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Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe Hardcover – November 29, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of December 2016: When chess was first played, all the human figures were male. Only around the eight century did the Queen appear and not until the sixteenth century did the Queen become the most powerful piece in chess. Credit for this development is given to Isabella of Spain, the “warrior queen,” herself a skillful and enthusiastic chess player. Coincidentally, from Isabella’s accession to the throne in 1474 through the next hundred years, an Age of Queens flourished to a degree not seen before or since, with women on the thrones of many European countries. Both the influence of chess and Isabella of Spain feature heavily in Game of Queens. Though few of the female regents met one another, the passage of power and influence (including strategic chess plays) flowed from mothers to daughters and from mentors to protegees, across borders and across generations. The stories of some of the greatest (and hated) queens are told here (in an amusing author’s note, Gristwood points out that in a story with sixteen protagonists, eight of them are named either Mary or Margaret and she absolves herself of responsibility for any confusion that may result). Against a backdrop of religious reformations and the innovations of the new age, Gristwood deftly shows how the explosion of female rule came about, the machinations and power plays behind the thrones, and how the Age of Queens ultimately played out; unsurprisingly, fidelity and fertility were used to create scandals that threatened to topple each Queen. From Isabella of Castile and her granddaughter Mary Tudor, to Catherine de Medici, Anne Boleyn, and Elizabeth Tudor, what could be a dry examination of policy and power becomes, in Gristwood’s hands, a lively, accessible, occasionally hilarious, absorbing account of an astonishing era. --Vannessa Cronin, The Amazon Book Review
"Densely packed with fascinating material, this immensely ambitious undertaking succeeds triumphantly."
―Literary Review (UK)
"A fascinating work of world and women's history."―Booklist
"Gristwood's fresh take on a well-documented period and the achievements, failures, and relationships of some of Europe's most powerful players is intriguing, cohesive, and accessible."―Publishers Weekly
"[Game of Queens] casts a well-researched time period in an intriguing light.... Readers of popular history, especially of Tudor England, and of women's history will find much to enjoy."―Library Journal
"Sarah Gristwood handles multiple narrative strands with tremendous finesse, dexterously synthesizing the stories of women who, in many cases, never met but whose lives intertwined in manifold ways."―Literary Review (UK)
"Game of Queens is a magnificent exploration of a most remarkable group--the women who ruled sixteenth century Europe. Sarah Gristwood gives us impeccable research, incisive attention to detail, and exquisite writing as she investigates these truly fascinating women and their lives of courage, tribulation, and determination. Absolutely unputdownable."―Kate Williams, author of England's Mistress
"Sarah Gristwood's study of the brilliant, beleaguered, and often bloody difficult women who kept Europe going in the sixteenth century is compelling, clear-eyed, beautifully rendered, and never-more-timely."―Jessie Childs, author of God's Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England
"In her elegant and engaging style, she combines incisive detail with over-arching and eye-opening themes of queenship and the role of women in a male-dominated world. This book is a wonderful, timely contribution to our understanding of the period, and a pacy and illuminating good read."―Alison Weir, author of The Lost Tudor Princess
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Interesting, at times, riveting, this is a fascinating glimpse into a world that is too often overshadowed by the achievements of kings rather than the women who surrounded and influenced them.
Gristwood is a gifted writer, and an exemplary scholar. I look forward to reading more of her work.