Detailed and wonderfully written book celebrating powerful queens of Western Europe. Starting with Isabella of Spain and ending with Elizabeth. Gristwood writes of the various women from England, the The Netherlands, Spain, Hungary, and France and how they impacted history. Isabella of Spain broke the mold as a warrior queen, setting the precedent of a woman taking control of her country as well as standing beside her troops in battle. With each new personality, Gristwood shows how they influenced the next generation of queens in training. Isabella's fierce ability to govern and defend her country set the example for her own daughter Katherine of Aragon to act as regent in Henry's absence and defeat the Scots at Flodden. Similarly, the author compares Margaret Tudor role in Scotland as well as Anne of France's impact of the girls she mentored. The author moves through time, describing the dynamics of Marguerite of Savoy's relationship with both her brother Francis I and her mother Louise of Savoy. Each new era brings a widening influence affecting women across Europe, the older queens tutoring the younger girls in their future roles. Interestingly, she writes that Anne Boleyn's failure and ultimate downfall may have been the result of her not being an actual princess, her common roots leaving her unprepared the navigate the dangerous shoals of palace politics. She asserts that Boleyn was so caught up in the idea of courtly love, she had no understanding of when to stop and perhaps protect herself. She shows the differences of a political savvy Marguerite of Navarre played with her brother, the king when he forced an undesirable marriage on her daughter. Marguerite understood the dangerous dance of when to push and when to retreat, unlike Anne who did not. Mary of Hungary, Catherine de Medici, Elizabeth 1, Mary of Guise, Mary of Scotland, are a few of the ruling queens mentions, the times created women who learned how to steer the world, shaping bloodlines as well as borders with quiet strength. They changed what they believed in with passionate dedication proving leadership did not belong solely in a kings hands.
Interesting, at times riveting, this is a fascinating glimpse into a world that is too often overshadowed by the achievements of kings rather than the women who surrounded and influenced them.
Carole P. Roman