Anyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I have a thing for books on royalty – well British / English royalty. I can’t help myself – especially when it comes to Queens.
I find the women who ruled (or almost ruled) my country to be endlessly fascinating, especially those who looked to assert power at a time when females were seen as a lesser class of citizen and the weaker sex – property of their fathers then their husbands.
One of a woman’s main jobs was to marry well – marriages agreed by her parents and those of her future spouse. Marrying up was the key, or marrying for gain – money, land, or power. And so it was for the Queens of the Conquest, each of whom found themselves supporting their husbands in their quest for power (bar Empress Maud, who aimed to be a Queen in her own right).
Judged for their fairness, piety, and beauty – not their political prowess – they nevertheless ended up needing it to find their way through the complicated landscape of the English monarchy after the Norman Conquest. Each found themselves making decisions (in their husband’s name of course) and – in some cases – leading armies. Each was strong. Most were subtle, using their power wisely to get what they, or their husband, wanted.
Maud was like a bull in a china shop, meaning the woman who could have been my first Queen found herself thwarted in the end. It was Maud I knew most about coming into this book, having previously read about her in a book by Helen Castor – She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. Queens of the Conquest seemed to take a slightly different take on Maud – she seemed less sympathetic than I remembered and more prone to make the wrong decisions.
Still, she is a fascinating woman. It is her story that takes up the majority of the book (this is how it feels – I haven’t done a page count), probably because more is known about her. There is also a lot of detail on her rival Queen, Matilda – wife of Stephen – who was much more successful in how she used her power. For me, she was overshadowed here by Maud and I would have maybe liked more of her “side” of the story if that makes sense.
The other Queens covered are less detailed because that detail doesn’t exist – we are talking the 1100’s here and most records are long gone. I thought Weir did a good job in making them as real as she could though and she definitely left me wanting to know more.
There was one thing I struggled with – and that was the number of Matildas. There were a lot and I did get confused more than once. It’s not Weir’s fault so many women had the same names and I wonder if in the full book (I was reading and eARC) there would be a family tree of some description to help. I did feel the need to have a reference and had to rely on google to help me at times.
Still, this is a minor niggle for a book that is full of detail, carefully researched, and written in a way a layperson like myself can easily fall into. I like Weir’s style of writing. I also liked this book – a lot – and would definitely recommend it to those interested in British history.
About the book…
The story of England’s medieval queens is vivid and stirring, packed with tragedy, high drama and even comedy. It is a chronicle of love, murder, war and betrayal, filled with passion, intrigue and sorrow, peopled by a cast of heroines, villains, stateswomen and lovers. In the first volume of this epic new series, Alison Weir strips away centuries of romantic mythology and prejudice to reveal the lives of England’s queens in the century after the Norman Conquest.
Beginning with Matilda of Flanders, who supported William the Conqueror in his invasion of England in 1066, and culminating in the turbulent life of the Empress Maud, who claimed to be queen of England in her own right and fought a bitter war to that end, the five Norman queens emerge as hugely influential figures and fascinating characters.
Much more than a series of individual biographies, Queens of the Conquest is a seamless tale of interconnected lives and a rich portrait of English history in a time of flux. In Alison Weir’s hands these five extraordinary women reclaim their rightful roles at the centre of English history.
Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own