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Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who…

Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe

by Nancy Goldstone

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Nancy Goldstone brings the Middle Ages to life with her biography of four sisters, daughters of the Count and Countess of Provence, who each became queens of European states. The author relies heavily on chronicles of the era written by Matthew Paris, Jean de Joinville, Salimbene de Adam, and Giovanni Villani, as well as the surviving correspondence of some of the major figures. Unfortunately the text doesn't include footnotes or end notes, probably because it is targeted to a general audience rather than to scholars of medieval history. Although it's fairly easy to identify the source of quoted material, it's harder to tell what sources, if any, support the author's claims about the feelings and motives she attributes to individuals.

The most disturbing aspect of the book is the fact that these women were being evaluated as potential brides at only 10 to 12 years old. That might have been common for the era, but it seems creepy today. The most interesting thing I learned is that a number of the nobility and religious leaders mentioned in the book appear in Dante's Divine Comedy. Now I'm eager to re-read The Inferno and continue with the other two parts of the trilogy to see if I can spot the references to these newly familiar people. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Aug 30, 2014 |
This is a tale of four sisters from Provence who married above themselves such that all four became queens and had a significant impact on the state of Europe for decades. The older two became queens of France 7 England, while the younger two ended up queens of the Romans (germany) and Sicily. However I remain unsure how happy any of this made them - and it doesn't necessarily seem to have occurred to the author to try and answer that question for all of them either.
This book tries to pack a lot into it and, at times, it feels a little rushed. The focus is on the 4 sisters and their interaction with the family, but to cover the rebellion of de Montfort on a couple of pages felt somewhat sketchy. There is also only a very short chapter on Europe in the aftermath of the sisters, and this is not very detailed, mentioning Sicily not at all, although the election of Rudolh of Hapsburg does get a knowing nob to the future. But the next 50 to 100 years in Europe are barely covered.
This is perfectly readable, and doesn't read like an academic tome, but neither does it feel as if it is rooted in scholarship. That may well be doing the author a disservice, but the lack of reference indications makes this feel light. There are plenty of quotations for chroniclers of the period, and from more recent historians, but there is also an amount of speculation that can't be supported.
This book is interesting and informative, but strikes me as falling into that trap of being a readable history and not feeling like serious history, while trying to be both. ( )
1 vote Helenliz | Aug 4, 2014 |
Goldstone's book explores mid-13th century European politics through a family of four daughters of Provence, all of whom ended up being Queens. This was quite a feat for one family who didn't have particularly large inheritances to dole out to suitors. The oldest sister, Marguerite, paves the way by marrying Louis IX, future King of France. Next, Eleanor marries Henry III, King of England. Sanchia marries King Henry's brother, Richard of Cornwall who eventually becomes King of the Romans (Germany). Beatrice, the youngest sister, marries Charles of Anjou, Louis IX's younger brother. Charles later wins the kingship of Sicily.

Just how much did these women influence the politics of the time? I would say quite a bit based on Goldstone's writing and other books I've read on the time period. I think the general impression that many people have of women sitting quietly on the sidelines trying to have babies is proven wrong with only a little digging. These women used their family influence and banded together to put their family members in positions of power and influence. Eleanor, particularly, managed to infiltrate English politics with family members of her choosing. This ended up back firing on her when Simon de Montfort wrested power from the King, but it still was an impressive run of power. Sanchia was the least politically active of the sisters, but even she significantly helped Richard's play for power in Germany. Beatrice bucked the trend of family helping each other out in her quest for Queenship for herself.

This time period is very interesting to me and I enjoyed this book. It read easily, almost like historical fiction, which I both liked and disliked. I can't argue with a book that makes centuries old politics entertaining, but I felt that it may have benefited from a slightly more scholarly tone and a bit more detail. Overall, though, a lot of fun to read. ( )
3 vote japaul22 | Jul 8, 2014 |
If you are looking for a very interesting history lesson, this is the book for you. I thought I would be reading a sort of fictional/historical story, so it took me a while to read this book. It was quite interesting nonetheless. ( )
  dragonflydee1 | Apr 3, 2013 |
this was very well done and gives a good potrait of the trials and characters of the time. i found if fascinating but i'm a history buff and very british. of course we can follow our line up to all 4 so that adds interest. nonetheless... i would recommend it highly. it contains a lot of information and gets it across to you in a very pleasurable, interesting way. ( )
  krushkelsey | Jul 28, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Goldstone, Nancyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, JosephineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Four daughters had Count Raymond Berenger,
Each one of them a queen, thanks to Romeo,
This man of lowly birth, this pilgrim-soul.
—Dante Alighieri
The Divine Comedy: Paradise
Canto VI
For Larry and Emilly
First words
Paris. Christmas court, 1254—heralded by trumpeters and the ringing of bells, a great procession, the most illustrious of its day, made its way through the streets of the capital city. At its head were not one but two kings—Louis IX, king of France, and Henry III, king of England—accompanied by their respective queens, Marguerite and Eleanor.
Chapter I
The Land of Song

With my breath I draw toward me the air
that I feel coming from Provence;
everything that comes from there rejoices me,
so that when I hear good of it
I listen smiling,
and for every word demand a hundred:
so much it pleases me when I hear good of it.

For no one knows so sweet a country
as from the Rhône to Vence,
enclosed between the sea and the Durance,
and nowhere knows a joy so pure that it shines.

—Peire Vidal, troubadour, 1180-1206

Bordered to the west by the Rhône, to the northeast by the dramatic mountains of Savoy, and to the south by the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean, Provence, with its inviting vineyards, gentle climate, and profusion of sunlight and flowers, embodied the medieval ideal of an exquisite garden. It seems somehow fitting that the story of the four sisters who would become the most sought-after women of the thirteenth century should have as its backdrop so enchanting a setting. Salimbre de Adam, a Franciscan friar who lived in the archiepiscopal city of Aix-en-Provence, called it "a most slaubrious place with an abundance of grain."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143113259, Paperback)

For fans of Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser,acclaimed author Nancy Goldstone’s thrilling history of the royal daughters who succeeded in ruling—and shaping—thirteenth-century Europe

Set against the backdrop of the thirteenth century, a time of chivalry and crusades, troubadors, knights and monarchs, Four Queens is the story of four provocative sisters—Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia, and Beatrice of Provence—who rose from near obscurity to become the most coveted and powerful women in Europe.  Each sister in this extraordinary family was beautiful, cultured, and accomplished but what made these women so remarkable was that each became queen of a principal European power—France, England, Germany and Sicily. During their reigns, they exercised considerable political authority, raised armies, intervened diplomatically and helped redraw the map of Europe.  Theirs is a drama of courage, sagacity and ambition that re-examines the concept of leadership in the Middle Ages.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:47 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Set against the backdrop of the turbulent thirteenth century, a time of chivalry and crusades, poetry and knights, comes the story of the four daughters of the count of Provence whose brilliant marriages made them the queens of France, England, Germany, and Sicily. From a cultured childhood in Provence, each sister was propelled into a world marked by shifting alliances, intrigue, and subterfuge. Marguerite, the eldest, whose resolution and spirit would be tested by the cold splendor of the Palais du Roi in Paris; Eleanor, whose soaring political aspirations would provoke her kingdom to civil war; Sanchia, the neglected wife of the richest man in England who bought himself the crown of Germany; and Beatrice, whose desire for sovereignty led her to risk her life to earn her place at the royal table. This book shatters the myth that women were helpless pawns in a society that celebrated physical prowess and masculine intellect.… (more)

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