Read Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir Online


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 prIn 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.Praise for Alison WeirThe Lost Tudor Princess"This is a substantial, detailed biography of a fascinating woman who lived her extraordinary life to the full, taking desperate chances for love and for ambition. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in the powerful women of the Tudor period."--Philippa Gregory, The Washington Post"Weir balances historical data with emotional speculation to illuminate the ferocious dynastic ambitions and will to power that earned her subject a place in the spotlight."--The New York Times Book ReviewElizabeth of York"Weir tells Elizabeth's story well. . . . She is a meticulous scholar. . . . Most important, Weir sincerely admires her subject, doing honor to an almost forgotten queen."--The New York Times Book Review"In Weir's skillful hands, Elizabeth of York returns to us, full-bodied and three-dimensional. This is a must-read for Tudor fans!"--Historical Novels Review...

Title : Queens of the Conquest
Author :
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ISBN : 9781101966662
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 557 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Queens of the Conquest Reviews

  • Amalia Gavea
    2019-04-26 15:06

    Although I am an avid History reader, I always approach any Non-Fiction History books with caution, since we all know that no Historian (either professional or amateur) can be wholly objective, especially when it comes to biographies. Now, I can't claim to be much familiar with Alison Weir's work, but she comes highly recommended by trusted Goodreads friends and since the extraordinary queens in English History have always been a favourite subject of mine, I chose "Queens of the Conquest" eagerly. I wasn't disappointed. I found the book to be thoroughly researched and a satisfying read with only a few weak parts.The book narrates the lives of the queens of England after the Norman conquest in 1066 but doesn't include Emma of Normandy and Eleanor of Aquitaine (who is mentioned in the periphery, nonetheless) along with Isabella of France since Weir has written separate biographies of the two illustrious monarchs. So, our focus is on Matilda of Flanders of the Bayeux Tapestry fame, Matilda of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda of Boulogne, and my personal favourite, the Empress Maud. Weir stresses the fact that sources of information coming from monastic chronicles are difficult to be trusted. Think of the raiding Vikings and the horned helmets which was a fairy-tale way for the monks to refer to the Norsemen as the personification of the Devil. And it is to be expected that the views of the Church authorities about a woman in a position of full power were not favourable, to put it mildly. It is evident in her writing that Weir tries to create a balanced view of each queen by presenting the positive and the negative opinions of the time. She includes letters, chronicles and testimonials to paint a portrait of each woman that will be as rounded and objective as possible. In my opinion, she succeeds to the fullest and creates a vivid biography by providing background information about the era, the daily life, the castles, the clothes, the customs and beliefs. "And so it lasted till the land was all undone and darkened with such deeds; and men said openly that Christ and His Saints slept"The narration of the war between Maud and Stephen and the time of his reign which was called "The Anarchy" is the most fascinating moment of the book, in my opinion. Maud has always been one of my favourite queens along with Isabella of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine. I like the rebel queens who refused to be defined by their husbands and bend the knee. Maud is also one of the reason I love Follett's "The Pillars of the Earth" so much. Part 4 is a beauty. There we have the first years of Henry's reign in the shadow of his mother, Maud, and his wife, Eleanor.It is an era that most history buffs are very familiar with, an era that brought about so many changes not only in England but in the whole European continent. Another incident that attracted my attention was the complex, turbulent relationship between Matilda of Flanders and William the Conqueror. If the historical anecdotes are indeed accurate, then Matilda was an extremely courageous woman to put up with such a husband. Not that there were many means that women could use to defend themselves at the time, whether they were queens or peasants.The only weak part of the book, in my opinion, was the heavy inclusion of correspondence. Certainly, it helps us understand and realize that these historical figures that contributed in shaping Europe were people with fears, hopes, passions and incredible responsibilities on their shoulders. However, the Appendixes include the letters in their entirety. It became progressively tiresome to stop the narration in order to present quotes from the same letter again and again. Another thing that diminished my enjoyment was the plethora of syntactical and grammatical mistakes in my ARC. I hope and - believe that they will be corrected in the published book, because they are almost childish at parts and yes, I am a serious case of Grammar Nazi, I admit.Whether you are a connoisseur of the times of the Norman conquest and the monarchs that sealed England's future forever or whether you wish to become familiar with the lives of five of the most fascinating women to ever grace this continent in an era full of changes, fights and progress and all at the same time, this book will definitely satisfy your craving.Many thanks to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.

  • ☘Misericordia☘⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ❂❤❣
    2019-05-17 19:10

