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

by Helen Castor

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3871727,743 (4.01)27
Member:JaneSteen
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
Rating:****
Tags:None

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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 17 (next | show all)
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! ( )
  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 |
This was an enjoyable history - Ms. Castor just set forth the history as it was and made it easy to digest. Histories can sometimes be dry as dust, but her use of a prologue, i.e., the aftermath of the death of Edward VI, was great for putting the idea of a female monarch in context. We all know about Elizabeth I, her sister Mary, and Queen Jane of the 13 Days, but how many know about Matilda, also known as Maude, the woman who was Henry I's only legitimate heir after 1120, and her struggle with her cousin Stephen? The lives and careers of the celebrated Eleanor of Aquitaine and the much-maligned French queens, Isabella of France and Marguerite of Anjou, are fleshed out here, as well. I recommend this book for anyone wishing to have a primer on England's first female, and I think most fascinating, reigning monarchs. ( )
  ELEkstrom | Jun 6, 2013 |
She-Wolves is a much more dynamic and pacey work on some of the strong-willed and powerful queens that ruled England, compared to Lisa Hilton's Queens Consort -- though that, covering the entire medieval period rather than selected queens, is more complete. Helen Castor's writing is better, though, and her selection of queens makes her work more interesting because they're the queens who wielded real power.

She discusses Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Acquitaine, Isabella of France, and Marguerite of Anjou, and the way their reigns over England (mostly as Queens Consort) shaped the situation which allowed Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I to rule. Her idea that those four queens were the instrumental ones seems sound to me, and she enquires into their lives with care, showing the queens' qualities that made them perfect for their roles (and the qualities which let them down).

The fact that history is driven, in that period, mostly by the male sex is unfortunate: though the book is intended to focus on the 'She-Wolves', inevitably they're seen in relation to their fathers, husbands and sons, and much of the action described involves the actions of men. Still, considering the period of history, Castor manages to shine a satisfying light on the actions of women as well. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (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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Epigraph
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
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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?
(passion4reading)

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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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