Book Review: “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire” by Matthew Lewis

50419849If you go to Fontevrault Abbey in France, you will find two rather extraordinary tombs. These tombs belong to King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first King, Queen of the Plantagenet Dynasty, and the Angevin Empire. Their effigies tell us a lot about the couple that was buried side by side. The husband was restless; his model shows him ready to take action at any moment, with his crown upon his head and a scepter in his hand. His queen lays beside him, reading an unknown book. They seem to be prepared to watch over their kingdom and their family even beyond the grave. Those who know English history recognize their names and understand the family drama behind the scenes. We think we know the truth about Henry and Eleanor, but is there more to their story and their feuding family? In Matthew Lewis’s latest dual biography, “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire,” he explores the relationship between this dynamic king and queen and how it shaped European and English history forever.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Matthew Lewis’s previous books, and when I heard about this one, I was pleasantly surprised. There is just something so intriguing about the lives of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I could not wait to see how he would approach this famous couple.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was a grand heiress of France who attracted the young French King Louis VII; they would eventually marry and take on the monumental task of protecting French territories and embark on the 2nd Crusade. Eleanor showed her strength and resilience during the Crusade as rumors tried hard to tarnish her good name. Unfortunately, her marriage did not last long as the couple realized that they would never have a male heir.

As soon as they divorced, Eleanor fell in love with a young noble who was the son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey Duke of Anjou, Henry Plantagenet. Empress Matilda fought hard against her cousin King Stephen for Henry to become Stephen’s heir during The Anarchy. Henry and Matilda would prevail, allowing Henry and Eleanor to become King and Queen of England after Stephen’s death.

It was when Henry became a father when troubles began to arise. His sons, Henry the Younger, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, Richard, and John, would be a thorn at his side as they fought against each other and Henry for power. Eleanor was woefully caught in the middle as she strived to do what was best for her sons, even if it pitted her against her beloved husband. To top it all off, Henry had to deal with a man who he felt was right to help him reign in the power of the Church; Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. The disastrous end to their friendship would be the lowest point in Henry’s reign.

Lewis gives his readers a brand new perspective on the relationship between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although I knew this story rather well before reading this biography, I still found myself entranced by Lewis’s narrative with scrupulous attention to detail. I thought I knew the nature of their relationship, but I was wrong. If you want a biography that is elegant while it challenges your views on the first Plantaganet couple, I highly suggest you read “Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire” by Matthew Lewis.

Book Review: “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey ”, she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warennes were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Review: “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd

55182667._SX318_One of the most infamous families in the history of England lasted for over three hundred years and it was filled with numerous princes that fought for their right to rule, much to the chagrin of the Tudor dynasty. The Plantagenet Dynasty was full of scandals and bloodshed, testing the core values of what it meant to be a family and rulers of an emerging country like England. This dynastic clash for power that came to define this dynasty began with Henry II and his sons by his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. When their father refused to give the boys any true power, which was to be excepted with all princes, his sons waged war against Henry II and their brothers. The stories of these bonds and what ultimately tore them asunder are told in Douglas Boyd’s latest collection of biographies aptly titled, “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this one, I was drawn in. I am always looking for more information about this fractured family, so I decided to give this book a try.

Boyd begins by describing the lifestyles of a knight and how they went into battle, which was essential for a medieval prince. He also dived into the complicated relationship between Eleanor of Aquitaine, her first husband Louis VII of France, and her second husband Henry II. Since Eleanor did not have any make children with Louis VII, she decided to divorce him to marry the soon-to-be King Henry II of England. It is Eleanor’s children with Henry II that are remembered for their feuds. Their sons; Henry the Young King, Richard I, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, and King John fought against one another and their father to some extent for the throne of England. I found the chapters about the sons engaging albeit short.

The big problem that I had with this particular title is that it only spent a portion of the book on the actual princes of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. I was craving more depth, more information out of these chapters, but Boyd decided to go all the way through until the crowning of Henry IV. Once he started to go onto the descendants, I will be honest that I started to find the writing a bit dry.

It is fine as an overview, but I was hoping for a bit more. Boyd also used a lot of research that has been used numerous times. He did not present any new information and reused some myths about these figures. I wanted to hear Boyd’s voice and his opinions about these figures, but it felt lost in this book.

