Helen Castor: She Wolves



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45 History buffs won t come across a finer book written as it captures the very essence of four strong minded women Matilda Eleanor of Auitaine Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou Brilliantly told with a considerable amount of detail Helen Castor elies heavily on well documented ecords to tell the story of how these exceptional women came forth by taking control to ensure the crown for their offspring Patience is euired in several of the chapters as periodically there are too many characters introduced which have no eal bearing on the actual stories But be prepared to be in awe of these four ueens 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 ecommended If I had to sum up the thesis of Helen Castor s book in one sentence it would be this Elizabeth I didn t come out of nowhere Elizabeth Tudor was the first woman to ule England in her own ight but as Castor s book makes clear she was only able to wear the crown thanks to the efforts of several other women in England s history who each in her own way paved the way for one of the most successful ulers in her country s history Castor takes us through the stories of several oyal women starting in the Middle Ages and shows us how they successively got a little bit closer to the crown with Elizabeth I as the end esult Of course the heavy hitters like Eleanor of Auitaine and Mary I get lots of page space but Castor also takes time to delve into the lives and lasting influences of women who freuently get overlooked and dismissed by history as merely wife of insert historical man here In addition to the fascinating stories of how these women tried to gain power with mixed esults Castor is also exploring the concept of ueenship what it means to be ueen as opposed to king and how that ole grew and evolved over time One of the most interesting parts for me was the discussion of how it was the ueen s job to publicly plead to the king for mercy on someone s behalf the king couldn t be viewed as weak so by indulging the ueen s feminine weakness he could pardon someone without losing face I also appreciated how Castor is not pulling her punches when it comes to showing just how badly the deck was stacked against women in power One of the funniest parts of the book while discussing two oyal women fighting for control of the crown Castor uotes a commentator from the time who heavily criticized one woman for going against her feminine nature by seeking power while that same guy complimented her ival on how brave and tough and strong she was Elizabeth I is often held up as an example of a strong independent woman who evolutionized the English monarchy and often lazy historians present her as the good sister in contrast to Bloody Mary whichugh but Castor s book makes it clear that Elizabeth was standing on the shoulders of dozens of women who came before her women who are often overshadowed by the stories of their husbands fathers brothers and sons By collecting their stories and presenting them as a long term effort to change the way the English monarchy operated She Wolves shines a light on some key background players in England s history An intelligent and compelling book by Dr Helen Castor who demonstrates a passion understanding and deep knowledge of her subject She focuses on the eigns of 7 phenomenal women ueens of England In a time when power was seen as the prerogative of men the exercise of power by a woman was seen as unnatural unfeminine and even monstrous and the early ueens such as Empress Matilda Eleanor of Auitaine Isabel of France and Margaret of Anjou were vilified as she wolves often demonstrating power and waging war and certainly displaying uthlessness but no differently from many kings of the same timeAll of these women were certainly multi faceted all with the exception of the ill fated Lady Jane Grey were capable of great uthlessness But perhaps Dr Castor if incorrect when she insinuates that Matilda was driven out of London because the people because the people did not want a woman uler when it was in fact because of the steep taxes she had imposed on the citizens of London much as Margaret Thatcher finally lost power in 1990 after planning to impose a poll tax on the poorest in British societyThis collection focuses on elationships and politics and war as well as eligion and society We get an understanding of what shaped a naive twelve year old child bride Isabel of France into a uthless power player dubbed the she wolf who seized England together with her lover Roger Mortimer and possibly had her spouse Edward II put to death Of Isabel it was said No man ever excited her esentment who did not perish under its effect the king himself forming no exception to this factMargaret of Anjou was one of the key and most aggressive players of the War of the Roses who would stop at nothing and cut down anything that stood in the way of the interests of her husband the timid and half mad Henry VI and her son Edouard Prince of WalesMary I Bloody Mary had hundreds of Protestants burned to try to eimpose Roman Catholicism back on England while Elizabeth I perhaps one of England s greatest monarchs engineered a eligious settlement on England that was acceptable to most and led England against the invasion by Spain of the Spanish Armada I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart of a ki. 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 femaleIn 1553 England was about to experience the ‘monstrous egiment’ the unnatural ule of a woman But female ule in England also had a past Four hundred years be.

