Read She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor Online


When Edward VI - Henry VIII’s longed-for son - died in 1553, extraordinarily, there was no one left to claim the title King of England. For the first time, all the contenders for the crown were female.In 1553, England was about to experience the ‘monstrous regiment’ - the unnatural rule - of a woman. But female rule in England also had a past. Four hundred years before EdwWhen Edward VI - Henry VIII’s longed-for son - died in 1553, extraordinarily, there was no one left to claim the title King of England. For the first time, all the contenders for the crown were female.In 1553, England was about to experience the ‘monstrous regiment’ - the unnatural rule - of a woman. 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 Conquerer, came tantalisingly close to securing her hold on the power of the crown. And between the 12th and the 15th centuries three more exceptional women - Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou - discovered, as queens consort and dowager, how much was possible if the presumptions of male rule were not confronted so explicitly.The stories of these women - told here in all their vivid humanity - illustrate the paradox which the 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 a woman be king, how could royal power lie in female hands?...

Title : She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth
Author :
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ISBN : 9780571237067
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 474 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth Reviews

  • Frances
    2019-01-31 03:04

    4.5* History buffs won’t come across a finer book written as it captures the very essence of four strong minded women, Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou. Brilliantly told with a considerable amount of detail, Helen Castor relies heavily on well documented records to tell the story of how these exceptional women came forth by taking control to ensure the crown for their offspring. Patience is required in several of the chapters as periodically there are too many characters introduced which have no real bearing on the actual stories. But be prepared to be in awe of these four Queens and the strategies they undertake throughout their lives to achieve their goals, and to take their well earned, and much deserved place in history. Highly recommended.

  • Beth
    2019-01-30 08:31

    NERD ALERT: This is the yardstick by which I measure all nonfiction. Historians often sacrifice the human aspect their subject to detail dates, times, economics, etc. They often overload you with information for no clear reason, maybe to validate their amount of research. Or they can go the opposite tack and leave you desperate for a year, a town, a battle, (dear god anything!) you can use as a frame of reference.Helen Castor is not that type of historian. She is a consummate storyteller who supplies her nerds with their fix of dates, names, and places.Say Simon Schama is at one end of the nonfiction spectrum --the modern-day chronicler who relies on the beauty of English language to tell the story of the English people, but often ignores specific dates and places--and a McGraw-Hill history textbook--dry and matter of fact--is on the other. Castor falls right in the middle.Her work is captivating, with a compassion for her subjects and a flair for the dramatic. It flows like a novel but is unmistakably scholarly. And like Schama, she has such a knack for putting subjects, events, and people into modern contexts. I just love when an historian uses the phrase "It would be as if . . .""She-Wolves" tells the story of forgotten queens, fleshing out their lives and explaining their motivations without recasting them as self-conscious feminists. Here again, Castor does a great job of avoiding the cliches many other writers of female history repeat. These were flawed people and they made decisions based on power, survival, greed--you know, like men--not to prove the merits of their gender.In all, this is just a fantastic book that balances facts with flair, the medieval with the modern, and therefore is satisfying on several levels.

  • Marquise
    2019-01-21 05:18

    For a rigorous non-fiction history book, this one's so easy to read that time flies by without notice and before you know, you've finished it. Helen Castor is definitely one of those few academics who can narrate true facts from history as if it were a novel, very amenable style, and not dry at all despite the amount of information.And it's so enjoyable despite already being pretty fairly familiar with the women discussed in this book, four extraordinary women who wielded royal power before the three Tudor queens that count as Britain's first official female rulers on their own right. Their names are Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou, and each of them led a very tumultuous life as Queen of England, or aspiring Queen Regnant in the case of the first, and started rebellions and civil wars in defence of their rights or their children's to rule.Of those, Matilda was the most interesting to me, and the most tragic. Castor makes a good case in demonstrating how her gender was so huge an obstacle that her throne was usurped by men unable to accept a female ruling over them, in spite of solemn oaths taken to respect her father Henry I's bestowing of his crown on her as his heir; but she doesn't stop at bemoaning the stupid oppressive patriarchy like I've seen other scholars too focused on gender politics and political correctness do. No, instead Helen Castor also discusses how Matilda's own personal flaws and mistakes in judgment played a role in her never attaining the crown that was hers. I very much appreciated this balance, because there's nothing that annoys me more than modern gender ideology retrospectively reinterpreting history to prove a point.Another section that I was impressed with was the one dealing with Isabella of France. Again, a balanced study of the queen, and her husband as well. Here, Castor debunks accepted myths about Edward II, like those related to his male favourites and the manner of his death, to cite just two examples. But unlike others, she doesn't paint the king as someone simply "misunderstood" or slandered. He wasn't competent, and made plenty of mistakes, full stop. The sections dedicated to the lives of Eleanor and Margaret were the least interesting to me, mostly because I already know both queens perhaps a tad too well for an introductory type of biography to add anything really new to me. I do love Eleanor's life story, and Castor does a great summary of the key events in her long existence. But in the case of Margaret of Anjou, there's also the additional detail that she's never been an intriguing person to read about for me, unlike the other women. I can't even picture her as a tragic figure but rather as a political failure. It doesn't help that she's the only one of the four queens who didn't leave behind a legacy to justify in some measure all that spilt blood.In sum, this is an excellent introductory history book, very recommended for casual readers and those who want to know a bit more about the real history behind the popular novels that have a non-Tudor English queen as a main character.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-01-26 07:20

