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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Serious and intelligent history TV series
This is one of those `under the radar' BBC documentary series which is quietly superb. It doesn't feature all the frills of trendy factual TV (stunt photography, sweeping soundtrack, over-blown dramatics), but instead concentrates on an authoritative historian, exploring the theme of English queens in detail and with considerable insight. In short, it's proper documentary...
Published 22 months ago by Rowena Hoseason

versus
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Women Hidden in Wolves' Clothing?
This short documentary series was based on a book which I never read, but whose thesis was of great interest to me: The role of powerful and brilliant women in the paternalistic political and social structure of Norman-French and Plantagenet England, where custom and warfare dictated that women could not succeed to the throne of the male warrior-rulers. (When the Tudor...
Published 16 months ago by Chuck Oliver


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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Serious and intelligent history TV series, 11 Oct 2012
By 
Rowena Hoseason "Hooligween" (Kernow, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
This is one of those `under the radar' BBC documentary series which is quietly superb. It doesn't feature all the frills of trendy factual TV (stunt photography, sweeping soundtrack, over-blown dramatics), but instead concentrates on an authoritative historian, exploring the theme of English queens in detail and with considerable insight. In short, it's proper documentary television. Clear, concise, revealing and informative, without being overly repetitive or speculative.

In three hour-long programmes, Dr Helen Castor reviews the lives of seven significant female monarchs from the middle ages onwards. She starts with queens who are almost unmentioned in mainstream histories; Matilda and Eleanor, who 800 years ago were the first women to strive to wear the crown in their own right. Dr Castor contrasts their different approaches and shows how it was not acceptable for a strong woman to behave at court in the same manner as a strong man: and how it was more acceptable for a woman to reign as a substitute for her son or husband, rather than as a genuine monarch herself. In the end, this episode shows how these early queens had to trade their own ambitions for the succession of their sons: they won the war, if not the battle...
The second episode continues these themes with the lives of Isabella and Margaret who continued to strive for independent power in the 1300s, when kings were still warrior-princelings, and who inspired the term `she wolf' in the first place. The series wraps up with the famous ladies of Tudor time, Jane, Mary and Elizabeth; but even here we are shown events from a different perspective, as finally a woman inherits the throne in her own right, and is acknowledged as a lifelong monarch.
Most of the series consists of Dr Castor telling the life stories straight to camera, against the backdrop of some stunning mediaeval castles and churches - many of them in France, for chunks of France were ruled by the same kings as England at the time (the use of several maps helps to make this clear). There's also some odd use of archive footage now and then; snapshots of rolling fields and rising suns are often used at appropriate moments, but sometimes the visuals don't quite match the voice-over!
Dr Castor frequently draws from Anglo-Saxon chronicles and the few written accounts of the time, and she makes a point of underlining when evidence is scare, and all we can do is conjecture. She also highlights when the morals and accepted practices of the time would have made certain behaviours 'normal', or not. So we're helped to actually understand what happened and why, and how society has changed and was changed by these events. We also learn that if a bishop promises to support one claim to the crown one month, then he's very likely to withdraw that support the next!

In the end, as with today's female political leaders, we're left to ponder the consequences of women holding power in what is still a male-defined hierarchy - whether holding power inevitably demands a loss of femininity.
A thought provoking and detailed series. Not flashy, but very fulfilling.
8/10
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent Series, 19 Dec 2012
This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
As a student of history, I watch a lot of documentaries across all scopes of subjects and time periods, but nothing grabs me quite like that of Medieval England. As you might think, that makes it easier for me to find faults and criticism on a series such as this, but it was brilliant!
Helen Castor portrays a time with confidence and intelligence, using facts rather than expensive reconstructions to tell the story of these extraordinary women. Whether it be discussing Eleanor of Aquatine's turbulent life involving love and conflict, or Lady Jane Grey's unfortunate predicament, Castor manages to weave all seven of these women together in an understandable and entertaining way.
The only criticism I would have is that the BBC didn't advertise this as much as it should, which is a shame as this really is an insightful and enjoyable series to watch.
Click the buy button now!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable insight, 8 Jan 2013
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This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
An intelligent, and compelling series of three one hour documentaries by Dr Helen Castor who demonstrates a passion, understanding and deep knowledge of her subject. She focuses on the reigns of 7 phenomenal women, Queens of England. In a time when power was seen as the prerogative of men, the exercise of power by a woman was seen as unnatural, unfeminine and even monstrous and the early queens such as Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine , Isabel of France and Margaret of Anjou were vilified as she-wolves, often demonstrating power and waging war, and certainly displaying ruthlessness but no differently from many kings of the same time.

All of these women were certainly multi-faceted, all , with the exception of the ill fated Lady Jane Grey, were capable of great ruthlessness. But perhaps Dr Castor if incorrect when she insinuates that Matilda was driven out of London because the people because the people did not want a woman ruler , when it was in fact because of the steep taxes she had imposed on the citizens of London, much as Margaret Thatcher finally lost power in 1990 after planning to impose a poll tax on the poorest in British society.

This collection focuses on relationships, and politics and war as well as religion and society. We get an understanding of what shaped a naive twelve year old child bride , Isabel of France into a ruthless power player dubbed the 'she-wolf' who seized England together with her lover Roger Mortimer, and possibly had her spouse, Edward II put to death. Of Isabel it was said "No man ever excited her resentment who did not perish under its effect; the king himself forming no exception to this fact."