Overall, this book is just okay. I was looking for a bit more depth with the research that focused on the sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, not their descendants. Boyd knows a lot about the Plantagenet dynasty, but it just fell flat for me. If you want a book that gives an overview of the Plantagenets until the coronation of Henry IV, check out “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd.

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”.

Guest Post: Women and the Birth of Magna Carta By Sharon Bennett Connolly

118040039_3243809485697736_4753222466893410523_nToday, I am pleased to welcome Sharon Bennett Connolly, the author of Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. She will be discussing the Magna Carta and the women who influenced this extraordinary document.

Magna Carta is probably the most significant charter in English history and,
today, its importance extends beyond England’s shores, holding a special place in the constitutions of many countries around the world. Despite its age, Magna Carta’s iconic status is a more modern phenomenon, seen in the
influence it has had on nations and organizations around the globe, such as the United States of America and the United Nations, who have used it as the basis for their own 1791 Bill of Rights and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively.

After more than 800 years, there are only four original copies of the 1215 charter remains in existence. The best preserved of these four is thought to have arrived at Salisbury Cathedral within days of it being issued on 15 June 1215 and is housed in an interactive exhibition in the cathedral’s Chapter House. A second is owned by Lincoln Cathedral and is now housed in a new, purpose-built, state-of-the-art underground vault in the heart of Lincoln Castle. The remaining two are owned by the British Library in London, one of which was badly damaged by fire in 1731 and has deteriorated over the years; however, the other is on display in the Treasures exhibition, a magnet to visitors from all over the world, who wish to see the iconic Magna Carta.

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Originally called the Charter of Liberties, it was renamed Magna Carta or Great Charter, in 1217, when the Charter of the Forest was issued. Sealed (not signed) in the meadow at Runnymede in June 1215, the legacy of Magna Carta, down through the centuries, has enjoyed a much greater impact on history and the people of the world than it did at the time of its creation. As a peace treaty between rebellious barons and the infamous King John, it was an utter failure, thrown out almost before the wax seals had hardened, not worth the parchment it was written on. The subsequent armed rebellion saw a French prince invited to claim the English throne – if he could wrest it from John’s hands – and John spent the last year of his life clinging desperately to his crown and lands.

Royal 14 C.VII, f.9

Just fifteen months after Magna Carta was sealed, King John was on his deathbed; he died in his forty-ninth year, at Newark Castle on the
night of 18/19 October 1216. His 9-year old son, Henry III, inherited a country mired in a civil war, with half of it occupied by a French army. The young king and his regent, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, had a fight on their hands; they wasted no time in reissuing the Magna Carta and setting about regaining control of the country.

Essentially a peace treaty, Magna Carta is the closest thing England has to a
constitution. It addressed the worries and grievances of the English nobility,
the barons, and sought to curb the powers of the king, firmly placing the
monarch below the law, rather than above it. But what of the women? A small number of Magna Carta clauses were influenced by the experiences of women or sought to protect the rights of women.

Of the sixty-three clauses, two stand out as the guarantors of liberty and the
law, not only in England but around the world. Clause 39 ensures that ‘no man shall be taken or imprisoned or deprived or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.’ This guarantee of justice for all is believed to have been inspired by John’s treatment of Matilda de Braose, wife of William de Braose, Lord of Bamber. William was one of John’s foremost supporters in the early years of his reign, but later fell afoul of the king and saw his family hunted and hounded, almost to destruction. This clause is supported by the one following, clause 49, which states categorically; ‘To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

As a consequence of John’s rancor poor Matilda and her son, also called
William found themselves languishing in one of John’s prisons. King John
made an agreement with both William and Matilda; freedom for her and a
pardon for William in return for 40,000 marks. However, being either unwilling or unable to pay, Matilda and her son remained in prison – either at Windsor or Corfe Castle – and William was outlawed, eventually escaping into exile in France, disguised as a beggar, where he died in 1211.

