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A stunning masterpiece of history
on 24 November 2016
It's not everyday you read a book that opens up new interest in a subject you are already interested in. This new book did just that. Not only does it discuss the lives of well known female rulers Elizabeth I and Mary I of England, Mary, Queen of Scots, Isabella of Castile, Margaret of Austria, as well as female consorts Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr, it also brings women such as Jeanne d'Albret, Mary of Hungary, Margaret Tudor and Anne of Brittany, among others to the forefront. These women being so often undeservingly neglected to mere footnotes in most biographies.
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.