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She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  4,853 Ratings  ·  335 Reviews
When Edward VI - Henry VIII’s longed-for son - died in 1553, extraordinarily, there was no one left to claim the title King of England. For the first time, all the contenders for the crown were female.

In 1553, England was about to experience the ‘monstrous regiment’ - the unnatural rule - of a woman. But female rule in England also had a past. Four hundred years before Edw
Paperback, 474 pages
Published July 7th 2011 by Faber & Faber (first published February 22nd 2011)
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Dec 04, 2013 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
NERD ALERT: This is the yardstick by which I measure all nonfiction. Historians often sacrifice the human aspect their subject to detail dates, times, economics, etc. They often overload you with information for no clear reason, maybe to validate their amount of research. Or they can go the opposite tack and leave you desperate for a year, a town, a battle, (dear god anything!) you can use as a frame of reference.

Helen Castor is not that type of historian. She is a consummate storyteller who
For a rigorous non-fiction history book, this one's so easy to read that time flies by without notice and before you know, you've finished it. Helen Castor is definitely one of those few academics who can narrate true facts from history as if it were a novel, very amenable style, and not dry at all despite the amount of information.

And it's so enjoyable despite already being pretty fairly familiar with the women discussed in this book, four extraordinary women who wielded royal power before the
Mar 09, 2016 Frances rated it really liked it
4.5* History buffs won’t come across a finer book written as it captures the very essence of four strong minded women, Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou. Brilliantly told with a considerable amount of detail, Helen Castor relies heavily on well documented records to tell the story of how these exceptional women came forth by taking control to ensure the crown for their offspring. Patience is required in several of the chapters as periodically there are too ...more

Over the years, for one reason or another, I've picked up a hell of a lot of English history through inadvertent measures. The Tudors and the Borgias are the two families I've studied on an amateur level since grade school, and a systematic repetition of Shakespeare at various levels of education and varied modes of entertainment has built up an instinctive recognition of names and plots that, for all the 16th-17th century fanfiction treatment, still serves me well. My story is not unusual
Deborah Pickstone
Really excellent history and an easy and compelling read. I had been involved in a discussion on the subjects of this book with a fellow GR reviewer and friend which inspired me to read it myself and I am glad that I did. For myself, the most interesting sections were on Isabelle and Margaret of Anjou, simply because they were less well known to me but I enjoyed this so much that I have every intention of reading anything and everything that Helen Castor writes.

NB Forgot to say I was sorry to se
I borrowed this book from the library about a lifetime ago. So I really should be taking it back. But once you reach the max fine...really, what's the incentive?

The hold up was that I couldn't get into it. It's not that the subject isn't interesting, because I dare you to find something boring about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Double Dog Dare! The problem was the writing.

The first parts of the book were pretty much recitations of facts and happenings, with very little analysis. She covers Matilda, E
May 06, 2012 Nikki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
She-Wolves is a much more dynamic and pacey work on some of the strong-willed and powerful queens that ruled England, compared to Lisa Hilton's Queens Consort -- though that, covering the entire medieval period rather than selected queens, is more complete. Helen Castor's writing is better, though, and her selection of queens makes her work more interesting because they're the queens who wielded real power.

She discusses Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Acquitaine, Isabella of France, and Marguerite o
Dec 04, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember the last time I spent three-plus weeks reading a book straight through. In retrospect, maybe I should have alternated queenly chapters with lighter reading, but I found this fascinating on the whole and was highly motivated by wanting to see what happened next. I found this very dense, rather than dry, and actually a lot of fun. But it was slow going keeping all the Edwards and Isabellas straight, making sure I was following which faction was on which side at any given time -- a ...more
Sandi *~The Pirate Wench~*
4 1/2 Stars

Normally, I will only read historical-biographies when I'm reading a book about a historical figure that I really don't know much about their background...only that they fit in a certain period of time between such in such Queen or such and such King. I find some of them ( historical figures ) I still get mixed up with...what can I say *shrugs* if the names back then weren't all the same it be a piece of cake, at least for me.
So, I will pick up a book at the library that usually helps
Maryjanice Davidson
This was supposed to be a quick note of thanks to the author, but it morphed into a review/fangirl squee/overshare. Enjoy! Or not.

* * *

Dear Dr. Castor,

I just finished your wonderful book, SHE-WOLVES: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, and had to write you to rave. Also, I'm pretty annoyed at you because my book bill is about to go sky-high(er) and frankly, you might want to think about starting fundraisers for your readers, because I doubt I'm the only one with this problem.

