Euphemia’s Empresses

Scripted Historical Fiction TV Series.

An enslaved African queen grooms two provincial cousins from the Caribbean to become the Ottoman and French empresses of the 18th century.

Story developed by Muriel Stockdale and Kalina Ivanov

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Developed by:
Muriel Stockdale & Kalina Ivanov

(646) 522-3819 or

Registered: WGAE

“They were my girls and only I know what happened to both of them.”

Euphemia David, an enslaved African obeah (witch) from Martinique narrates the epic tales of the two girls that she accurately predicted would each become empresses.

Euphemia, a slave who wins extraordinary freedom, travels the world and prepares her girls for the greatness she envisions for them while she protects them from the terrors she knows they must overcome. For centuries, a legend has endured that the Ottoman Sultan’s head consort Nakshidil Haseki was born as the French Empress Josephine’s cousin, Aimée Dubuc de Rivery. It was Euphemia’s prediction that ignited this story and so ‘EUPHEMIA’S EMPRESSES’ takes this possibility as its starting point.

Guided by Euphemia, a second mother to the cousins, we watch the rise to power of two women who grow up together on a tiny and remote tropical island. Just like Euphemia, who was brought to their island as a slave, her girls are thrust into chaotic and unfamiliar environments. Euphemia’s tale brings her charges and us from the plantations of Martinique through the storm-tossed Atlantic; from the hedonism of Paris high society to the tumult of the French Revolution and the cold cells of Les Carmes prison; through Napoleonic campaigns and pirate raids, to the markets of Algiers, into the innermost chambers of the Ottoman palaces and into the halls of power that shaped the destinies of the East and West as we know them today. Euphemia exercises a remarkable ability to survive and thrive and she shares the practical and arcane tricks of her own success with her girls.

The Empress Josephine’s story is, of course, well known. She was born into a white Creole family in Martinique. Quite young she was brought to France to marry her fickle cousin Alexandre de Beauharnais. The life of Aimée Dubuc de Rivery, Josephine’s younger cousin, is more mysterious. She also grew up on a Martinique plantation and traveled to France to attend a convent school. Euphemia is a mere footnote in history. The strong influence on the extraordinary success of these women by an African mentor has never been considered. In our story Euphemia travels with her girls to Paris and continues to influence them as their journeys unfold.

Our Euphemia is just a few years older than both girls yet she is mother to them. She has the wisdom of age and has lived through unthinkable terrors already. In our story Euphemia was destined to be a queen but betrayed by her brothers and sold into slavery. She is shipped off to the Americas chained in the bottom of slave ship. In spite of her situation she holds onto hope. She nurses her dying shipmates, sings the old sacred songs to lift their spirits and calls on her ancestors to help them all. She even carries in her teeth sacred African seeds to grow the medicines she will need.

Euphemia is different, the other slaves fear her and revere her; she is queen and obeah. Her masters only fear her and keep watch on her but the young cousins love her and she loves them. As a house slave Euphemia becomes the girl’s nurse, Nounou. She knows their destiny and she knows they need her. She instills in the two cousins a kind of inner fortitude made of resilience, grace, gratitude and love that will permit them to rise above the fray and withstand the cultural storms and many adversaries they will soon encounter. Euphemia cannot help her girls understand the prevailing social etiquette of the time but she can see right into the hearts of peasants, slaves and nobles alike and she knows what makes people tick. Her understanding of the world being raised as a shaman gives her a mastery of the mysterious.

Through Euphemia we view the world in a different way somewhat in the way that Ragnar Lodbrok of Vikings ‘sees’ into the unknown. Euphemia’s insightful skill takes many forms from outright voodoo ceremonies and visions to simple almost invisible Sherlock Holmes like information gathering. She adapts her practice to every moment and situation and moves easily through tribal, Christian and Muslim worlds. She sometimes performs dramatic, fire centered voodoo ceremonies, or consults sacred texts for answers and other times she simply reads a face. She even adopts European Tarot cards to disguise her apparent power. It is her talent for insight that translates into powerful social, and communication skills, this is the talent that she nurtures in her girls.

Though self-centered Josephine already a charming and personable child takes easily to Euphemia’s lessons despite her impatient and ambitious rebelliousness. Aimée is less inclined to listen she is a deeply religious Catholic; fearful and a traditional homebody looking forward to a humble and quiet life in Martinique. Only later, trapped in the treacherous Ottoman harem does Aimée begin to draw on the value of Euphemia’s often terrifying lessons. Both girls become excellent readers of men and women, this helps them climb to the pinnacle of their different societies. They also make much use of Euphemia’s skill in making beauty products, delicious sugar treats and simple medicines.

