I received this book from Netgalley for an honest review.
Buckle in children. This is going to be a long review. I’m half tempted to get my APA ass out and do sections since my outline for this is just about three pages long, and that’s not including quotes (although since this is an ARC, quotes are likely to change and I should check to make sure they’re in the published version by my lazy ass will not) and me going into more detail.
My review structure is going to be pretty simple. Weir broke this into five sections and there are, technically, only four queens. I’m just going to sort of go with her sections. Also, head’s up. 4/5 queens are named Matilda. I’m sorry. Please imagine me trying to read this behemoth and keep all the names straight. Weir actually changed one of the queens known to history as Matilda to Maud so she wouldn’t confuse people as much.
“The Queen of England occupied a powerful and socially desirable position. Her status was reflected in every aspect of the ritual and ceremonial that surrounded her and governed her life; and she would have been aware of the weight of responsibility that brought with it. A queen had to be the embodiment of piety, beyond reproach morally, the guardian of the royal bloodline, a gentle and moderate mediator in the conflicts of men and a helpmeet to her husband. Her virtue was exemplified by her chastity and humility, her charity and her acts of mercy.”
Matilda of Flanders
“Though often apart, [Matilda and William] clearly worked in unison for the general benefit of their realms, and trusted each other.”
Before this book, I sadly hadn’t heard of the first Matilda. However, I know a lot about her husband, William the Conqueror. Really, Matilda was really the first modern queen. She made the model of how queens should act throughout time. She was a fantastic leader, helping her husband while also being a regent in Normandy with her son. The quarells that William had with his eldest were straightened out by her. She was a religious leader and founded so many places, bringing her own children in as nuns. As I said, she was a good mother and took care for her children. She was a patron to so many different places, religious and otherwise. Really, Matilda is a woman to be admired since she succeeded in a very modern way in a male-dominated world. Personally, I loved her and definitely want to read more books about her.
The only thing was her marriage to William. It was a bit fucked up. I mean, she didn’t want to marry him so he came and beat her up, then she said she wanted to marry him for that reason. I thought it was great propaganda but really fucked up.
Matilda of Scotland
“Chronicles would call the new Queen ‘the second Matilda’; like the first, she set an example of devout queenship that would be emulated by her successors.”
Another Matilda. Technically, her name was Edith and when she married Henry I her name got changed. I thought that she modeled herself after her mother-in-law and her own mother. She was extremely religious in nature, washing the sick’s feet. It made me wonder whether that queenly tradition started with her.
However, this part wasn’t exactly about her. There was a big controversy before her marriage that took up her time. Then there was a huge part of the Investiture Controversey where she took the side against her husband, then had to try to warm him up. There was a bit of stage setting for the eventual civil war between Maud (who will come later) and Stephen.
Weir also made some claims that she didn’t follow up on. Such as, her being oppressive in taxation. It was mentioned quite a few times, yet never followed up. Weir focused more on her religiosity. She was friends with Anselm of Canterbury, who’s pretty famous for his proof for God. As I said earlier, she mixed in on the controversy over who has the right to invest bishops with their titles. When she died, she almost became a saint. Pretty impressive, right?
Adeliza of Louvain
“Adeliza would be remembered as ‘the May withouten vice.’ She was young and untried, and was to play virtually no public role in politics.”
If there was ever an antithesis to the first two queens, this was it. When Matilda of Scotland died, Henry I remarried to Adeliza. Her whole point was to produce more legitimate children. With Matilda of Scotland, he had two children. He had tons of illegitimate children as well. Adeliza did not have any children with Henry I and, even worse, Henry lost his only son and had to settle his heir on a woman, Maud, who had been married to the Holy Roman Emperor and stayed in the Germanic territories until he died and left her a widow.
This section wasn’t about Adeliza, quite honestly. This section was setting the stage by explaining who Stephen was or about Maud. She never did anything religious as a queen and she wasn’t involved in government. The later section actually talked more about her. With her second husband, she had children. Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard actually claim her as a descendant through those children. In her second marriage, she also created religious houses and issued charters.
Matilda of Boulogne and Empress Maud
“The energetic Queen Matilda proved a formidable political opponent to the Empress. The two women had much in common: both were strong characters, heiresses with royal Saxon blood and nieces of King David of Scots. Both were married to forceful, acquisitive men, and ambitious for their sons.”
This last real section combined both the queens involved in the civil war. After Henry I died, Maud was supposed to inherit the throne. However, she was with her husband (more on him later) and Stephen jumped at the chance and took the throne. From there, it turned into a civil war.
Henry really undermined Maud’s cause, honestly. I think she would have made a great queen and the toils of war were what caused her to act as she did. First, he married her off to a man eleven years younger than her without getting support from anyone in England. Second, he never involved her in politics. Third, she had to spend time with her husband rather than be in England to make a presence. So, she got fucked over. When she was in the war, the English largely viewed her as haughty and that she was pretending to be a man since she came to England as a woman alone. Her husband never supported her, but tried to win Normandy. She was literally alone and trying to navigate a poltical field that she had never been brought into. So, to me, Weir’s comment in the last chapter about Maud acting this way because of menopause was absolutely absurd. She was stressed out. Of course you do stupid things when you’re stressed out. Furthermore, why can’t you take a feminist reading. This is the time period when men’s domination over women was being formalized and it’s certainly down to the Bible and tradition that she was seen as unfit.
So, to me, Weir’s comment in the last chapter about Maud acting this way because of menopause was absolutely absurd. She was stressed out. Of course you do stupid things when you’re stressed out. Furthermore, why can’t you take a feminist reading. This is the time period when men’s domination over women was being formalized and it’s certainly down to the Bible and tradition that she was seen as unfit.
It was obvious that Matilda favored Maud, even though she treated both women evenly. Matilda was in about the same state as Maud, but she was backed up by her husband. She ruled while he fought. While Maud was seen as usurping her femaleness, Matilda was viewed as a queen ought to be. I think this quote sums it up better:
“In the eyes of male contemporaries, [Maud] had behaved in an imperious, unwomanly fashion, while at the same time manifesting the weaknesses of her sex. Queen Matilda, on the other hand, had shown herself as tough and thrusting as Maud, and men had praised her ‘manly courage,’ yet she had retained support because she acted in Stephen’s name, and won sympathy because she had to act alone while he was imprisoned.”
Maud made the same mistakes Stephen made, yet they were interpreted differently through history. Her mistakes were because she was a woman unused to doing this. Stephen made these mistakes because they were an accident. Maud just didn’t have anyone to help her out like Matilda did.
My concluding thoughts are that this book is good, but focused a lot on men or people other than some of the queens. Perhaps this book would have been better as separate biographies on the women, not like they were. The ending totally pissed me off and left me with a bad taste in my mouth since I definitely think it’s appropriate to read history through a feminist lens.