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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting! History That's Better Than Fiction!
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...
Published on 31 May 2011 by MusingCrow

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For only the most history-minded, not the casual reader
This is a well-research, thoughtful, and well-written book. However, it is so dense and esoteric, that I would only recommend it for the biggest history buffs among us. I, personally, threw in the towel after the first 100 pages - something I rarely do. The stories are not as grippingly told as some reviewers would have you believe. I wish I had liked this book more...
Published 9 months ago by Christopher P. Donnelly


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting! History That's Better Than Fiction!, 31 May 2011
By 
MusingCrow "mzjohansen" (Friday Harbor, WA, United States) - See all my reviews
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. I wonder how many modern women would have the tenacity and determination to breach the boundaries of proper 'etiquette' as these female rulers did. It boggles my mind at how strong and focused they must have been. No doubt they would be the sort of successful women who would, to this day, be called She Wolves, baracuddas, or another word that begins with the letter b----.

I wished that the book had more illustrations - but then I always wish that. I always want more images to pair with the words in a book. The included 8 pages of color images are well done - but more would have been better (of course!) This book will, I think, hold wide appeal to history buffs - especially those who are Anglophiles as I am, as well as for people who study women's rights and societal issues.

I will be on the pre-order list as soon as I hear about Helen Castor's next book !
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic book!, 14 Jan 2011
i first heard about this book in woman's hour on bbc 4. i thought it was interesting but didn't buy the book straightaway lest i will be disappointed.curiosity got the better of me and i purchased it off amazon. it didn't disappoint. i was gripped right through the end. the author will take you through a roller coaster ride. you'll feel anger,indignation,empathy,pride,sadness etc..i found myself cheering on these women esp mathilda and margaret of anjou..i was grateful as well that the author listed some books for further reading..i will be reading it over and over again for inspiration.xx
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86 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional and endlessly fascinating, 7 April 2011
By 
M. K. Burton - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
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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. If she exercised the right of a king, the power necessary to be successful, she was an unnatural woman, but if she didn't, there was simply no way for her to rule. She could not be a success in her contemporaries' eyes, no matter what she did - at least, not until she started to fight on behalf of her son, Henry.

And the story is the same for many of the women, with incremental changes. Attitudes do take hundreds of years to change, and while the kingdom was changing, the status of women didn't go very far towards changing with it. All of the royal power women were actually able to hold in England had to be in the name of a man, even if that man was actually a baby. It's a fascinating exploration of the very different challenges each women faced while at the same time putting together the universality of their condition.

And it's perfectly appropriate that they lead up to Elizabeth, because she was the game changer, who ruled in her own name, with her own wisdom, and did a fantastic job. There's no question that women continued to struggle for rights, and they suffered considerably for centuries, in some respects still doing so. But a number of factors contributed towards her doing so, and she must have felt a kinship towards the women who came before and the strides they made to earn power for women in the English kingdom.

Castor treats all of the women with an even hand, taking a steady look at what was expected of them as women rulers, why they got treated the way they did, and even whether or not they deserved it. Isabella, for example, can easily be dismissed as a poor ruler, but we can also understand why she acted the way she did (at least as far as overthrowing her husband) and the results of those actions in a wider context. While there is still a lot about the men in these women's lives, they were the actual monarchs and thus had a very large role to play in defining the positions of their mothers, daughters, and wives, so it doesn't feel as though the women have vanished inside the shadows of the better-recorded lives of the men.

In short, She-Wolves is exceptional, inspirational, and endlessly fascinating. If you're interested in history, especially that of women, this book is unquestionably for you.
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75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A near perfect book, 13 Nov 2010
By 
Helen Castor's study of queenship and power is a absorbing and gripping read. Narrated with a light and easy style this looks at the exercise of power by English queens; used as we are to history with the successful reigns of two Elizabeths and a Victoria it is easy to forget that this was not always so.

Beginning with the death of the fifteen year old Edward V1, son of King Henry of the many wives fame, and ending with the first successful queen regnant, Elizabeth Tudor, Helen Castor examines four examples of English queens who attempted to rule as well as reign.

As all four of the subjects of this book, Matilda, lady of the English, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of Valois and Margaret of Anjou, found, it was entirely acceptable to exercise power as the delegate or adjunct of a ruling male, but to attempt to do so in her own right was anathema for a woman. Nowhere is this made clearer than in the (male) chronicler's account of the 11th century struggle for power between Matilda, the legal heiress of England's crown and the Matilda, wife to King Stephen who carried out the fight for her imprisoned husband. Matilda, attempting to rule in her own right was described disapprovingly as unbearably proud and haughty while the other Matilda was warmly commended for " forgetting the weakness of her sex and a woman's softness, she bore herself with the valour of a man" .

I especially enjoyed the sections devoted to Margaret of Anjou and Matilda, Empress and Queen as I knew very little about them before.But what gripped me most was the little, telling details so often overlooked by other biographers and which bring their subjects to life with an touching immediacy. In the short opening section devoted to King Edward Tudor, I learnt of his wistful letters to his former companion Barnaby Fitzpatrick, that the Easter before he died Edward was treated to a spectacle of a danse macabre and that abandoned by all who had risen to power through him, he died in the arms of another boyhood friend, Henry Sidney.

Helen Castor demonstrates impeccable scholarship and a gripping narrative drive. Without doubt this is one of the best biographies I have read in quite a long while.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and entertaining, 4 Jan 2011
By 
Amazon Customer (North West England) - See all my reviews
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!, 15 Aug 2011
This review is from: She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (Paperback)
Who needs to read historical fiction, when historical fact is so well written?
I found myself devouring this book as if it were a best selling novel.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and interesting read, 21 Jan 2012
By 
Isis (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superlative History!, 5 Nov 2011
By 
Amazon Customer (stoke-on-trent, england) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (Paperback)
With this outstanding work of history Helen Castor will have many established medieval historians looking over their shoulders in fear!

Not only does the author maintain a fascinatingly succinct historical narrative which leaves you crying out for more, but she succeeds in drawing a very real portrait in your mind of the four indisputably powerful women who 'ruled' England before Elizabeth.

History and storytelling at its finest.

If I could have given it 10 stars instead of five I would have.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learned Fun, 4 Jan 2012
By 
This review is from: She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (Paperback)
I was prepared to write at length in praise of this book, but it has already been well reviewed so I am content to add my voice to the chorus of approbation it has received. "She Wolves" is simply excellent! The times Castor describes are notoriously complex, and she guides us through them with an expert hand. By now I feel I even have an understanding of the struggle between Stephen and Matilda, which will help when I next read a Cadfael novel. What becomes very clear is how differently women were valued in the past, even when the woman was the Queen - there are several points where Castor informs us that contemporary chronicles say nothing on a certain issue - as well as the infamous double standard that these women were so often caught in.

Above all, the author wears her learning lightly. The entire book is well researched, and Castor shows she is well aware of the latest scholarship in the area, and yet the book could be read as a novel. I would easily recommend this work to anyone interested in history - it is first class.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 29 Jun 2011
By 
D. Brockis "dave6566" (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A really great read. Helen Castor is a hugely talented story teller as well as a serious historian, and She Wolves immerses you in the mediaeval world like no other history. I have read the Kindle version and then bought a copy for my mother to read, She is now trying to get her copy back from her friends so she can read it again. Buy this now.
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She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor (Paperback - 7 July 2011)
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