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She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England…

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (original 2010; edition 2012)

by Helen Castor

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4351924,192 (4.02)32
Title:She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth
Authors:Helen Castor
Info:Harper Perennial (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 496 pages
Collections:Reviewed, Read but unowned

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She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor (2010)



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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
She-Wolves is a very engaging piece of nonfiction which chronicles the lives of four English queens: Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou.

The book was framed around the year 1553 when King Edward VI died and all potential heirs was female. It introduces the idea that England would for the first time have a queen, but then gave the event context by going back to the biographies of the four previous female rulers. The end of the book contains a brief section on the three queens after 1553 (Jane Grey, Mary, and Elizabeth) and examining how they presented themselves as queen and utilized power.

Matilda’s father made his lords swear that she was his heir and would rule after him. However, the throne was seized by an usurper, King Stephan, who got to the treasury before anyone else. What followed was civil war with Matilda fighting for the right to the throne. However, she eventually gave up her own claim in favor of that of her son.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was married first to the King of France but arranged an annulment to marry the King of England. She had a very long and eventful life, and her’s was probably my favorite section of the book.

Isabella of France was married to King Edward II, who ignored his duties and the war with Scotland in his obsession with his lover, a man named Piers Gaveston. This led to lasting problems with his lords and to Isabella eventually seizing the throne in name of her young son.

Margaret of Anjou was a French woman married to King Henry VI during the War of the Roses. Her husband was not a capable ruler, and Margaret believed that she should be the one filling the void.

These women were all trapped by a catch-22 that limited female rulership: women were too weak to be rulers, but if a woman was strong enough to rule then she was monstrous and unnatural. To try and avoid this, these four woman found power in their roles as wives and mothers.

I found She-Wolves fascinating and a hard book to put down. It wasn’t too academic and could be easily understood by someone without background in medieval history. The writing was likewise elegant and never became obtuse or unwieldy.

I thought the political intrigue, conspiracies, and battles for power were very interesting. I would recommend this book to history buffs, people interested in historical women, or people who enjoy books such as Game of Thrones.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Jun 17, 2015 |
A superb history of the powerful women who have surrounded England's throne, combining blood-drenched drams, politics, sex and swordplay with scholary analysis, sympathy for th eplight of women and elegant writing. ( )
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  Tutter | Feb 20, 2015 |
At its best when showing how the decisions and actions of the women rulers before Elizabeth set the stage for her reign. They lead fascinating, complex lives, all the more difficult for modern readers because all the people seemed to have one of only 10 or so different names! Henry, Edward, Charles, Mary, Margaret... I would have appreciated more genealogies and maps, instead of only one at the beginning of each section of the book. I think, too, that sometimes the author was caught up in the sheer volume of detail, rather than in building a case for her thesis.

I came away from the book with profound thankfulness that humans have made at least some progress from the days when thousands died because some poor queen had a girl instead of a boy.

And--sigh--the author is one of those who thinks Richard III murdered the princes in the tower. Hard for Tey fans! ( )
1 vote Turrean | Feb 15, 2014 |
A well-written, easy-to-follow book about Matilda, Eleanor, Isabella, and Margert - four women who attempted to rule England before Queen Elizabeth I. The author did an excellent job explaining the times each woman lived in and the situations they found themselves in. ( )
  TnTexas | Jul 22, 2013 |
I can't remember the last time I spent three-plus weeks reading a book straight through. In retrospect, maybe I should have alternated queenly chapters with lighter reading, but I found this fascinating on the whole and was highly motivated by wanting to see what happened next. I found this very dense, rather than dry, and actually a lot of fun. But it was slow going keeping all the Edwards and Isabellas straight, making sure I was following which faction was on which side at any given time -- allegiances were constantly shifting, trusted allies double-crossing each other, loyalties formed and broken. The reward for paying such close attention was a truly gripping set of stories.

I wish I'd read this before Niccolò Rising, just to have a more solid understanding of the intrigues gripping Europe at the time -- I've been pretty history-impaired most of my life and catching up now, with an adult's knowledge of the world's workings, is a lot of fun. And it's got me craving the next installment of Wolf Hall.

Recommended for fans of history and politics and patient, attentive readers. ( )
  lisapeet | Jul 1, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Another problem is the changing social position of noblewomen over these centuries, which is left unexamined. Could women lead armies? Some did. In this book the matter is confused: on page 102 Matilda is prevented by her sex from military leadership but on page 105 her rival, Stephen's queen, ordered her troops to attack the area around London.
Castor shrewdly weighs up the legend versus the evidence. It is said that Edward was murdered with a poker up the fundament, but Castor sensibly concludes that this story originated at a much later date. She is convinced that he was murdered, and firmly discounts the myth that he became a wandering hermit.
Castor lards her skip-hop-and-jump narrative with lively quotes from contemporaries and has a sure sense of when to settle in detail on a startlingly pictorial event and when to summarise. She dives into chronicles, diplomatic correspondence, parliamentary rolls and biographies old and new to come up with apposite quotes and pearls of description. Maps and family trees for each reign firmly place the reader geographically and genetically. The stiff doll-like images of medieval queens dissolve; we wonder what we would have done in their place.
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To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion or empire above any realm, nation or city is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, a thing most contrarious to his revealed will and approved ordinance, and finally it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.
—John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, 1558
I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.
—Queen Elizabeth I, 1588
For Helen Lenygon,
and in memory of Mary Yates
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Haiku summary
England's early queens:
Power-hungry females or
The right choice to rule?

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The boy in the bed was just fifteen years old. He had been handsome, perhaps recently; but now his face was swollen and disfigured by disease, and by the treatments his doctors had prescribed him in the attempt to ward off its ravages. Their failure could no longer be mistaken.… (more)

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