    Description: When Edward VI - Henry VIII’s longed-for son - died in 1553, extraordinarily, there was no one left to claim the title King of England. For the first time, all the contenders for the crown were female.In 1553, England was about to experience the ‘monstrous regiment’ - the unnatural rule - of a woman. 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 Conquerer, came tantalisingly close to securing her hold on the power of the crown. And between the 12th and the 15th centuries three more exceptional women - Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou - discovered, as queens consort and dowager, how much was possible if the presumptions of male rule were not confronted so explicitly.The stories of these women - told here in all their vivid humanity - illustrate the paradox which the 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 a woman be king, how could royal power lie in female hands? Opening: The boy in the bed was just fifteen years old. He had been handsome, perhaps even recently; but now his face was swollen and disfigured by disease, and by the treatments his doctors had prescribed in the attempt to ward off its ravages. Their failure could no longer be mistaken. The hollow grey eyes were ringed with red, and the livid skin, once fashionably translucent, was blotched with sores. The harrowing, bloody cough, which for months had been exhaustingly relentless, suddenly seemed more frightening still by its absence: each shallow breath now exacted a perceptible physical cost. PART I: MATILDA: Lady of England 1102–1167: On 1 December 1135, another king of England lay dying. Not a boy but a man of nearly seventy, Henry I had ruled the English people for more than half his lifetime. A bull-like figure, stocky and powerfully muscular, Henry was a commanding leader, ‘the greatest of kings’, according to the chronicler Orderic Vitalis, who observed his rule admiringly from the cloisters of a Norman monastery. A Surfeit of LampreysThe White Ship: Henry I's son and heir William drowned.PART 2: ELEANOR: An Incomparable Woman 1124–1204: A casual observer at Henry II’s court in September 1166 might have been forgiven for thinking that Eleanor of Aquitaine was the most conventional of queens. A great heiress, famed for her beauty and her agile mind, she had brought her royal husband a rich inheritance that stretched from the green valleys of the Vienne river, where soft light danced on stately water as it flowed toward the Loire, to the foothills of the Pyrenees, where a stronger sun struck towering crags of granite and limestone.At left, a 14th-century representation of the wedding of Louis and Eleanor; at right, Louis leaving on Crusade.One of the most significant acts for political history was the divorce of Louis VII of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1150s.PART 3: ISABELLA: Iron Lady 1295–1358: It was a cold day in Boulogne, 25 January 1308, when two of Eleanor’s descendants met in the cathedral church of Our Lady to exchange their wedding vows. The bridegroom, King Edward II of England, great-grandson of Eleanor’s son John, was a tall and handsome figure, powerfully built and gorgeously dressed. PART IV: MARGARET: A Great and Strong Laboured Woman 1430-1482: Margaret of Anjou was not born to be a queen. It was not that she lacked royal blood flowing through her veins: she was directly descended, after all, from Philippe of Valois, the king who had succeeded to the French throne after the deaths of Isabella’s brothers. Like Isabella herself, she could trace her line back to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Empress Matilda.NONFIC NOVEMBER 2015:CR White Mughals5* A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts3* Rome and the Barbarians4* Field Notes From A Hidden City3* The King's Jews: Money, Massacre and Exodus in Medieval EnglandCR A History of Palestine 634-10993* Charlotte Brontë: A Life3* The Alhambra5* A Long Walk in the Himalaya: A Trek from the Ganges to Kashmir3* Buddhist Warfare4* A Gathering of SpoonsAB A Brief History of Roman Britain - Conquest and Civilization4* Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination, 1830-18803* Food Safari4* She-Wolves3* India: A Portrait2* The Archaeology of Ancient Sicily

  • Aubrey
    2019-01-31 05:01

    4.5/5Over the years, for one reason or another, I've picked up a hell of a lot of English history through inadvertent measures. The Tudors and the Borgias are the two families I've studied on an amateur level since grade school, and a systematic repetition of Shakespeare at various levels of education and varied modes of entertainment has built up an instinctive recognition of names and plots that, for all the 16th-17th century fanfiction treatment, still serves me well. My story is not unusual for one born and bred in the military industrial complex inheritor of the most ubiquitous colonial monstrosity, and the fact that everyone in the stories looks like me only explains the sticking of stories to my inherent recall even more. Individual bits of truth, then, are not the pieces of worth in this field of knowledge, although the histories this work churns through has been such a fortuitous boon in my hardcore current study of Chaucer/Shakespearean Tragedy/Austen/Eliot(/Evans) that fickle fortune must indeed be contemplated.The English Queen is dead. Long live the Queen. What's to be done now is to look at all this prescriptive junk that's built up over centuries of land, murder, betrayal, popularity contests, drowning, heterosexual fertility, non-heteronormativity, the word of God, the word of Fate, and plain and simple incompetence. We could've had a golden age far closer to Henry I and II than Henry VIII had a certain uncle not thrust his way into the limelight. There may have been a line of names that drowned Shakespeare's she-wolf in its own fear of backlash had a certain fool son not gone and gotten himself killed. The King is always male because that is how the dice happened to fall. That's it. Add in a little superstition, always the driving force of bigotry when sanctity of rule is made to hinge on color and skin and what lies between a person's legs, and of course you're going to get a certain type of malodorous conspiracy that demands incestuous begetting by reason of its previously successful incestuous history. It's not actually that successful of course when one looks at the sheer number of Henrys that just sat on the throne and failed, but that's not what they're going to teach you in school.With regards to the more narratological aspects of this work, I like Castor's style. Between the mounds of unavoidably androcentric history, there's a very keen picking apart of just what was keeping Matilda and Eleanor and Isabella and Margaret from that Elizabeth-level undeniable proof in the history books. In some lives, the gynephobic rules of ruling had not yet firmly established themselves in the sociopolitical and religious contests, and what ultimately decided the fallout was a matter of speed and ease of conformity. In others, female despots are still despots, and the only difference between one successful revolution and the other is how nasty the historians are going to be about the usurper who had a womb. Looking back on the facts and the formulas that are the cause and consequence of any history of power, I can now appreciate just how much unorthodox spitting in the patriarchal eye had to go on before Elizabeth could become Elizabeth the First. If she didn't closely analyze the previous English histories of women coming to power and learn from every one, I'll eat my hat.This is why history is so much fun. Between the learn-or-you-are-doomed-to-repeat and those on top wanting exactly that, you have the liminal realm where seemingly irrefutable states of being haven't yet had the time to become established. The King rules because of this. The Queen doesn't rule because of that. We do this because of this. We don't do this because of that. All very cute, those ways of following, but time waits for no indoctrination for the sake of inoculation. To those who disagree: I'll see you on the other side.She was not bound, they said, by any of England's laws since the Conquest—and could therefore choose to sweep away the entire apparatus of the Reformation at will—because all previous statutes had been made in the name of England's king, while its queen was nowhere mentioned.

  • Deborah Pickstone
    2019-01-22 03:17

    Really excellent history and an easy and compelling read. I had been involved in a discussion on the subjects of this book with a fellow GR reviewer and friend which inspired me to read it myself and I am glad that I did. For myself, the most interesting sections were on Isabelle and Margaret of Anjou, simply because they were less well known to me but I enjoyed this so much that I have every intention of reading anything and everything that Helen Castor writes.NB Forgot to say I was sorry to see Ms Castor state in the last page of the Margaret of Anjou section that Richard III went on to usurp the throne and murder his nephews. There really is no excuse these days for making a statement like that as if it is fact.

  • Jen
    2019-01-30 06:14

    I borrowed this book from the library about a lifetime ago. So I really should be taking it back. But once you reach the max fine...really, what's the incentive? The hold up was that I couldn't get into it. It's not that the subject isn't interesting, because I dare you to find something boring about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Double Dog Dare! The problem was the writing. The first parts of the book were pretty much recitations of facts and happenings, with very little analysis. She covers Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou, and Mary Tudor. And wow, did she skimp on Mary Tudor. I admit she wasn't Queen for long, but she deserved a few more pages at least. It wasn't until she started comparing and explaining how these women fit together and set the stage for Elizabeth, perhaps influencing her that the author's passion came out. But those few pages simply can't make a book that drags along like a barge through muddy water. It's a fine read if you have nothing better, but you'd be better off just picking out five biographies--and then reading a good one on Elizabeth.

