Book Review: “Queens of the Age of Chivalry: England’s Medieval Queens” by Alison Weir

cover263156-mediumWhen we think of the title “medieval queen,” a few things come to mind. They were seen as mere trophy wives who were only suitable for making alliances and giving birth to children. It may be a cruel assessment for a modern audience, but that was the reality of the medieval world. However, the late Plantagenet queens decided to step outside the socially acceptable path for their lives and forged a new one. In Alison Weir’s latest nonfiction book, “Queens of the Age of Chivalry: England’s Medieval Queens,” she explores the lives of five Plantagenet queens who had to adapt quickly to the ever-changing world of late medieval England.

Thank you, Ballantine Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I have read and enjoyed the previous books in England’s Medieval Queens series, and I wanted to see which queens would be included in this book.

The years covered in this book are 1299-1399, a time of turmoil, change, and the plague. During that time, five queens forever left their marks on England: Marguerite of France, Isabella of France, Philippa of Hainault, Anne of Bohemia, and Isabella of Valois. Their royal husbands were Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II. Since these queens were foreign brides, it was a balancing act between what their home country expected of them and what England expected their new queen to do, which was, in most cases, to give birth to heirs and to stay out of politics.

We begin with Marguerite of France, who was the second wife of Edward I and the step-mother of Edward II; her most extraordinary claim to fame was to try and prevent her son from ever seeing Piers Gaveston, which sadly did not last long. Isabella of France had to deal with Edward II’s favoritism to not only Piers Gaveston but to Hugh Despenser the Younger. This led her to join Roger Mortimer and rebel against her husband. This decision would create a black cloud around her reputation for centuries.

As part of the rebellion, Edward III married Philippa of Hainault, who was the closest of these five queens to be the ideal medieval queen. She gave Edward III many heirs that would help define future generations. Richard II’s first wife, Anne of Bohemia, was the essence of sophistication, but her death sent him reeling, forcing him to take a child bride named Isabella of Valois.

Being a queen in the late medieval period was not easy, especially with the Black Death, the Hundred Years’ War, the Peasants’ Revolt, and internal struggles were constantly in play, but the five queens mentioned in this book were able to navigate this tumultuous time to create their legacies. Weir once again weaves fun facts and compelling tales of each queen to give her readers her perspective on their true legacies. If you have enjoyed the previous books in “England’s Medieval Queens” series, I would highly recommend you read “Queens of the Age of Chivalry: England’s Medieval Queens” by Alison Weir.

Book Review: “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes” by Julia A. Hickey

61816116When we think about royal relationships from the past, we do not associate them with love; it is more about cementing power. Princes and kings knew how much was at stake, so they tended to have wives for politics and produce legitimate heirs that would inherit their kingdoms. For matters of love and lust, kings and princes would have mistresses, either of noble birth or lower, on the side. These women have been deemed whores and homewreckers but is that a fair assessment of their legacies? Julia A. Hickey takes a closer look at these misunderstood mistresses in her latest book, “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this title, it intrigued me, and I was hoping to learn something new.

Hickey covers several hundred years in this book, starting around the year 1000 and ending in 1485. We begin with Queen Emma, Aelfgifu, and the confusion of whether Aelfgifu should be considered a mistress. With these Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings of England, we see many relatively hidden mistresses of William I and Henry I (who had quite a few). We then move to the Plantagenets with Henry II, King John, Edward II, Edward III, and Edward IV. Hickey also pays attention to other affairs in different countries, such as King David of Scotland and the Tour de Neste Affair.

Some of these mistresses would be familiar to readers, such as Isabella of Angouleme, Fair Rosamund, Piers Gaveston, Alice Perrers, Katherine Swynford, Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, Jane Shore, Eleanor Talbot, and Elizabeth Woodville. Many were new to me, including Princess Nest of Wales, whose abduction started a war, Edith Forne Sigulfson, and Elizabeth Wayte. She even included Eleanor of Aquitaine as one of the mistresses mentioned in this book, which I’m afraid I have to disagree with, as most of this stems from the black legend that has tainted her legacy.

I found the information provided in this book rather intriguing, but my one concern about this book was how it was structured. I wish Hickey had sections marked for each king she mentioned in this book so we could distinguish which mistress was associated with which king or prince.

Overall, I found this book enjoyable and informative. It was a bit repetitive, and there were some arguments that I disagreed with. Still, the fact that Hickey could combine nearly 500 years’ worth of history about relatively hidden royal mistresses is quite admirable. Suppose you want a solid introduction to medieval England’s world of royal mistresses. In that case, I recommend you read “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes” by Julia A. Hickey.

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.