The first serious challenges for all three arise when they are shipped off to Paris, Josephine to marry and Aimée for convent finishing school. Josephine’s first adversary is her husband Alexandre. He is abusive and unfaithful, openly flaunting his affairs. He is ashamed of his raw island wife. Though he tries he cannot impress French court affectations on her speech or manners. So he abandons the young wife to fend for her self and their two children plus Alexandre’s illegitimate love child. Euphemia toils in the background supporting the young mother and the shy novice, Aimée, who studies in the convent finishing school while her father finds her a suitable husband.

Neither girl fits into French society they are considered coarse. They move with the lyrical grace reminiscent of the African dances they loved as children. They speak with a foreign lilt and are awkward and uncomfortable in the upholstered refinery of their class. Too often bare feet slip out of the folds of their elegant silk skirts shocking their aristocratic hosts. They are only comfortable together and Euphemia is more companion than servant to them both.

Once abandoned by her husband and free to express her own style, Josephine charms her new high society divorcée friends becoming an icon known as, ‘the little American’. She attracts many male admirers who support or abuse her for favors. By contrast Aimée’s stiff convent matrons are intolerant of her casual grace and punish her for it whenever she returns from the requisite society events she attends with her cousin. Euphemia is always there ready to pick them up and dry their tears. It is on Aimée’s way home alone to Martinique in 1787 to meet her father’s match that rumors say Corsairs took her ship. Though Euphemia predicted this she and Josephine are devastated when they received word that Aimée never arrived home.

Desperate to discover Aimée’s whereabouts Euphemia and Josephine embark on a search that takes them back to Martinique. While there Josephine takes the opportunity to dispose of an unwanted pregnancy in private. When they return to Paris the revolution is beginning to boil and Alexandre has become a leading voice for change. Despite the obvious dangers brewing in Paris Josephine dispatches Euphemia on wild chase after Aimée into the uncharted lands of the orient.

Aimée was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Algiers, where an agent of the Ottoman sultanate purchases her as a harem concubine. Her association with Euphemia immediately pays off when she discovers right away that the Kislar Aga, head Eunuch of the palace, speaks the same language as Euphemia. Enchanted by her he becomes her chief supporter and protector. Without him she would certainly have been murdered in the treacherous and jealous environment of the harem. Alone and in a strange culture she learns a new language and Aimée reaches the pinnacle of her new society. Her beauty, intelligence and the determination instilled in her by Euphemia keep her going until she wins the favor of the Sultan. It is known that the legendary Nakshidil Valide Sultana, who was consort of Sultan Abdul Hamid I, taught the sultan French and decorated Topkapi Palace in the Rococo style. Another fact is that a letter was sent to King Louis XVI from the Crown Prince Selim asking for help from the French military. Then in the same year of 1789 that the French revolution broke out a prince is born in the Ottoman palace to a new concubine named Nakshidil (the beautiful one).

Meanwhile Euphemia winds her way to North Africa and weeps when she arrives on the sandy shores of her birth land. After a soul-searching night considering whether to abandon her adopted daughters and head home to the gold coast she decides to keep her word. For weeks she searches the shores of Algiers for a legendary blond beauty while selling her magic potions and telling fortunes. Then one day in an Istanbul market place Aimée finds Euphemia just in time to save her new love, Sultan Selim III, from poison. Euphemia becomes part of the new queen’s entourage, now protecting Aimée again. When Euphemia’s faithless brother’s are captured and brought to the harem as slaves Euphemia is unable to acknowledge or save them from castration and induction into the eunuch forces. After that they blame her for their fate.

When word of the revolution arrives and Aimée hears that Josephine is imprisoned she quickly dispatches Euphemia back to France to save Josephine. Euphemia is relieved to escape the threat of her brothers and for the moment Aimée seems safe. Euphemia arrives just in time to find Josephine’s children and the family dog thrown out on the street. Together they find refuge and bring hope in the form of soap and soup to Josephine and Alexandre. Outspoken, Alexandre had been caught up in political intrigue and imprisoned. Finally he is guillotined in 1794. The political tide turns and Josephine is granted her liberty just five days after her husband’s death.

