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Book Review: Queens Consort

My trip to Westminster Abbey has been postponed due to my cold. I went to buy food this morning but now I feel very cold despite wearing four layers and having the heater on and burying myself under the duvet. So my cupboards are no longer bare, but I'm not in the mood for a big old building.

I recently got a new book, "Queens Consort- England's Medieval Queens" by Lisa Hilton. It was recommended by my friend Erin, and makes a difference from my normal historical reading in that it's non-fiction. It details the lives of the various Queen consorts of England, from Matilda of Flanders (the wife of William the Conqueror) through to Elizabeth of York (the mother of Henry VIII).

Matilda of Scotland from WikiCommons

I will admit that I'm a little rusty at reading non-fiction. Unless it's a cookbook I tend to stick to plain old fiction, and when I used to read more factual work I was at university and used to make notes as I was going to remind myself of what I had just read. Like all such books it can be a bit dense so notes probably would have been a good idea.

The book should be a good read. A lot of the pre-Tudor consorts haven't been studied in particularly great detail in the past (although Philippa Gregory has done more for that with her recent books on Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville). The problem is that even as Queens women were not generally noted in historical texts except in relation to their husbands and children. Some of their letters have survived over the years, along with wills and charters which give an indication of their relationship with courtiers and family members other than their husbands. There are family trees for the various Royal families, but there aren't any for the Queens themselves, they are only shown in relation to their husbands when it would be interesting to show their own background. Most queens only have an approximate date of birth often calculated on their age at marriage (if contemporary sources happen to note it), again due to the recording problem, so it is a bit more difficult to track family trees but I feel it should have been attempted.

Philippa of Hainault by WikiCommons

I found the information about lesser-known queens such as Adeliza of Louvain and Berengaria of Navarre quite interesting. But it is difficult to take this book seriously when there are some seriously glaring errors that should have been picked up by the editor, or even by some decent self-editting by the author. For example Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, is labelled as being the son of Henry VI when really he was the son of Henry VI's half brother Edmund Tudor.

Probably the best bit about this book is that it doesn't fall in to the trap of talking about the Kings rather than their wives. So many books end up talking about the men rather than the women, but this book really does focus on the women. This may cause the issue of ignoring some of the context of the relationship, which could effect the way these women acted and thought. But if one focuses on the relationship then I think the women would end up coming across as being permanently passive figures next to their powerful menfolk.

Overall this book is a decent read, but you will need some background information in medieval history as it talks about some of the main events in history assuming that you already know about them. If you'd like to know a bit more about the women that helped shape English history then give this book a try, but don't take it as a factual reference book due to some of the glaring errors.

Have a nice day everyone!


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