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Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe Paperback – February 26, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The four beautiful, cultured and clever daughters of the Count and Countess of Provence made illustrious marriages and lived at the epicenter of political power and intrigue in 13th-century Europe. Marguerite accompanied her husband, King Louis IX of France, on his disastrous first crusade to the Holy Land, where straight from childbirth she ransomed him from the Mamluks. And with her sister Eleanor, queen of England, Marguerite engineered a sturdy peace between France and England. Ambitious Eleanor walked a narrow line while she struggled to build her own power base without alienating her cowardly husband, Henry III. Beatrice's coronation as queen of Sicily was the culmination of her long, hard-fought campaign to earn respect from her world-famous, mightily accomplished older siblings. Sanchia wed one of the richest men in Europe, but her reign as queen of Germany, brought her only misery. On Goldstone's (coauthor of The Friar and the Cipher) rich, beautifully woven tapestry, medieval Europe springs to vivid life, from the lavish menus of the royal banquets and the sweet songs of the troubadours to the complex machinations of the pope against the Holy Roman Emperor. This is a fresh, eminently enjoyable history that gives women their due as movers and shakers in tumultuous times. Illus., 4 maps. (Apr. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Historian Goldstone tracks the historically and politically significant lives of four thirteenth-century sisters born into the minor nobility of medieval Provence. Although their origins were not as lofty as many others, Marguerite married Louis IX of France, Eleanor was wed to England's Henry III, Sanchia was married to Richard of Cornwall, who eventually was crowned king of Germany, and Beatrice assisted her husband, Charles of Anjou, in seizing the Sicilian throne. Goldstone deftly analyzes what separated these women from their peers--beauty, ambition, familial connections, political aspirations, and timing--in compulsively readable detail. This fascinating collective biography will appeal to students of the period and should generate some crossover appeal for fans of intelligent historical fiction featuring strong female protagonists a la Philippa Gregory. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143113259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113256
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #609,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rebecca Huston on May 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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