Book Review: “Queens of the Crusades: England’s Medieval Queens Book Two” by Alison Weir

52355570 (1)One of the most prominent royal families of English history was the Plantagenets, who reigned for over three hundred years. In the first one hundred years of this family’s infamous history, five kings ruled (the first two are considered kings of the Angevin dynasty): Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, and Edward I. These five kings saw England change drastically, but they also participated in the international political landscape of the day, which involved the series of wars that today we simply refer to as the Crusades. The early Plantagenet kings saw much bloodshed and war, but they were not alone in their struggle to keep the dynasty going. These men would not have gotten as far as they did without their wives who stood by their sides. In Alison Weir’s latest installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, “Queens of the Crusades”, she takes a deep dive into the lives of the first five Plantagenet queens to show how remarkable these women truly were to stand beside their husbands during the times of the Crusades in Europe.

I would like to thank Ballantine Books, Random House, and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a massive fan of Alison Weir’s nonfiction books for years now. To have an opportunity to read this title and review it is simply astounding. As soon as Weir announced this new installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, I knew I wanted to read it because I had enjoyed Queens of the Conquest immensely.

The five queens that Weir covers in this particular book are Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, Isabella of Angouleme, Alienor of Provence, and Eleanor of Castile. Many are familiar with the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and how it soured as their sons fought against their father, but it is worth noting that every queen in this book led a rather remarkable life. Eleanor of Aquitaine may have been alive during the time of Thomas Becket’s murder and Isabella of Angouleme witnessed her husband King John seal the Magna Carta, but some of these queens witnessed battles of the Crusades being fought as they traveled with their husbands to distant lands. There was also the matter of ruling two kingdoms, England and parts of France plus keeping the peace with Wales and Scotland, all while raising their children. There was never a dull moment for the lives of the early Plantagenet queens.

I found each queen in this book fascinating to read about, even though I did not know much about their lives. I obviously knew about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but the other queens have been briefly mentioned in other books that it felt like I was discovering their stories for the first time. The way they governed England and the way that they showed their love for their husbands and their children were different, but they each made a significant impact on the story of the Plantagenet dynasty. If I did have a problem with this book it would be that I found myself confused on which Eleanor was which, especially when Alienor of Provence and Eleanor of Castile were alive during the same time.

Overall, I found this book extremely informative and meticulously researched. Alison Weir has yet again made the lives of these queens that time seemed to have forgotten come to life. I believe that this is an excellent introductory book for anyone who wants to learn about the early queens of the Plantagenet dynasty. It is engaging, thought-provoking, and masterfully written. If this sounds like you, check out the second book in the England’s Medieval Queens series by Alison Weir, “Queens of the Crusades”.

Book Review: “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” by Kathryn Warner

50021431Being part of a royal family has its perks, like power and prestige. However, especially in medieval Europe, it meant that you could not marry the person you loved. Marriage was used as a tool to create strong alliances and the women from royal families were used as extremely powerful pawns to strengthen these connections. During the reigns of King Edward II and Edward III, three sisters proved to be very valuable pawns in the marriage market. They were the Clare sisters, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Their stories of their numerous marriages and abductions help to tell the tale of English politics during the reigns of their uncle King Edward II and his son Edward III. Kathryn Warner’s latest book, “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” explores how these sisters and their families helped transform England during this transformative time in history.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I was not familiar with these three sisters before I read this book and I wanted to learn about them. This is the second book that I have read by Kathryn Warner and it was just as enjoyable and informative as the first one.

To understand why these three sisters were important pawns in the marriage market, Warner explains who their parents were. Their mother, Joan of Acre, was the daughter of King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. Joan of Acre married one of the most powerful noblemen in England, Gilbert “the Red” de Clare, earl of Gloucester. The couple had four children; Gilbert, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth. The massive de Clare estate would have gone to Gilbert (since he was the only son and women could not inherit under normal circumstances), however, he died at a young age, which meant that the estate was divided amongst his sisters, making them extremely valuable as wives to whoever the king wished.

