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Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe Paperback – 7 Sep 2017
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‘Gristwood handles multiple narrative strands with tremendous finesse... Densely packed with fascinating material, this immensely ambitious undertaking succeeds triumphantly.’(Literary Review)
‘A masterpiece that effortlessly and enthrallingly interweaves the amazing stories of women who ruled in Europe during the Renaissance period...and a pacy and illuminating good read.’(Alison Weir)
‘Engaging and highly readable.’(BBC History Magazine, Books of the Year)
‘Gristwood brings them all to life with her usual mix of character study and pacy narrative’.(History Revealed)
‘Gristwood interweaves the drama of monarchy with its more domestic moments.’(Telegraph)
‘A fast-paced chronological narrative bursting with intrigue.’(Publishers Weekly)
‘Sarah Gristwood’s study of the brilliant, beleaguered and often bloody difficult women who kept Europe going in the sixteenth century is compelling, clear-eyed, beautifully rendered and never-more-timely.’(Jessie Childs)
‘A magnificent exploration of a most remarkable group…Gristwood gives us impeccable research, incisive attention to detail and exquisite writing as she investigates these truly fascinating women and their lives of courage, tribulation and determination. Absolutely unputdownable.’(Kate Williams, author of The Storms of War)
About the Author
Sarah Gristwood has written bestselling biographies of Arbella Stuart, Elizabeth and Leicester. Her previous book, Blood Sisters, was a dramatic portrait of the women whose dynastic ambitions and rivalries fuelled the Wars of the Roses. She lives in Camden, London, and Kent.
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It is a fascinating discussion of the women who held power - either on the throne or behind it - their often conflicted loyalties to their homelands, or being forced to marry to secure alliances. It challenges the myth that women had no role in politics in the sixteenth century, at times being the ones to secure peace (Margaret of Austria and Louise of Savoy).
Sarah Gristwood has a marvellous way of effortlessly making the book seem less like a biography/timeline, and more like a discussion you are having with her. She effortlessly breezes between the entwined stories and lives of these remarkable women, with such ease and delicacy that the reader is not left behind scratching their heads (which could easily be the case). What is also special about this book is that you do not need a vast knowledge of the sixteenth century, this is as perfect an introduction to the period as many other books. In fact, probably more so here due style of the narrative, which does not fall into the trap of many other books that go off on tangents. Simply sticking to key facts surrounding the women during their time in power.
Many books have been written set in the sixteenth century, mainly Tudor England, that you often wonder if some have anything new to offer. This book however, offers a whole new focus to the period. Mainly due to the focus on the women outside of England, those in power in France, Spain, Netherlands, Navarre, Hungary etc. That you begin to understand a new side to the politics of sixteenth century women.
It must be said that the book does not glamorise the role of women in the sixteenth century world, making them out be early feminists - quite the contrary, instead it merely challenges some of the views people may have had about the role of some women in these times, that they were actually more than child bearers.
As bestselling historian Alison Weir says, this book is quite simply "A Masterpiece". I eagerly await Sarah Gristwood future work.
* At the back of the book, look out for further reading on these women, as well as the link to the 'Game of Queens' website.
Mary of Hungary in the early 1500s was appointed as governor of the Netherlands by her brother, Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Fifth. She wore herself out in the role, but did it so well that her brother simply would not let her step down into quiet contemplation and rest. As Charles said, "I am only one and cannot be everywhere". This was true of others, such as Anne de Beaujeu of France, whose skills were manifest and appreciated, whether in direct rule, decision making, the brokering of peace deals, or in the mentoring of the daughters and nieces for whom they were responsible. Like a number of 16th Century women, Anne de Beaujeu was also a published author and her book "Lessons for my Daughter" is in print to this day.
Marguerite of Navarre was similarly greatly trusted and relied upon by her brother, Francois the First of France. She and his mother were particularly vital in holding things together during his captivity as a hostage in Spain. Isabella of Castile was a ruler on equal footing with her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, and quite possibly the smarter of the two anointed Catholic monarchs. Their daughter, Katherine, was the first wife of Henry the Eighth and fully entrusted with the ruling of England in his absence, her tenure including the defeat of the Scottish king at Flodden.
In the latter part of the century, the tense and toxic stand off between two reigning monarchs, Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth the First reached its grisly end point - there could only be one winner in that particular game of queens.
This book is the product of immense, detailed research and a profound understanding of the role of late medieval women as consorts, queens, regents and peacemakers. I highly recommend it as a work which sheds light not just on its cast of vivid female characters, but on the whole political, social and military environment in which these extraordinary women lived and operated. The illustrations are also first class - overall, it is a 10!!
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