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Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 19, 2007
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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 the Paperback edition.
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 the Paperback edition.
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So bring on anyone who can put some vibrancy and flavor back into the dusty old annals of history.
This book is written more in the style of a novel, even though it is non-fiction. It is very entertaining, easy to read and a fun book all around. I found myself wishing that high school history books were written in a similar style--students might actually read them!
I'm a big fan of well-written historical fiction, and this book comes close in entertainment value. This isn't a book for serious scholars, but an easy read for those of us who are interested in history but aren't researching an academic treatise. I'd recommend it for the average history buff.
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.