Title: She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth
Author: Helen Castor
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Hardcover: 496 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
From the Publisher:
When Edward VI died in 1553, the extraordinary fact was that there was no one left to claim the title of king of England. For the first time, England would have a reigning queen—but the question was which one: Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, Mary; Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth; or one of their cousins, Lady Jane Grey or Mary, Queen of Scots.
But female rule in England also had a past. Four hundred years before Edward’s death, Matilda, daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror, came tantalizingly close to securing the crown for herself. And between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries three more exceptional women—Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou—discovered how much was possible if pre-sumptions of male rule were not confronted so explicitly—and just how quickly they might be vilified as “she-wolves” for their pains.
The stories of these women, told here in all their vivid detail, expose the paradox that female heirs to the Tudor throne had no choice but to negotiate. Man was the head of woman, and the king was the head of all. How, then, could royal power lie in female hands?
I read copious amounts of historical fiction and was thrilled to be able to read a non-fiction account of four women who have fascinated me throughout history. She-Wolves by Helen Castor recounts the lives of four women who ruled England between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries; Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou. Castor also gives mention to Mary of Scots and Jane Grey, although there is less offered about these two powerful women. She-Wolves painstakingly details the lives of these remarkable women, each queen is written in as a separate chapter divided into four parts, offering the reader a non-fiction account of each remarkable queen and her life, passions, desires, goals for the throne and their sons as well as the frustrations, and how these four queens span the three great Houses of the Plantagenets, Lancasters and Tudors. Each of the four main women covered in this book are vividly detailed, well researched and come to life, showing women’s movements of sorts in a definitely male-dominated world. The lives of each woman are remarkable, especially considering the time period, and each period is captured in exquisite detail, holding the reader mesmerised. Whether She-Wolves is read for historical fact or as an aid to historical fiction novels, Castor has done an extraordinary job bringing history to life, making it fascinating, and easy to read, rather than the laborious tome it could have been. My only regret is that it was not a little longer, especially toward the end, however I highly recommend She-Wolves to anyone who enjoys history, historical fiction, or reading about strong women.
Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Her last book, Blood and Roses, a biography of the fifteenth-century Paston family, was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2005 and won the English Association’s Beatrice White Prize in 2006. She lives in London with her husband and son.
I received a complimentary ARC of She-Wolves by Helen Castor from Harper Collins to offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.