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She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth Paperback – 7 Jul 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (7 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571237061
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571237067
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 3.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Helen Castor is a medieval historian and a Bye-Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Her first book, Blood & Roses, a biography of the fifteenth-century Paston family, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2005 and won the English Association's Beatrice White Prize in 2006. Her second book, She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, was selected as one of the books of the year for 2010 in the Guardian, Times, Sunday Times, Independent, Financial Times and BBC History Magazine.

Helen is one of the presenters of Radio 4's Making History, and writes and presents programmes for BBC television, including a three-part series based on her book She-Wolves.

Her latest book, Joan of Arc: A History, is the subject of a BBC Two documentary to be broadcast in 2015.

Product Description

Review

'A rollicking account of four medieval queens ... Castor's book is a gem of blood-and-thunder storytelling, packed with terrific vignettes.' --Sunday Times

Combining top-notch scholarship with fizzing storytelling ... Packed with wonderful historical anecdotes ... A fascinating account of a group of women who refused to do what they were told and, in the process, paved the way for England's great female rulers. --Mail on Sunday

If God ordained men should rule over women, how can a woman ever rule a nation? This question perplexed medieval Europe, and in She-Wolves (Faber) the young historian Helen Castor explores it with energy and flair, taking as her leading ladies four formidable English queens who preceded the Tudors. Each of these women challenged what was seen as the natural order, and Castor makes their complex stories highly readable, exciting and thought-provoking. --Hilary Mantel, Guardian

'The compelling story of four of the most powerful women who shaped British history... the book is dedicated to Castor's two history teachers, who she says inspired her, and it will not disappoint them or her new readers.' --Daily Mail

If God ordained men should rule over women, how can a woman ever rule a nation? This question perplexed medieval Europe, and in She-Wolves (Faber) the young historian Helen Castor explores it with energy and flair, taking as her leading ladies four formidable English queens who preceded the Tudors. Each of these women challenged what was seen as the natural order, and Castor makes their complex stories highly readable, exciting and thought-provoking. --Hilary Mantel, Guardian

'Combining careful scholarship with a novelist's eye for detail, Castor offers a fresh perspective and an engaging narrative that barrels along. Few books actually merit that hoary critical commonplace 'unputdownable', but this is certainly one of them.' --Independent on Sunday

If God ordained men should rule over women, how can a woman ever rule a nation? This question perplexed medieval Europe, and in She-Wolves (Faber) the young historian Helen Castor explores it with energy and flair, taking as her leading ladies four formidable English queens who preceded the Tudors. Each of these women challenged what was seen as the natural order, and Castor makes their complex stories highly readable, exciting and thought-provoking. --Hilary Mantel, Guardian

Book Description

She-Wolves by Helen Castor is a fascinating, true account of how royal power came to lie female hands thanks to the influence of four women: Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou. As seen on the BBC documentary series.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I had eagerly awaited the release of this book and waited until I could take my time and read it slowly- taking notes if I wished. I wasn't disappointed! The book begins with a genealogy of the Tudor Succession and as Edward VI is dying. The book is an utterly fascinating, eminently readable, treatise about the tradition of female rulers prior to the time of Elizabeth I.

Included are:

Matilda: Lady of England 1102-1167
Eleanor: An Incomparable Woman 1124-1204 (long lived indeed!)
Isabella: Iron Lady 1295-1358
Margaret: A Great and Strong Laboured Woman 1430-1482

and, as the books returns to the time of the Tudors and the death of Edward VI, in "New Beginnings"
Mary and her disastrous marriage with Philip of Spain. The book ends as Elizabeth I is handed the reins of of government and becomes both the King and Queen of her kingdom.

Each section is preceded by a both a genealogy as well as a map of the Kingdom as it existed at that point in history. Very helpful while you are reading about the constantly changing boundaries of the various countries. The genealogies really made me realize how small the pool of available spouses for royal marriages really was at the time. Papal dispensations for consanguinity matters must have been a steady source of revenue for the Church! Ms. Castor has an uncanny ability to write non-fiction that reads as enjoyably as fiction. I was sorry when the book ended - wanting more of this truly riveting history. The struggle of female rulers really was the the beginning of the fight for women's rights and the fact that these amazing, talented, strong women managed to rule as they did is a wonder.
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Format: Paperback
Maybe it's because I'm already at least somewhat familiar with all the historical figures explored within, but I devoured Helen Castor's latest historical non-fiction in two days flat. I enjoyed the dual experience of uncovering new snippets of information or a fresh interpretation of the reigns of figures familiar to me, and also learning a whole lot more about other historical personages who I had previously known only the real basics about. Castor painted a real picture of the times these women lived in, setting the scene and really adding to the reader's understanding of the social mores of the day and perhaps just why some of these ladies could not achieve rule in their own right. More than that, the read was enjoyable and easy; I was practically tearing through the pages, and encountered no stumbling blocks along the way. It's worth keeping in mind that as a book with a multi-period focus, She-Wolves does not present an intensive focus on any one of the historical figures covered, but rather it pulls together the disparate strands of history to answer the questions of the book's theme and show us a valuable insight into the bigger picture.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Elizabeth I is one of England's best known reigning queens. Though she was not the first, she set the standard and is widely regarded as a successful ruling monarch. But there were women who ruled, or attempted to rule, England before Elizabeth. There was Matilda, daughter of Henry I, whose cousin got to the throne first; there was Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had plenty of power in her own domains but in many respects is best known for her husbands and sons; there was Isabella, wife of Edward II, who seized a throne for herself in the name of her son; there was Margaret of Anjou, who fought ferociously to maintain her son's right to the throne; and there were Jane and Mary, Elizabeth's immediate predecessors. Castor looks at these women and how they ruled and examines the pattern of English thought and how it changed over more than 400 years of history.

I loved this book. I didn't expect anything less; I gushed about Helen Castor's Blood and Roses a couple of years ago, so it's no surprise that I couldn't wait a second to get my hands on this one. None of these women were new to me as a person obsessed with medieval history, but Castor puts their stories together in a way that makes perfect sense. She looks not only at what happened to each woman and how successful she was at ruling, but what people thought about it and how England became a country that could accept a female monarch.

It's no surprise that they have almost universally been vilified at one point or another. The medieval interpretation of what it meant to be female and the medieval interpretation of what it meant to be king were completely incompatible. As Castor says in the first section, focusing on Matilda, she just could not win.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this hardback on the strength of it being one of Hilary Mantel's 'books of the year' as a gift for a friend. The postal crisis in the run up to Christmas meant it arrived too late to gift so I read it myself.

I always suspect, when a famous author gives an endorsement to another's work, that the quality of the relationship between the two can influence the accuracy of the recommendation. On this occasion I was right to trust Hilary Mantel's judgement. Helen Castor's work is a genuine page turner. She truly does have a narrative gift.

Having been raised on the Tudors I was always a bit woolly about the order and nature of the monarchs before them. This book renders the characters involved so vividly that the -sometimes intricate -family trees finally start to make sense.

I really came to marvel at the abilities of the four great women this work elucidates. The dynastic marriages and betrothals at ridiculously young ages, the active and passive roles they played in European powerplay and diplomacy, the vagaries of conceptions and pregnancies in a pre-medical era. What they endured and overcame can only be guessed at by modern women.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So much so that it's really reawakened my appetite for history. The scholarship in its creation is really impressive - as evidenced by the extremely comprehensive bibliography. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
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