This summer, I renewed my minor obsession with Alison Weir and medieval and Tudor history. So, naturally, I had to pick up her newest book, Queens of the Conquest. (How she released two amazing books this year is beyond me.) It is a nonfiction book about England’s medieval queens, and it turned out to be a surprisingly fun read.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) In the first volume of an exciting new series, bestselling author Alison Weir brings the dramatic reigns of England’s medieval queens to life.
The lives of England’s medieval queens were packed with incident–love, intrigue, betrayal, adultery, and warfare–but their stories have been largely obscured by centuries of myth and omission. Now esteemed biographer Alison Weir provides a fresh perspective and restores these women to their rightful place in history.
Spanning the years from the Norman conquest in 1066 to the dawn of a new era in 1154, when Henry II succeeded to the throne and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first Plantagenet queen, was crowned, this epic book brings to vivid life five women, including: Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, the first Norman king; Matilda of Scotland, revered as “the common mother of all England”; and Empress Maud, England’s first female ruler, whose son King Henry II would go on to found the Plantagenet dynasty. More than those who came before or after them, these Norman consorts were recognized as equal sharers in sovereignty. Without the support of their wives, the Norman kings could not have ruled their disparate dominions as effectively.
Drawing from the most reliable contemporary sources, Weir skillfully strips away centuries of romantic lore to share a balanced and authentic take on the importance of these female monarchs. What emerges is a seamless royal saga, an all-encompassing portrait of English medieval queenship, and a sweeping panorama of British history.
While I enjoy reading history books, especially about royalty (I have a degree in European history), I’m one of the first to admit they can be pretty dry. Not this one. This book was so fun, and so full of drama. And not just the kind of drama you’d expect; some of these people were seriously crazy. I couldn’t help but feel like I was reading The Real Housewives of Medieval Europe. It was addicting and amazing, and I had a hard time putting this book down. It felt more like a guilty pleasure than a history book.
Going in, I wasn’t familiar with any of the five queens mentioned in this book, but I loved learning about them. They were each incredibly interesting. I also liked learning more about the politics of medieval Europe, because that’s something I’ve been interested in for a while, but haven’t read all that much about.
The queens themselves were kind of amazing (and a little bit batshit crazy). Some were more interesting than others – the first Matilda is easily my favorite, just for sheer drama – but I did like them all. One thing I will mention is that most of the queens in this book have the same name, and it got a little confusing. (Because it’s a history book, this is not the fault of the author but of the princes who kept insisting their wives take their mothers’ names.)
Overall, I think Queens of the Conquest is a brilliant book. Alison Weir is an expert, and it shows. The writing was engaging, the material was well organized, and the subject was interesting. Definitely a book I’m glad to have read.
★★★★☆ – I really enjoyed Queens of the Conquest, and am so glad this is the first in a series, because I want more. If you are interested in medieval or British history, I would highly recommend this book. And if you’re looking to get into reading history, this is a great place to start. Especially if you secretly love reality TV.
Queens of the Conquest will be in stores tomorrow, September 26. You can pick up a copy on Amazon now.
This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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