  • MaryJanice Davidson
    2019-02-01 09:15

    This was supposed to be a quick note of thanks to the author, but it morphed into a review/fangirl squee/overshare. Enjoy! Or not.* * *Dear Dr. Castor,I just finished your wonderful book, SHE-WOLVES: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, and had to write you to rave. Also, I'm pretty annoyed at you because my book bill is about to go sky-high(er) and frankly, you might want to think about starting fundraisers for your readers, because I doubt I'm the only one with this problem.I've been into the Tudors for years, especially Henry VIII and his wives, long before Showtime cast a slender brunette of medium height to play Henry. I read everything about them I could find and eventually started to get Tudor-ed out (there were only so many takes on Ann Boleyn's fall, and Henry's growing sociopathy and waistline, before I needed a break). So I started reading about the gang who came before (Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III) and the Wars of the Roses, which is how I discovered Margaret of Anjou. In a word: whoa! (It's wrong that I want to see her and Elizabeth I in a cage match, right?) I couldn't believe the woman's courage, audacity, determination, and focus. So I started reading books about the Wars specifically to find out more about Margaret, though I also loved reading about Warwick losing his *hit when King Edward had the audacity to a) choose his own queen and b) be king. Which is how I ended up with SHE-WOLVES.I'm embarrassed to say it sat in my TBR pile for a year. It wasn't entirely my fault--my eldest started college which I dealt with by re-reading all her favorite YA novels ("Remember reading the last Harry Potter book?" "I remember you wouldn't let me near it until you finished it, Mom, you harpy." "Oh the memories!"), and I got hooked on WORKAHOLICS, which is a terrible American comedy that is my walk of shame. Then I went through a graphic novel phase. (All right: another graphic novel phase. I go through about four a year. Don't judge me.) Then Philippa Gregory's THE WHITE QUEEN hit TV and reminded me how much I loved learning about the House of York, whose tenacity and courage was only exceeded by their inability to not devour each other.Once the TV show had run its course, I remembered there was another kind of TV: books! And there was SHE-WOLVES, where it had held pride of place on my bookshelf for a year, nestled snugly beside Stephen King's DR. SLEEP and back issues of Fine Cooking magazine (I highly recommend the grilling issue!). When I picked up SHE-WOLVES, I was tempted to start at the end: with Margaret's story, since she was the reason I bought the book in the first place. Then I thought, well, Dr. Castor is probably going somewhere with Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella of France. (I'm embarrassed to admit I only knew of Eleanor from being played by Glenn Close in a remake, and the only royal Isabella I knew of was Catherine of Aragon's mother, and the only famous Matilda I knew of was from Roald Dahl's book. I've got to stop telling you things I'm embarrassed about. I need to keep my humiliation to myself.) Their stories, I figured, might be relevant to Margaret's, or why else would you include them? On the other hand, why would you do any of the things you do? I don't know you. You could be an enigma. Or a Tory. (They still have those in England, right?) So maybe you had a plan when you included queens who weren't Margaret. Or maybe you didn't. I had nothing to go on, and in the end, I figured if their stories didn't grab me I'd just skip to Margaret.Which brings me to my increasing book budget, since of course you made Matilda and Eleanor and Isabella pretty much leap off the page (a good trick in those medieval gowns). By the time you got to the White Ship disaster I was hooked--and that was only page 26! Of all the dumb ways for Henry I to lose his heir! The guy conquered Normandy but lost his son when a bunch of drunks tried to steer a ship through a rock, which was probably the twelfth century equivalent of losing your kid to a party bus crash. All that before we even got to Matilda, who proved that her father didn't just pass the badass gene to his son. And then Eleanor of Aquitaine! History should just rename her Eleanor, Never To Be Messed With, and get it over with. She makes pretty much everyone who wasn't queen of at least two countries look like a slack-ass. Queen of France? Sure, but not enough of a challenge. Also, the king of France was great if you like amiable eunuchs, which she didn't, so buh-bye, King Louis. Queen of England? Sure, why not, she got all her queen practice out of the way in France. Oh, the king of England would like his line to continue? Sure, Eleanor says, here are five sons and three daughters. Go nuts. Eleanor was on board with pretty much everything King Henry II needed done, as long as she didn't have to choose between her sons and her husband. Oh. Whoops. Well, at least she didn't have to pay the price by being imprisoned for over a…oh. Whoops. But then! Henry, known throughout history as King Grouchypants, was kind enough to die of a fever, leaving his son Richard in charge. King Richard made Son Of The Century by basically saying, "Mom, I gotta go force my religion on people I've never met who've never done me any harm, so: heeeeere's England! Have fun running the place." The Crusade thing was annoying, but as a mom, I appreciated his "no, really, my mom can have whatever she wants, including England, so stop bugging me because I have to go repress another culture" attitude. Eleanor did more in her last decade than I've done in three, which I should resent, but mostly I just admire.Then: Isabella, married to a paranoid crybaby who held grudges like dragons store treasure, a guy who had no interest in letting his wife into his man cave (figuratively as well as literally). Nightmare. Isabella of France should be studied and admired solely for not strangling Edward II before their first anniversary. I know the movie BRAVEHEART is riddled with inaccuracy, but whenever I picture Edward II, I picture the weasel-face actor who played him, and I just want to punch things. Things like his face. Also, Isabella of France should be renamed Isabella of Awesome. So: Isabella of Awesome got to watch her husband/king do the medieval equivalent of passing notes in class to a guy he had a crush on, except instead of passing notes he was passing tons of land and money and titles. But at least Piers Gaveston, King Weasel-Face's man-crush, was mature and dignified and didn't use his influence to…yeah, I can't finish that sentence without giggling. But then Piers bit the big one, courtesy of the medieval equivalent of high school teachers cracking down on kids passing notes: they ran him through and cut off his head. That would teach King Edward II to pass notes! Except it didn't. Queen Isabella decided deja vu all over again wasn't acceptable, so she put on the medieval equivalent of big girl panties and deposed King Weasel-Face and arranged a nasty death for Hugh Despenser (or as I call him, Piers Gaveston 2.0), and if she'd stopped there it would have been terrific but if she'd stopped there, she wouldn't be Isabella, Stomper of Weasel-Face. She went too far and had her ass handed to her (politely), but lived to tell the tale. The worst thing I can say about her is that she shouldn't have been surprised to find Edward III was his mother's son. Finally, the reason I bought your book, Margaret of Anjou. By then, my Amazon wish list had increased by 12 books (damn you, Dr. Castor!) and I hadn't even finished SHE-WOLVES. And yep, by then I'd realized you had a plan when you told Matilda, Eleanor, and Isabella's stories first, because even I, with my American high school education, lack of college, and gross amount of TV watching (Do they have Game of Thrones in England? It's terrific.), could see the parallels in their lives. As a fan of watching medieval royal houses pretty much eat each other, I loved Margaret's story. As a mom, I ached for her when the one time she let her son leave her side and fight, he died. In battle, fighting for his father's crown, if that comforted her. It wouldn't have comforted me, but I wouldn't have lasted a week in any of their courts. There's a reason there isn't a book called SHE-BITCH: Why MaryJanice Davidson Should Never Have Been Allowed To Write.Which brings me to…well, me. I'm fortunate enough to be published; most of my books are romantic comedy and paranormal chick-lit, and I threw some YA books in there, too, for the heck of it. When I'm on deadline I like to read the opposite of what I'm writing. So I'd ask myself, what is the literary opposite of a fluffy romantic comedy where everything works out perfectly for the feisty heroine…medieval English history! Emphasis on queens in a primitive patriarchy where you could get put to death for picking your nose in church! Where often nothing worked out and if you got a splinter it sometimes killed you! Perfect. Which is how I started with the Tudors and, a decade later, found SHE-WOLVES. All that to say your book was wonderful and I'm assuming you are, too. I've got BLOOD AND ROSES on the way via Amazon, and I have my fingers crossed you're taking a break from writing another wonderful book to read this. Scratch that: I hope you're taking a break from finishing another wonderful book. Like, reading the galleys finished. It's about to be published finished. Because I'm hooked, and I've got to have more. You showed me an entire area of history I'd willfully ignored for years; I'm kind of hoping you'll be able to teach me trigonometry next. Many, many, many thanks.Warmest regards,MaryJanice Davidsonwww.maryjanicedavidson.netUNDEAD AND UNWARY, October 2014

