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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sibling rivalry and politics in thirteenth century Europe
I've always enjoyed reading history, especially that set in Medieval Europe, that time between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Renaissance. Perhaps it's the glamour and pageantry of the period; or maybe that so many of the stories are so romantic and personal in scope. I'm not certain exactly why, but I continue to indulge myself whenever I can.

One...
Published on May 13, 2007 by Rebecca Huston

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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Popular History in Search of a Fact Checker
My love of medieval history and soft-spot for popular history made this book a natural for me. The story of four daughters of the Count of Provence who became "queens" is set in an era I've study quite a bit yet (back in college!) I know relatively little about Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia and Beatrice.

Any biography of a major figure from the 13 century has...
Published on July 14, 2008 by MJS


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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sibling rivalry and politics in thirteenth century Europe, May 13, 2007
By 
Rebecca Huston "telynor" (On the Banks of the Hudson) - See all my reviews
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I've always enjoyed reading history, especially that set in Medieval Europe, that time between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Renaissance. Perhaps it's the glamour and pageantry of the period; or maybe that so many of the stories are so romantic and personal in scope. I'm not certain exactly why, but I continue to indulge myself whenever I can.

One recent volume of history tells the story of the daughters of Raymond-Berenger, the Count of Provence. Living in what is now the south of France, he and his wife, the formidable Beatrice of Savoy, controlled a vital part of the medieval world, creating a semi-independent kingdom that was rich in trade and culture. Without a son to inherit, this prize of lands and castles would be divided up somehow between their four daughters, all of whom were talented and beautiful, and so started one of the more intriguing dynastic tangles in history.

The eldest, Marguerite, would be married off at the age of thirteen to the equally young Louis IX of France. Marguerite was clever and attractive, and to become the queen of the most powerful realm in Europe must have been intoxicating. But the king was under the control of his mother, Blanche, and she evidently made her daughter-in-law's life miserable. Marguerite managed to be patient and when she managed to give France an heir, she discovered that she had another rival for her husband -- Crusading. Louis XI would lead the country into one of the more disastrous Crusades, and he would take his wife and her sister Beatrice along with him through a terrible saga of lost troops, imprisonment and ransom -- and then twenty years later do exactly the same thing again...

The next daughter, Eleanor, was just as ambitious as her sister, and married young as well. Her husband would be Henry III of England, a king who would prove to be not so lucky on the battlefield. To England, Eleanor would bring her Savoyard uncles, a pack of crafty politicians who would batten on English lands and wealth, and if that wasn't bad enough, Henry's half-brothers the Lusignans showed up for their cut of the spoils. All of this infuriated the English barons, and soon enough, there would be civil war, lead by Simon de Montfort, a very able military man who was married to Henry's sister...

The third daughter, Sanchia, was destined to have a rather convoluted courtship among several suitors before finally being married to the younger brother of Henry III. Richard, Earl of Cornwall, was a widower who was much older than his young bride, and had made himself a brilliant name by going to the Holy Land to ransom French prisoners of war. Unlike her sisters, it seems that Sanchia was a quiet, gentle woman who had no desire for a crown, and only wished to be a good wife and mother. But when her husband was chosen as King of the Romans -- what is now Germany -- that hope was shattered for good...

And what of the youngest, Beatrice? She was her father's darling, and as we see, just as hungry and ambitious as her sisters for the good life and especially a crown of her own. It was her luck to be married to a younger brother of Louis, Charles of Anjou, and he was just as determined as she was. He also had the wisdom to make Beatrice his partner, and not just a wife, knowing that she could keep the needed wealth from Provence flowing into his coffers. Needless to say, once the opportunity arose for a grand prize in Italy, the pair didn't let anything stop them either...

This is popular history that is written with a light touch, without drowning the reader in too much detail. Nancy Goldstone focuses on the personal lives of these four remarkable women, and presents the drama of their lives in a more or less chronological order. Her writing style is filled with humor and biting quotes -- my favorite is the response of Emperor Frederick II to a Mongol emissary who demanded that he surrender to their authority -- the emperor replied that he would consider it, but that they should keep the position of falconer open.

The book is filled with these sorts of asides, showing the inner workings of these great ones. Petty jealousies lead to warfare, sisters snub one another over who is sitting with who, and so forth. Goldstone never lets the narrative bog down, and keeps things moving at a lively pitch, and helps to unravel a lot of the more odd behavior of medieval knights and ladies.

My only disappointments with this were the few illustrations that were scattered throughout the book. Instead of presenting them in a high quality insert, these are reproduced in rather muddy halftones, and most of them are taken from Chronicle written by Matthew Paris, a contemporary of everyone involved in this story. While quite a few of them are very interesting, especially of a troupe of musicians being carried on the back of an elephant, it would have been good to have other illustrations and perhaps a few photographs to round out the story.