Matilda’s fate was more gruesome; she and her son were left to starve to
death in John’s dungeons (though whether this was at Corfe or Windsor is
unclear). Tradition has it, that when their bodies were found, William’s cheeks bore his mother’s bite marks, where she had tried to stay alive following his death:

‘On the eleventh day the mother was found dead between her son’s legs, still
upright but leaning back against her son’s chest as a dead woman. The son,
who was also dead, sat upright, leaning against the wall as a dead man. So
desperate was the mother that she had eaten her son’s cheeks. When William
de Braose, who was in Paris, heard this news, he died soon afterwards, many
asserting that it was through grief.’ (Anonymous of Bethune)

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The Magna Carta of 1215 reflects the needs and events of the time in which it was issued; an England on the brink of civil war, disaffected barons demanding redress, the church and cities, such as London, looking for protection. It was drawn up by barons looking for reparations and legal protection from a king whose word could no longer be trusted, who meted out arbitrary punishments and heavy taxes. It was not a charter that was intended for the protection and legal rights of every man, woman and child in the land; though it has come to be seen as just that in subsequent centuries. Indeed, the common man does not get a mention, and of the sixty-three clauses, only eight of them mention women as a gender.

Only one clause uses the word femina – woman – and that is a clause which
restricts the rights and powers of a woman, rather than upholding them.
Clause 54 states: ‘No one shall be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a
woman for the death of anyone except her husband.’ At first glance, this has to be the most anti-feminist statement ever made, a woman was not allowed to give evidence of a murder unless it was her own husband who was killed. However, the barons believed they had justification for inserting this clause. In a time when a man had the right to face his accuser in trial by combat to prove his innocence, this right would be automatically removed if his accuser was a woman; women were not allowed to use force of arms. A female accuser was seen as being able to circumvent the law, and therefore the law was open to abuse. It was not just that a woman may bear false witness and the accused would have no right of redress in battle; it was also that a woman may be manipulated by her menfolk to make an accusation, knowing that she would not be required to back it up by feat of arms. Whereas her husband, father or brother may have been challenged to do just that.

However, while it is possible to see why this clause was written, it does not
deny the fact that women were treated so differently and denied the
fundamental right to justice simply because of their gender. This very clause was used on 5 July 1215, when King John ordered the release of Everard de Mildeston, an alleged murderer. Everard had been accused of the murder of her son, Richard, by Seina Chevel. Such a charge was now forbidden under the terms of Magna Carta, and the accused was therefore released. It is, of course, true that many of the clauses of Magna Carta refer to people in general, rather than just men, and that women are included in such clauses, as well as in the eight which refer to them specifically. However, the significance of women in the Magna Carta story is not just their limited inclusion in the charter itself, but also in their experiences of the unsettled times in which they lived, in their influence on the charter and in their use of its clauses to exact recompense for injustices they have experienced.

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The political crisis which saw the issuing of Magna Carta, and the civil war which followed, was not just significant to the barons involved, but to their wives and families, tenants and retainers. The conflict tore families apart as they took sides in the struggle and saw more than one baron change sides mid-crisis. Wives and daughters were caught in the middle, often torn by divided loyalties; between their birth family and the family into which they had married; between their fathers and their husbands. For instance, Matilda Marshal was the eldest daughter of William Marshal, a man known for his staunch loyalty to the crown, but she was married to Hugh Bigod, son of Roger, second Earl of Norfolk, one of the leaders of baronial opposition; Roger and Hugh were both named among the twenty- five barons appointed to ensure that John adhered to the terms of Magna
Carta, known as the Enforcers of Magna Carta.

Some of the clauses are specific to the people on the political stage in 1215.
Clause 59 of Magna Carta, for instance, refers to two particular women,
though they are identified by their relationship to the king of Scots, rather than their names. These were two of the sisters of Alexander II, who had been held hostage by King John since the 1209 Treaty of Norham. John had promised to find husbands for the two princesses, preferably within the royal family. However, the marriages had never materialized and, six years on, the young women, Margaret and Isabella, were now in their twenties, and still unmarried. The Magna Carta clause opens with; ‘We will treat with Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages…’
As with many of the issues addressed in Magna Carta, the problem of the
Scottish princesses was not resolved immediately. Margaret was eventually
married, in 1221, to King Henry III’s justiciar, Hubert de Burgh; a lowly marriage for the daughter of a king. Isabella, however, remained unmarried and in 1222 returned to Scotland. She was eventually wed to Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk, in 1225. Roger was the son of Matilda Marshal and therefore grandson of William Marshal, Henry III’s regent. At only 13 years of age, young Roger was still a minor and with an age disparity of around 17 years, the marriage was not a happy one. The couple never had children and Roger tried to have the marriage annulled at one stage but was refused by the church.