  • Lisa
    2019-02-05 05:14

    I can't remember the last time I spent three-plus weeks reading a book straight through. In retrospect, maybe I should have alternated queenly chapters with lighter reading, but I found this fascinating on the whole and was highly motivated by wanting to see what happened next. I found this very dense, rather than dry, and actually a lot of fun. But it was slow going keeping all the Edwards and Isabellas straight, making sure I was following which faction was on which side at any given time -- allegiances were constantly shifting, trusted allies double-crossing each other, loyalties formed and broken. The reward for paying such close attention was a truly gripping set of stories. I wish I'd read this before Niccolò Rising, just to have a more solid understanding of the intrigues gripping Europe at the time -- I've been pretty history-impaired most of my life and catching up now, with an adult's knowledge of the world's workings, is a lot of fun. And it's got me craving the next installment of Wolf Hall. Recommended for fans of history and politics and patient, attentive readers.

  • Nikki
    2019-02-04 11:02

    She-Wolves is a much more dynamic and pacey work on some of the strong-willed and powerful queens that ruled England, compared to Lisa Hilton's Queens Consort -- though that, covering the entire medieval period rather than selected queens, is more complete. Helen Castor's writing is better, though, and her selection of queens makes her work more interesting because they're the queens who wielded real power.She discusses Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Acquitaine, Isabella of France, and Marguerite of Anjou, and the way their reigns over England (mostly as Queens Consort) shaped the situation which allowed Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I to rule. Her idea that those four queens were the instrumental ones seems sound to me, and she enquires into their lives with care, showing the queens' qualities that made them perfect for their roles (and the qualities which let them down).The fact that history is driven, in that period, mostly by the male sex is unfortunate: though the book is intended to focus on the 'She-Wolves', inevitably they're seen in relation to their fathers, husbands and sons, and much of the action described involves the actions of men. Still, considering the period of history, Castor manages to shine a satisfying light on the actions of women as well.

  • Sandi *~The Pirate Wench~*
    2019-02-08 05:10

    4 1/2 StarsNormally, I will only read historical-biographies when I'm reading a book about a historical figure that I really don't know much about their background...only that they fit in a certain period of time between such in such Queen or such and such King. I find some of them ( historical figures ) I still get mixed up with...what can I say *shrugs* if the names back then weren't all the same it be a piece of cake, at least for me.So, I will pick up a book at the library that usually helps me out...but they are SO dry, and I always skim just to get what I need :) But with Helen Castor's "She Wolves" I did not find it dry at all, and I actually understood what was being said without still being confused. No skimming..the author not only filled in the blanks for me but she made it understandable AND interesting. And this is a keeper for me to refer back to.Now I look forward to reading further books on the other women who ruled before Elizabeth I (author Elizabeth Chadwick for even a more accurate story telling IMO) The tutors I'm ok there, I have them down pact. No issues there.Now....if Helen Castor could write about the "Richards" I may just get the hang of "who was who." And where and when.There is hope for me yet.

  • Elaine
    2019-02-13 10:10

    I found myself choosing this book over my current fiction reads when I sat down at home and had a choice of things to pick up. Now THAT'S saying something about the style of writing and the stories told.I love that this book spans so many years of the English monarchy, and that as I was reading I could think of the historical fiction and movies that were set in the same time. We start with Matilda (this is the era of the Brother Cadfael Mysteries if you've read or seen those), who was daughter to King Henry but lost her throne to her cousin Stephen. I kept thinking that if only Matilda had known how to negotiate the nobles the way Elizabeth I seemed to, she may yet have changed the course of history by being the first queen to reign in her own right. Instead, the crown passes to her son and she must be content with that.Next up was Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was married to both the king of France and the king of England in her lifetime. If you've read Sharan Newman's Catherine LeVendeur series you'll know this period of time, and I recognized the names of many of the French courtiers. Eleanor was also mother of two kings--Richard (the Lionhearted) and John, and she ruled while Richard was away at the crusades. Yes, folks, this is the time of Robin Hood. Although, the real version of events doesn't quite match the Disney version (though, what does match a Disney version of events?). Let's just say it wasn't John who raised the taxes in the Shire of Nottingham, and Richard basically bankrupted the country by getting himself kidnapped and ransomed by the Holy Roman Emperor. That being said, he was still a much better king than his brother John, who managed to lose most of the territory his father had won on the continent.On to the era of Braveheart and Queen Isabella who had to put up with her (apparently) bisexual husband King Edward II whose fondness for men of his court became such a distraction that he either neglected his ruling duties or used them only to get revenge on those who opposed him. Unlike in Braveheart, however, Edward II was not effeminate and most likely would have been a fine king if he didn't have unchecked royal ADD. (I'm the king and you better not tell me what to do and oh, look! Someone in a shiny coat to distract me!) Instead, Isabella went and swiped their son as basically a hostage while she plotted Edward II's overthrow with her new lover. Too bad that her son didn't like the way his mother ruled in his place and eventually overthrew HER to become Edward III. Mother got sent off to live in some remote castle while her lover was beheaded.Now we come to Margaret, queen to King Henry VI the Bemused. This is the era of Shakespeare's histories, and as the Wars of the Roses unfolded on paper, all I could think of was the famous Richard III speech, "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the son of York." (Hope I got that quote right because that's what I've been thinking of this whole time!) Poor poor Margaret, who was dealt the worst hand of all the women in this book because she was paralyzed by the youth of her son and the incapacity of her husband. There was a history of mental illness on his mother's side, and this was ultimately what inhibited his ability to rule. He failed to understand the fundamental principals of authority and let everyone walk all over him.Finally, we come to the death of Edward VI and the ascension of Mary Tudor and, eventually, Elizabeth I to the throne. In this format you can really see how the other queens influenced the way that Mary and Elizabeth were ultimately able to gain power in their own right. I am a bit of an Elizabeth fanatic, but I have always read her biographies and so only knew the background of her father's reign and how that influenced her. This was very telling.Also, the book's format makes it so much easier to see the intertwined nature of European politics and how the countries became more distinct and more distrustful of each other as time went on. Actually reading about the territories lost and one and the rise of one power at the expense of another really gives you an idea of the politics that led to so many historical events. So often in school we are treated to a version of history that follows a straight line through time, but books like this show you that history is really an interconnected web with many strands crossing each other over time. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in English history or in the history of Western Europe in general.