Maps, genealogical charts, notes, and two essays on medieval money and a lengthy author's note provide more clarification.

Summing up, I really enjoyed reading this and happily recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about the role of queens, crusaders and how the simplest of mistakes can sometimes lead to mammoth blunders. It's an entertaining read, and provides a gateway to more serious study -- Goldstone proves a list of 'what to read next' at the end.

Recommended.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Popular History in Search of a Fact Checker, July 14, 2008
By 
MJS "Constant Reader" (New York, United States) - See all my reviews
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My love of medieval history and soft-spot for popular history made this book a natural for me. The story of four daughters of the Count of Provence who became "queens" is set in an era I've study quite a bit yet (back in college!) I know relatively little about Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia and Beatrice.

Any biography of a major figure from the 13 century has hurdles: few contemporaneous first-hand accounts, few to none documents written by the figures themselves, etc. These problems are compounded exponentially when the figure in question is female. All too often, women just didn't rate making it into the chronicles. So Goldstone has her work cut out for her. She makes a valiant effort to piece together the careers and characters of these women drawing conclusions from the smattering of available facts. The reader can take issues with these conclusions but that, to me, is one of the rewards of reading about this era.

All that said, this book was a disappointment. Other reviewers have noted the multitude of factual errors in this book and I have to add my voice to the chorus. Silly, stupid mistakes are present in every single chapter. Were all the fact checkers on vacation when this book was being edited? Did Goldstone get her index cards mixed up? Popular history often needs to tread lightly on the details but never on the facts.

The narrative starts well but writing starts to become heavy going before youngest sister Beatrice hits the stage. Goldstone starts overwhelming the reader with "events" that aren't particularly telling about the four sisters or illuminating of their times. She also over does the adjectives; Sanchia is too frequently "gentle Sanchia", for example. The last quarter of the book was a real trial for me to finish.

I've given this book three stars, the writing and the factual errors would make this book a two but the decent start and the relative obscurity of the topic earn it an extra star from me. If you want an intro to the period this is not the best place to start. If you are immersed in this period, you may find the errors too annoying to bear. If you are interested in learning about these four under-known sisters and their times and are comfortable skipping judiciously, this book may be for you.

Kindle note: photos are included.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Power Politics, Thirteenth Century Style, May 21, 2007
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Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia, and Beatrice of Provence were the daughters of Count Raymond Berenger of Provence and his wife Beatrice of Savoy. Their homeland occupied a strategic corner of southern Europe and was known for its wealth and high culture, making them highly desireable wares on the international marriage markets. The daughters made brilliant marriages to the Kings of France, England, the future Holy Roman Emperor, and the powerful Count of Anjou, brother of the King of France.

Nancy Goldstone writes to illuminate the roles the four women and others connected to them, like Blanche the "White Queen" of France, in the power politics of Europe in the thirteenth century. In emphasizing the power these women held behind the scenes Goldstone does a good job of refuting the common misconception that women's voices were stilled, by choice or by necessity, during the European Middle Ages.

Goldstone is not a professional historian, but she does an excellent job of depicting the world of the thirteenth century, when Europe's medieval civilization was in full flower. She provides colorful and accurate pictures of the lives the four sisters led: their castles and palaces, ceremonies, luxuries, and sometimes privations. Although much of the detail on the womens' lives must be inferred because sources at the time rarely paid much attention to females, Goldstone never makes the mistake of assuming too much or over romanticizing. She interweaves the sisters' lives and the careers of their husbands and of their countries so skillfully that her book becomes an excellent example of history at its best.
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88 of 107 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A sloppily written and very bad book, June 3, 2007
This is an extremely sloppily written and bad book. It is written in the childish style that some popular historians seem to find it necessary to adopt because they think their audience is too stupid to understand anything else - usually an underestimation of said audience. Moreover, the author has clearly not bothered to do any form of basic research to get her facts right. To take but a few examples: In chapter 7, we are told about Richard of Cornwall's crusade in 1240. He is said to have met Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople "who had lost his empire" (p74). Actually, the Latin Empire of Constantinople (Baldwin's empire) was around until 1261, which is when he lost it. Three pages later, we are told that "The French, too, had sent an army to retake Jerusalem only the year before," in other words in 1239. Retake from whom? Jerusalem was in Christian hands from 1227 to 1244. She also seems to have no idea of the relative importance of the Kingdom of Sicily within the domains of the Holy Roman Emperor. At this stage, less than a third through the book, I gave up, rather than waste any more time on such rubbish. Zero stars would be a better rating.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Devil in Some Details, May 3, 2008
By 
R. Fischer "ray42" (San Jose, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe (Hardcover)
Although I have read less than 100 pages of this book, and initially was quite pleased with the subject matter covered, some inaccurate details have lead me to agree with the more critical reviews.