    I love how well-referenced and multilayered was the review of all the facts and myths, however fragmented by time. While it goes with the territory that the historian in question has to make certain assumptions, Weir never went out of hand with her deductions and tried to keep rooted in fact rather than fiction. And the fiction, it got to be heard in just such a way as not to prevent the factology from prevailing. A very well-balanced and properly researched study of medieval royal females. Another thing that I loved is how accessibly for a layperson the material is presented: terms explained, dates given, explanations provided. So anybody who's not a history buff with all the dates memorised by heart gets a chance to understand the context.Q: Few people in Norman times were ignorant of the story of Eve, who disobeyed God by tempting Adam, and so brought about the Fall of Man. Thanks to Eve, women were seen to be weak and foolish—but they also had power and might use it unwisely. The late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, however, saw a remarkable improvement in perceptions of women, with the spread of the cult of the Virgin Mary from the East to western Europe. This was due to various factors: returning crusaders, the preaching of great theologians like St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and the adoption of Mary by the new monastic Cistercian Order as their patron saint, although the dedication of many churches to Mary in eleventh-century Normandy shows that the mother of Jesus was already widely venerated there, as she had in fact been for centuries in the West. The cult was fostered by churchmen close to Henry I,3 who reigned from 1100 to 1135. As Mary came to be worshipped more widely for her virginal, maternal and wifely purity, and as the Queen of Heaven, so women who personified the Marian virtues were revered by society generally, and queens themselves, her earthly counterparts, began to be seen as the idealized mirror of the Virgin Mary, and to be invested with symbolic virginity. It has been suggested that queens came to be regarded as the earthly personification of the Virgin, just as kings were seen as vicars of Christ. Expectations of queenliness were therefore almost supernaturally high. (c)Q: It was seen as incumbent on a wife—and still more on a queen—to encourage her husband to patronize religious institutions and be charitable. In this period, every queen was a benefactress of the Church in one way or another, and most laid up treasure in Heaven for themselves or their loved ones by founding or endowing religious houses. In so doing, they not only sought the protection of the saints to whom these houses were dedicated, but also placed themselves at the forefront of the new monastic movements that dominated the age. Some queens became involved in debates about the burning spiritual issues of the day. All were expected to be the epitome of holy virtue. Wealth was deemed a privilege, and those who had it were expected to share it as alms with those less fortunate than themselves, thereby obtaining some spiritual benefit, since charity was an act of contrition that freed one from sin. Thus queens set aside money for their charities. They aided the poor and the sick, made offerings at shrines, and endowed or founded churches, religious houses and hospitals. Queens were the gentler face of monarchy, exercising a civilizing influence on their husbands, protecting their joint interests, taking compassion on the poor, the sick, widows, orphans and those in prison. They were applauded when they used their feminine influence to intercede with the King in favor of those facing a harsh fate, thus enabling him to rescind a decision without losing face. Many instances of queens using their influence probably went largely unrecorded, for a queen enjoyed a unique advantage over other petitioners due to her intimate relationship with the King. If she interceded with her husband it was usually in private, so it can be hard to assess the extent of it. The medieval ideal of queenship constrained her to a role that was essentially decorous, symbolic and dynastic. She was to be beautiful—officially, even if not in actuality—devout, fertile and kind: the traditional good queen.(c)Q: Agatha’s grieving mother and father may well have shared the sentiments of a contemporary Byzantine historian, Michael Psellus, whose oration on the death of his daughter proves that, even in an age of high infant mortality, the death of a child was mourned no less than it is now: “O my child, formerly so beautiful and now a frightful sight to see! Go then on that good eternal journey and rest in those heavenly places. Reveal yourself in our dreams as you were prior to your illness, bringing solace to our hearts. You will thus bring joy to your parents, and they may recover a little from this heavy sorrow. Nothing is stronger than Nature; nor is there anything more calamitous than the loss of a child.” (c)Q: From around 1080 to 1086, her youngest son, Henry, appears to have lived in England in the care of the saintly Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, a Norman nobleman who had taken holy orders and served as lord chancellor to the King, to whom he was related by marriage. It was probably under Osmund’s auspices that Henry received the excellent education that would stand him in good stead in later life. “The early years of instruction he passed in liberal arts, and thoroughly imbibed the sweets of learning.” Possibly, since he was the youngest son, he was intended for a career in the Church, for which education was primarily regarded as a preparation. In an age in which kings were illiterate, Henry even learned to read and write Latin, and from the fourteenth century was nicknamed “Beauclerc” because of his famed literary skills. As he grew up, he often quoted, “in his father’s hearing, the proverb, ‘An illiterate king is a crowned ass.’ ” William did not take offense. “Observing his son’s disposition, the King never omitted any means of cherishing his lively prudence; and once, when he had been ill-used by one of his brothers, and was in tears, he spirited him up by saying, ‘Weep not, my boy, you too will be a king.’  (c)Q: thus:No prosperous state did make her glad,Nor adverse chances made her sad.If Fortune frowned, she then did smile,If Fortune smiled, she feared the while.If beauty tempted, she said nay,No pride she took in sceptre’s sway.She only high her self debased,A lady only fair and chaste. (c)Q: When the King had a bath, the ewerer received 4d. except on the great feasts of the year, which suggests that royalty bathed regularly—although how often is not known. In the early twelfth century King John had eight baths a year. (c)Q: Later it would become customary for queens to be attended only by women during their confinements, setting a trend that would see men banished from birthing chambers for centuries, but in this period it was acceptable for male physicians to be in attendance, although it was recommended that they avoided looking the mother in the face, as women “were accustomed to be shamed by that during and after birth.” (c)Q: The chroniclers struggled with the young lady’s name, giving it variously as Adeliza, Adelid(a), Adelicia, Adela, Adala, Adelaide, Adelheite, Adeline, Adelina, Aeliz, Aethelice, Aleyda, Alice, Alicia, Aaliz and Adelidis. To Flemish and Provençal poets, she was Alise, Adelais or “Alix la Belle.” (c)Q: In 1119, Henry had celebrated the marriage of his heir, William, to Mahaut of Anjou, and in 1120 he created him duke of Normandy. The young Duke was no unifier of peoples like his father; he was heard to boast, “When I am king, I will yoke the English like oxen to the plow.” His future subjects were spared such a fate. (c)Q: ... Blanche-Nef—the White Ship... “No ship was ever productive of so much misery. None was ever so notorious in the history of the world.” (c)Q: To compensate Bishop Roger, the King had invited him to perform the ceremony, and the wily Bishop began the service early in the morning, hoping to preempt the Archbishop. But the avenging Primate tottered in halfway through the proceedings, just as the Queen had been crowned and Bishop Roger had placed the king’s crown on Henry’s head. The Archbishop promptly snatched it off, and put it on again with his own hands before re-crowning Adeliza, but then collapsed with exhaustion and had to ask Bishop Roger to complete the service after all. Adeliza maintained her dignity, her “beauty dazzling her diadem.” (c)Q: The earliest known English carving of the coronation of the Virgin Mary was found at Reading Abbey, suggesting that the King and his family were devotees of the spreading cult of Mary.Q: Maud was now twenty-three, and of striking appearance. She had German manners and probably spoke Norman French with a German accent, in a deep, masculine voice. By all accounts, the prudent and gracious young girl beloved by the Emperor’s subjects had matured into a formidable character, confident, unbending and independent-minded—“a young woman of clear understanding and masculine firmness.” The sympathetic William of Malmesbury, to whom Maud was patron, referred to her as a “virago,” which then meant a female warrior or courageous heroine, and had not yet acquired its modern sense of being domineering, scolding or shrewish. Other chroniclers mentioned Maud’s masculine stridency. She “had the nature of a man in the frame of a woman.” Her enemy Arnulf, Bishop of Lisieux, wrote that she was an “intrepid spirit” but “had nothing of the woman in her.” The virulently hostile anonymous author of the Gesta Stephani, the chronicle history of the deeds of King Stephen, stated that she was “always superior to feminine softness.” Indefatigable, brave, tenacious and resourceful, she was in many respects her father’s daughter. William of Malmesbury wrote admiringly that she resembled him in her energy, her iron will and her fortitude, “and her mother in sanctity. Piety and assiduity vied with each other in her character, nor was it easy to discern which of her good qualities was most commendable.”(c)Q: One of the works of the Neoplatonist philosopher Bernard of Chartres was dedicated to Maud by a pupil of his, who clearly thought that she would appreciate Bernard’s teaching that reality is composed of three invisible, immutable principles: God, ideas and matter. It was he who coined the saying, “We are dwarfs astride the shoulders of giants.” (c)Q: In agreeing to free Maud and let her go to Robert in Bristol, instead of responding repressively “after the fashion of his ancestors,” Stephen had again displayed a fateful lack of judgment that one chronicler thought “incredible.” He had been “very foolish” and in so doing bore the responsibility for the violence that followed. (c)Q: Stephen was no Henry I, who had ruled by brute force, and Maud was no politician or diplomat. In the absence of a strong ruler and effective central government, chaos began to reign. (c)Q: Yet criticism of her hauteur came not only from antagonistic sources, but also from those who were pro-Angevin, which argues that it was well founded. (c)Q: To excuse his and others’ initial support for Stephen, he put his own tactful spin on the events that had followed the King’s death, asserting that, “because it seemed tedious to wait for the lady, who made delays in coming to England, since her residence was in Normandy, thought was made for the peace of the country, and my brother allowed to reign.” (c)Q: Acting again as a femme sole, with no nod to her married status, Maud would from now on normally style herself “Anglorum Domina” (Lady of the English), Empress or Queen of the Romans, and “daughter of King Henry,” to emphasize the legitimacy of her title. It was not the custom of the Norman rulers of England to style themselves king until they had been crowned, for their sovereignty was only conferred by that sacred act and sanctified by the anointing with holy oil. A drawing of a lost seal attached to a charter Maud gave Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1141 shows her as “Queen of the English”; if an authentic copy, it may have been a seal made in anticipation of her coronation. Nevertheless the word “Domina” made it clear that Maud exercised dominion and power over the people, and we are told that “she gloried in being so called.” (c)Q: “The people of London were then in grievous trouble.” They watched in impotent terror as the outlying suburbs were “stripped before their eyes and reduced by the enemy’s ravages as a habitation for the hedgehog, and there was no one ready to help them. That new lady of theirs was going beyond the bounds of moderation and sorely oppressing them. They had no hope that in time to come she would have bowels of mercy for them, seeing that, at the very beginning of her reign, she had no pity on her subjects, and demanded what they could not bear.” (c)Q: Maud rode to Rouen, where, by the autumn, she had been reunited with her husband and sons. After being apart for nine years, she and Geoffrey did not resume married life, although they remained allies, resolved to press Henry FitzEmpress’s claim to England.Maud took up residence in the palace built by Henry I at Quevilly, which lay to the south of the city in his hunting park on the left bank of the Seine. Here she set up her court, with her own household knights, administrative clerks and chaplains. She came to rely on the monks of nearby Notre-Dame de Pré for spiritual support and intellectual conversation, and often retreated to the lodgings they kept for her in their guesthouse, living among them as if she was a member of their community, and growing increasingly pious as she aged. (c)Q: Matilda also gave an acre of land for an anchorhold to house a holy nun, Helmid, near Faversham Abbey. (c)Q: By now Geoffrey had earned the nickname “Plantagenet” after the broom flower (planta genista) he customarily wore in his hat. The dynasty he founded was to be known by that name. (c)Q: In 1153, Henry’s men and Stephen’s refused to engage in battle, which says much for the general desire to end the war. That August, with the two sides shouting terms across the River Thames, a treaty was agreed at Wallingford, which provided that, on Stephen’s death, Henry would succeed to the throne of England, restoring the succession to the descendants of Henry I. Henry, for his part, was to pay homage to Stephen and keep the peace for the rest of the King’s life. This brought an end to the civil war. (с)Q: Only then would Maud endorse the agreement at Wallingford being enshrined in the new Treaty of Westminster, which was signed in November, and in which she merited a mention only as “the mother of the Duke.” She had lost her battles, but her son had won the war, and the crown was to return to the rightful royal line. (c)Q: In a manuscript dedicated to the new King, Robert of Cricklade wrote of Maud’s triumph: “In our age there is one woman, daughter and wife of a king, who has seen her son become a most powerful king, and—what is even more wonderful—each of them has the name of Henry.” This was the way in which Maud would now be remembered and celebrated—not for her deeds, or her failings, but as the woman who had transmitted the legitimate right to rule to her descendants. Before Henry left for his new kingdom, he went to Rouen and took counsel of his mother, now the respected and vindicated matriarch of the new dynasty, and his brothers. Walter Map, a witty observer of the period, did not like Maud, calling her partly good, but mostly evil. He asserted that his master’s unpleasant character traits were the fault of his mother’s teachings. She had urged him to “spin out all the affairs of everyone, hold long in his own hand all posts that fell in, take the revenues of them, and keep the aspirants to them hanging on in hope. She supported this advice by an unkind analogy: an unruly hawk, if meat is offered to it and then snatched away or hid, becomes keener and more inclinably obedient and attentive.” She had also enjoined that Henry “ought to be much in his chamber and little in public. He should never confer anything on anyone at the recommendation of any person, unless he had seen and learnt about it.” To this advice, Map groused, she added “much more of the worst kind,” including the injunction to be “free in bed, infrequent in business.” In fact, Maud gave Henry wise counsel, and he took good heed of it. From now on, though, he would increasingly act independently of his mother, although he still relied on her, and delegated to her, when the occasion required. (c)Q:

