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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Soap Opera or History?
The Lady Queen is a history of a fourteenth-century ruler of the rich and prominent Kingdom of Naples. As presented by Nancy Goldstone, Queen Joanna's long reign had all the ingredients of opera, soaped or otherwise. Indeed, the author states well into the book, after deaths, deceits, skirmishes, wars, plagues, murders, intrigues, disasters and disasters-averted,...
Published on October 12, 2009 by Don Kline

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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lackluster book about a fascinating queen and her realm
Joanna of Naples, as Nancy Goldstone so aptly points out, was the only female monarch of her era to wield supreme power, and one of the only women to do so before Elizabeth I of England, and that makes her a fascinating subject for a biography. Indeed, it's startling to realize that this is the first accessible biography of this woman, given the degree of attention to...
Published on September 24, 2009 by S. McGee


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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Soap Opera or History?, October 12, 2009
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The Lady Queen is a history of a fourteenth-century ruler of the rich and prominent Kingdom of Naples. As presented by Nancy Goldstone, Queen Joanna's long reign had all the ingredients of opera, soaped or otherwise. Indeed, the author states well into the book, after deaths, deceits, skirmishes, wars, plagues, murders, intrigues, disasters and disasters-averted, "...throughout her life, the queen of Naples was fated never to experience joy unalleviated by grief." Even one of Joanna's contemporaries wrote that the queen and her consort "had always to eat their fruits green..." A pity, but the history she made is engrossing.

The first pages of this book might have the reader wondering whether Ms. Goldstone learned storytelling from Jacqueline Susann, but the author regains her historian's dignity within the first chapter. Annoyances with Ms. Goldstone's stylistic dalliances easily are put aside to read a history that is as sweeping as it is gripping, and as grand as it is tragic. This is a fine history of the period and of the diplomacy and warfare, the alliances and intrigues, and the gallantry and deceits conducted among medieval Naples, France, the Italian city-states, the Hungarian Empire and the Holy See.

All of which makes for a broader subject: in this history, in which Joanna is cast in the leading role, Ms. Goldstone is on her surest footing when she displays the internecine role of the Church in European politics of the period. She also gives an astute political analysis of the schism within the western Church that occurred late in Joanna's reign. Perhaps this is due to the greater availability of primary sources that detail the Church's history, but the reader benefits, because the Church, through its political composition and statecraft, held pivotal roles--played ruthlessly--throughout this history.

In her acknowledgments and in the preface to her notes, Ms. Goldstone pointedly mentions the general lack of primary sources for the period. Nonetheless, her uses of secondary sources and accounts--some recorded as hearsay--of the events of the period are well woven into her narrative. She does not presuppose, but she is adept at conjecturing motive, usually with alternatives, and she stays reasonably within the bounds of the sources available to her.

This is a good history of the period and an excellent one of a ruler of whom we know so little. We learn the factual, medieval history of Naples and of its Angevin rulers and their roles on the European stage; of Joanna's sovereignty, her lineage and how she came to be queen; of Joanna's non-flagging self-confidence, grit and determination; of her wisdom and her follies. We gain insight to the concentrations of power among the European aristocracies and, contextually, of the social norms, values, customs and conventions of the times as held and exercised by an elite few. And, happily, we realize that this history from Nancy Goldstone is not sponsored by Procter & Gamble after all.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very solid history, October 28, 2009
Joanna I, queen of Sicily, Naples, and Jerusalem, is the subject of this highly interesting biography. She ruled one of the most powerful kingdoms in the late 14th century, surviving the numerous calamities that plagued (pun intended) Europe at that time. She was also implicated in the death of her first husband, Andrew of Hungary, and eventually married four times.

Joanna emerges in this highly informative book as one of the most fascinating women of medieval Europe that I've ever read about. Goldstone admits that she doesn't have much information to go on, but she puts Joanna's story together very well. She's one of those people who were much maligned in life; but in reality, Joanna did a number of wonderful things for her kingdom--even as her enemies tried to bring her down. Goldstone goes into a lot of detail about the papal politics of the time; Joanna had a close relationship with Clement and was very deeply involved in the great schism. From the schism to the plague, to 14th century scholarship, to even the Hundred Years' War (of which Joanna was more of a spectator), Goldstone covers everything in a way that makes it easy for the reader to understand.