These are just a handful of examples of how the lives of women are woven into the Magna Carta story. The deeper you dig, the more fascinating stories you will find. Magna Carta started England on the road to democratic government and, more importantly, universal suffrage, culminating in votes for women in 1918. Magna Carta was the first step. Within a generation of the charter’s first issue, women such as King John’s own daughter, Eleanor de Montfort, were helping to fight for political reform and others, such as Isabel d’Aubigny, were using its clauses to their advantage. Women had been a part of the fight for and against King John in the lead up to the first issuing of Magna Carta. They had influenced its creation and continued to use its clauses to fight for their rights and those of their families. There was still a long way to go, especially for women. Magna Carta was not the start of the women’s rights movement, but
it serves as a benchmark for how far society has come in the last eight
centuries.

Photo information:

Ladies of Magna Carta; the Magna Carta (British Library); Magna Carta memorial, Runnymede (Jayne Smith); King John (British Library); Windsor Castle, possible location for the sad death of Matilda de Braose and her son William (my photo).

Author bio:

Sharon Bennett Connolly
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history her whole life. She
has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – http://www.historytheinterestingbits.com – and Sharon started researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated, concentrating on medieval women. Her latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, released in May 2020, is her third non-fiction book. She is also the author of Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest. Sharon regularly gives talks on women’s history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television; Who Do You Think You Are.

Links:
Blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/
Twitter: @Thehistorybits
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sharonbennettconnolly/?hl=en
Amazon: http://viewauthor.at/SharonBennettConnolly

Pen & Sword: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Ladies-of-Magna-Carta-
Hardback/p/17766

Book Review: “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer

51351935Medieval women held many different titles that defined their roles and their connections. Mothers, daughters, and wives tended to be the most popular and the most common. Titles such as queen, political diplomat, and peace weaver tend to be rare and given to women of power. Yet, these words accurately depict a unique woman who lived during the Angevin/ Plantagenet dynasty. She was the illegitimate daughter of the notorious King John and the wife of Llywelyn the Great, a Prince of Wales. She worked tirelessly to establish peace between England and Wales, yet she has not received much attention in the past. Her name was Joan, Lady of Wales, and her story is brought to life in Danna R. Messer’s book, “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I did not know much about Joan, except what I read about her in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest book, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth-Century England”. She sounded really interesting so when I heard about this book by Messer, I wanted to read it to learn more about Joan.

As someone who did not know a lot about Joan or medieval Wales, I found this book informative and enjoyable. Messer takes the time to explain what life was like for a royal Welsh couple, like Joan and Llywelyn, and why their marriage made such an impact in the long run. On paper, it was a princess from England marrying a prince from Wales, but what made this union so unique was the fact that Joan was the illegitimate daughter of King John and yet she was treated like a beloved legitimate child. Of course, this marriage was first and foremost, a political match, but it seemed to have developed into a strong and loving partnership, that endured 30 years of trials and tribulations.

One of the major trials that Joan had to deal with was to prevent England and Wales from going to war against each other. Truly a monumental challenge for, as Messer meticulously points out, Llywelyn and either King John or King Henry III were constantly having disagreements. I could just picture Joan getting exasperated that she had to try to calm things down between England and Wales every single time. Her diplomatic skills were truly remarkable, especially with how much influence she possessed in both countries.

Probably the most controversial event in Joan’s life is her affair with William de Braose, which led to his execution and her imprisonment. Messer does a good job explaining what we know about this situation. Unfortunately, like many events in Joan’s life, Messer has to use a bit of guesswork to try and put together the clues about Joan and figure out what happened. It can be a bit frustrating, but we have to remember that Joan lived over 800 years ago and women were not recorded as detailed as they are now or even 500 years ago. I think we can give Messer a pass on guessing where Joan was and what her role was in certain events.

Overall, I found this book enlightening. I think Messer’s writing style is engaging and she was dedicated to finding out the truth, as far as the facts would take her. I think this is a fantastic book for someone who needs an introduction to medieval Welsh royal lifestyle, the power of royal Welsh women, and of course, a meticulously detailed account of the life of Joan, Lady of Wales. If this describes you, check out “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer.