  • Matt
    2019-05-07 19:27

    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. Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

  • Emma
    2019-05-27 18:09

    3.5 starsWhile meticulously researched, this book suffered from a lack of focus. Ostensibly it aimed to reveal the lives of the five Norman Queens, but the dearth of direct extant evidence means that it was more generalised history than truly revelatory biography. We see something of the women, but almost as much about the men in their periphery and about the wider society in which they lived. Perhaps my dissatisfaction here is simply a matter of preference, I wanted a sharper look at the specific female experience. As a result, I was less invested and as the writing style was often bitty, the overall experience of the book suffered. Interesting, but not as good as I hoped.ARC via Netgalley

  • Lori Lamothe
    2019-05-19 16:26

    In "Queens of the Conquest," Alison Weir chronicles the tumultuous lives of five medieval queens historians have mostly ignored. Her meticulously researched book begins in 1066 with Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, and ends in 1154 with Empress Maud, an “intrepid spirit” who fought to rule England. Despite a relative scarcity of information, Weir reconstructs a tale of murder, love, ambition, rivalry, treason, adultery and betrayal. Each queen’s story is filled with details that give readers a vivid sense of the women and the times they lived in. Weir’s talent as a novelist is evident, but her rigor as a historian is also impressive. Queens of the Conquest is filled with child brides, shipwrecks, castles and court intrigue, but it also contains more than a hundred pages of supplementary material, including sources, maps and letters. Perhaps most notable is Weir’s ability to portray the queens as strong, intelligent women without romanticizing them or subjecting them to present-day standards. Matilda of Flanders initially refused William the Conqueror’s proposal because he was a “bastard son,” only to relent after he beat her so severely she took to her bed to recover. It would be easy to dismiss her change of heart as an example of women’s subjugation or to assign it to a weakness in character. Weir does neither. While she does make the inferior position of women clear, she never lapses into polemics. Citing a primary source, she records that Matilda told her astonished father she would marry no one but William, “for he must be a man of great courage and high daring who could venture to come and beat me in my own father’s palace.” Matilda soon became William’s most trusted confidant and would rule as regent in his absence on many occasions. When she secretly supported their rebellious son, William railed against the betrayal of the woman “whom I love as my very soul” but did not punish her. I’ve already spent too much time on Matilda of Flanders, in part because her section was my favorite, but also because it is easy to get caught up in each woman’s tale. At a time when queens were valued primarily as breeders of future kings, these women proved they were far more than that. Maltilda of Scotland, whisked from a nunnery to marry Henry I, garnered criticism for surrounding herself with too many musicians, poets and scholars. Queen Adeliza was known for her beauty and her patronage of the arts. Empress Maud, who was married off and sent overseas at eight years old, went on to lead a rebellion against King Stephen in hopes of gaining the throne. Stephen’s queen, Matilda of Boulogne, in turn led her own rebellion to restore her husband to power while he was imprisoned in chains. The women’s stories, however, aren’t the only ones I’ll remember. Weir’s depiction of the plight of their English subjects is also moving. The five queens witnessed (and, in some instances, caused) famine, torture and war. Subjects were hung upside down, castrated, flayed and had their eyes put out. Villages were burned and lands plundered, often at the behest of the ruling class. While I can’t say I enjoyed these passages, I’m grateful to Weir for documenting them. "Queens of the Conquest" is the first of a four-book series about the medieval queens, one which will undoubtedly appeal to fans of British history. My only caveat is that the book may not win over readers looking purely for historical drama (if you’re looking for that, read one of Weir’s excellent novels). It’s a dense book, rich with facts, so at times it can be a bit slow going. I admit to skimming all the supplementary material and to occasionally confusing the four (four!) Matildas. On the flip side, gaps in the historical record may bother other readers. There are few pictorial representations of the women, no diaries, and fewer primary sources than exist for later rulers. That said, Weir has done a remarkable job of bringing these women to life. I thoroughly enjoyed "Queens of the Conquest" and plan on reading the next installment.