Specifically, the geographical errors are blatant. The most obvious one is on page 83 where Ascalon is described as being "about 30 miles east of Jerusalem", when on the map (which is very handily placed on the facing page) Ascalon is not east but west of of Jerusalem!!! Two others that I found referred to Flanders being on the western coast of France (page 60), when it is most definitely to the north and east of France, and less incorrect, but still not quite accurate enough for me was Britanny being referred to as being "immediately south of Normandy" (page42). Yes, it is south, but it is much more to the WEST of Normandy as well as south . . . Not good for less than 100 pages into a non-fiction historical work.

Is this a case of nit-picking? Well, all I know is this: if these basic facts are not correct, then there may be more that I would not know about and so I am less likely to accept other interpretations/conclusions the author presents this book. When something as basic, and simple to verify as a city's geographic location is not correct, I wonder about the research done in the first place, and the veracity of sources, or just simple double checking of facts.

Other reviews that are so glowing are worrisome as well. It really does seem that the general public knows very little about geography!

Enjoyable to read, yes to a point. It is like the 1940's movie version of Pride and Prejudice that was entertaining, but not true to the original book. I'm not sure I'll finish the book, but then again maybe I will.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor depiction of medieval history, August 25, 2007
By 
Tatyana (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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Ms. Goldstone omits a lot of facts from medieval history, particularly surrounding the canonization of Louis IX, his first crusades, his father's relationships with the English king, and the role all 4 sisters played in the political, economic and cultural life of their country. She also does not provide the reasons why Marguerite refused to support the canonization in the first place. She has completely omitted the relationship between Sanchia and her elder sisters. Sanchia was treated the same way as her younger sister Beatrice, belittled and humiliated because she was not a queen while her sisters were. She fills in the blanks by putting names of relatives, w/o really explaining their roles in history and their influence on the affairs of France, England, Sicily, Provence, etc. After reading each chapter, I constantly wanted to ask "So what?" What was the influence on Boniface of Savoy, Thomas of Savoy and Beatrice of Savoy on the affairs of her daughters' kingdoms? Did they bring any reforms, what was their relationship with the Church? This "dump" of insignificant information makes the book very hard to read. It's overwhelmed with names but lacks explanation of their roles in the lives of the 4 queens and their impact on the history of France, England, etc.

She has failed to explain the kings' relationships with their vassals, There is no mention of the state both King Louis and King Henry have inherited their respective kingdoms. No mention of their relationships with the Parliament or Magna Carta, etc. She has failed to even mention the role of Templars in the Crusades!!!

Ms. Goldstone'language and the choice of words is rather poor, leaving the book disorganized and its chapters badly written. Her constant quoting of Matthew Paris and, sometimes, of Joinville, left me wondering if she has encountered any other contemporaries' notes in her search, for there are plenty.

In the back of the book, Ms. Goldstone mentions sources she used while writing her book. Her detailed description of each source made me wonder if she knew she was unprepared or was lacking enough references, thus making her write explanations of who said-when-what-how-why is this important to mention.

I realize that not everyone has a Ph.D. in history and the lack of it should not prevent individuals from writing a fine narrative piece on a historical topic. However, when you write it - do it like a professional, invest time in your research, learn your subjects/main actors. Otherwise, you will sound like an unprepared middle-school student, who pretends to act like historian.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Amateur Historian, January 3, 2010
By 
M. Nettesheim (Brookfield, Wisconsin) - See all my reviews
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I received this book as a Christmas present, and when I first read the cover, I was really excited to begin. However, as the other reviews have indicated this book is unfortunately disappointing to say the least. Goldstone relies too heavily on one or two primary sources (Matthew Paris to name one of them) and surmises her own opinions based on what the chroniclers say. It is almost as if she read the words of Paris and the other chroniclers as gospel. This is not good historiography. She brings her own biases and perspective to her thesis (as all historians do), but her own prejudices spill out everywhere and in fact weakens her case. Nor, does she include any type of notes in the book and only offers a selected bibiliography. I wish she had explored further the political realities of 13th century and discussed the role of the papacy. I also do not believe she pays proper respect to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Blanche of Castile was the granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry III was the grandson of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Goldstone completely misses the fact that not only were the French King and English King in-laws, but they were also cousins. Could the peace these two men reached have been caused by their relationship as cousins and not as in-laws? Goldstone never addresses this matter and I believe maybe she does not know. Clearly, she did not contemplate it.