  • Juliette
    2019-01-27 04:07

    A few months ago, I was channel-surfing for something to watch while ironing, and one of the local channels had a series called She-Wolves about the queens who fought for their right to rule. The first queen of England whose name meant anything to me was Mary, and I watched out of curiosity, intending to switch channels when the show became boring. My ironing wasn't done that night.Considering that the overwhelming majority of the historical record springs from the pens of men, Helen Castor has a sizable task before her. (In fact, she frequently laments that the historical record is silent when the story is just getting good.) But she is far more of a scholar than I am, and she writes fascinating histories of the four women who preceded Henry VIII's daughters (and Jane Grey): Matilda, Eleanor, Isabella, and Margaret.She frequently quotes her sources, and her sources were contemporaneous to her subjects, so I knew I wasn't just taking her word for it. And, somehow, she turns what could have been dry narratives into riveting adventure stories with love, lust, scheming, betrayals . . . enough to rival any HBO series.I have to say, though, that Margaret (the she-wolf herself) bored me. After the battles waged by Matilda, Eleanor, and Isabella, court intrigue didn't satisfy me.

  • Libby
    2019-01-30 04:05

    This is an enormous banquet of fascinating information about about women who made big history. These were the girls who INSPIRED the saying that well behaved women DON'T make history. I truly thought I knew a lot about these particular royal rebels, but LO! Helen Castor has a lot to teach us all! This book is probably not for the casual reader, but for anyone with a real interest in English History, it is a treasure. Almost everyone has some familiarity with Elizabeth I, you know, the Virgin Queen, Gloriana, yada yada, yada. However, she had some seriously aggressive ladies opening the show for her. The first female contender for the throne was Matilda, the last surviving child of Henry I. Her paternal grandfather was William the Conqueror. Her maternal grandmother was St. Margaret of Scotland. Wow! The butcher and the beatified---really big shoes to fill. Matilda definitely showed some style at an early age. She was eight years old when she was sent to Germany to marry the Holy Roman Emperor. She literally grew up in the most glittering formal court in Western Europe, learning to play power politics before she cut her adult molars. In her mid-twenties, she was widowed, and at the same time her father recalled her to England because he had lost his male heir in a shipwreck. Henry I did not take no for an answer, and he made his nobles swear to accept Matilda, still known as "the Empress" as his heir to the throne. He made Matilda accept a new husband in Geoffrey Plantagenet, the Comte d'Anjou. Geoffrey was still a teenager, but he was a serious contender as a war-leader. Matilda and Geoffrey could hardly stand each other, but he could lead her troops and she gave him a legitimate claim to tons of loot; clearly a marriage made in heaven. Unfortunately for woman's rights, Matilda's cousin Stephen of Blois, (pronounced Blwah, great name, huh?) had streaked in, grabbed the treasury and crown at Winchester and had himself crowned, tout de suite. Matilda was tied down in the last heavy months of pregnancy, and Geoffrey was busy conquering Normandy, so Stephen's coup was a temporary success. For the next decade, Matilda and Stephen rode the wheel of fortune, now up, now down, now captured, now escaped, now censured by the Pope, now the darling of fate. A really bad time was had by all. Finally both exhausted parties agreed to allow Stephen to retain the crown for his lifetime and for Matilda's son Henry to rule after him. This son was to put together an Empire that dominated Western Europe. Popes and princes shook in their silk slippers at his frown. He was called many names, but to the end of his life he called himself Henry Fitz-Empress.One would perhaps think that Henry Fitz-Empress had a sufficient acquaintance with alpha females after his redoubtable Mom, but think again! He married a beauty out of legend, Duchess in her own right of the richest territory in Europe, patroness of poets and troubadours, crusader to the Holy Land and ex-Queen of France. Yes, folks he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, a woman so vital, so fabulous that they had to get Katherine Hepburn to play her in the movie. (Yeah, The Lion in Winter!) Eleanor gave Henry eight children, all beautiful, intelligent and rebellious. She lead a rebellion against her husband that came so close to succeeding that he kept her locked up the rest of his life. She was a wise counselor to her son Richard Couer de Leon, and ruled England for him while he was on Crusade. She lived long enough to see her grandchildren on every major throne in Europe. She was the top, the real deal, the cat's pajamas and the bee's knees. She was also the ancestress of all the rest of the she-wolves. (It's in the DNA.)Isabella of France was also a legendary beauty, married at age twelve to the first Prince of Wales to seal a peace treaty between England and France. She ran into trouble, because, as a later Princess of Wales was to say, there was a third party in the bed. Her handsome husband was obsessed with a pretty, vain, arrogant, witty young man named Piers de Gaveston. Her father-in-law, Edward I, banished Gaveston, but as soon as Edward passed away and his son was enthroned as Edward II, Gaveston was back, shinier than ever. Gaveston had a nasty tongue and a unique ability to make enemies. Very soon, the English nobility became convinced that Isabella's husband would never get down to the business of being king as long as Gaveston took all his time and interest. Various factions among the nobility came to armed rebellion to convince the king to moderate his obsession. Besides giving birth to four children and carrying out all her domestic duties, Isabella spent a lot of time on her knees, pleading for mercy for this or that faction, or going back and forth between parties pleading for peace. It was a futile employment, as Edward would promise anything to get what he wanted and then break his word as soon as he could. Finally, the nobles led by the Duke of Lancaster, captured Gaveston and executed him. This had the effect of fixing Edward's attention on business, but unfortunately, the business was revenge. Edward had the cunning to lie low and gather new allies before attempting his vengeance, but sadly, his new favorites, a father and son team both named Hugh DeSpenser, were even more rapacious and self-serving than Gaveston had been. The nobles were rumbling and grumbling, the commons were starving, the perennial wars with Scotland were going badly and suddenly the peace with France was threatened. Edward couldn't leave England without his schemes unraveling, so he sent his number one diplomat, his most accomplished kneeler, his wife. Edward was sure that his obedient, complaisant wife would make all well with her brother, the king of France. Just to add to his "really dumb" quotient, we learn that Edward had achieved the execution of the Duke of Lancaster