The days post the ‘Reign of Terror’ become heady and wild in Paris society where every night is a party for survivors. Euphemia tries to ground the elated and then alternately moody Josephine. While imprisoned, Josephine befriended the socialite Thérésa Cabarrus Tallien and the two women rise in society as the famous “It girls” of the Diréctoire Period. Josephine can barely think about her cousin Aimée, she is so ecstatic to have survived but at the same time desperate to find security.

While Euphemia settles in to manage Josephine’s family affairs the very popular, socialite consorts with increasingly powerful men including Paul Barras, President of the French Directory who is at the center of elite society. Through him Josephine meets her most famous lover—Napoléon Bonaparte. Euphemia begins to lose Josephine to the turmoil of glamorous life. When things go wrong Josephine is desperate for Euphemia’s council other than that Josephine ignores her. Even so, Euphemia and Josephine in Paris keep in touch with Aimée in Istanbul through secret letters and gifts.

The influential Josephine helps Napoleon rise to the position of general. He loves her fiercely, she sees in him only security and they marry in 1796 despite the strong objections of both Euphemia and Napoleon’s meddling family. His love for her is not entirely reciprocated; she does not hide her affairs. Euphemia warns her again and again but Napoleon sees Euphemia as a bad influence. Finally Napoleon bans Euphemia from the house and cuts Josephine off from all of her old friends and acquaintances.

With nowhere else to go, Euphemia returns to the Ottoman palace to aid Aimée through the most dangerous years of her ascension. Together they confront a rebellious uprising, British and Russian invasions, an Egyptian uprising and even Napoleon’s French invasion that infuriates both Euphemia and Aimée. But the greatest threat to Aimée and Euphemia is always inside the palace in the form of her nemesis, Aisha Sineperver, mother of the crown prince Mustafa. Mustafa was the only surviving prince until Aimée’s Mahmud was born. No other crown prince survived before or after the birth of Aimée’s son, Mahmud due to Aisha’s efforts to kill all princes. Now Euphemia’s brothers have become powerful adversaries too as Aisha’s brutes.

Finally, Aisha and rebellious imams oust Aimée’s lover and protector, Sultan Selim III and install Aisha’s son, Mustafa as a puppet ruler. Selim and Mahmud are imprisoned. For a year, with essential aid from Euphemia, Aimée orchestrates, from her exile in prison outside the palace, a complicated coup. Euphemia’s aid protecting Mahmud is critical. After Selim is murdered, she burns her hands terribly throwing hot coals from the bath fire at Mahmud’s assassins, her brothers, saving Mahmud’s life. Aimée becomes Sultana, queen mother or Empress and her son Mahmud becomes Sultan in 1808. Shortly after that Mahmud orders an embassy to Paris led by his mother and the two cousins both Empresses now are finally reunited.

The rich secondary characters: Napoléon, Sultan Abdul Hamid I, Paul Barras, Sultan Selim III, Crown Prince Mahmud II, the Kislar Aga, Marie Antoinette and Térésa Tallien with adversaries like Alexandre, Joseph and Pauline Bonaparte, Aisha Sineperver, Grand Viziers and Pashas among them as well as the lush and varied historical settings are full of intrigue and ripe for exploration. Both girls’ stories begin in the tropical backwaters of Martinique. Euphemia’s troubled history with her brothers and her training as an obeah and queen in Africa unfolds in flashbacks that inform her present as we voyage with her.

Why this story now?

How is it possible that two ordinary girls from Martinique rose to become Empresses of both empires that shaped the world at that time? They were millennials of a different millennium; young, innovative, social mavens that became inspiring cultural leaders in very difficult times. The worlds they moved through were diverse; cultures, religions and races crashed together provoking questions of freedom, liberty, and fraternity to bubble up and spill into Western and Eastern revolutions.

These three characters, Euphemia, Aimée and Josephine, were powerful women who overcame tremendous obstacles in times of great change and uprising by using their feminine skills, not just their beauty and sexuality, but also their intelligence, grace, compassion and a sense of grounded determination to survive. They were strong without needing to be macho, militaristic or mean like so many ‘strong’ female characters depicted today. All cared beyond the scope of their immediate family. How do ordinary women grasp extraordinary power? Our story explores the obvious and subtle ways that these remarkable women might have exerted their power on the world’s stage and on events that shaped today’s modern world.