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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
She-Wolves:  England's Early Queens [DVD]
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on 2 May 2013
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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on 26 May 2016
I watched this realising it was going to be from the female perspective and therefore tinged with revisionism. This revealed itself at its most blatant with the presenter making no mention of Drake or Howard as the real architects of the Spanish Armada's defeat. Instead we are left with the impression that Elizabeth I defeated the threat single handedly. Okay for the discerning viewer but not one for a history teacher to employ in class.
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on 18 February 2013
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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on 26 March 2014
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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on 4 May 2013
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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on 10 May 2013
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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on 17 February 2013
Probably as good quality as Simon Schama and David Starkey. Lots of stuff I did not already know. A different angle on stuff I did already know. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in English history and to children who are studying history at school. It was entertaining and informative and I shall certainly watch it again.
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on 11 February 2013
These documentary films make history so interesting; not only the ladies who were Queens but the places in England and France where they lived their lives. The presentation is excellent and I can watch the videos over and over again, and admire the fortitude and courage that made these women Queens.
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on 11 October 2015
So informative to learn about the very early English Queens,,,,,true, I knew most of it but that doesn't mean it isn't good to learn others opinions and in such an informative way......highly recommend these DFVDs
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on 23 May 2013
An excellent and intelligent presentation of some of the 'She-Wolves' of history by the 'foxy' Helen Castor. It will awaken your interest to learn more about these time periods. Highly recommended.
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