From one Conquest to another! This one has elicited much less of a rant than Robert Conquest did, you may be pleased to know.
This book is about the 5 Queens of the Norman England, all of whom have extraordinary stories but, in the words of Alison Weir, not enough is discoverable about them to fill a book each.
The book starts with Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror. I know a little about her and it is one of my claims to fame that I won a quiz for my team because I was the only person in the room who knew what William’s Queen was called! This Matilda gets quite a long section of the book to herself.
The next Queen is Matilda of Scotland who was married to Henry I. There are a lot of Matildas in this book and it’s quite difficult keeping up with who is who! It’s even more confusing that Matilda of Scotland was also known as Edith in her early life. This was one of those books where it is useful to be able to keep referring back to the family tree at the beginning.
I found Matilda of Scotland’s life to be one of the most interesting sections of the book. I didn’t know anything about her before and she had an interesting and varied life.
The only non-Matilda in the book is Adeliza of Louvain, Henry I’s second wife who only gets a short section to herself. As a Queen she isn’t particularly interesting although, through her second marriage after Henry’s death, she plays a significant part in the civil war that broke out between Stephen, Henry I’s nephew, and Matilda, Henry’s daughter, over who should wear the crown of England.
King Stephen was married to Matilda of Boulogne, the third Matilda of this book. She shares part 4 of the book with Queen Matilda, her husband’s rival claimant. For the purposes of the book Queen Matilda is referred to as Empress Maud. Her first marriage was to Heinrich V, Roman Emperor, and throughout mainland Europe Matilda seems to have been known as Maud.
This, for me, was one of the most enlightening parts of the book. I have only a confused understanding of the civil wat between Stephen and Maud. I didn’t really understand what the dispute was about and the rights and wrongs of the two parties. Having read this section of the book I’m clearer about why they were fighting, clear that neither was an ideal monarch and still a bit confused over who was who and why they chose the side they did.
The final part of the book is about Empress Maud after Stephen died and her son by Geoffrey Plantagenet became King Henry II.
The book is written in Alison Weir’s usual readable style and she evokes a sense of who these women were and a sense of empathy with the difficult situations most of them found themselves in at one time or another.
I feel as though I leaned a lot from reading the book although I wish the European aristocracy of the 12th and 13th centuries had been a bit more imaginative about naming their girl children!
A useful addition to the literature on medieval women.