  • BAM The Bibliomaniac
    2019-05-04 16:26

    A great thank you to Ms. Alison Weir, Ballantine Books, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.I'm ecstatic about Weir's new Queen series with the first two novels released: Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. So when I heard of a new nonfiction release book one in a series I jumped at the chance to review it. Weir is s touchstone of British history, with in depth research and a fluid narrative style. All of her books I have read, both fiction and nonfiction, have been written with meticulous care of the facts as well as a high entertainment value.So starting out I’m reminded that everyone is named Matilda. I’ve always found this era so confusing and rarely read about it. But Weir does a stellar job at separating the queens to minimize this effect. Although the timelines, of course, do overlap it’s easy to tell everyone apart by distinction. The majority of the book delves into the Anarchy period, mostly, I’m sure, because that’s the heaviest documented. This was an exceptional educational experience for me. I knew little about the Anglo- Saxon queens. This was perfectly researched and written in a narrated style, so it was easily enjoyed. I didn’t want to put the book down. I look forward to the next in the series.

  • Kim
    2019-05-19 18:04

    Alison Weir's book about Eleanor of Aquitane was fascinating, so I can't wait to read this story of five medieval queens. On a personal note, I had just finished reading Weir's book about Eleanor of Aquitane before a job interview many years ago. The interviewer asked who I would invite to dinner if I could invite three people living or dead to share a meal. One of the three I listed was Eleanor of Aquitane. I got the job! I can't wait to get this book and read it.

  • Caidyn (BW Book Reviews; he/him/his)
    2019-05-03 18:19

    This review and others can be found on BW Book Reviews.I received this book from Netgalley for an honest review.Buckle in children. This is going to be a long review. I'm half tempted to get my APA ass out and do sections since my outline for this is just about three pages long, and that's not including quotes (although since this is an ARC, quotes are likely to change and I should check to make sure they're in the published version by my lazy ass will not) and me going into more detail.My review structure is going to be pretty simple. Weir broke this into five sections and there are, technically, only four queens. I'm just going to sort of go with her sections. Also, head's up. 4/5 queens are named Matilda. I'm sorry. Please imagine me trying to read this behemoth and keep all the names straight. Weir actually changed one of the queens known to history as Matilda to Maud so she wouldn't confuse people as much."The Queen of England occupied a powerful and socially desirable position. Her status was reflected in every aspect of the ritual and ceremonial that surrounded her and governed her life; and she would have been aware of the weight of responsibility that brought with it. A queen had to be the embodiment of piety, beyond reproach morally, the guardian of the royal bloodline, a gentle and moderate mediator in the conflicts of men and a helpmeet to her husband. Her virtue was exemplified by her chastity and humility, her charity and her acts of mercy."Matilda of Flanders"Though often apart, [Matilda and William] clearly worked in unison for the general benefit of their realms, and trusted each other."Before this book, I sadly hadn't heard of the first Matilda. However, I know a lot about her husband, William the Conqueror. Really, Matilda was really the first modern queen. She made the model of how queens should act throughout time. She was a fantastic leader, helping her husband while also being a regent in Normandy with her son. The quarrels that William had with his eldest were straightened out by her. She was a religious leader and founded so many places, bringing her own children in as nuns. As I said, she was a good mother and took care of her children. She was a patron to so many different places, religious and otherwise. Really, Matilda is a woman to be admired since she succeeded in a very modern way in a male-dominated world. Personally, I loved her and definitely want to read more books about her.The only thing was her marriage to William. It was a bit fucked up. I mean, she didn't want to marry him so he came and beat her up, then she said she wanted to marry him for that reason. I thought it was great propaganda but really fucked up.Matilda of Scotland"Chronicles would call the new Queen 'the second Matilda'; like the first, she set an example of devout queenship that would be emulated by her successors."Another Matilda. Technically, her name was Edith and when she married Henry I her name got changed. I thought that she modeled herself after her mother-in-law and her own mother. She was extremely religious in nature, washing the sick's feet. It made me wonder whether that queenly tradition started with her.However, this part wasn't exactly about her. There was a big controversy before her marriage that took up her time. Then there was a huge part of the Investiture Controversey where she took the side against her husband, then had to try to warm him up. There was a bit of stage setting for the eventual civil war between Maud (who will come later) and Stephen.Weir also made some claims that she didn't follow up on. Such as, her being oppressive in taxation. It was mentioned quite a few times, yet never followed up. Weir focused more on her religiosity. She was friends with Anselm of Canterbury, who's pretty famous for his proof for God. As I said earlier, she mixed in on the controversy over who has the right to invest bishops with their titles. When she died, she almost became a saint. Pretty impressive, right?Adeliza of Louvain"Adeliza would be remembered as 'the May withouten vice.' She was young and untried, and was to play virtually no public role in politics."If there was ever an antithesis to the first two queens, this was it. When Matilda of Scotland died, Henry I remarried to Adeliza. Her whole point was to produce more legitimate children. With Matilda of Scotland, he had two children. He had tons of illegitimate children as well. Adeliza did not have any children with Henry I and, even worse, Henry lost his only son and had to settle his heir on a woman, Maud, who had been married to the Holy Roman Emperor and stayed in the Germanic territories until he died and left her a widow.This section wasn't about Adeliza, quite honestly. This section was setting the stage by explaining who Stephen was or about Maud. She never did anything religious as a queen and she wasn't involved in government. The later section actually talked more about her. With her second husband, she had children. Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard actually claim her as a descendant through those children. In her second marriage, she also created religious houses and issued charters.Matilda of Boulogne and Empress Maud"The energetic Queen Matilda proved a formidable political opponent to the Empress. The two women had much in common: both were strong characters, heiresses with royal Saxon blood and nieces of King David of Scots. Both were married to forceful, acquisitive men, and ambitious for their sons."This last real section combined both the queens involved in the civil war. After Henry I died, Maud was supposed to inherit the throne. However, she was with her husband (more on him later) and Stephen jumped at the chance and took the throne. From there, it turned into a civil war.Henry really undermined Maud's cause, honestly. I think she would have made a great queen and the toils of war were what caused her to act as she did. First, he married her off to a man eleven years younger than her without getting support from anyone in England. Second, he never involved her in politics. Third, she had to spend time with her husband rather than be in England to make a presence. So, she got fucked over. When she was in the war, the English largely viewed her as haughty and that she was pretending to be a man since she came to England as a woman alone. Her husband never supported her, but tried to win Normandy. She was literally alone and trying to navigate a poltical field that she had never been brought into. So, to me, Weir's comment in the last chapter about Maud acting this way because of menopause was absolutely absurd. She was stressed out. Of course you do stupid things when you're stressed out. Furthermore, why can't you take a feminist reading. This is the time period when men's domination over women was being formalized and it's certainly down to the Bible and tradition that she was seen as unfit.So, to me, Weir's comment in the last chapter about Maud acting this way because of menopause was absolutely absurd. She was stressed out. Of course you do stupid things when you're stressed out. Furthermore, why can't you take a feminist reading. This is the time period when men's domination over women was being formalized and it's certainly down to the Bible and tradition that she was seen as unfit.It was obvious that Matilda favored Maud, even though she treated both women evenly. Matilda was in about the same state as Maud, but she was backed up by her husband. She ruled while he fought. While Maud was seen as usurping her femaleness, Matilda was viewed as a queen ought to be. I think this quote sums it up better:"In the eyes of male contemporaries, [Maud] had behaved in an imperious, unwomanly fashion, while at the same time manifesting the weaknesses of her sex. Queen Matilda, on the other hand, had shown herself as tough and thrusting as Maud, and men had praised her 'manly courage,' yet she had retained support because she acted in Stephen's name, and won sympathy because she had to act alone while he was imprisoned."Maud made the same mistakes Stephen made, yet they were interpreted differently through history. Her mistakes were because she was a woman unused to doing this. Stephen made these mistakes because they were an accident. Maud just didn't have anyone to help her out like Matilda did.My concluding thoughts are that this book is good, but focused a lot on men or people other than some of the queens. Perhaps this book would have been better as separate biographies on the women, not like they were. The ending totally pissed me off and left me with a bad taste in my mouth since I definitely think it's appropriate to read history through a feminist lens.

