cover image She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

Helen Castor, Harper, $25.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-143076-3

Without these ancestral "she-wolves" (as Shakespeare dubbed Margaret of Anjou), says Castor, England's legendary Queen Elizabeth I may have been cast off, overlooked in the search for a male monarch. Spanning nearly 400 years, four notable foreign-born queens demonstrated strength and political savvy as they sought to establish their claims to English rule while their kings (whether husband or son) were absent, weak, or deceased. Castor (Blood and Roses), a fellow at Cambridge University, ably explains the dilemma of appearing unnaturally masculine while maintaining an aura of leadership. Castor's clear dissection of medieval expectations and restrictions make these queens' painfully won advances even more impressive. Early rulers Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine indirectly prevented a French-style Salic Law from hindering female-claim succession, paving the way for the reigns of Mary Tudor and of Elizabeth I, whose question of succession bookends the stories of the earlier queens. Castor's deep research will please European, military, and women's historians, while the detailed maps, lucid family charts, and tight storytelling make this unusually fine royal history enjoyable reading for casual readers. 8 pages of color photos; 5 maps. (Mar.)