who was the queen's uncle. Not only did he present most of Lancaster's cash and lands to the DeSpensers, but to round up the total, he stripped the queen of a chunk of her revenues to sweeten the Despensers' pot. Needless to say this annoyed Isabella a lot. Once in France, at her brother's court, she didn't display much complaiscence. Edward compounded his blunders by sending their oldest son to France to do homage for their French holdings. Once her son was in her hands, she was able to invade England and depose her husband in favor of her son. (Oh yeah, she also had a hot affair with her most powerful supporter, Roger de Mortimer.) Sadly, boy kings do grow up and Young Edward dispensed with Mortimer and sent Mom off to live in the countryside.The saddest of the almost kingly queens was Margaret of Anjou. She was another princess sent off to be a living peace bond. She was able, energetic, intelligent and pretty. Henry VI, her husband was amiable, pious and fond of cultural pursuits. What he was not was decisive, strong minded or kingly. He was a pleasant, absent weathervane, blowing with the prevailing wind. When serious trouble arose, he fell into a sort of pathological fugue state, unable to speak or move. Clearly someone else must mind the store and Margaret was accustomed to the example of her strong-minded mother and grandmother.She was all set to run the family business. This set her up for a head on collision with the greatest magnate in England, the Duke of York. As the nearest adult MALE relative of the king, York expected to be declared regent. By some reckonings of succession, York might have had a better claim to the throne than Henry did. The resulting family spat is called the Wars of the Roses. What a pretty name for a dirty, savage, vicious bloodbath. Margaret was strong, resilient, inventive, untiring and relentless in pursuit of the rights of her husband and her son. Her reward was to lose her throne, her husband and then her precious son. Following her last loss, she retired to France, broken and drained and beggared. She died young, forgotten and penniless.The shortest reign in England's history was that of a skinny, freckled bookworm named Lady Jane Grey. She derived her somewhat tenuous claim to reign from her descent from Henry VIII's youngest sister Mary. Her claims were pushed to advance the causes of Protestant faith,(she was devout and totally committed) and political expediency. (She was the daughter-in-law of a politician whose only hope to remain in power was her.)The actual heir, according to primogenitur and the will of Henry VIII,was Mary Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII. She was Roman Catholic,as devout and committed as Jane.Someone had to draw the short straw and Queen Jane ruled only nine days. Mary was inclined to show Jane mercy until a new rebellion broke out. Jane was a focus for future strife and so she met her end on the scaffold.Mary might have been the most pathetic poor soul to ever rule England. Her first twelve years were spent as the petted and beloved daughter of her golden father and her doting mother. Her world imploded when her father cast off her mother and abandoned her beloved church in search of a male heir and some hot nooky.(Did I SAY THAT? Nooooo, I meant a clever and charismatic lady in waiting named Anne Boleyn.) Mary clung to her religious rites and her love and respect for her mother, sustained by her ties to the Holy Roman Emperor and his ambassadors. (The HRE was her cousin Charles.) Mary's goal was to return England to the Papal fold and save all the souls of her subjects. Sadly, not all of her subjects wanted to be saved, at least not as Catholics. Mary acquired her "Bloody Mary" moniker with the best of intentions. She married her cousin Philip of Spain in the hope of conceiving a Catholic heir. Philip was blond, devoutly Catholic and connected to all the things that meant love and safety to Mary. But he had married her out of duty, and when it became apparent that there would be no heir, he abandoned ship. Poor Mary died childless and among her pathetic last words, she told her ladies that she heard choirs of children singing.Obviously, the deck was stacked against women wielding regal power. It certainly doesn't seem to have brought them much happiness. Helen Castor tells their stories with vigor and panache, just as these ladies lived, but she gives the reader a lot to think about. Power has a high price tag for us girls, even now. But if you don't play, it don't pay, so you go, Sisters!

  • Jane
    2019-02-14 07:05

    Where I got the book: my local library.She-Wolves is an entertaining and clearly written account of English queens (well, mostly French really, but queens of England) who stood out from obscurity because they had to go the extra mile to cope with having their throne snatched out from under them (Matilda/Maud), being mom to an absentee king and his rotter brother (Eleanor), having a husband who ruled so badly that he ticked off just about every powerful aristocrat in the country (Isabella) or being wife to a low-watt bulb with a crown on his head (Marguerite d'Anjou). History, apparently, being written by men, did its best to bury these ladies but enough survives to make out a story of some pretty impressive women.I'm not sure exactly why Castor wraps the whole account up inside the power struggle that took place to fill the royal vacancy left when Edward VI died, because she didn't, to my mind, do enough exploration of the fascinating reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. Now I know those reigns HAVE been explored many times and perhaps that's reason enough not to cover them thoroughly, but I would have liked more, especially when it came to Elizabeth. The Bad Jane part of me keeps whispering that Castor put medieval history inside a Tudor wrapping because the Tudors are way more trendy and sexy (from a book-selling standpoint) than their lesser known forebears.Be that as it may, I enjoyed the read. Castor has a nice, clear way of telling a story with just enough detail and never too much. Recommended.

  • Meaghan
    2019-02-20 08:01

    An excellent book, well worth a read for those interested in European history. In addition to covering the usual suspects such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Mary I, the author also profiled relatively little-known queens like Margaret of Anjou and Matilda. (Indeed, before this book I had never even heard of Margaret of Anjou.) She makes a convincing argument that Matilda was not the "proud and arrogant" woman as generations of historians have alleged, and she accomplishes the unthinkable by making Eleanor of Aquitaine seem interesting to me. I highly recommend.

  • Susan
    2019-01-23 07:29

    My copy came in the mail today! I read the part about Margaret of Anjou--concise and well written, with an appreciation of the difficult situation in which Margaret found herself. (I was grateful too that there wasn't anything in Castor's book that forced me to make any last-minute changes to my novel about Margaret!) I'm looking forward to reading about Queen Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose stories are less familiar to me, and about Isabella of France.

