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Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elizabeth of York Paperback – August 3, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although intended to breed royal heirs, England's medieval queens offered substantial strength, mental acuity, and personal ambition, beginning with the 1066 Norman invasion's elevation of Matilda of Flanders and up through the Plantagenet Elizabeth of York, who married Henry VII in 1486. Hilton (AtheÌünaiÌês: The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress) successfully unravels the tangled biographies of such queens as the legendary and imposing Eleanor of Aquitaine and the ill-matched but determined Isabella of France, placing them within the context of European politics and property wars. Hilton nimbly pares popular myths and reanimates long-forgotten figures such as Queen Berengaria, married to the crusading Richard I, who never lived in England. When kings wriggled themselves out of undesirable marriages, strange situations sometimes occurred, such as King John in the 13th century sending his second wife, Isabelle, to live with his former wife, Isabella. Hilton offers a pleasurable but serious study of a group of remarkable women and their role in the development of queenship in England. 16 pages of color illus.; maps.
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From Booklist

Between 1066 and 1503, 20 vastly different women were crowned Queen of England. Hilton brings their remarkable stories to life in this sparkling collective biography. While some of these women are familiar historical figures, many are affectionately rescued from relative anonymity by the author, who concentrates on what set these women apart from each other and from other women of their times. Though none ruled as queen in her own right, each of these royal consorts influenced English social and cultural customs in a wide variety of ways. Though frequently viewed as political pawns, many queens had their own clout-heavy factions and families, allowing them to exercise a significant measure of individuality and behind-the-scenes power. Women’s history is often not straightforward, and it is evident that Hilton has done a great deal of digging to unearth and illuminate the valuable contributions of this unique assemblage. --Margaret Flanagan
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605981052
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605981055
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #430,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Judith Loriente on April 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
After reading Hilton's wonderfully readable (if partisan) biography of Madame de Montespan, I expected Queens Consort to be a great read. Instead, it's simplistic, pedestrian and often even dull.

Hilton does correct some of the inaccurate legends that have been propagated about these women. But she doesn't do it in a way that's fascinating; again, it's pedestrian.

She also has an irritating habit of quoting chunks of other works in the middle of sentences, instead of putting what happened in history into her own words (which I thought was the job of a historian). And she usually doesn't name the source, so that you have to turn to the end notes to see where it's taken from - maybe a chronicler, maybe another historian. Repeatedly quoting other people's works looks like something an insecure student or a novice historian would do. It's not something to be expected from a historian with two books under her belt.

There are also factual errors: for instance, Hilton states (p. 142) that King John was Eleanor of Aquitaine's sixth child, when he was her tenth and last (two by her first husband, eight by her second). She gives the date of Henry III's death (p. 186) as 1274 instead of 1272, even though she gets it right in the family tree, and also on p. 193 - didn't she do a final read of the proofs, and notice this discrepancy?

As for the writing, there's a dreadful sentence on p. 190: "Their magnificence, though, is as much a testament to Edward's conception of the dignity of his kingship than to Eleanor's own qualities." This should be, "is as much a testament to Edward's conception of the dignity of his kingship AS to Eleanor's own qualities", or, "is MORE a testament to Edward's conception of the dignity of his kingship than to Eleanor's own qualities".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 23, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lisa Hilton begins this fine new history with a quote from Jane Austen: "It is to be supposed that Henry IV was married, since he certainly had four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife." How appropriate to begin with this, since the history of women, even royal women, is often considered secondary to that of their fathers, husbands, and sons. But as Hilton demonstrates here, the Queens Consort of medieval England were often proud, powerful women who wielded influence to assist (and sometimes oppose) their husbands and in-laws.

Queens Consort consists of 19 chapters, each focussed primarily on one woman, from Matilda of Flanders who married William the Conqueror to Elizabeth of York wife of Henry VII. Especially in the earlier centuries there are few direct references to these women, so much has to be taken on inference, leading to quite a few "must have beens" and "probablys" scattered throughout the text. Nevertheless Hilton does a fine job of giving us a good idea of the personalities of all the Queens. For Queens like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marguerite of Anjou the problem lies in sifting through the massive amount of material available to provide a fair picture of the women, and here again Hilton does well. Of necessity there is a vast amount of material on England's internal and external conflicts and developments, so that the book actually becomes a very accessible and pleasing history of medieval England. Don't overlook the Conclusion, which contains some interesting ideas on the Morte d'Arthur, Beowulf, and the roles of women and of femininity in the Middle Ages.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ann Drourr on January 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
I have to agree with some of the other reviewers. I was hoping for much more from this book. As someone with more than a passing interest in English history, the many errors were glaring. Poor editing was evident throughout - even in the subtitle! The book starts with Matilda of Flanders not Eleanor of Aquitaine. The book had very little narrative flow and made some extremely interesting periods of history dry and boring. The author was very good at debunking ridiculous legends (such as Rosamund Clifford) however and was clearly striving for as accurate a portrait of their lives as possible.

At the same time there seemed to me to be many opinions presented as truths. The chapter on Eleanor of Aquitaine started out by saying that her reputation is overstated and that she really didn't accomplish much but the facts as they were presented clearly showed why she is so famous and what an impact she had on Europe during her lifetime. She seemed determined at times to present the case for alternate opinions just for their own sake (as with Eleanor of Aquitaine and also Eleanor of Castile). One queen would be chastised for acquiring too much land and money while another was chastised for doing the opposite. She also seems to have a real problem with homosexuality and made some rather offensive comments in the chapters on Edward II and Richard I and II that surprised me.

Overall, an uneven and disappointing read.
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34 of 48 people found the following review helpful By A. Schneider on April 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In this book, author Lisa Hilton, explores the development of queenly tradition and practice between the 11th and 15th centuries by looking at the diverse lives of the individual queens - from Matilda of Flanders to Elizabeth of York. For anyone interested in Medieval England, it's a fascinating look at history through the roles that the queens played. My main criticism is with some of the the conclusions Hilton arrives at which are presented as fact when, in reality, they are strictly her opinion.

For example, her blatant bias against Richard III and Anne Neville is very evident in the way she portrays the relationship and marriage as "one of mutual convenience" and an "ugly marriage" because Anne colluded with her husband in cheating her mother of her rights and marying within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity. If this were the only information the reader how about a couple, they would come away with a very distorted view.
For example she says; "how could Anne have countenanced marriage to the man who was responsible for her husband's (Prince Edward)death" and "how could Anne and have chosen to ignore the fact that marriage to Richard was deeply sinful (because they were first cousins once removed).
The answers for both are fairly obvious if one accepts the fact that Anne and Richard were deeply in love - an idea Hilton refuses to acknowledge.

There is no reason at all that Anne should have felt any love for Prince Edward. This was, after all, the son of somebody who had been her families adversary for years and the entire marriage was a cynical exercise in bringing the two former foes together. She didn't know this teenager and the scant information we have about him makes him sound like a spoiled and slightly sadistic boy.
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