I've been
I found myself choosing this book over my current fiction reads when I sat down at home and had a choice of things to pick up. Now THAT'S saying something about the style of writing and the stories told.

I love that this book spans so many years of the English monarchy, and that as I was reading I could think of the historical fiction and movies that were set in the same time. We start with Matilda (this is the era of the Brother Cadfael Mysteries if you've read or seen those), who was daughter t
Oct 09, 2010 Susan marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
My copy came in the mail today! I read the part about Margaret of Anjou--concise and well written, with an appreciation of the difficult situation in which Margaret found herself. (I was grateful too that there wasn't anything in Castor's book that forced me to make any last-minute changes to my novel about Margaret!) I'm looking forward to reading about Queen Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose stories are less familiar to me, and about Isabella of France.
Nov 10, 2012 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Where I got the book: my local library.

She-Wolves is an entertaining and clearly written account of English queens (well, mostly French really, but queens of England) who stood out from obscurity because they had to go the extra mile to cope with having their throne snatched out from under them (Matilda/Maud), being mom to an absentee king and his rotter brother (Eleanor), having a husband who ruled so badly that he ticked off just about every powerful aristocrat in the country (Isabella) or bei
This is an enormous banquet of fascinating information about about women who made big history. These were the girls who INSPIRED the saying that well behaved women DON'T make history. I truly thought I knew a lot about these particular royal rebels, but LO! Helen Castor has a lot to teach us all! This book is probably not for the casual reader, but for anyone with a real interest in English History, it is a treasure.

Almost everyone has some familiarity with Elizabeth I, you know, the Virgin Que
An excellent book, well worth a read for those interested in European history. In addition to covering the usual suspects such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Mary I, the author also profiled relatively little-known queens like Margaret of Anjou and Matilda. (Indeed, before this book I had never even heard of Margaret of Anjou.) She makes a convincing argument that Matilda was not the "proud and arrogant" woman as generations of historians have alleged, and she accomplishes the unthinkable by making ...more
Abigail Hartman
Castor's "She-Wolves" is an interesting overview and comparison of some of Elizabeth I's most powerful, prominent female predecessors: the Empress Matilda (my personal favorite); Eleanor of Aquitaine; Isabella of France; Margaret of Anjou; and, with somewhat less page-time, Mary I. As a popular history, it conveys the stories of each queen in a dramatic style while also pointing out the common difficulties female rulers faced and the different ways in which these protagonists dealt, successfully ...more
Rio (Lynne)
Jul 09, 2012 Rio (Lynne) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this. I picked it up at the library basically as a refresher course for myself. After reading Chadwick's Lady of the English and Higginbotham's The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou, The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II and Her Highness, the Traitor and other books about Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, I felt well versed on these women. The author did a good job without being overly dry telling the stories of Matilda, Eleanor, Isabella, Margaret and Jane.
This book deals, as the subtitle tells us, with “The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth”, ie. Matilda, the Empress, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou and less thoroughly Mary. It is an easy to read account of these ladies’ lives and “reigns”. For me the parts dealing with Matilda and Isabella were of particular interest, because my knowledge about these two had been rather limited. It certainly will make me investigate them further. If this was Helen Castor’s aim, ...more
Sep 08, 2013 Belinda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Fantastic. One of the best books on the queens of England I have read. The author manages to cover many important and famous women and impart a great deal of information while keeping their opinion to themselves (oddly a problem on this subject in my experience). The book is so interesting and well written that it was like reading a really fun fiction book that you just don't want to put down. I learned so much about rulers that I thought I knew a ton about (Eleanor of Aquitaine being one exampl ...more
Maybe it’s because I’m already at least somewhat familiar with all the historical figures explored within, but I devoured Helen Castor’s latest historical non-fiction in two days flat. I enjoyed the dual experience of uncovering new snippets of information or a fresh interpretation of the reigns of figures familiar to me, and also learning a whole lot more about other historical personages who I had previously known only the real basics about. Castor painted a real picture of the times these wom ...more
Marie Z. Johansen
I had eagerly awaited the release of this book and waited until I could take my time and read it slowly- taking notes if I wished. I wasn't disappointed! The book begins with a genealogy of the Tudor Succession and as Edward VI is dying. The book is an utterly fascinating, eminently readable, treatise about the tradition of female rulers prior to the time of Elizabeth I.

