She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

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by Helen Castor
     
 

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With the death of Edward VI in 1553, England, for the first time, would have a reigning queen. The question was: Who?

Four women stood upon the crest of history: Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, Mary; Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth; Mary, Queen of Scots; and Lady Jane Grey. But over the centuries, other exceptional women had struggled

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Overview

With the death of Edward VI in 1553, England, for the first time, would have a reigning queen. The question was: Who?

Four women stood upon the crest of history: Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, Mary; Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth; Mary, Queen of Scots; and Lady Jane Grey. But over the centuries, other exceptional women had struggled to push the boundaries of their authority and influence—and been vilified as “she-wolves” for their ambitions. Revealed in vivid detail, the stories of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou, and the Empress Matilda expose the paradox that England’s next female leaders would confront as the Tudor throne lay before them—man ruled woman, but these women sought to rule a nation.

Editorial Reviews

Miranda Seymour
“[Helen Castor is] an accomplished and elegant historian.”
Simon Sebag Montefiore
“A gripping book . . . She-Wolves is a superb history of the powerful women who have surrounded England’s throne, combining blood-drenched drama, politics, sex and swordplay with scholarly analysis, symptahy for the plight of women and elegant writing.”
Jenny Uglow
“Castor skillfully combines this analysis with driving narratives, using vivd details from contemporary chronicles to bring those distant days alive. She-Wolves makes one gasp at the brutality of medieval power struggles—and at the strength and vitality of the women who sought to wield royal power.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Helen Castor’s very readable She-Wolves is . . . full of beautiful, imperiled ladies; fearless knights; and remarkable, often unbelievable turns of fortune. . . . Castor is a fine scholar and an equally fine storyteller.”
BookPage
“Exceptional, even inspirational reading.”
Evening Standard
“Beautifully narrated . . . learned and exciting. This is medieval history at its best.”
Publishers Weekly
Without these ancestral "she-wolves" (as Shakespeare dubbed Margaret of Anjou), says Castor, England's legendary Queen Elizabeth I may have been cast off, overlooked in the search for a male monarch. Spanning nearly 400 years, four notable foreign-born queens demonstrated strength and political savvy as they sought to establish their claims to English rule while their kings (whether husband or son) were absent, weak, or deceased. Castor (Blood and Roses), a fellow at Cambridge University, ably explains the dilemma of appearing unnaturally masculine while maintaining an aura of leadership. Castor's clear dissection of medieval expectations and restrictions make these queens' painfully won advances even more impressive. Early rulers Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine indirectly prevented a French-style Salic Law from hindering female-claim succession, paving the way for the reigns of Mary Tudor and of Elizabeth I, whose question of succession bookends the stories of the earlier queens. Castor's deep research will please European, military, and women's historians, while the detailed maps, lucid family charts, and tight storytelling make this unusually fine royal history enjoyable reading for casual readers. 8 pages of color photos; 5 maps. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Castor (fellow in history, Univ. of Cambridge; Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses) readably recounts the lives of six women who exercised—or tried to exercise—political power in England prior to Elizabeth I: Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror; Eleanor of Aquitaine; Isabella of France; Margaret of Anjou; Jane Grey; and Mary Tudor. The story of Elizabeth I's ultimate accession can be fully appreciated only when viewed in the context of these women's earlier struggles to hold power in a society where female rule was seen as grotesque and an immoral aberration. In light of source limitations and the bias of contemporary chroniclers, Castor has done a masterful job of outlining the burdens these women faced—public scrutiny and ridicule, imprisonment, incorrigible husbands, political manipulation—as they attempted to secure the political prizes that should have fallen to them had not their gender been an impediment to rulership. VERDICT Genealogical charts and maps will help general readers follow a narrative lacking scholarly apparatus or historiographical debates, which will be thus of less interest to specialists. Readers of popular history of British royals will enjoy their immensely human stories and applaud the indomitable will of these strong protofeminists.—Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
Kirkus Reviews

Cambridge research fellow Castor follows up her history of the 15th-century Paston family (Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses, 2006) with a fascinating biography of four powerful English queens who attempted without success to rule England before the coronation of Elizabeth I.

Taking as a point of departure the unexpected death of young king Edward VI, in 1553, and the accession to the throne of Elizabeth I five years later, the author examines a 400-hundred year sweep of history when females were barred from ruling in their own name. During this period, England was in constant turmoil, and the monarchy had limited power over the feudal lords, who frequently contested his rule with military force. While Henry VIII could successfully determine his successors, Henry I failed in his effort to place his daughter Matilda on the throne after his death. Outraged at the notion of a woman as "king," the nobility rebelled. A woman might take over the reigns of government temporarily in the name of her husband or as regent for an underage son, but she could not assume power in her own name. In the following centuries, similar circumstances confronted Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella and Margaret of Anjou, whom Shakespeare described as the "She-wolf of France." Quoting Shakespeare, Castor writes, "[t]he visceral force of this image drew on a characterisation of female power as grotesque and immoral." Nevertheless, as the author ably demonstrates, these women managed to succeed in wielding significant power and, in doing so, laid the groundwork for Elizabeth's successful rule as a monarch who, in her own words, had "the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too."