  • Orsolya
    2019-05-19 14:29

    The queens and mistresses of English history are no strangers to the modern spotlight. However, this fascination tends to begin with the Plantagenet period and leaves the women of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman Conquest living in a shadow. Alison Weir aims to bring some attention to these vivacious female figures in, “Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens”.Alison Weir takes a step in a different direction from her usual repertoire by focusing “Queens of the Conquest” on the Norman period of English history rather than her usual Plantagenet, Tudor, and some Stuart focus. Weir immediately makes it clear that her work is not to be taken as a strict academic, scholarly piece and serves more as a narrative introduction into the lives of Matilda of Flanders, Matilda (Edith) of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda of Boulogne, and the Empress Maud.Weir divides “Queens of the Conquest” chronologically with each section focusing on one woman at a time but also highlighting the interwoven connections. Initially, readers may be a bit apprehensive as Weir kicks off the text with speculative “could have” and “would have”- statements akin to her recent, lighter history pieces that have clearly been targeting the ‘Average Joe’/pop history crowd. However, that aside, Weir does slip back into her old ways with heavy research and sleuth work. Yes, some of the chapters are flimsier than others being that source materials concerning the queens of this period are not numerous (and thus, not Weir’s sole fault); yet, Weir successfully presents lesser-known facts and information which are both entertaining and informative even to those familiar with the period and figures. “Queens of the Conquest” is very easy-to-read but again, is also quite informative. Both novice and informed readers will find it useful. That being said, there are a couple errors that an editor somehow missed and Weir has a habit of going off on thick tangents which can be skipped. Weir, as her readers will attest, likes to present details and all surrounding information which is great, in the sense of truly getting a ‘feel’ for the period/events; but also drags the pace and lessens the focus on the actual subject at hand. “Queens of the Conquest” would be shorter in length, had the volume been condensed.As “Queens of the Conquest” progresses, the text gets stronger and more cohesive. This may be due to more source material available or more confidence on Weir’s part (perhaps a bit of both); but whatever the cause: it results in a stronger reading. Speaking of length, although “Queens of the Conquest” numbers into the 500-page count; Weir composes short chapters which lessens the opportunity for readers to become overwhelmed. The final quarter of “Queens of the Conquest” portraits the dramatic interactions between the Empress Maud/Geoffrey Plantagenet and King Stephen/Matilda of Boulogne giving the text an exciting boost and making for a history lesson filled with intrigue and heightened readability. It’s obvious this is where Weir felt the most comfort in her coverage, as it comes through the pages. Weir fortifies “Queens of the Conquest” with block quotes and primary documents helping to strengthen the text. Also notable is the absence of biases and snarky comments which have made appearances in recent Weir works (and have no place in NF history). Luckily, Weir opted out this time around.The conclusion of “Queens of the Conquest” is nuanced with emotive power without being ‘cheesy’ or too much like a eulogy. Basically, Weir ends on a solid note.“Queens of the Conquest” includes two appendices consisting of a list/explanation of chronicle sources and original letters in full which truly offers readers glimpses into not only the beauty of letter-writing and education of the period but also into the minds of the letter authors. Weir also features a bibliography, brief notes (not heavily annotated), and a section of photo color plates.Weir’s “Queens of the Conquest” is a directional look into the lives of queens not oft-mentioned and does present readers with a new, refreshing view of the period. The writing is readable not being heavily scholarly and academic in tone but still brings forth abundant information. “Queens of the Conquest” is recommended for readers interested in the queenship of English history.**Note: My rating for “Queens of the Conquest” would be a solid 3.5. In lieu of half-stars, I rounded up to 4, generously.**

  • Ceri Fowler
    2019-05-26 15:28

    Being a massive Tudors geek, I’ve read and enjoyed lots of Alison Weir’s work before so I was really happy when I was offered this book to review. I love to read a good history and I was especially interested in this for its focus on the women rather than the men of the conquest (we have enough books about 1066!).Alison Weir is the biggest-selling female historian in the UK and this book tells us once again why that is so. It’s the first of a planned quartet about the Medieval Queens of England; this volume begins with Matilda of Flanders in 1066 and takes us through to the life of the Empress Maud. Weir describes the lives of the Queens as having “all the elements of the historical soap opera” and, after reading, this perfectly encapsulates both the positives and negatives of the book as I found it. The lives of the Queens are dramatic and full of intrigue and the source material from which the narrative is built is undoubtedly exciting. However, the source material is also scant in places and, in order to build a narrative account rather than a dry academic essay, Weir is forced to make assumptions or educated guesses about the queens – some sections are frustratingly full of phrases such as “it is likely that” rather than offering the reader any certainty. This is my only criticism as I thoroughly enjoyed the book.The style is, as ever with Weir’s work, lively and engaging and despite the distance of time and struggle with sources I felt that she successfully pulled back the veil of history and gave a true insight into the lives of these Queens: the “beautiful and noble” Matilda of Flanders, who was repeatedly the regent of Normandy for her husband, William the Conqueror; Matilda of Scotland, the first Queen of Henry I, who loved literature, founded hospitals and was “renowned for her goodness”; Adeliza “the fair maid” of Louvain, the second Queen of Henry I, who remarried after Henry’s death and was a distant ancestor of one of my favourite Queens of England, the infamous Anne Boleyn; Matilda of Boulogne, wife of Stephen, who proved a key player and worthy opponent for none other than the Empress Maud, sole daughter of Henry I, who was the heir to the English throne in her own right.The last pairing was the most interesting part of the narrative. A story so dominated by two women in a period of war is unusual in British History and I was completely drawn in. Weir’s talent for description meant I could imagine, for example, the Empress Maud fleeing from the siege of Oxford through the deep snow, dressed in white to camouflage herself in the blizzard. The clever use of sources to describe this incident and others, while maintaining a coherent narrative, is the best feature of the book and I was left wanting to know more about the period and the time, which is a high recommendation. I will eagerly await the remaining three books in the series and would thoroughly recommend it to all fans of history.