Included are:

Matilda: Lady of England 1102-1167
Eleanor: An Incomparable Woman 1124-1204 (long lived indeed!)
Isabella: Iron Lady
Matt Brady
Using the framing sequence of the succession crisis in England upon the death of Edward VI, when all the possible blood claimants to the throne were women and England was set to have it’s first ever ruling Queen, Castor looks at four remarkable women who, in different ways, assumed the authority, if not the title, of kingship in England in the previous centuries. The Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou, the eponymous “she-wolf”, are all covered in dep ...more
Bruno Bouchet
May 10, 2011 Bruno Bouchet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After giving up on Catherine the Great, retreated in time to the surer ground of power bitches of medieval England and was richly rewarded. I'd already read Alison Weir's excellent book on Eleanor of Aquitaine so was familiar with her story but it was great to read about how England came to accept the concept of a Queen ruling 'as a king', dating back to the Anglo Saxon origins of the word Queen. The insights into the struggles for power by Matilda, Eleanor, Isabella Margaret and Mary were fasci ...more
Alastair Rosie
Jul 24, 2012 Alastair Rosie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
I've always had a jaded view of history, on the one hand I do love it, I wouldn't have moved to Britain if I didn't at least appreciate it. On the other hand I'm often put off by the scant references to women in the history books, almost as if they were hidden away and only mentioned when they did something that upset the male commentators of the time, who were enslaved to Rome's viewpoint.
Take the so called suicide of Boudica. Ignoring the fact that the only two commentators, Tacitus and Cassi
Jennifer Rayment
he Good Stuff

* Wonderfully well researched
* Fascinating historical information
* Learned a lot about Matilda, that I had never known before. Ok most of the stuff I "know" about her came from the novel Pillars of the Earth
* Powerful women taking charge and flouting male authority
* Insightful commentary on both modern and historical female figures
* Extremely thorough in historical detail

The Not so Good Stuff

* Way too scholarly for day to day reading, but a great text for historical informati
Apr 10, 2011 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
I really enjoyed this. This is a very well-told story of the background behind the accession to the English throne of Mary and Elizabeth I. It takes a very close look at the previous attempts of the different women who sought to rule in England on their own merits, and not merely as the decorative occasional-regents to their husbands. I notice some reviewers had a hard time keeping everyone straight; I personally think the author did a very good job of explaining who was who and what happened. B ...more
Rob Adey
Jul 31, 2015 Rob Adey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and imaginative account of what happened to the medieval mind when confronted by the collision of two irrational systems - patriarchy and royalty. "She's a woman, she can't tell us what to do. But she has magic blood! Doth... not... compute..."

Could have done with a little more background on what the times were like generally, just to stop me imagining everyone flying about on dragons, but I guess Castor can take it as read that most of her readers did history at GCSE at least.
Description: When Edward VI - Henry VIII’s longed-for son - died in 1553, extraordinarily, there was no one left to claim the title King of England. For the first time, all the contenders for the crown were female.

In 1553, England was about to experience the ‘monstrous regiment’ - the unnatural rule - of a woman. But female rule in England also had a past. Four hundred years before Edward’s death, Matilda, daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conquerer, came tantalisingly close t
The premise of the book is that these "she-wolves' paved the way for the Golden Age of Elizabethan rule that followed. The histories of the women who 'ruled' before Elizabeth were really well filled in. They were easy to read and follow. However, when the author turns to apply the lessons/political changes that allowed Elizabeth (and her sister before her) to rule, the book falls apart. The last section where she tries to pull it all together seems rushed and hard to understand.
I don't care much for shoulds, but this book should be the benchmark for popular history. It's well researched, AND hella well written. Helen Castor has a fantastic narrative gift; she never sacrifices clarity for accessibility, or specificity for lyricism, and this book is about as perfect as popular history gets. Read it. Read it now.
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Helen Castor is a historian of medieval England and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. She directed studies in History at Sidney for eight years before deciding to concentrate on writing history for a wider readership.

Her book Blood & Roses (Faber, 2004, published in revised form in the US by HarperCollins, 2006) is a biography of the fifteenth-century Paston family, whose letters
More about Helen Castor...

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“Amid the chaos and confusion, one thing alone was certain: for the first time, a woman would sit upon the throne of England.” 1 likes
“. . . she at once put on an extremely arrogant demeanour instead of the modest gait and bearing proper to the gentle sex,” the Gesta’s author complained, “began to walk and speak and do all things more stiffly and more haughtily than she had been wont, to such a point that soon, in the capital of the land subject to her, she actually made herself queen of all England and gloried in being so called.” 1 likes
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