Ng and king of England too Magnificent footage of castles palaces churches and landscapes in France and England Dr Castor is not only knowledgeable but is an excellent narrator and presenter making this valuable insight for anyone with an interest in the history of the period At a time when English history is being down scaled in schools and universities in order not to offend certain groups the English children and young people are being obbed of a central part of their heritage and identity Series like these are welcome and efreshing 455Over the years for one eason 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 epetition of Shakespeare at various levels of education and varied modes of entertainment has built up an instinctive ecognition 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 ubiuitous colonial monstrosity and the fact that everyone in the stories looks like me only explains the sticking of stories to my inherent ecall even 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 ChaucerShakespearean TragedyAustenEliotEvans that fickle fortune must indeed This was supposed to be a uick note of thanks to the author but it morphed into a eviewfangirl sueeovershare Enjoy Or not Dear Dr CastorI just finished your wonderful book SHE WOLVES The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth and had to write you to ave Also I m pretty annoyed at you because my book bill is about to go sky higher and frankly you might want to think about starting fundraisers for your eaders because I doubt I m the only one with this problemI 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 ead 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 eading 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 ight I couldn t believe the woman s courage audacity determination and focus So I started eading books about the Wars specifically to find out about Margaret though I also loved eading about Warwick losing his hit when King Edward had the audacity to a choose his own ueen and b be king Which is how I ended up with SHE WOLVESI 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 e eading all her favorite YA novels Remember eading the last Harry Potter book I emember 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 ight another graphic novel phase I go through about four a year Don t judge me Then Philippa Gregory s THE WHITE UEEN hit TV and eminded 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 otherOnce the TV show had un its course I emembered 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 ecommend 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 eason I bought the book in the first place Then I thought well Dr Castor is probably going somewhere with Matilda and Eleanor of Auitaine and Isabella of France I m embarrassed to admit I only knew of Eleanor from being played by Glenn Close in a emake and the only oyal 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 elevant 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 ight So maybe you had a plan when you included ueens 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 MargaretWhich 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 conuered Normandy but lost his son when a bunch of drunks tried to steer a ship through a ock which was probably the twelfth century euivalent of losing your kid to a party bus crash All that before we even. Fore Edward’s death Matilda daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conuerer came tantalisingly close to securing her hold on the power of the crown And between the 12th and the 15th centuries three exceptional women Eleanor of Auitaine Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou discovered as ueens consort and dowager how much was possible if.

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Got to Matilda who proved that her father didn t just pass the badass gene to his son And then Eleanor of Auitaine History should just ename her Eleanor Never To Be Messed With and get it over with She makes pretty much everyone who wasn t ueen of at least two countries look like a slack ass ueen 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 ueen of England Sure why not she got all her ueen 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 aoh 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 eligion on people I ve never met who ve never done me any harm so heeeeere s England Have fun unning the place The Crusade thing was annoying but as a mom I appreciated his no eally my mom can have whatever she wants including England so stop bugging me because I have to go epress another culture attitude Eleanor did in her last decade than I ve done in three which I should esent 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 iddled 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 enamed Isabella of Awesome So Isabella of Awesome got to watch her husbandking do the medieval euivalent 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 toyeah I can t finish that sentence without giggling But then Piers bit the big one courtesy of the medieval euivalent of high school teachers cracking down on kids passing notes they an him through and cut off his head That would teach King Edward II to pass notes Except it didn t ueen Isabella decided deja vu all over again wasn t acceptable so she put on the medieval euivalent of big girl panties and deposed King Weasel Face and arranged a nasty death for Hugh Despenser or as I call him Piers Gaveston 20 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 eason I bought your book Margaret of Anjou By then my 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 ealized 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 oyal 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 eason there isn t a book called SHE BITCH Why MaryJanice Davidson Should Never Have Been Allowed To Write Which brings me towell me I m fortunate enough to be published most of my books are omantic 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 ead the opposite of what I m writing So I d ask myself what is the literary opposite of a fluffy omantic comedy where everything works out perfectly for the feisty heroinemedieval English history Emphasis on ueens 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 and I have my fingers crossed you e taking a break from writing another wonderful book to ead this Scratch that I hope you e taking a break from finishing another wonderful book Like eading the galleys finished It s about to be published finished Because I m hooked and I ve got to have 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 egards MaryJanice DavidsonwwwmaryjanicedavidsonnetUNDEAD AND UNWARY October 201. The presumptions of male ule were not confronted so explicitlyThe 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 oyal power lie in female hand.

Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge She directed studies in History at Sidney for eight years before deciding to concentrate on writing history for a wider readership Her book Blood & Roses Faber 2004 published in revised form in the US by HarperCollins 2006 is a biography of the fifteenth century Paston family whose letters are