Queens of the Crusades, by Alison Weir

Second paragraph of third chapter:

His [Henry II’s] father, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, was a vassal of the King of France and had been nicknamed ‘Plantagenet’ after the sprig of broom — Planta genista — that he wore in his hat (the name was not adopted as a royal surname until the fifteenth century). Henry II and his sons founded the Angevin royal dynasty, but the county of Anjou was lost to England in the thirteenth century, so modern historians have come to use the surname Plantagenet for them and their descendants, who ruled England until 1485.

A good chunky book about the queens of England from Eleanor of Aquitaine (Henry II) to Eleanor of Castile (Edward I), including therefore also Berengaria of Navarre (Richard I), Isabella of Angouleme (John) and Eleanor (here Alienor) or Provence (Henry III). Weir has already published entire books about two of these (the first of the Eleanors and Isabella) and they rather dominate the narrative; in particular, the first queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who is everyone’s favourite of course, dies on page 186 of a 400-page book.

As narrative history it feels fairly complete. I am much more familiar with Eleanor and her children than with the second half of the story, and it filled in some gaps in my knowledge; in particular, I had no idea that Berengaria of Navarre had quite an interesting career as dowager queen, living another 30 years after Richard I was killed. The details of Henry III’s hapless reign were also largely new to me.

However, it would have been interesting also to interrogate the role of women in medieval politics. All of these queens were sometimes able to exercise legal authority and issue their own decisions; at other times they were not. What was the difference? What were the expectations of women in public life at that time? Weir does describe how the queens are portrayed in art, but without a lot of context for us to see how this compares with the portrayal of other women, or indeed men.

So, a slightly old-fashioned book, but full of interesting stuff. You can get it here.

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