75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
A near perfect book,
This review is from: She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (Hardcover)
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.