  • Dorothea
    2019-02-01 05:13

    This book deals, as the subtitle tells us, with “The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth”, ie. Matilda, the Empress, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou and less thoroughly Mary. It is an easy to read account of these ladies’ lives and “reigns”. For me the parts dealing with Matilda and Isabella were of particular interest, because my knowledge about these two had been rather limited. It certainly will make me investigate them further. If this was Helen Castor’s aim, she was successful. In this respect the book serves the same purpose as a well-written historical novel, which is actually what this book feels like. However, as it is supposed to be a work of non-fiction and here it shows some short-comings. Though it does include a fairly extensive “Note on Sources and Further Reading” at the end, there are no foot or end notes. This I found especially disconcerting, given Castor’s assertive style. Two examples from the period Ricardians know most about and are most interested in, she states that Edward IV died of a stroke. He very well might have, but we have no evidence as to the actual cause of his death. She also uncritically repeats the old rumour as fact that Edward V was murdered by Richard of Gloucester. Again, there are lots of theories, but no proof when, where and by whom Edward and his brother were killed, or even whether they were killed at all. A more critical analysis of the sources would have been beneficial, and the lack of notes is especially frustrating.There are also some geographical errors. She writes that Matilda is travelling from Utrecht along the Rhine via Cologne, Speyer and Worms to Mainz and her coronation (p.53). This would be a rather circuitous route: Coming from the north (Cologne) along the Rhine you first reach Mainz, then on to Worms and Speyer is the southern most of these cities. So either Matilda did not travel as directly as Castor implies, or she visited Worms and Speyer after her coronation at Mainz. Another example, as Susan Higginbotham pointed out, is Margaret sitting at her “chateau of Dampierre, overlooking the broad meanderings of the Seine” (p.401), while Margaret would actually have looked at the Loire. Surely the author or at least her proof readers could have consulted some maps to avoid slip-ups like these? They might be minor mistakes, but they cause the reader to mistrust her other statements.On the whole I would say that it is not a bad book as a first introduction to these fascinating ladies, but it could have been much more.

  • Abigail Hartman
    2019-01-26 05:24

    Castor's "She-Wolves" is an interesting overview and comparison of some of Elizabeth I's most powerful, prominent female predecessors: the Empress Matilda (my personal favorite); Eleanor of Aquitaine; Isabella of France; Margaret of Anjou; and, with somewhat less page-time, Mary I. As a popular history, it conveys the stories of each queen in a dramatic style while also pointing out the common difficulties female rulers faced and the different ways in which these protagonists dealt, successfully or unsuccessfully, with the challenges. Castor links the biographies, but they are still nicely self-contained, and I found some more enjoyable than others: for instance, while Matilda emerged as a forceful, fascinating character, Eleanor of Aquitaine seemed strangely and disappointingly overshadowed by her second husband and her sons. I also would have preferred more specific citations, but since this is meant for a broad audience, notes are limited to a large "suggested reading" section in the back of the book (sadness!). As an introduction to these queens and to the subject of female rule, and just as a fun narrative history, it was worth the read.(I must say, though, it seemed odd to comment that Richard "called himself" Richard III and "deposed and murdered" his nephew(s), without even a passing acknowledgment of the historical controversy. Whatever one's opinion on such debates, it seems like a good idea to at least acknowledge that they exist.)

  • Rio (Lynne)
    2019-02-21 07:06

    I enjoyed this. I picked it up at the library basically as a refresher course for myself. After reading Chadwick's Lady of the English and Higginbotham's The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou, The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II and Her Highness, the Traitor and other books about Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, I felt well versed on these women. The author did a good job without being overly dry telling the stories of Matilda, Eleanor, Isabella, Margaret and Jane.

  • Belinda
    2019-01-30 11:18

    Fantastic. One of the best books on the queens of England I have read. The author manages to cover many important and famous women and impart a great deal of information while keeping their opinion to themselves (oddly a problem on this subject in my experience). The book is so interesting and well written that it was like reading a really fun fiction book that you just don't want to put down. I learned so much about rulers that I thought I knew a ton about (Eleanor of Aquitaine being one example) and even more about those I had heard much about but not in detail (Isabella of France being my favorite). The BBC has produced a documentary based on the book and I am really looking forward to getting a hold of it. Highly recommend.

  • Alastair Rosie
    2019-02-11 10:28

    I've always had a jaded view of history, on the one hand I do love it, I wouldn't have moved to Britain if I didn't at least appreciate it. On the other hand I'm often put off by the scant references to women in the history books, almost as if they were hidden away and only mentioned when they did something that upset the male commentators of the time, who were enslaved to Rome's viewpoint. Take the so called suicide of Boudica. Ignoring the fact that the only two commentators, Tacitus and Cassius wrote about it over a century later, we have to read into their accounts the Roman view of women. A woman who defied a man even vocally could usually anticipate one fate, death, more often than not at her own hand if she wished to regain her honour. If she was a virgin, she of course had to be raped before execution, to avoid upsetting the gods. The rape of her daughters thus paints Rome in a particularly nasty light as they were quite possibly children and we can't paint 'noble' Roman soldiers as being rapists and child killers. Sadly many historians hold fast to Tacitus' and Cassius' views as though they were actual eyewitnesses rather than blatant propagandists in the style of Julius Caesar. With that in mind I recently bought Helen Castor's She-Wolves, The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. I was looking for a book that would not only mention women from history but actually focus on women.The result is a book that stands out from other similar books for its refusal to accept on face value the contemporary accounts of the time but attempts to interpret and put them into perspective. One account that springs to mind is that of Isabella, wife of Edward II who after deposing him in a relatively bloodless coup, set about enriching herself, much as her predecessors had done. In this Castor has pointed out that rather than being peculiar to Isabella as a woman and queen, it was actually the norm for kings as well. She hasn't excused the excesses, rather she's put them into context. Starting with the death of Edward VI, only son of Henry VIII, a death that saw his sister Jane Grey take the throne, only to be deposed by Mary Stuart; she back tracks to Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror and moves forward to Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of Richard I. She then moves forward to Isabella, who was portrayed so appallingly in Braveheart, and then onto Margaret of Anjou, who was married to Henry VI and fought to keep him alive and out of the hands of his enemies. She comes full circle with Mary Tudor and ends at Elizabeth, and here she has ended our journey. Elizabeth's story of course being a book on its own.I found the book very well written although at times I was struggling to keep up with who sired who, and who was related to whom. The book is well researched and as already mentioned she does interpret ancient texts with a view to representing these women fairly. This is no feminist diatribe but an honest reexamination of the facts at hand and she has provided a wealth of books at the end for those who want to read further.In summary, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the women who ruled England, even if it was through their sons and husbands. It's a refreshing change from the male oriented histories that clog library shelves and a welcome addition to my Kindle.