Margaret of Anjou was one of the key and most aggressive players of the War of the Roses who would stop at nothing and cut down anything that stood in the way of the interests of her husband, the timid and half-mad Henry VI and her son Edouard, Prince of Wales.

Mary I (Bloody Mary) had hundreds of Protestants burned to try to reimpose Roman Catholicism back on England, while Elizabeth I, perhaps one of England's greatest monarchs engineered a religious settlement on England that was acceptable to most and led England against the invasion by Spain of the Spanish Armada. "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart of a king and king of England too'
Magnificent footage of castles, palaces, churches and landscapes in France and England. Dr Castor is not only knowledgeable, but is an excellent narrator and presenter, making this valuable insight for anyone with an interest in the history of the period. At a time when English history is being downscaled in schools and universities in order not to offend certain groups, the English children and young people are being robbed of a central part of their heritage and identity. Series like these are welcome and refreshing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Women Hidden in Wolves' Clothing?, 2 May 2013
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This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
This short documentary series was based on a book which I never read, but whose thesis was of great interest to me: The role of powerful and brilliant women in the paternalistic political and social structure of Norman-French and Plantagenet England, where custom and warfare dictated that women could not succeed to the throne of the male warrior-rulers. (When the Tudor Dynasty ran out of male candidates as rulers and women did actually rule, the problem became one of a struggle both to force a male consort on the ruling queen and prevent a foreigner from assuming that role.) Using the colorful Shakespearean term applied to his dramatic character Margaret of Anjou in Henry VI plays, the derogatory label of "she-wolves" was used by author Helen Castor to express her view that the inevitable verdict of history concerning powerful women was that they were vicious and unnatural. The author's historical commentary, indeed, presents a seldom-told tale of early female royalty attempting to fit the role normally reserved for their male husbands, fathers and sons. Because of the rarity of this perspective in recounting history, Dr Castor has done a service to the viewer, as is recognized in the well-argued reviews of the series accompanying this one.
I am not, however, so awed by the effect of Dr Castor's approach for several reasons: First, the label "she-wolf," was never applied to any of these women in their lifetimes, but borrowed from Shakespeare and then only applied to one of the women in his (fictional) historical plays. This, I feel, skews the picture from the start and does not allow the presenter to offer medieval voices contemporary or closer in time to the queens an opportunity to give their own, very different and less emotionally charged assessments of the women presented in the series. Second, very little of the early queens are themselves quoted--and Eleanor at least had lots to say in her reputed letters--and very little was mentioned about their effect on both contemporary political and cultural life as mentioned in historical records--except to support the view that they were seen as ladies behaving badly. Third, while accepting the obviously correct argument that in the days when being a ruler meant you would have to lead armies into battle, it would have been useful also to acknowledge the powerful effect on culture and male royalty that these women actually had. But then other very influential royal personages, such as Edward I's Eleanor of Castile, Edward III's Queen Philippa of Hainault,and Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, would have had to be brought into the narrative. To define historical power and influence purely as being derived from being a crowned king and sitting on a large throne is neither historically accurate nor helpful in trying to better understanding medieval or renaissance thought and behavior. Fourth, because of the relatively sparse biographical information and physical representations of the early non-Tudor queens, the visuals consist mainly of the author marching about in castles, churches and palaces that looked like (and occasionally actually were) places these women lived in or visited. Unavoidably, these historical sights had to be reinforced by some fine statuary, mostly of a religious subject intended to illustrate motherhood, royalty or medieval dress, by way of compensating for the lack of portraiture of the women themselves. There were also landscapes and seascapes, lengthy and repetitive natural metaphors of regal fowl or mighty antlered deer fighting for "she-wolves" of their own. The use of these visual fillers is understandable since, with the exception of the sarcophagus of Eleanor and portraits of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, there are few images of the queens in existence and those are often only idealizations. Bit, I wonder whether more effort could not have been put into providing illustrations from manuscripts or artifacts of the medieval period rather than the diversion into natural scenery and animal life. Finally, and this is admittedly a very personal objection, why was Emma, the twice-crowned Queen of England and wife to both one of England's worst (Aethelraed II) and most powerful (Cnut) monarchs and mother to two more, not included? The the focus was, to be sure, on the most highly ambitious and politically astute of medieval English women? But where was Emma and earlier English women? After almost 1000 years of English history after the invasion of the Normans, isn't it high time to consider as well the outstanding personages who created English history before the Norman occupation?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars informative, 18 Feb 2013
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This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
This was a gift to a person studying English Tudor history. They found it to be a good source of information.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good lively presentation., 10 May 2013
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This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
I like medieval history hence I very much enjoyed Helen Castor's expert and lively presentation.I have also read her books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars She-Wolves: England's Early Queens, 4 May 2013
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This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
this is an excellent series written and narrated by someone who knows her stuff and presents the programmes in an informative way. Each episode is packed with information and covers a lot of ground in a new way
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book, 22 Jun 2014
This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
Helen Castor is brilliant - historically good and so easy to read - she makes history accessable but not dumbed down
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5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant series, 26 Mar 2014
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This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
Really interesting insight into female monarchs, Helen Castor is a fantastic presenter, and it doesn't rely on annoying re-creations of historical events using actors. Gives the viewer credit for some intelligence.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not so good if you need subtitles, 11 Nov 2013
By 
grro (Berks, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] (DVD)
There are no subtitles available on these disks. Not very good if you are hard of hearing.
Otherwise a good series.
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She-Wolves:  England's Early Queens [DVD]
She-Wolves: England's Early Queens [DVD] by Helen Castor (DVD - 2012)
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