The jumping off point of the book is Joanna's trial (described somewhat dramatically as being "on trial for her life"), but really the murder and trial are only a small part of this story. By no means is this a bad thing, though. Instead, the author focuses on Joanna, a courageous woman who faced much adversity in her life.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lackluster book about a fascinating queen and her realm, September 24, 2009
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Joanna of Naples, as Nancy Goldstone so aptly points out, was the only female monarch of her era to wield supreme power, and one of the only women to do so before Elizabeth I of England, and that makes her a fascinating subject for a biography. Indeed, it's startling to realize that this is the first accessible biography of this woman, given the degree of attention to Eleanor of Aquitaine, who, for all that she has been presented as a powerful woman, was unable to rule independently until her second husband died and her son named her regent. While Eleanor wielded power indirectly, Joanna did so very directly, despite having run through no fewer than four husbands in her eventful life. And Joanna's marital woes make Eleanor's look downright mundane and trifling by comparison.

Alas, despite a vivid introduction that portrays the arrival of Joanna of Naples at the papal court in Avignon to defend herself against charges that she has murdered her first husband, Andrew of Hungary, the biography never really measures up to what very probably was a fascinating life. In part, the book drowns in detail -- there are endless family squabbles that affect and shape Joanna's life, limit her choices and her ability to govern her realm: there's the Hungarian branch of the Angevin dynasty, which had a claim to the crown Joanna inherited from her grandfather, Robert the Wise, and two groups of cousins, the Durazzo and Taranto brothers, as well as the Majorcan monarchs. It's hard to tell Joanna's story without delving into these family squabbles, but the to-ing and fro-ing becomes bewildering, particularly to anyone with only a rudimentary knowledge of the characters involved. (I found myself flipping to the family trees at the front of the book every dozen or so pages.) There are enough players here named Louis to keep a professional genealogist confused for weeks - Louis of Durazzo, Louis of Hungary, Louis of Taranto, Louis of Anjou, Louis of Navarre - and the number of Roberts is nearly as confusing. Every detail of the complex family dynamics is there for the reader to mull over, but what ultimately happens is that it turns the book into a series of arguments and confrontations. Goldstone never appears able to rise above this mass of detail and command her subject -- instead, the material dominates her voice. Therefore, to my dismay, I found that the drama inherent in Joanna's story never measured up to that introduction. Even when one of the suitors for the hand of her widowed sister (another Robert) kidnaps and rapes Maria, the event was described in such a pedestrian fashion that it failed to halt my reading or strike me with any more impact than a detail about some of the endless negotiations over whether or not the Pope would send a legate to rule Naples on Joanna's behalf. The events were described in an almost perfunctory fashion that may be the hallmark of a scholarly biography but not one that is trying to win a larger audience.

Perhaps the most startling example of is the way that Joanna's trial is ultimately portrayed, after the initial buildup. Married as young children to satisfy one of the endless family squabbles, Joanna and Andrew had never had much of a relationship - part of the problem being that she was recognized as sole heir to the throne while he had no role in government or even in Neapolitan society. As Goldstone describes Andrew, he emerges as a medieval version of a kept man - Joanna bought his shirts, knives and roses to perfume his soap and paid for his seaside holidays. When he is murdered, his Hungarian relatives are outraged and rumors spread wildly. Yet when Joanna appears to defend herself in the papal court, the process is dealt with in three pages!

At the end of the day, I found this an unexpectedly dull and tedious book about a time and place that Goldstone succeeds in portraying as one of the most fascinating in medieval history. Those parts I found most intriguing had little to do with Joanna herself - since she never emerged as a real person from this biography - and focused more on the world she inhabited. I was fascinated by the process through which Petrarch became the poet laureate of Rome (a three-day inquisition of his scholarship by Robert the Wise in Naples) and the culture and lifestyle that sprang up in Joanna's realm, by the insight into yet another group of religious dissidents (the Spiritual Franciscans) and the emergence of Hungary as a world power thanks to the discovery of gold and silver mines. She also does a great job of tying together various events that, on the surface, appear to have little impact on Joanna's life, from Edward III's efforts to conquer France (which produced mercenary armies that terrorized Europe for decades), the failure of grain oligopolies, etc. But the main story was so prosaically presented and without zest - and I'm a reader who avidly devours biographies of all kinds - that I was disappointed. Put this up against some of those that I've recently read - Duff Cooper's lively bio of a descendant of one of the characters in this book, the Napoleonic diplomat Talleyrand, most of the works of Alison Weir or Antonia Fraser, or Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era, and it falls well short.

To be sure, Goldstone was hampered by a lack of documentation: many of the primary sources on which she might have relied were destroyed during World War II, meaning that she has to resort to phrases like "she seems to have" or "he likely considered", all too frequently. Still, her obvious fascination with her own subject is conveyed more adeptly in the introduction and author's note than in the many body of the book.

