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Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who…

Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe

by Nancy Goldstone

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I bought this book because I liked Goldstone's later life of Joanna I of Sicily. This book is a collective biography of the four daughters of Ramon Berenger V, the count of Provence, who married the kings of France (Louis IX aka St. Louis) ,and England (Henry III) , Richard of Cornwall (Henry's brother) who claimed to be Holy Roman Emperor, and Charles, Count of Anjou, who by conquest became King of Sicily (until the SIcilian Vespers) and thereafter King of Naples. The book is vivid and lively rather than deeply scholarly; to me it is chiefly interesting for the material on Richard of Cornwall and Charles of Anjou. ( )
  antiquary | Aug 10, 2015 |
Interesting history lesson, for once focused a little more on the women and their influence and power, rather than the usual focus on male power. Overall recommend.

I personally find it so hard to read these english histories - so many titles and deaths and marriages and re-marriages and sneaky plot and deceptions. I thought this book was excellent in that the author was able to sort of "storify" those zillions of plot twists - I didn't feel confused even though I forgot many of the previous characters and plot twists. That to me is the mark of a good historian and this is one of the few massive english histories that I've able to follow. Good job N. Goldstone. ( )
  marshapetry | Jul 27, 2015 |
In the 13th century, four sisters from Provence made advantageous marriages, and each ended up a queen. The eldest, Marguerite, married the heir to the French throne, Louis IX, when she was only 13. It wasn't until the death of her domineering mother-in-law that she was able to exert her influence over her weak-willed husband. Eleanor became the wife of the English king, Henry III and helped to mastermind a series of wars and peace treaties. After several engagements were broken off for better prospects, Sanchia, reportedly the most beautiful, married Richard of Cornwall, a much older widower who was Henry's brother and reportedly the wealthiest man in England. When he literally bought the position of King of the Romans (Germany), she, too, became a queen. Beatrice, the last sister, wed Charles of Anjou, the ambitious brother of Louis XI, who managed to secure an Italian crown.

Historian Nancy Goldstone details the personal and political lives of these influential women, the courts in which they thrived, and the wars (including the Crusades) and manipulations in which they became involved. While we often tend to think of medieval royal women as little more than baby machines or inspiration for minstrels, each of these sisters played an active role in the workings of her husband's kingdom. It's a fascinating story--even if it does sometimes get a bit bogged down in battle details and confused by multiple occurences of the same or similar names. A few readers on Amazon complain that there are historical inaccuracies; I really wouldn't know, but often "inaccuracies" end up being a different interpretation of players and events. I enjoyed the books and think anyone with an interest in medieval women and/or politics would probably like it as well. ( )
1 vote Cariola | Jul 21, 2015 |
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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:51 -0400)

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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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