This topic has so much to offer and really deserves a good historian to research it. I don't disagree with Goldstone that women had an impact on politics in the middle ages. But, I would also state in no way does she prove her thesis. Instead, I believe, she proves the men who were married to the four sisters were more influential than their wives. One does not need to be a PhD to write history, but you do need to be a competent historian. Goldstone is not.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy, June 27, 2008
The beginning of this book is engagingly written, but, as it goes on, it becomes a grind to read. By the middle of the book, the engaging, personal style is left behind; it's replaced by a dull recitation of events with scattered speculation thrown in. Yawn.

Others have commented on the factual errors in the book, so I'll just mention that the author's comments on her research methodology explain how she made such errors. She says, for example, that she relies on Giovanni Villani's chronicle--despite its late date--because Dante had used it and "what was good enough for Dante was good enough for me." Oh, okay. Apparently, Ms. Goldstone doesn't understand the nature of Dante's work. I also found myself wondering what in the world were her sources for events in Germany because she didn't seem to have any grasp at all on medieval German culture. She doesn't mention what her sources for Germany were.

Generally, popular history is fun to read. Not this one. It's dull, inaccurate, and written like a book report. That's too bad, because the subjects are fascinating.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing family of sisters who shaped the destiny of Europe., May 29, 2007
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
FOUR QUEENS is set in 13th-century medieval Europe during a time of chivalrous knights, bloody crusades and courtly love. It is a time when love is unrelated to marriage and romance can, and often does, come outside of marriage. It is also a time when marriages are arranged to achieve material advantage to the betrothed and their families.

In the gentle climate of Provence, France, with its naturally beautiful landscape, abundant vineyards and lush gardens, the four daughters of Count Raymond Berenger V and Beatrice of Savoy are raised in a culture of beauty and love. These sisters --- Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia and Beatrice --- grow up to become queens whose power and influence change the face of Europe.

Marguerite, the oldest and "a girl of pretty face but prettier faith," is determined, spirited and resourceful. With the approval of the Catholic Church, her father and Blanche of Castile, the "White Queen" of France, Marguerite marries Louis IX, King of France. Marguerite's spirit is put to the test in a war of wills and power struggles with the White Queen.

Eleanor, the lively and passionate second daughter, marries Henry III of England. As the Queen of England, Eleanor's ambitiousness and political aspirations help fuel civil war.

Shy and lovely Sanchia marries Henry's brother, Richard --- the Earl of Cornwall, the richest man in England --- who buys the crown of the King of Germany for himself and neglects his beautiful wife.

Youngest daughter Beatrice weds Charles of Anjou, brother of the King of France, who later becomes King of Sicily. Beatrice is lovely, fearless and domineering. Her desire for power causes her to risk her life and the lives of others.

FOUR QUEENS is a beautifully written history book that reads like a modern-day adventure novel. Reading about the lives of these four sisters, their husbands and their families is fascinating. While FOUR QUEENS is dense with information, dates, names and places, the inclusion of explanatory texts and diagrams enhance the enjoyment and understanding of the book. The genealogical charts of the Four Queens, the French monarchy and the English throne helped me visualize where and how these sisters fit in with the French and English royal families.

FOUR QUEENS is expertly researched, well organized and easy to follow. Nancy Goldstone has written an intelligent book about an intriguing family of sisters who shaped the destiny of Europe. Women's history lovers and anyone fascinated with the Medieval Ages should add this one to their bookshelves.

--- Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful evocation of the past,, May 29, 2007
Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia, and Beatrice of Provence. Four women who, until Nancy Goldstone brought them to life, had been unfairly buried by history. What amazing lives. Marguerite, the eldest, married Louis IX (later St. Louis), accompanied him on crusade to Arabia, and then, when Louis had completely botched it--his men slaughtered and he captured--saved both her husband and the rest of his army. (Wish she was around today!) Eleanor guided her husband, the ineffectual Henry III of England, through the thicket of a baron's revolt and saved the monarchy for her son, the brilliant Edward I. Sanchia married the richest man in Europe and became queen of Germany, and Beatrice, the youngest, led an army through the Alps herself to save her besieged husband.

Ms. Goldstone has unearthed a remarkable array of primary sources--most from diarists of the period--and so she is able to supply the sort of period details--what people ate, what they wore, how they passed their free time--that makes the 13th century leap from the page. I have always been a huge fan of Barbara Tuchman for her mixture of detail, insight, and razor wit. That I can compare Four Queens to her work is, for me, high praise indeed.
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Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe
Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone (Hardcover - April 19, 2007)
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