An insightful look at issues still relevant today, related by an accomplished historian and storyteller.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061430770
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/31/2012
Pages:
496
Sales rank:
125,487
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are saying about this

Simon Sebag Montefiore
“A gripping book . . . She-Wolves is a superb history of the powerful women who have surrounded England’s throne, combining blood-drenched drama, politics, sex and swordplay with scholarly analysis, symptahy for the plight of women and elegant writing.”
Miranda Seymour
“[Helen Castor is] an accomplished and elegant historian.”
Jenny Uglow
“Castor skillfully combines this analysis with driving narratives, using vivd details from contemporary chronicles to bring those distant days alive. She-Wolves makes one gasp at the brutality of medieval power struggles—and at the strength and vitality of the women who sought to wield royal power.”

Meet the Author

Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a Bye-Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Her first book, Blood and Roses, was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2005 and won the English Association's Beatrice White Prize in 2006. Her second book, She-Wolves, was selected as one of the books of the year for 2010 by the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Independent, Financial Times, and BBC History Magazine. She lives in London.

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She-Wolves 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
ZQuilts More than 1 year ago
I had eagerly awaited the release of this book and waited until I could take my time and read it slowly- taking notes if I wished. I wasn't disappointed! The book begins with a genealogy of the Tudor Succession and as Edward VI is dying. The book is an utterly fascinating, eminently readable, treatise about the tradition of female rulers prior to the time of Elizabeth I. Included are: Matilda: Lady of England 1102-1167 Eleanor: An Incomparable Woman 1124-1204 (long lived indeed!) Isabella: Iron Lady 1295-1358 Margaret: A Great and Strong Laboured Woman 1430-1482 and, as the books returns to the time of the Tudors and the death of Edward VI, in "New Beginnings" Mary and her disastrous marriage with Philip of Spain. The book ends as Elizabeth I is handed the reins of of government and becomes both the King and Queen of her kingdom. Each section is preceded by a both a genealogy as well as a map of the Kingdom as it existed at that point in history. Very helpful while you are reading about the constantly changing boundaries of the various countries. The genealogies really made me realize how small the pool of available spouses for royal marriages really was at the time. Papal dispensations for consanguinity matters must have been a steady source of revenue for the Church! Ms. Castor has an uncanny ability to write non-fiction that reads as enjoyably as fiction. I was sorry when the book ended - wanting more of this truly riveting history. The struggle of female rulers really was the the beginning of the fight for women's rights and the fact that these amazing, talented, strong women managed to rule as they did is a wonder. I wonder how many modern women would have the tenacity and determination to breach the boundaries of proper 'etiquette' as these female rulers did. It boggles my mind at how strong and focused they must have been. No doubt they would be the sort of successful women who would, to this day, be called She Wolves, baracuddas, or another word that begins with the letter b----. I wished that the book had more illustrations - but then I always wish that. I always want more images to pair with the words in a book. The included 8 pages of color images are well done - but more would have been better (of course!) This book will, I think, hold wide appeal to history buffs - especially those who are Anglophiles as I am, as well as for people who study women's rights and societal issues. I will be on the pre-order list as soon as I hear about Helen Castor's next book !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very detailed to the extent that one can not skim through the pages lest an important but far-reaching fact be missed. Top marks for clarity among the historical blizzards of places, people, prevailing politics, and bloodlines. Reading this made me happy I live on Earth now, not then, and that I am not in a royal court in any capacity no matter how small. Not even as a mouse.
luv2be More than 1 year ago
Its awesome to read and visualize women, who had it harder then present day women, look at the face of adversity. To fight in what they believed in, something we should all do. Wish there were mire boiks like this.
Marla_Warren More than 1 year ago
In She-Wolves, Helen Castor does not merely explore the lives of four powerful women-Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou-she examines their experiences and challenges in the context of how feminine authority evolved in England. She also examines the succession crisis after Edward the Sixth died, and how Lady Jane Grey and Mary I each took steps to establish and maintain their autonomy as monarchs. The section on Matilda is especially enlightening, challenging the myths about Matilda's lack of people skills.
deweybeachgirl9701 More than 1 year ago
Helen Castor is able to draw you in to an era where women were regarded to be only responsible for producing a heir. Here are 4 women that went beyond the traditional role of "queen" and did what they can to better their country. I would not recommend this book to anyone that didn't have an interest in history (or had the tendency of falling asleep in class). There is a lot of names, dates and plots for each of the eras in English history and one may not be able to get beyond those facts to see the bigger picture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book because it dealt with powerful women that we don't often hear about unless we've been knocking around in the histories before Elizabeth I for some time. It's a careful history, and I respect it because (among other things) Castor doesn't bring a post-modern "Feminist" approach to a topic that doesn't warrant it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Link and Lakita                                                                                                                                                                                                       Link: I-I don't know! I tried to wake her up!((gtgtb))
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Highly recomended to anyone interedtef in the process that brought female rule to England in a male dominated world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting and readable
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WhosTardis More than 1 year ago
Middle Age history was my passion about 10 years ago. This book brought me back into a time I thought I was rather familiar with; putting a new perspective on some great women. Some I already knew well and some I knew only by name. It made the history new again. And that's not easy to do!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very informative on topics that have generally just been glossed over as greater coverage was devoted to later periods of European history. Worth your time reading, especially from a woman's standpoint.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this history of the female monarchs of England very much.
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If you love Tudor history, you'll love this!!!
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