Between the three sisters, there were seven husbands. Some of the marriages were relatively traditional and others were abductions in which the sisters had no choice but to marry their kidnappers. Some of the husbands, Hugh Despenser the Younger, Piers Gaveston, and Hugh Audley, were favorites (and, in the cases of Hugh and Piers, lovers) of King Edward II, allowing for their wives to have rather a unique position in history. All three of the sisters enjoyed times when they were in good favor of King Edward II and Isabella of France, but they all would experience times when they were placed under arrest in the 1320s. Each sister left a lasting legacy, especially Elizabeth who founded Clare College at the University of Cambridge.

Warner could have easily written three short biographies about each sister, but by combining their stories into one biography, the readers can understand the complex story of the Clare inheritance and how marriage, money, and power truly played a role in the reign of King Edward II. My only concern with this book is that I wish Warner included some sort of family tree/ trees to show how everyone was connected. Warner did include lists of the sisters’ husbands and children in the back, but when I was reading, I was getting slightly confused about how they related to one another and I think that family trees might have helped clear up the confusion that I had.

Overall, I found this book intriguing and complex. By telling the story of Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth de Clare as three biographies in one book, Warner presents a new perspective into the life and reign of Edward II. The Plantagenet family during this time was a closely knit web of power that had to rely on each other to survive or to fall. If you want a great book to introduce you to three fascinating sisters whose marriages during the reign of the infamous Edward II transformed England then, “Edward II’s Nieces The Clare Sisters: Powerful Pawns of the Crown” by Kathryn Warner is a wonderful place to start.

Book Review: “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance” by Stephen Spinks

34411942._SX318_ (1)When we think of medieval kings of England, we tend to think about strong warriors who did things their own way. Men like Edward I and Edward III often come to mind. Yet, there was a king in between these two legendary warriors whose name lives on in infamy, King Edward II. He is known for his numerous favorites, his relationships with men like Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, his disagreements with the barons who were trying to help him run the country, his relationship with his equally famous wife and son, Isabella of France and Edward III, and his dramatic death. But who was the man known as King Edward II? What was he really like? Stephen Spinks explores these questions in his latest biography, “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I remember hearing briefly about Edward II’s story in different documentaries that I have watched, but I have never read a biography about him before. This book was rather enlightening.

Spinks naturally begins with the birth of Edward of Caernarfon (the future King Edward II) to his parents, King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. What is interesting is that Edward was their only son who survived long enough to become king, since his elder brothers would all pass away. His father, Edward I, was truly a warrior king, fighting against Wales and Scotland, yet he accumulated absolutely staggering debts which Edward II had to deal with when he was king. With his father’s victory in Wales, Edward of Caernarfon was made the first English Prince of Wales.

When Edward I died, Edward became King Edward II, with an inheritance filled with issues that would come to define his reign. Edward II had to deal with the crippling debt, war from numerous countries, and barons that were constantly trying to control how he ran the country. On top of all of this, Edward decided to rely heavily on men like Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, his “favorites”, which really did not sit well with the barons or his wife, Isabella of France. It is the belief of Spinks that Edward’s relationships with Gaveston and Despenser were more than platonic, that they were Edward’s lovers and that is why he always took their advice above his barons and gave them massive rewards. Personally, I am not sure how I feel about this theory since this was the first biography I read about Edward II, and I think I would need to study a bit more before I settle on a theory about this topic.

Another huge topic that Spinks addresses in his book is the split between Edward and Isabella that ultimately led to his downfall and his death. It was interesting to see how even though they did split up, Edward did indeed cared for his family, although he did have a rather unusual way of showing it. His abdication, death, and the stories of how he survived are really compelling and makes you wonder what happened to Edward II after his son became King Edward III.

Overall, I found this book extremely informative. Spinks was able to combine the complex nature of the government that was run by the barons with an easy to understand writing style. Spinks also discusses other theories written by other historians to allow readers to understand why he believes what he believes. After reading this book, I do want to learn more about King Edward II and his reign. If you want a great introductory book into the reign of King Edward II, I highly recommend you read, “Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance” by Stephen Spinks.