  • lacy [a ravenclaw library]
    2019-05-17 19:10

    I received this ebook in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley. Many thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. Let it be know that the opinions expressed down below are my own and were not influenced by being given this book. Alison Weir is a gifted biographer. She is easily one of my insta-buy authors. I don't even have to read what the book is about to know that I will buy whatever she writes. She brings monarchs that are known and monarchs that aren't known to life. She manages to write in such a way that she gets all the information across but it's not boring. This was a biography of five different queens and I felt like I got to know each one personally, which is really tough to do. This book has made me want to go research more about this dynamic queens and I learned a lot. I will admit that I thought this book was going to be more of a novel based, kind of like Weir'sKatharine of Aragon. It wasn't but in a way, I was glad. I feel like if it had been read like that, we would have lost a lot of information. And there was a lot packed into this 400 page book. I also really liked that this series is going to be split into four parts. That gives more space for information and it doesn't become overburdened. The beginning Queens did so much and it would have been a shame for them to not be given their proper page time. Each and every Queen deserves to have their time to shine.Alison Weir really put in work to find out everything she could about the Queens. I feel that everything was very carefully researched and properly annotated. Even the information that hazy at best was given in such a way that I wasn't frustrated that it was guest work (which is a common thing for me), which was the case for the first couple of Queens. The use of letters was a nice touch as well. Overall, I couldn't be more happy with my first Netgalley ARC approval. Alison Weir is gifted in the historical nonfiction and biography field. I feel that she loves what she writes and that makes me love what she writes. I should give a slight warning by saying this is a dense book. This really should be read by those that are utterly fascinated with history, like I am. However, I also feel that if you are wanting to learn more about the earlier Queens, this could also be a good book for you to start at.

  • Adrienne Dillard
    2019-05-21 20:22

    Schemers and dreamers; sinners and saints - the five queens depicted in this new biography by prolific writer, Alison Weir, could lay claim to each of those descriptors and many more. In this ambitious work, Weir probes the lives of the women who helped lay the foundations of England as we know it. In doing so, she brings to life the intrigues that shaped their world.I've always preferred Weir's narrative non-fiction over her novels and Queens of the Conquest proved true to form. She makes heavy subject matter interesting and engaging. True, it is difficult to keep the Matilda's straight (there are three queens, plus the several daughters named for them), but that's to be expected in the era covered and it detracts in no way from the story-line.In an effort to include all existing information on the queens, Weir often posits conflicting information regarding the details of their lives - number of children, personalities, events, etc. There is also quite a bit of conjecture - Queen so-and-so could have, possibly, perhaps. While I would normally reject so much unprovable content, it is to be expected in a work covering such early years. This time period was nearly a century ago, it's not surprising that so little can be said with absolute certainty. This is the time period I know least about, so I can't comment at all upon the accuracy, but this work seems to have much more comprehensive reference notes than I've seen from Weir in the past. Hopefully, this is a new trend. Queens of the Conquest is a worthy read and I look forward to future installments coming in this series.

  • Helen
    2019-05-12 21:23

    In Alison Weir's new non-fiction book, Queens of the Conquest, she explores the lives of the five queens of England who followed the Norman Conquest of 1066. These five, in the order they appear in the book, are Matilda of Flanders (wife of William the Conqueror), Matilda of Scotland and Adeliza of Louvain (the two wives of Henry I), Matilda of Boulogne (wife of King Stephen), and the Empress Maud, Henry I's daughter, who was never actually crowned but called herself Lady of the English. Lots of Matildas, then – Maud is also referred to in many sources as Matilda – but with each queen discussed chronologically (apart from where their stories overlap), things aren’t as confusing as you might imagine!Apart from Maud, whom I have read about several times in fiction, I knew very little about the other queens whose stories are covered in this book. Considering the general lack of information available to us today – we don't even have a clear idea of what these women looked like due to the absence of contemporary portraits – I think Weir still does a good job of providing as full and comprehensive an account of each queen's life as she possibly could. There is inevitably a lot of padding – facts about medieval life, descriptions of castles and long passages quoted from letters – but if you don't know a lot about the period, most of this should still be of interest.I can't really comment on the historical accuracy of this book as my own knowledge is very limited, but Weir does provide references to back up most of what she says. In fact, the additional material which includes the references, sources, maps etc takes up about a quarter of the book! There are still times, though, when she is forced to speculate and make assumptions about how one of the queens may have felt or behaved, and resorts to using words like 'probably' or 'possibly'. Usually I prefer more certainty when I'm reading non-fiction, but in this case, I do understand that with the primary sources being so sparse, some guesswork was necessary to round out the characters of the queens and to make this into an entertaining read rather than a dry textbook. The most enjoyable part of the book for me was the section describing the period of civil war known as the Anarchy during which Maud (who was named as her father Henry I's heir) and Matilda of Boulogne (whose husband, Stephen, was Henry I's nephew and another claimant to the throne) found themselves on opposite sides. As I've read several novels which have this period as a setting, it was good to read a factual account this time instead of a fictional one, while still recognising some of the most interesting episodes, such as Maud's escape in the snow from the besieged Oxford Castle.Maud certainly didn't seem to have made herself very popular, having a reputation for being proud, haughty and arrogant, but I have always assumed that this was probably due to the prejudice of the male chroniclers of the time against a female ruler who didn't behave the way they expected a woman to behave. Weir points out that Matilda of Boulogne often acted in a similar way but her actions were seen as acceptable because she was taking them on behalf of her husband, King Stephen, rather than for herself, but she also suggests that Maud's overbearing attitude and poor decision-making may have been due to mood swings caused by early menopause or a long-term illness she suffered following childbirth. This was the one place where I thought there may have been some bias creeping in, as Weir clearly seems to like Matilda of Boulogne much more than the Empress – and I couldn't help wondering what caused the aggression and lack of judgement of some of the kings mentioned in the book! I was also interested to read the various theories and legends behind Matilda of Flanders' marriage to William the Conqueror and the controversies surrounding Matilda of Scotland's marriage to Henry I (she had previously spent some time in a convent so it was debatable whether or not she was free to marry). I felt that I learned very little about Adeliza, though; while she is described as being particularly beautiful and helping to promote the arts, it seemed that she had less power and political significance than the other queens.Although I sometimes felt that too much time was devoted to the general history of the period when I would have preferred more analysis of the specific lives and characters of the five queens, I did find Queens of the Conquest a fascinating read. Apparently this is just the first of four volumes which will take us through the rest of the medieval queens to the end of the Wars of the Roses. I will be looking out for the next one.

