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.