Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orczi was born in Heves County, Hungary, in 1865. Her family moved between Budapest, Brussels and Paris, before settling in London in 1880, where Orczy attended West London School of Art and then Heatherley's School of Fine Art. It was here that she met her future husband, a young illustrator named Montague MacLean Barstow. The two of them married in 1894.
Orczy and Barstow were not well-off, and Orczy started to work with her husband as a translator and an illustrator to supplement his low wage. In 1899, the same year that they had their first and only child, Orczy produced her first novel, The Emperor's Candlesticks. However, real success came in 1903, when she and Barstow wrote a play based on one of her short stories, set during the French Revolution. The Scarlet Pimpernel was not an instant success, but following a rewritten last act and an opening in the West End, the play went on to run for four years in London, playing more than 2,000 performances. It broke many stage records, was translated and produced in various other countries, and underwent several revivals.
Orczy went on to write over a dozen sequels to The Scarlet Pimpernel, as well as a good amount of popular mystery fiction and adventure romances, some of which feature early examples of female lead detectives. Her money worries vanished; in fact, Orczy became so well-off that she was able to buy an estate in Monte Carlo. During the First World War, she worked hard to recruit female volunteers for active service. She also lived through the Second World War, before dying in Henley-on-Thames of old age.