A disappointing book after the Four Queens, which I probably would rate 4 stars. This is 3.5 stars, rounded down because I kept reading the book in spite of Joanna and the endless family squabbles, which the author failed, for the whole 317 pages to make interesting, lively or compelling. It rates as highly as it does simply because it's the first book to seriously bring to the attention of interested readers a compelling time and place in medieval history, and I hope it will spark a revival of interest in such `lost' pockets of history on the part of historians writing for general readers.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Light" Academic study; not for the casual reader, May 2, 2011
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This review is from: The Lady Queen (Kindle Edition)
As I have an academic background in Medieval Studies, I'm naturally more critical of medieval history books than I would be of a novel. I found this book a little too light to be considered 'academic', but at the same time, it presupposes a good background in late medieval politics and culture which the average reader won't have. I guess it would be best to consider it as a light, but not necessarily generally accessible, academic work. I didn't note any inaccuracies, but there were a few instances where I did think the author could have gone into a little more depth or details. Overall, as the story of Joanna's life (personal story, trials & tribulations) and reign (political & cultural issues) it was quite good. Medieval Italian history is not my forte, so this turned out to be an easy read that gave me a nice insight into what was happening in southern Italy around the time England & France were fighting the Hundred Years' War. One big issue I had with this as a 'scholarly' work was that there were several quotations (sentences marked in quotes) that were unattributed. But, considering the formatting issues (see note), there's a chance that it was the quotation marks that were wrong, and the comment was the author's own.

I'm giving this 4 stars based on content only - if I included the formatting, which I usually do, the rating would be unfair - the content really was quite good, though the formatting was really bad. If I were the author, I'd run to pull this and correct/proof the formatting - a scholarly book needs to be held to a higher standard, and the formatting issues lowered the credibility factor of the writing, which is unfortunate. This particularly applies to the issue noted above with apparently unattributed quotations from sources. ETA: I wrote this review before I had read the Epilogue and the note on sources. Based on the information there, I do feel that the issue with the unattributed quotes is primarily a formatting one - the statements are the author's, and they should not be in quotation marks. All the comments made in the note on sources leads me to believe that the author was meticulous about citing her sources and doing her research. Again, all the more reason to correct the formatting issues with this book, since it really is a shame that good-quality research and writing is spoiled by the poor formatting and lessened readability due to that.

Note on Kindle formatting: I'd say that this is one step above terrible. Chapter titles that began with 'The' were shown as though they were book titles in a list, with 'The' at the end of the title instead of the beginning - consistently. Words had stray spaces in them - also consistently - at least several times per page! It was annoying at first, to say the least, but after a while I got the hang of skimming over them, and most weren't too bad then, but they did definitely affect readability. Another issue was that a word - about once per chapter, maybe more - would be incorrectly hyphenated and 'THE' insterted in the middle. For example, in the middle of a line, the word 'incredible' would appear as 'incre-THE dible'. It wasn't the same word each time, either. Oh, and one more thing - footnotes were marked with an asterisk and were at the end of the chapter, not the foot of the page, so there was no way to check them out as you were reading. If there was more than one footnote per chapter, they were all listed at the end of the chapter, all identified with asterisks, so you didn't really know which was which. Footnotes aren't the easiest things with a Kindle, so the author might be better served by making them linked endnotes. There weren't a lot, so that didn't become a big issue, but again - I feel that a scholarly work should be held to higher standards.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun read, but really not much of a biography, July 22, 2011
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chefdevergue (Spokane, WA United States) - See all my reviews
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There were times when I was reading this sometimes jaw-dropping account when I forgot that Queen Joanna was actually the subject of this biography, so-called. Very often, Goldstone embarks on some genealogical or socio-political excursion in the book, and Joanna fades into the background, only to emerge several pages later to remind the reader that she is supposedly the central figure of the book. In all fairness, as several reviewers (and the author) have noted, primary Neapolitan material on Joanna I's reign is very nearly non-existent, so it becomes mighty hard to examine the life and character of Joanna herself. Instead, we get to read about the Battle of Poitiers, the war for the crown of Castille, various machinations in the papal court of Avignon, and the subjugation of truculent Hungarian nobles by King Carobert. All well and good, but it does not really make for a good biography. Perhaps it would have been better to have re-drafted this of a history of the region with some emphasis on Joanna I.

Of course, Goldstone's feminist orientation makes a regional history somewhat problematic, since she wishes to put Joanna in the historical pantheon alongside women such as Elizabeth I of England & Eleanor of Aquitaine. There is probably a very good case to be made for this. After all, one does not survive invasions, rebellion & civil war, and outbreaks of the plague and go on to rule for almost 40 years without having a certain amount of administrative ability and political acumen. However, the documentation just isn't there, and so inevitably Joanna shifts into the mode of supporting character, again and again.

