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on 17 June 2017
Well researched and painstakingly accurately - however it often turns out to be a series of lists and estate agent details.
Cut to the quick , Alison !
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on 2 October 2012
Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England is a non-fiction work concerning the life and times of Isabella of France, Queen to Edward II and mother of Edward III. I was interested in reading this due to the fact that this is one of the only biographies of Isabella published in recent times, and because it attempts to reconsider her damaged reputation and rehabilitate her character. One of the main points of the work is whether or not having her lover Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, affected her historical reputation aversely. Weir thinks ultimately that without Mortimer, Queen Isabella could have been respected or even celebrated through the ages, claiming that `history may have immortalised her as a liberator' in the blurb.

The main point and thesis is an interesting one, although ultimately I think that a large part of the problem of Isabella's damaged reputation stemmed from the invasion of England, her sheer amount greed for money or lands when in power, the overthrow, deposition, and possible murder of her husband alongside preventing him from seeing his children all played a role in the destruction of Isabella's pristine reputation. The book is good for all the information it gathers together about Isabella and her life, especially before the invasion of England in 1326. I also enjoyed the discussion of Isabella actions post-coup to a certain extent. The remarkable document of the Fieschi letter and the possibilities surrounding that were also something I had never considered with any degree of seriousness, so that was an interesting part to read about.

However, the book contains many flaws. The main problem is Weir's obvious bias for her subject. Anything Isabella did shown in the best possible light, anything that showcases a vicious nature was the fault of the men in her life from Edward and his favourites driving her to overthrow or execute them to Roger Mortimer being behind anything bad during Isabella's years of power. It is very had to reconcile the image of saintly strong Isabella fighting for justice with the week woman controlled by Mortimer on the same page. Parts of the evidence are twisted to give Isabella that little bit more sympathy. For instance, Weir gets Edward being promiscuous with `low born men' from `substantial payments' in his chamber books in 1322 (p.150), however these payments were wages paid to members of his household. The trashing of Edward for his sexuality (it is often referred to as perverse or unnatural by Weir) compared to Isabella succumbing to the manly embraces of Mortimer was something I found highly distasteful in this day and age. For example, Roger is described as `strong, manly, unequivocally heterosexual, virile, courageous, audacious and decisive' whilst Isabella is `profoundly revolted' by her husband (p196). I understand the need of the author to reflect the times in which her subjects lived but there was no need to use Edward's sexuality to make Isabella more sympathetic. If Weir's intention was to hold Edward firmly to medieval standards from which he deviated, then Isabella should also have been judged by those strict standards, which she definitely violated in her own actions. In contrast to Isabella, the poor neglected wife, Joan de Geneville (Roger Mortimer's wife) is barely mentioned in the book apart from to state the marriage was probably mutually satisfying but by the point Roger and Isabella united he had been separated from her for more then three years, so it was fine for him to engage in adultery with Isabella (p.196.) In another part of the book, it states that there can be `no doubt' the Edward II must bear the `lion-share of the blame of the breakdown in his marriage' (p.162) alongside the hints and assertions that Hugh le Despensor is likely to have raped or sexually assaulted her with `Edward's connivance' (p.149.) I don't doubt that Hugh le Despensor was a man with a nasty side and that Isabella witnessed that side first hand. However I found this blackening of his reputation especially when there is no hard or firm evidence for such a serious accusation to be very tasteless, especially just to make Isabella look better. Another issue (and pet peeve of mine in non-fiction) is the assumption of her thoughts and feelings throughout the book and the presentation of them as facts. I was constantly told that she would have thought this or that. The book also contains mistakes like presenting the rumours about Isabella of Angoulême and King John hanging her lovers from her bed frame as fact (p.197) when this is almost certainly just a rumour from Matthew Paris.

I found this book to a good starting point on Queen Isabella but I would certainly check the facts before repeating them as gospel. Recommend with a pinch of salt.
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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2007
I enjoyed this book, as I have enjoyed many of Ms weir's books (I can particularly recommend Eleanor of Acquitaine). She clearly is an enthusiast for her subject and closely examines and imaginatively interprets her Primary Sources. The tale itself is well worth re-telling (politics and sex it never fails!)and one is always intrigued by the overwhelming folly of Edward II and the novelty of a woman having such an effect on her environment in the Middle Ages. Given the interest of the subject and the way it is absorbingly told the only disappointment in the book lies in the author's determination to protect her subject from many of her accusers. Given the woman's predicament the reader wouldn't have blamed her for anything!
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A very well-written book on the interesting life of a dazzling woman in history!
Isabella of France, nicknamed "She-Wolf of France", is an example of fascinating Queen (she stands out from the long line of many plain Queens who were just always pious, always gentle, always quiet, always there to give birth to royal children and that's it).
Isabella was a smart, venturesome, scheming lady who managed a far better transfer of power from unpopular King Edward II to herself and their own son, Edward III, then some other royal persons with their coups (looking at Henry IV and Richard II). Not to mention she was the first person to successfully invade England since Norman conquest.
The irony is that her nickname was obviously intended as an insult by historians, but in reality being strong enough to be compared with a wolf is rather a compliment.
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on 14 January 2013
Well researched book on one of the most (in)famous women in history. I liked the detail and the very personal approach to the subject. I've always enjoyed the author's style and admired her passion. There are many proven facts and some mysteries such as the Fieschi letter. Recommended to who loves history and the story of amazing women who helped shape it.
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on 25 October 2006
The subject of Isabella is compelling, considering how little appears to have been written about her. However, I was disappointed in Alison Weir's treatment of her subject. There is no doubt the author has done thorough research, which is evident throughout. The level of detail especially in the first half of the story, is tedious and frankly, quite boring. Devoting so many pages, for example, to the number of servants she had and what they got paid, is more bureaucratic than enthralling. Disclosing what dates Isabella travelled and where she went, without many journeys having any historic significance or interest, makes for dull reading. However, I persisted and the pace does pick up and eventually, an absorbing story unfolds. It is a pity I had to wade through a long-winded account of her early life, to get to the interesting bits.
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on 29 March 2009
I really enjoyed this book. As with all her other books, Alison Weir takes great care to research and point out what is fact, theory, and speculation. What she turns out is a highly readable piece of work that anyone can enjoy.

