Who is the Shadow Queen?

Who is the Shadow Queen?

{Portrait of Claude des Oeillets}

The main character of my novel The Shadow Queen is Claude des Oeillets (dit Claudette), an impoverished young woman from the world of the theater. Socially scorned and denounced by the church, she lives on the fringes of society. As the daughter of a theatrical star, she exists in her mother’s shadow.


Unusual and beautiful portrait of Athenais

{Portraits of Madame de Montespan}

In contrast, Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan, lives at the heart of high society. She becomes Claudette’s obsessive passion, seeing in her a perfect life—a life without hunger and fear, a life of ease and beauty. Athénaïs’s life is everything Claudette’s is not.

While my other Sun Court novel, Mistress of the Sun, is set largely at Court, in both novels I am exploring the dynamic edge where court and ordinary life meet, with often explosive, unpredictable results. The Shadow Queen is about many things, but at its heart is the relationship between these two woman, Claudette and Athénaïs, who are close in age and share many of the same interests, yet are worlds apart. Claudette envies Athénaïs’s wealth; Athénaïs envies Claudette’s freedom, her life in the theater. Over time, they become dependent upon one-another. As Athénaïs’s devoted maid, Claudette is willing to do anything for her—up to a point.

It’s at that point that Claudette must step out of the shadows—and into the light of her own life.

Shadow Queen Cover copy 2

Over the five years I was writing this novel, I considered many titles. In the end, I felt that the title The Shadow Queen metaphorically captured the spirit of this story on a number of levels.

As part of the theatrical world, Claudette lives in the shadows of society. When she joins Athénaïs at court, she becomes the shadow of the official “Shadow Queen.” The story is very much about the ever-fascinating Athénaïs, but it is also about Claudette’s “dark” obsession with her and what Athénaïs represents, an obsession that leads Claudette into the shadow-side of that opulent world, a world of corruption and black magic, the shadow-side of want and hunger.

Who, then, is queen of shadows? Officially, of course, it is Athénaïs, but it could be others as well—Madame Voisin, for example, a woman who fulfills dark wishes, and even our “Good Knight” Claudette.SaveSave



Happy 376th Birthday Louis XIV!


The birth of Louis XIV, the Sun King, was an occasion of great celebrating in France. He was called the “God-Given,” because Queen Anne had prayed fervently for a child after suffering several miscarriages and many years of marriage.

Here are some images of mother and son, and a charming portrait of the future Sun King as a toddler:

790165eb40 a6f5bc24d0 baby  louis-XIV-child babybaby

This last one, my favorite, is only presumed to be of the king. It shows the swaddling that was done at the time.

Portrait of a Child Presumed to be Louis XIVbaby

Images of Madame de Montespan, a seductive angel/devil

I’ve recently discovered Europeana, a great site for text, videos, and images. It’s especially great for portraits. Here, for example, are some portraits of Athénaïs de Montespan, some of which I’ve never seen before:

This one above is credited to Ernest and Mignard. One can see how plump she has become. Here is another by Mignard with a similar theme:

Athénaïs is often portrayed with her children, no doubt to secure her link to the King. This is another portrait by Mignard:

And another:

And this one by Charles de La Fosse:

This image by Pierre Gobert is presumed to be of her, and I suspect it likely so:

Her lounging pose was unusual for the time; comfort was a new concept. Here again is a striking study by Nicolas Mignard:

This image of Athénaïs at her chateau at Clagny (Versailles now) is curious: bare legs!

This image, artist unknown (and previously thought to portray Louise de la Vallière) shows a younger Athénaïs with droopy eyes. Might this have been considered the come-hither look?

Here is another, likely even younger portrait, showing her unusual and slightly protruding eyes.

Here is a fashon plate, dated 1694. I doubt very much that Athénaïs would have been so slender at that time.

I could easily be on this site all day.

“Mme Guillotine” recently posted this very unusual and stunning portrait of Montespan on Instagram.

Unusual and beautiful portrait of Athenais

I’d love to know who the artist is. If you know, let me know!

Meeting cyber friends — at last

Shauna Singh Baldwin and I have known each other for a long time, through email and our writing, but have only met two times. She gave a moving and elegant introduction to my talk in her hometown, Milwaukee (a beautiful city).

This is her introduction:

“Many of us are familiar with Sandra Gulland’s historical fiction from her highly acclaimed, and beautifully-written Josephine Trilogy. In The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine published in 1995, Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe, published in 1998, and the Last Great Dance on Earth published in 2000—Sandra brought Josephine Bonaparte back to life. And instead of a greedy schemer who two-timed Napoleon, we come to know an intelligent woman making the kind of choices and compromises women make every day, even today. The Josephine B. trilogy, has sold over a million worldwide, is now published in thirteen languages and in fifteen countries.

Eight years after the last book in the Josephine trilogy, Sandra brings to life another French woman obscured and reviled by historians, Louise de la Valliere, mistress of the Sun King. Along the way, we meet Molière and Racine as they perform their dramas for the king, and listen to LaFontaine as he wrote his fables. With Louise, we watch Finance Minister Fouquet’s arrogance laid low, and the building of Versailles. Again the court of Louis XIV dazzles us, with the intensity of its joie de vivre and sheer excess. Louise is a superb horsewoman besides being a woman of verve and grace, and her riding and hunting endears her to the king.

To no one’s surprise, within a week of its publication in Canada, Mistress of the Sun was on Maclean’s national best-selling fiction list and remained there for more than two months, rising to #2.

Sandra Gulland, born in Florida and raised in Berkeley California doesn’t live in seventeenth century France. Instead she lives just over the border in Killaloe, about 50 miles west of Ottawa, Canada and spends half her year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She also lives on the web at www.SandraGulland.com—a wonderful web site—has a very active Facebook page, and writes a very interesting blog called Notes on the Writing Life. I don’t know if she can stand on a cantering horse like Louise de la Valliere, but she’s been riding enough years that I wouldn’t put it past her.

Sandra and I have been cyber friends since 1999, and this is only the second time we have met, yet her support and inspiration have often opened new paths for me. Back in 1998 when I was debating taking US citizenship, she took the time to write to me, explaining dual citizenship. When I was researching my second novel, The Tiger Claw, the story of a Muslim woman set in WWII France, she gave me wonderful advice on conducting meticulous historical research—yes, she should know! We keep meeting on online discussion groups like historicalnovelsociety.org and Readerville and I think we have been engaged on a similar project: illuminating and bringing alive herstory as opposed to history.

So I am delighted and honored to introduce a dear friend and spectacular writer.

Sandra, welcome to Milwaukee!”

Week one


It’s Saturday, I’m in Philadelphia, and I’m one week into my tour. I have more energy now than when I started. In fact, I could get used to this. I’ve seen lots of Connecticut by car, flown from New York to Boston, and gone by train from Boston to Philadelphia.

I’ve signed a zillion books at bookstores—called “signing stock”—and my hand hasn’t given out. I’m a Sharpie fan! All through Connecticut, store clerks would ask, “Do you have a Sharpie?” (Not, “Do you have a pen?”) Kelly Bowen, my publicist would laugh: “She’s got one.”

One clerk didn’t understand that we were there to sign books. He handed me a copy of Mistress of the Sun. “Have you been waiting long for the new Sandra Gulland?”

“I’m Sandra Gulland, and yes, I’ve been waiting long.” It made my day.

Trish Todd, my publisher, warned me that book sales were down throughout the country and that turn-outs might be sparce. There seems always to be enough, though, and invariably there are a few present who are huge fans, who make it all worthwhile.