Book Review: “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artworkThe year of 1215 marked a turning point in English history with the sealing of a rather unique document; the Charter of Liberties, or as we know it today, the Magna Carta. It was a charter from the people to a king demanding the rights that they believed that they deserved. Those who sealed it were rebel barons who were tired of the way King John was running the country, yet instead of asking for his removal, they wanted reform. The clauses mostly concerned the problems of the men who made the charter, however, three clauses dealt with women specifically. In her latest book, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England”, Sharon Bennett Connolly explores the lives of the women who were directly impacted by this document.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword for sending me a copy of this book. I enjoyed the last book that I read by Sharon Bennett Connolly and so when I heard that this book was going to be released, I knew I wanted to read it. I did not know much about thirteenth-century English history and the Magna Carta, so I was excited to start this new adventure.

To understand why the Magna Carta was considered an essential document for the time that it was forged, Connolly dives into the life of King John. His life and legacy will touch every woman in this book so it is vital to understand how John ran England while he was king. Although Connolly tends to be slightly repetitive with information about John, it is imperative that we as readers understand the significance of this reign and why it led to the Magna Carta, which radically changed English history forever.

Now, when one thinks about women who lived during thirteenth-century England, we tend to think about women whose marriages and bloodlines would interlace the numerous noble families of the time. Though some of the tales follow this pattern, there were some women and families who went against the norm. Women like Matilda de Braose, whose horrific imprisonment and starvation that led to her death, paved the way for clause 39 of the Magna Carta. There were also extremely strong women, like Nicholaa de la Haye, who was England’s first female sheriff and gained power and prestige by her own merits. These women acted as peacemakers by marrying foreign princes, or they were married to rebels against John. And of course, some women knew John well, like his wife Isabella of Angouleme, who had a very negative reputation because of John.

What I enjoyed about this book is how Connolly shared stories from women of many different walks of life. They were all so different and so unique. Connolly’s meticulous research and her true passion for this time paired with her easy to understand writing style make this book an engaging and insightful read. I found this a delightful read. If you want a fantastic book that introduces you to the world of the Magna Carta and the women who directly affected by this charter, I highly recommend you read, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Review: “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort” by Darren Baker

52044884._SX318_SY475_Two women who shared a name, related by marriage but divided by political and monetary motives. In Medieval Europe, this statement could refer to any number of women, but the two women who are the center of this particular story revolve around medieval England and the reign of King Henry III. One was Henry’s sister whose marriages and money problems were a thorn in her brother’s side. The other was Henry III’s wife who stood by his side and protected their children even when the nation despised her. Their names were Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence respectfully; their stories are filled with disasters and triumphs that would shape how England was ruled in medieval times. Darren Baker explores their lives and the lives of their families in his latest biography, “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I wanted to read more books about Medieval Europe and this one caught my eye. I have never read a book by Darren Baker or about either Eleanors, so I did not know what to expect. I am glad I decided to take a chance on this book.

Baker’s book begins with the story of King John’s children, King Henry III and his sister Eleanor Plantagenet. As Henry III was figuring out how his new rule would work under the newly formed Magna Carta, Eleanor Plantagenet was married to William Marshal. In all likelihood, their union would have been successful, except that he died in 1231; they were only married for seven years, but this marriage would leave a massive inheritance problem in the form of the Marshal estate. Instead of marrying again, Eleanor decided to become a bride of Christ.

In the meantime, Henry III found his wife in France, Eleanor of Provence, making an alliance with the French that would prove to be beneficial in the long run. As Henry and Eleanor were settling down into married life, Eleanor Plantagenet left the religious life to marry Simon de Montfort, a friend and rising star in Henry III’s court. These two couples were thick as thieves until money and politics drove a wedge between them that could never be repaired. This conflict between the couples would help establish a parliamentary democracy in England, that caused a civil war to break out between the Montfortians/ Lusignans and the King/Savoyards. The war would end at the Battle of Evesham.

Since this is a double biography, Baker takes the time to show both sides of the conflict, through Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence’s stories. It is really interesting to see how each woman handled the conflict and how chroniclers either praised or criticized them for their actions and who they were. My only concern with Baker’s approach is that he will sometimes put words into the mouths or in the minds of the historical figures. You could understand what Baker’s opinions were on certain issues. I don’t think I would have minded if it was every once in a while, but it was quite frequent and it started to bother me.

Overall, I did enjoy Baker’s writing style in this book. It may be a double biography, but it reads like a historical fiction novel. Although it is sometimes difficult to tell the two Eleanors apart, Baker does his best and presents a fascinating tale of a family in turmoil over finances and power. “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort” by Darren Baker is an enjoyable introduction into this fascinating, tumultuous time in Medieval English history.