cover image Heroines of the Medieval World

Heroines of the Medieval World

Sharon Bennett Connolly. Amberley, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4456-6264-0

History blogger Connolly (History... the Interesting Bits!) has parlayed her passion for the little-known histories of women into this informative, well-researched book about European women in the 11th–15th centuries. As she points out, her subjects were accomplished women “who stood out in a world dominated by men” to survive in the historical record. The chapters are organized thematically by categories of women (“Disinherited Heroines,” “Warrior Heroines,” and so on), beginning with “The Medieval Ideal,” which outlines the standards to which women were held. These unrealistic expectations were modeled on royal women such as Matilda of Flanders, who married William the Conqueror and was “renowned for her piety,” and Blanche of Lancaster, “pregnant for most of her married life.” The chapter on literary women includes Marie de France, a mysterious poet whose work drew on Greek, Celtic, and Arthurian legends and inspired Geoffrey Chaucer. The chapters contain a nice mix of well-known women, including religious martyr Joan of Arc, and those less familiar, such as Princess Nest of Wales, mistress of Henry I, who later had children fathered by a succession of three husbands as well as some unknown men. The narrative flow sometimes gets clogged with lengthy recitations of lineage, a minor price to pay for learning about women who found ways around patriarchal social rules to affect “not only their families, but... future generations of women,” often through exerting influence over politics. As Connolly ably demonstrates, knowing about these fascinating women is essential to fully understanding medieval Europe. Illus. (May)