  • Sara
    2019-05-21 19:10

    Queens of the Conquest or a tale of several women named Matilda. Matilda 1 - of Flanders. My favorite of the Matildas. She was married to William the Conqueror and they, by all accounts, had a very loving, devoted, and equal partnership. While doing all of what was expected of a queen: being pious, begetting a bunch of heirs, and was in general all around good human, she also built a bunch of religious houses and hospitals, served in her husband's absence, and dispensed political wisdom and judgement on the same par. She was the perfect queen.Matilda 2- of Scotland. Originally named Edith, she grew up a princess of Scotland, the daughter of a Saxon queen. Her marriage to Henry I, son of William and Matilda 1, was seen as a melding of the old Saxon blood and new Norman rule. But she needed to get rid of that pesky Saxon name because only Matildas are queen around here. After managing to survive a childhood in Scotland and pretending to be a nun, Matilda 2 was a worthy successor.Not-Matilda - Adeliza of Louvain. When Matilda 2 died, Henry needed a new wife because heirs. His heir (and a few illegitimate children) drowned in the White Ship sinking leaving a daughter (spoilers: her name was Matilda) as heiress. Adeliza, not being named Matilda was not trusted. She did not provide heirs or advice and her section of the book is rather small. After she is made queen dowager, she later remarries and has children with her second husband.Matilda 3 - Henry I and Matilda 2's daughter was married off quite young to the Holy Roman Emperor. When she went to her new homeland, she was given the German equivalent of Matilda and Weir keeps to that name because we're already dealing with several queens named Matilda and everyone had at least one daughter with the name. Matilda 3 was made a widow early and went back to her homeland, which she barely knew. Her father wanted her to become the next ruler, but he also married his 25-year-old daughter off to a 13-year-old ruler of a duchy that was known as aggressive and hated. Matilda 3 was a smart woman and most chronicles from her era talk of how smart and capable she was, but...she was a woman. And that would not do.Matilda 4- of Boulogne. The last Matilda in our group was married to Stephen of Blois, who decided his cousin was way to womanly to inherit the throne and threw away his oath to usurp the throne. Matilda 4 followed her husband and took the role of queen during this tumultuous time.Matildas 3 and 4 had a great amount of overlap in their sections. While presenting the information well, I'm don't necessarily agree with Weir's take of Matilda 3 as cruel, oblivious to the situation around her, and refusing to accept her fate. Overall, a good look into the first Norman queens of England.

  • Leslie
    2019-05-15 15:18

    This book is truly on the edge of a knife for me, at 2.5 stars and I'm extremely tempted to round down to 2. but parts of it were better than others and I know I have an inherent bias against this author, so I'll bend over backwards to be fair.I am relieved that Ms. Weir has stopped (for now) trying to write full-length biographies of women about whom there is so little known that she ends up having to add a lot of speculation and filler about the times, the women’s male relatives, etc. She is still sloppy at sourcing (a throwaway remark about Edward the Confessor having been an albino was given no explanation, has virtually no support anywhere, and could easily have been just left out), and sometimes her touching faith in the accuracy of at least some of the chroniclers seems just too naive for belief. I got a huge chuckle from this one: "[Adeliza of Louvaine, Henry I's second wife] must have been remarkably beautiful, given their ecstatic praise. One called her 'a lovely woman,' another a 'young woman of great beauty and modesty.'" Because, Lord knows, no queen or princess would ever be called beautiful unless she actually was.My biggest problem is, as always with her books, that she lets her biases show way too much for my taste. The worst of it was her account of the struggle between Henry I’s daughter Matilda (called Maud by her due to the plethora of Matildas in the book) and his nephew Stephen. Maud, as is traditional but has been questioned of late by serious historians, is portrayed as an arrogant, rampaging virago, while Stephen’s wife, Matilda of Boulogne, is a paragon of piety and nobility, apparently without fault. Weir gives a nod to the recent questioning of Maud’s portrayal at the end, but with a rather huffy pronouncement that it is “inappropriate” to look at things through a modern lens. However, where she doesn’t appear to have an obvious emotional investment, she does provide a useful look at some of these early queens, about whom there is sadly very little available for the popular reader.

  • Jessica
    2019-05-18 21:20

    This was dense and a little dry in certain parts (Maud’s chapter dragged a bit for me). But it was detailed, comprehensive, and illuminating, so in the end I really enjoyed it. Alison Weir did a good job of making medieval history and customs accessible to a modern audience without sacrificing accuracy - no mean feat. I especially appreciated her warning against applying a modern feminist lens to these queens. They were strong leaders in the context of their time, who possessed political influence, were educated, and oversaw architectural projects. Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned was how little judgement actually existed in the medieval chronicles regarding their gender. Gender roles did play a part in the chroniclers’ depictions of Matilda and Maud, but other than that there seemed to be remarkably little negative gender-based commentary on these queens (and all of them, even Maud, were lauded for their intelligence and piety upon their deaths). I’m looking forward to the next books Alison Weir writes in this series.

  • Sarah
    2019-05-11 13:17

    I received this book as an advance copy from Netgalley.There is much I enjoyed about this book, particularly Weir's scholarship and use of primary sources which I found impressive. She has clearly amassed a wealth of research material for this book and I felt she used it effectively.My main issue with this book was still the amount of emphasise there was on the men. I realise that sources in this period that discuss women either fairly or at all are scare. However, there were sections especially when discussing Matilda of Flanders where I felt the focus was too much on William I, the barons and clergy. I have already read copious books on that subject and I had hoped I would get something a little different from this. I feel in setting out to discuss England's Queens, Weir gave herself a difficult task. I think overall I would have preferred a shorter book which focused solely (well as much as possible,) on the women and less on the history of the whole period, which has been discussed so often by other historians. This may be my own high expectations here, it seems that other readers didn't experience this feeling. Overall I did enjoy the book and will still continue to support Alison Weir as I think she is a fantastic historian and writer.

  • Victoria
    2019-05-18 13:16

    I don't know why but I didn't enjoy this one as much as I wanted to. It was dusty and dry in places and the tone was uneven sometimes. I didn't have much knowledge of the Queens before Maud which was a hindrance because this book seemed to assume you would have that knowledge so didn't fill in the gaps very well

  • Melinda
    2019-05-08 21:08

    What a fascinating read. What a fascinating period of history....I just wish that all these kings and queens had names other than Matilda, William and Stephen - wow, so confusing. However, names aside - this was a brilliant insight into the (mainly) women of this time period - the time of all the Matilda's! So well researched, so well written. Great stuff.

  • Margaret Sankey
    2019-05-19 15:24

    If you already know medieval history, or just read a lot of Jean Plaidy books, none of this is new information, although Weir conscientiously gives context and wades through a lot of anecdotes and scurrilous stories to report on which are probably biased or just biolerplate applied to all pre-modern queens.

  • Kim
    2019-05-17 13:19

    A very interesting look at some of England's early queens. I didn't know much before about Edith-Matilda of Scotland or Adeliza of Louvain or the Empress Maud beforehand, so reading this was quite informative. Weir is thorough in her writing and research, as always. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

  • Miriam
    2019-05-18 15:14

    There were five Norman Queens from 1066 to 1154, four of whom were named Matilda / Maud. Weir's sweeping history describes all their reigns and their regal connections. The reading is fluid and engaging. Look for a longer review in Audiofile Magazine

  • Helen Carolan
    2019-05-20 16:10

    This made for an interesting read. Ms Weir is hampered by a scarcity of information about these early medieval queens, but what she has been able to put together is interesting. Starting with Matilda, wife of William the conqueror, she works her way through these first queens. This is the first in a series and I'm looking forward to her next work.