Additionally, there certainly is a case to be made that Goldstone is overly slanted in favor of Joanna. Obviously, Lajos I of Hungary had a very legitimate claim to the Neapolitan throne. His father was totally screwed out of his rightful inheritance, and his brother was murdered with the possible acquiescence of his the queen. Lajos had quite good reasons to invade Italy and reclaim what he considered to be his by birthright, but one always gets the impression that Joanna is always the victim here. Another reviewer noted the reliance by Goldstone on sources which were overly sympathetic to Joanna. To the best of my knowledge, there is no lack of archival material relating to Lajos I and his reign, so I find this intriguing. This does not make for good history.

I also found it interesting that the trial for murder, which is emphasized on the book cover and in the introduction, is barely discussed in the book itself. What's the deal there? I'm sure the Vatican archives must have a reasonable amount of documentation on this, so why is there so little detail? I truly don't understand how the trial can built up and then be dealt with in such an anticlimactic way.

So why four stars? Because it is an amazing (to borrow from another reviewer) soap opera of a story, which makes for pretty good reading --- mostly. For my part, I tried reading this last year and got bogged down in the genealogical morass of the first 70 pages or so, and abandoned the book for several months. Some of this stuff is unnecessarily confusing. There is no reason to refer to everyone as "Louis" or "Charles" here; at one point Goldstone observes that she refers to Joanna's niece (also Joanna) as the french "Jeanne" so as to avoid confusion. Why not refer to Louis I of Hungary as Lajos, as he is usually known? Louis, Lajos, Ludovico...there are ways to help the reader keep referring back the genealogies every other page. Eventually, the reader emerges from the thicket and the book moves along at a pretty decent pace. Then we get to read about treachery and betrayal and what appears to a thoroughly disfunctional, blood-soaked family. Ye gods. I would almost rather be a peasant during this time period, as there seems to be nothing good about being at the top of the heap. The twists and turns never seem to stop, and finally, one crazy pope succeeds in bringing a turbulent reign to an end.

In any case, if you can make it through the first part of the book, there is a good story to be found in here. It just isn't necessarily the story of Joanna herself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense beauty, tragedy and brutality in one short reign., May 19, 2010
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RedReplicant (Charlottesville, VA) - See all my reviews
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Medieval historians often get bogged down in the complexities of medieval politics, both spiritual and familial. Including the minutia often means weakening the power of the narrative. In The Lady Queen, Nancy Goldstone manages to infuse her writing with a tremendous amount of historical detail that is satisfying for the scholarly reader, while never losing track of the story she is trying to tell us.

And what a wild ride it is! Joanna of Naples is introduced to us as a beautiful and headstrong young princess, and we see her through about fifty years of fighting, loving and politicking to her tragic death. In the epilogue, Goldstone describes the Neapolitan court as "Byzantine," a claim that this book substantiates time and time again. The machinations and subterfuge of the courtiers, religious leaders and military officials is astoundingly complex, yet generally presented in a straightforward and understandable manner, thankfully minimizing confusion. Quite a number of narrative threads are woven together and almost all of them are satisfactorily (although some sadly) tied off by the end of the book.

Goldstone's approach is unapologetically feminist, and the book does not suffer for it. Many of the primary sources (both included in this book and otherwise) that mention Joanna are palpably resentful. Goldstone addresses this directly, as evidence of the indignant response of medieval society to the pretensions of a strong and able woman to rulership-- and to her success. History is indeed written by the victors, and in this case the arguably well organized and adept policy of the Queen of Naples has been quite unfairly cast in a negative light. Like other medieval powerhouse women, such as Theophanu or Thecla, contemporary historians minimized Joanna's legacy by attacking her character through slander. Goldstone presents here a strong case for reexamining these accounts as the petty and unsubstantiated attacks that they are.

Although this is a valuable historical treatment it must also be considered to some extent a novelization. Joanna is clearly the protagonist and a number of the other interesting characters (Elizabeth of Hungary, for one) suffer slightly in being judged against the queen. Goldstone clearly has her own historical likes and dislikes and does not hesitate to make value judgments-- or at least the occasional sarcastic remark. Since medieval history is a field often severely lacking in humor, Goldstone's addition of her own perspectives does more to humanize the subjects than to distract from the over all historical project.

