie Antoinette and Vicky prevailed in a manner that would have made Queen Isabella, Empress Maria Theresa and Queen Victoria ultimately proud – and should qualify the daughters to be placed  beside their mothers in history’s pantheon of valiant, noteworthy figures.

8 thoughts on “2016 TBR Pile Challenge: In Triumph’s Wake

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