The year 2016 was a wonderful year for books about royal women. Here are HRW’s top picks for 2016 in no particular order.
The Wars of the Roses were not just fought by men on the battlefield. There were daughters, wives, mistresses, mothers and queens whose lives and influences helped shape the most dramatic of English conflicts. This book traces the women’s stories on the Lancastrian side, from the children of Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt, through the turbulent 15th century to the advent of Margaret Beaufort’s son in 1509, and establishment of the Tudor dynasty. From Katherine Swynford and Catherine of Valois’s secret liaisons to the love lives of Mary de Bohun and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, to the Queenship of Joan of Navarre and Margaret of Anjou, this book explores how these extraordinary women survived in extraordinary times.
Delve deeper into the world of the BBC hit drama series Versailles, and discover the real Marie-Antoinette in this ground-breaking study of her secret love affair with the Swedish diplomat Count Axel von Fersen.
For the first time an historian has compiled all the known letters between Swedish count Axel von Fersen and Marie-Antoinette, including six letters never before published. With unprecedented access to French and Swedish archives, Evelyn Farr has proven beyond doubt one of history’s greatest romances. Axel von Fersen was Queen Marie-Antoinette’s lover and loyal counsellor who gave her political advice from 1785 to the fall of the French monarchy at the time of the French Revolution. He organized the Royal Family’s escape from Paris in 1791. Evelyn Farr’s revelatory work on the subject also goes some way to proving that Count Fersen was in fact the biological father of Marie Antoinette’s two younger children. Farr unveils the logistics and practicalities behind the romance; the use of code and invisible ink, the role of intermediaries, secret seals, double envelopes, codenames and the location of Fersen’s clandestine lodgings at Versailles. I Love You Madly is a meticulously researched and enjoyable study of a forbidden love at a time of revolution. The letters portray a rebellious and independent queen who risked everything and broke all the rules to love the man who succeeded in conquering her heart.
In sixteenth-century Europe, an extraordinary set of women created a unique culture of feminine power that saw them run the continent for decades. Despite often being on opposing sides of power struggles both armed and otherwise, through family ties and patronage they educated and supported each other in a brutal world where the price of failure was disgrace, exile or even death.
Following the passage of power from mother to daughter and mentor to protégé, Gristwood reveals the unorthodox practices these women adopted to avoid patriarchal control and assesses the impact they had on shaping the world around them. Epic in scale, this game of queens is a remarkable spectacle of skill and ingenuity, confronting the challenges faced by women in power – many of which still hold relevant today.
The players in this Game of Queens are: Isabella of Castile, Margaret of Austria, Louise of Savoy, Anne de Beaujeu, Katherine of Aragon, Marguerite of Navarre, Anne Boleyn, Catherine de Medici, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth Tudor, Jeanne d’Albret and Mary Stuart.
This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out. This journey traces their steps to the Alhambra in Spain, childhood home of Katherine of Aragon; to the very room at Acton Court where Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII publicly dined; through the cobbled grounds of Hampton Court Palace, which bore witness to both triumph and tragedy for Jane Seymour; into the streets of Düsseldorf in Germany, birthplace of Anne of Cleves; among the ruins and picturesque gardens of St Mary’s Abbey in York where Catherine Howard and Henry VIII rested at the pinnacle of the 1541 progress; and to Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire, where Katherine Parr lived as daughter-in-law of the irascible Sir Thomas Brough.
Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.
When the tall, athletic Edward of York seized the English throne in 1461, he could have chosen any bride he wanted. With his dazzling good looks and royal lineage, the nineteen-year-old quickly got a reputation for womanising, and few were able to resist his charm and promises. For three years he had a succession of mistresses, while foreign princesses were lined up to be considered for his queen. Then he fell in love. The woman who captured the king was Elizabeth Woodville, a widow five years his elder. While her contemporaries and later historians have been divided over her character, none have denied her beauty. She had previously been married to a Lancastrian knight who had lost his life fighting against the Yorkists. When she petitioned the king to help restore her son’s inheritance, reputedly waiting for him under an oak tree, the young Edward was immediately spellbound. But this romance was not to be just another fling. Conscious of her honour and her future, Elizabeth repelled his advances. Edward’s answer was to make her his wife. It was to prove an unpopular decision. Since then, Edward’s queen has attracted extreme criticism, her story and connections reported by hostile chroniclers, her actions interpreted in the bleakest of lights. In this enlightening book, Amy Licence reassesses the tumultuous lives of the real White Queen and the king she captivated.