The Rival Queens – Nancy Gladstone

Another dip into history and 16th century, France this time though.

This is a history of the infamous Catherine de Medici and her daughter Marguerite de Valois. I already knew a little about them, although in fictionalised version; my mother encouraged me to read the Jean Plaidy historical novels when I was at that awkward age of being too old for children’s books and not quite old enough for adult ones.

I enjoyed finding out more about Catherine’s early life, particularly the early days of her marriage and I think it helped me to understand why she was so desperate to hang onto power through he sons reigns. It also helped me to understand why she was so manipulative and played at “realpolitik” so often. She lived in turbulent times but with a bit more firm purpose and subtlety her/her sons Courts could have been less turbulent than they were.

Marguerite seems to have spent most of her life being used as a pawn by the various members of her family. The major event in he life was being married to the protestant King of Navarre, who later became Henri IV of France. They were incompatible and, apart from one of two moments when it was expedient to help one another, lived largely apart. Henry didn’t trust Marguerite and Marguerite trusted too many people she shouldn’t have. Eventually, once they had divorced and Henry became King of France, they settled into friendship.

One of the problems of reading about 16th century women in the 21st century is that we live in a very different culture –  one of more equality for women, more religious tolerance etc – so it is hard to understand the limitations placed on these two women who were in a position where they could wield influence if not power. It was frustrating to read about their tactics and actions knowing, through experience and hindsight, they were doing the wrong thing. At times I wanted to shout “what are you doing!!!” at the book, which probably wouldn’t have gone down very well with my fellow commuters on the bus!

Overall. it was good to have a factual, evidence-based book about these women and I enjoyed reading it. It is a very readable book although there were some horrible American expressions thrown in unnecessarily.

If you are interested in European history, women’s history or the clashes between Catholicism and Protestantism in Europe you will find this book interesting, informative and a good read.

Click to find out more about Nancy Goldstone’s books

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