  • Marie Z. Johansen
    2019-02-14 09:13

    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 1102-1167Eleanor: An Incomparable Woman 1124-1204 (long lived indeed!)Isabella: Iron Lady 1295-1358Margaret: A Great and Strong Laboured Woman 1430-1482and, 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 !

  • Jennifer Rayment
    2019-02-07 10:07

    he Good Stuff * Wonderfully well researched * Fascinating historical information * Learned a lot about Matilda, that I had never known before. Ok most of the stuff I "know" about her came from the novel Pillars of the Earth * Powerful women taking charge and flouting male authority * Insightful commentary on both modern and historical female figures * Extremely thorough in historical detailThe Not so Good Stuff * Way too scholarly for day to day reading, but a great text for historical information, written in a fascinating way * Very, very dry at times and a little confusingFavorite Quotes/Passages"I know I have the body of a weak and feeble women, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too - Queen Elizabeth 1, 1588"What I Learned * Fascinating historical information of lesser known female rulers * Way too many interesting tidbits about British history to mention * I always thought that Henry VIII's son, Edward VI, was a weakling all his lifeWho should/shouldn't read * This is definitely more for the educated scholar than to someone like me * Wonderful resource for high school and public libraries, as it makes history come alive3 Dewey'sI received this from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review -- sorry guys this one was way over my head

  • Megan
    2019-02-09 05:16

    While each of the women covered in She-Wolves was fascinating and Helen Castor did an admirable job writing this book, the unfortunate truth is that there isn't enough in the historical record on many of these women to write in-depth on them and them alone. As a result, the book often ends up reciting the history of the men around these women, with occasional commentary on what the women were probably feeling or doing shoe-horned in. The result is a large amount of history condensed to roughly 100 pages for each woman, with a good amount of interpretation by the author.Matilda's section felt like it had been stretched to better match the length of the other three primary subjects.Margaret of Anjou's section felt as though it had been condensed severely. Were I unfamiliar with the Wars of the Roses, I doubt I could keep the nobles and their loyalties straight. (This section also has a poorly designed family tree for the Wars of the Roses, where generations aren't all on one line and various branches cross over one another. They didn't want minute writing, but it ends up being terribly confusing to look at).I feel as though the final section of the book, when Castor brings us back to the first women to act as Queen regnant, was the most enjoyable and interesting section. I wish this part had been expanded upon.

  • Matt Brady
    2019-02-04 05:20

    Using the framing sequence of the succession crisis in England upon the death of Edward VI, when all the possible blood claimants to the throne were women and England was set to have it’s first ever ruling Queen, Castor looks at four remarkable women who, in different ways, assumed the authority, if not the title, of kingship in England in the previous centuries. The Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou, the eponymous “she-wolf”, are all covered in depth, before returning to 1553 and the ascension of Queen Mary, England’s first undisputed female monarch, followed by her sister Elizabeth. Examining the lives of these women by focusing on the challenges they faced, and how they went about assuming and wielding power, Castor makes good use of the contemporary sources, and extrapolates based on available evidence when the sources fail. She weaves an entertaining biographical narrative for each woman, showing the differences and similarities in the way they faced their challenges. She also provides an interesting take on Mary herself, arguing convincingly against the traditional prevailing view that Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain was a mistake, and emphasizing the many often ignored virtues that Mary possessed as a ruler. I found it pretty entertaining and informative throughout, even handed and balanced.

  • Iset
    2019-01-27 08:26

    Maybe it’s because I’m already at least somewhat familiar with all the historical figures explored within, but I devoured Helen Castor’s latest historical non-fiction in two days flat. I enjoyed the dual experience of uncovering new snippets of information or a fresh interpretation of the reigns of figures familiar to me, and also learning a whole lot more about other historical personages who I had previously known only the real basics about. Castor painted a real picture of the times these women lived in, setting the scene and really adding to the reader’s understanding of the social mores of the day and perhaps just why some of these ladies could not achieve rule in their own right. More than that, the read was enjoyable and easy; I was practically tearing through the pages, and encountered no stumbling blocks along the way. It’s worth keeping in mind that as a book with a multi-period focus, She-Wolves does not present an intensive focus on any one of the historical figures covered, but rather it pulls together the disparate strands of history to answer the questions of the book’s theme and show us a valuable insight into the bigger picture. Worth reading.8 out of 10.

  • Bruno Bouchet
    2019-02-20 08:04

    After giving up on Catherine the Great, retreated in time to the surer ground of power bitches of medieval England and was richly rewarded. I'd already read Alison Weir's excellent book on Eleanor of Aquitaine so was familiar with her story but it was great to read about how England came to accept the concept of a Queen ruling 'as a king', dating back to the Anglo Saxon origins of the word Queen. The insights into the struggles for power by Matilda, Eleanor, Isabella Margaret and Mary were fascinating, in particular the Catch 22 situation that women reached their most powerful point when they provided an heir, but which inevitably curtailed their power to rule in their own right. How could a woman rule a country and 'obey' a husband? Each of these great women tried in different ways to resolve the contradictions of female rulers of the time without lasting success, paving the way for Elizabeth and sacrificing the role of securing an heir in order to rule in her own right. The section on Margaret did get bogged down in constant traipsing across the country, battles with sundry earls but then that was the time, as any history (or Shakespeare) student can atest.

  • Michelle
    2019-02-01 08:12

    I really enjoyed this. This is a very well-told story of the background behind the accession to the English throne of Mary and Elizabeth I. It takes a very close look at the previous attempts of the different women who sought to rule in England on their own merits, and not merely as the decorative occasional-regents to their husbands. I notice some reviewers had a hard time keeping everyone straight; I personally think the author did a very good job of explaining who was who and what happened. But then I've been reading English royal history since I was a kid and I almost feel like I KNOW some of these women. :-) I did appreciate the careful reading and interpretation of the chronicles and letters of the periods covered, and the fresh look at what some of these women might have been like. I'd always just believed, for example, that Matilda WAS truly arrogant, (a la Brother Cadfael mysteries and other books I'd read) and not considered the thought that she was TRYING to be kingly, and the chroniclers were rejecting that as a role for her. Interesting read!

  • Rob Adey
    2019-02-13 06:09

    Fascinating and imaginative account of what happened to the medieval mind when confronted by the collision of two irrational systems - patriarchy and royalty. "She's a woman, she can't tell us what to do. But she has magic blood! Doth... not... compute..." Could have done with a little more background on what the times were like generally, just to stop me imagining everyone flying about on dragons, but I guess Castor can take it as read that most of her readers did history at GCSE at least.