Some would consider the great detail she uses in outlining royal expenses boring, but I think it only adds to an understanding of the time and place she is telling the reader about.

Though it was disappointing to see that the book is actually shorter than it looks due to the bibliography, indexes, family tree, etc. it is the only thing I found disappointing about the book. Though sympathetic to her subject, I felt that she set the record straight on a much maligned historical figure and ultimately presented a more balanced view of Isabella. On those facts that have been muddied with time, Weir is careful to present theories and speculation as nothing more than that. That she injects her own opinion on the matter, given her knowledge, research, and intelligence is not necessarily a bad thing because the author trusts the reader to know the difference between fact and theory.

Alison Weir has taken a historical figure that we know little about and brought her to life with this work.
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I really looked forward to reading this book every day and was sorry to have finished it. It is not in fact quite such a chunky story as it appears as the book has a bibliography, extensive notes and an index as well as some photographs which add hugely to the interest of the period. (If only they were real photographs of the protagonists instead of statues and paintings - it would be wonderful to see what they really looked like). And what a period! I defy anyone to call history boring ever again after reading this. I forgot quite how gory and merciless the middle ages could be. Isabella of France, born in 1292, was married to Edward II at the age of 12. Unfortunately for her the king was not only homosexual but was already entrenched in a relationship with Piers Gaveston. (What a perfect name for the gay king's favourite!)

At a time of constant strife and savage reprisals, it is unlikely that the intelligent and beautiful Isabella would have lived out her natural life span had she been less well endowed with a strong and cunning instinct for self preservation. During her life time, two of her sisters were caught in adultery, both they and their lovers suffering the sternest penalty.

Isabella herself survived the era of Gaveston, (who was pierced through the heart and beheaded), and appears to have been a true wife, bearing her husband four children - but before long her husband had found another male lover, Hugh Despenser, who became a threat to her very existence. Taking a lover herself, Isabella was runing the highest risk of all in medieval times when women were seen as very much subservient to men, and the authority of the king was seen as absolute.

Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer eventually invaded England from France to shake England free from the tyranny of the errant king and Despenser. Hers was the first succesful invasion of England since the Norman Conquest of 1066, and it was also one of the most succesful coups in English history.

The most hideous revenge was exacted on Despenser, who was half hanged, his privates cut off and thrown into a fire, and finally eviscerated and beheaded. Edward II met a similarly horrible end, with a "hot brush put through the secret place posterial". Edward III, as soon as he was old enough, avenged his father by putting Mortimer to death in his turn. Isabella was fortunate to be allowed to live out the rest of her life in quietness but she seems never to have fully recovered from the horror of her lover's death.

This book brings the whole period alive with so much detail of how the court, and ordinary people, lived, ate, dressed, travelled and entertained themselves. We read about a feast where 2,300 herrings, 1,100 eggs, fifteen piglets and a porpoise were consumed. We read about Isabella's daughter Eleanor, falsely accused by her errant husband of having leprosy, who removed her cloak to stand naked before the entire court to prove it was a lie.

Edward II lodged at more than 4,000 places in England during his lifetime - in fact the royal court will soon be appearing at a castle near you! This book epitomises the expression "bringing history to life" and only drops a star because of some unecessary repitition. But what an amazing achievement, to write a book which is both a meticulous record of virtually the day-to-day events of Isabella's life and present it as a compelling, action-packed tale.
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on 22 July 2008
Alison Weir has written better biographies than this. Although it is very, very thorough, this same thoroughness makes it quite boring. The author often keeps repeating the same things. For example, the people who supported Isabella are repeated times and times again with long explanations of the reasons why, while they remained mostly the same people with the same motives.
Nevertheless, Isabella is a very interesting subject and Weir is convincing in her effort to rehabilitate Isabella from the bad press she has received from male chroniclers through the ages.
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on 6 September 2016
Enjoyed this book. Very well researched. Incredible amount of detailed information. However, rather biased regarding certain matters. I think most historians would not agree with her that Edward II was not murdered. Her belief that a servant's body was substituted and then, years later after the natural death of Edward II abroad, the bodies were swopped again seems very far fetched. It must be an error (page 56 of paperback) that the Queen spent on a short trip to Becket's shrine "an astronomical £140,000" - according to [...], that would be over £82 million in today's money. A TV series "Secrets of Underground Britain" shown recently also cast doubt on the true location of "Mortimer's Hole" , Nottingham Castle where Mortimer was surprised by the King's men and arrested. They have now found new, more likely tunnel, originating in a garden in the Park Estate. Overall extremely well written and an enjoyable read.
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