One thing that I was disappointed in was the lack of the reproductions that are mentioned in the epilogue. Considering the extent of Joanna's artistic patronage and the importance of the image to her society I was thrilled to read that there would be a few photos and saddened when they did not appear in the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fractured text, April 7, 2012
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C Mac (Kiawah Island, SC USA) - See all my reviews
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While this was an interesting piece of history, the text of my download was frequesntly separated into small sylables, which made re ad ing it dif fi cult at times.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating history behind the Lady Queen, December 27, 2009
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Book Femme (Scranton, PA USA) - See all my reviews
I won/received this book as a First Reads/[...] giveaway, and did not know what to expect. This was a gripping page-turner, all the more fascinating while reading and realizing that these were historical events. I studied several women in medieval European history while at university, but had never heard of the "notorious" queen Joanna of Naples--an awful omission as Goldstone's work in reconstructing her life and times gives a larger sense and perspective to politics, gender issues, church control, and social mores--even globalization and economy--to the period of 14th-century Europe.
Thankfully the author includes maps and genealogical charts for the players involved--seeing as there was so much consanguinity in the royal houses of Europe and lack of creative naming (they liked repeats!), it would have been hard to keep all of the players straight without these aids.
Goldstone's style of writing is an easygoing narrative, but not without dramatic pauses and cliffhangers, giving a heightened sense of the urgency and power that was at play (and at stake) with these national, religious, and matrimonial machinations. The portrait of Queen Joanna and her times is thorough, and yet bittersweet knowing that many of the records that documented her reign were destroyed by the Germans after WWII.
I wholehearted recommend this book and hope that I can find out more about this interesting and intelligent woman and leader. Thanks so much to Bloombury for giving me a copy!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily, December 13, 2011
I absolutely loved this biography by Nancy Goldstone! I had never heard of Queen Joanna, so obscure is she in history, but she was quite a remarkable woman. Living in the 1300's, Joanna was the granddaughter of Robert the Wise, King of Naples and was the first woman to govern a realm in her own name. Even though married four times, Joanna masterfully guarded her rule while dealing with complex political issues, constant war, economic "recessions," jealous and manipulative cousins, and even the black plague.

The book opens with Joanna standing trial in the papal courts for the murder of her first husband. Goldstone gives us insight into the character of the queen and this may be what hooked me. Joanna was a woman who never let the trials and challenges in her life bring her down. She always carried herself as a noble queen would and used her quick mind to argue with anyone who would oppose her or prevent her from carrying out the plans she made. She had a way with words and could almost always sway her audience to her side, and no matter what the circumstance, she always maintained a calm manner.

Throughout her life and reign, Joanna had to always look over her shoulder. Always fighting, it seemed. Cousins and others were constantly trying to steal her throne, ruthlessly plotting against her in hopes of usurping her. Husbands and their families, greedy monarchs of other nations, but Joanna managed to keep what was rightfully hers.

Quite devout in her beliefs, I was appalled at the papal courts interference in the matters of state. Joanna couldn't do anything without the approval and consent of the popes (which I found absolutely ridiculous!). In her shrewdness, Joanna managed to rule them without their realization by supporting them militarily and generously donating to their causes. She was a great leader to her subjects, honestly caring for them. She built hospitals and churches, encouraged education, and supported the arts. She did much to reduce crime and bring civility to her monarchy, and yet the church still excommunicated her towards the end of her life.

Joanna was murdered in the end, her body tossed like a rabid dog. She received no proper burial and to this day, her excommunication has never been lifted. I was so angry when I got to the end of this book. Goldstone's writing had a way of making me love Joanna as a dear friend and I was angered over the injustice of her death. After all she had done and been through, there was no burial, no ceremony, no acknowledgement of her life. I, of course, blame the Catholic Church.

Goldstone's detail to history throughout this book is impeccable; her writing style effortless. Not once did I feel like putting the book down to read something more interesting. Many notable characters can also be found within it's pages. Goldstone did a great job with her research and then relaying it to the readers. I highly recommend this book and can't wait to read another book by Goldstone!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and Interesting History of Joanna I, October 11, 2009
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This is a well written biography of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily. Quite detailed, the author puts the life of Joanna in context with her times and it is a remarkable tale of a woman who stood trial for the murder of her first husband in front of the Pope (stood trial in front of the Pope--didn't murder her husband in front of the Pope ;)) and went on to remarry and rule over one of Europe's most prestigious courts for more than 30 years, until she, herself, was murdered.

Joanna I stands alongside the other magnificent women of the middle ages -- Elizabeth I, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Catherine D'Medici, to name but a few -- remarkable, courageous, intelligent women who held their own in a man's world. This is a compelling, historically detailed, and quite interesting story and the author has done a marvelous job in writing and researching Joanna's story. An excellent book and an insightful read.
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The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily
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