  • Tiffany
    2019-05-01 19:25

    I enjoyed this book very much. It was well researched and full of information I had not know prior to reading Weir's newest book. I could have done without the many instances of "probably" history, but it did not take away from the book's overall effectiveness most of the time. Thank you, NetGalley and Random House Publishing for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

  • Cait
    2019-04-30 20:20

    I wish Alison Weir's books weren't so inconsistent.

  • G. Lawrence
    2019-05-06 21:16

    Great book. Thorough research and told with Weir's compelling command. Excellent

  • Dennis
    2019-05-16 13:17

    Very detailed. I've read Alison Weir since her first book years ago, and she is always informative, but keeping a good narative. I admire her updating of Agnes STrickland's work, but let's be honest: some of these Queens are more interesting and dynamic than others.The subjects here are a bit dry.

  • Bethany
    2019-04-26 18:22

    DNF 17%. I have an ARC, so I really tried, but I just don’t want to dig through. Maybe final editing will clean it up, but it’s a big mound of names and dates and lacks the narrative drive to make me want to read. It feels like reading the research notes for her next historical fiction (which might be great!) rather than a fully fleshed out biography.

  • Joyce
    2019-05-03 16:01

    5 starsThis book begins with the story of Duchess Mathilda, the wife of Duke William of Normandy. After an unusual courtship they finally wed and appear to live happy and most fruitful lives. There is much detail about life in the Eleventh Century; about living in castles, daily life, the fashions and court practices of the day. There are many direct quotes from writers of the time that lead authenticity to the story.In 1051, William was promised the throne by the then ruler of England Edward the Confessor. There was an ongoing battle with the papacy about the legitimacy of Mathilda and William’s marriage. For some reason a succession of Popes, beginning with Pope Leo IX, who for no known reason refused to acknowledge the marriage and even called it a mortal sin. They were not related closely enough, nor were either promised to another person, to have caused such enmity. Finally Nicholas II who overthrew the papacy and installed himself as pope, granted the dispensation and legitimized the issue of the marriage.In 1066, the promised assurance of the English throne was withdrawn by Edward’s supposed heir. William immediately made plans to invade England and take the crown rightfully his by force. He became known as William the Conqueror after he took the crown. Surviving documents show that Mathlida was a good partner to William contrary to later anecdotes about the couple.Edith was a princess of Scotland who due to overthrow of the monarchy found herself penniless. However, due to her lineage, Henry now the King of England courted her and married her. Henry urged her to change her name to Mathilda, his mother’s name. Henry took the throne after many machinations and perhaps an assassination – no one really knows. After delivering two live children – a boy named William and a girl named Maud – the relationship between Henry I and his Queen Mathilda deteriorated. Henry spent much time in Normandy re-taking the throne from his brother Robert after having imprisoned him for many, many years. She died at the young age of thirty-seven.Wanting more legitimate children after siring a number of bastards Henry I married Adeliza of Louvain next. Her father Godfrey was a powerful ruler who was descended from Charlemagne. History does not record her birthdate, but she was very young while Henry was fifty-two. After a tragedy at sea, William, Henry’s only legitimate son, was killed at sea. Henry wanted his only legitimate child, Maud to rule after his death. His courtiers were against it, but finally swore to support her. She very reluctantly was married to Geoffrey, a very young man/boy. The king’s subjects were very displeased at the marriage. They swore to renege on their promise to support Maud after Henry’s death. Their marriage was an unhappy one and they despised each other. Geoffrey repudiated Maud and moved to Normandy. They later reconciled. Maud gives birth to a son. About a year later, she almost dies giving birth to a second son.On December 1, 1135, Henry I died. Stephen, a nephew of Henry’s sails to England and seizes the throne from Maud. His wife was Mathilda of Boulogne. Stephen was said to be “a mild man, soft and good, and did no justice.” Lawlessness reigned and the barons ran wild. Civil war broke out with King Stephen on one side and Maud and her supporters on the other. Stephen was taken prisoner following a battle in which his supporters deserted him. Maud then became Queen of England – albeit briefly. Stephen re-took the throne. King Stephen was to pass away of the bloody flux. Henry, Maud’s son, was to become King Henry II who was to found the Plantagenet line. As with all of Alison Weir’s biographies, this book is meticulously researched and very well written. The stories are told in a linear fashion and with much clarity. It is easy to read and understand for any reader with an interest in the subject. She brings these remarkable women to life in a way that no other author can. She brought to life the strength of these women and the fact that they shared in the life and reigns of their husbands. I truly appreciate her writing skills and am in awe of her research abilities. I want to thank NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine for forwarding to me a copy of this most remarkable book for me to read and enjoy.

  • Kim
    2019-05-04 21:23

    If you're an English school child, or a college-level history major in the US, you know that in 1066 ce William of Normandy (aka William the Bastard, but not to his face) crossed the English Channel to conquer England and take it from the Anglo-Saxons led by Harold II.  This began the line of the Norman kings and their queens.The kings get all the ink in history books, but Alison Weir is proposing a four-volume series of histories on the earliest of the English queens, starting here with Matilda of Flanders and the three queens who followed her.These were queens who went beyond what we normally picture as a life of embroidery, sitting next to the king at banquets, and giving birth to heirs to the throne. Because these Norman kings now had rulership over both sides of the English Channel there was some travel required to supervise both realms. These Norman kings, when leaving to supervise their other properties, would sometimes leave their queens in charge. This would change their status from queen consort to queen regnant. Some of these queens would even take up a sword and lead their troops into battle to support the interests of the king.Weir follows the lives of these first queens from Matilda of Flanders through Matilda of Scotland (married to Henry I) and Empress Maud and ending with Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of Henry II and the foundation of the Plantagenet line.The lives of these women are outlined in the context of their times, which seem to have been filled with constant political turmoil. William the Conqueror wasn't all that fond of his first son, Robert, but did like his younger son William Rufus. He nearly disinherited Robert but, instead, decided to give Robert rule of Normandy and left William Rufus as the new king of England. This led to a series of civil wars and conflicts that came to their peak in the War of the Roses. The queens associated with these kings were often intimately involved the in political maneuvering, offering their insights or taking a direct part in the intrigues. Empress Maud, mother of Henry II, even declared herself the first ruling queen (she was the  daughter of Henry I and Matilda, but also widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V). This was disputed but she did live to see her son take the throne as Henry II. The Normans had a fragile dynasty for the first century or so, trying to lead the English without speaking their language ... or wanting to ... and regular attempts to steal the crown by children and other relatives. The queens as much as the kings enjoyed the love or hate of their subjects depending on which way political sentiments were flowing.This is an interesting look into the lives of women who are rarely chronicled. Weir offers her best estimates on the true stories of their lives and reigns, and also offers alternate accounts or stories known to be pure myth. Each of the women comes alive with stories from their earliest years and courtship through their final days.