Alison Weir is back with another well-researched biography of English monarchy, but takes a new and exciting approach. Rather than a single biography of a past English monarch, Weir turns her focus onto a collection of medieval queens, many of whom followed one another onto the throne. In this first volume, Weir turns her attention to the Norman queens, who shaped what would eventually become the Plantagenets, a ruling dynasty all their own. Remembering the time period—beginning in the mid-11th century—the reader must remember that these were not entirely independent rulers, but also not the ‘wet behind the ears’ women who nodded and curtsied towards their husbands. Rather, they were women who lived during the modern creation of the England that became a key part of the European realm. Weir explores five key queens who sought not only to support their husbands, but vie for the English throne at a time when it was still unheard of for a woman to rise to power. While there was always a strong political and monarchical struggle—especially in pushing for the true role of primogeniture (eldest child, rather than solely eldest son)—within the realm, the idea that queens could be compassionate to their subjects begins to emerge. From those who sought to build connections with the common folk to the queens who would establish themselves as compassionate to the sick and dying, Weir exemplifies these women as those who knew how to curry favour with the entire English populace and not solely those at court. With additional focus on the genealogical connections between them, the reader can see how some of these issues persist from one generation to the next and how bloodlines fuel battlegrounds for the true right to ascend the English Throne. England fought a Civil War over the question of succession to the throne and lost a potential Queen Regnant who was not strong enough to vie for her blood right. Fans of Weir’s non-fiction work may enjoy this piece, rich in history and social commentary of the time, as well as those with a curiosity in England’s medieval monarchs. I did enjoy it, but find that this period in English history may precede the time period that fascinates me most.
Weir’s work is surely an acquired taste, as I have said to many people over the years. She is one of the few authors I read who is able to write in both the non- and fiction realms at an equally high calibre. Her attention to detail and passion for the subject at hand appears in every book, though some of her non-fiction work can become quite detailed and therefore a little dry. For me, the subject matter usually plays a key role in what will draw me to the book and I fully admit that medieval history can be a little too far back in time to fully enthral me. That being said, Weir makes not only a valiant effort to show how older history can be exciting, but also that there are strong ties to modern themes found in these early queens. The role of women in the English monarchy is a theme that Weir explores, discussing the three types of queens—regnant, consort, and dowager—and how history interpreted this when it came to certain members of the royal family. As always, primogeniture played a strong role in the understanding of who could ascend to the English Throne. Her research is strong and helps propel the narrative of the piece in such a way to offer the reader something they must consider before blindly accepting what happened in history. Weir does enjoy the minutiae, which may not appeal to many, but these fragments of information that may not have been seen or effectively pulled together before help to shape her strong arguments throughout. While I remain baffled as to how Weir can effectively juggle two multi-volume series simultaneously, unrelated to one another, I am eager to see where else she will go with this series. I may return for another volume, though my reticence is only the subject matter and not the quality of her writing.
Kudos, Madam Weir for such a wonderful introduction into this historical exploration of the early Norman queens. I can see there is much to say about them and you are the best person to be handed the reins.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons