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

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  3,159 ratings  ·  251 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
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Paperback, 474 pages
Published July 7th 2011 by Faber & Faber (first published February 22nd 2011)
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Beth Zovko
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
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Jen
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
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Lisa
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
Nikki
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
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Elaine
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
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Susan
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.
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
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Jane
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
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Meaghan
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
Rio (Lynne)
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.
Dorothea
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
Libby
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
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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
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Bruno Bouchet
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
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
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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
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Michelle
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
Belinda
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
Melissa
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.
Iset
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
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
Melissa
I always knew England had a rich, fascinating royal history, but I don’t think I quite realized just how positively riveting it could be until I read Helen Castor’s She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. Many people are acquainted with Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen; there have been several major films and television series about her in recent years, and is the icon most people have in mind when thinking of famous royal figureheads in history. What most people don’t realize is th ...more
Ellen
A compelling look at the early queens of England and France. These women demonstrated through intelligence, strength and sheer will power how to be a queen and rule even without male support. From Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to Margaret and finally Elizabeth I, this fascinating study of the role of a queen is testimony to the power of the feminine in a world dominated by the male idea of a King and only a king to rule. Women were merely pawns in the royal battle for the thrones. But these wom ...more
Joan
Aug 17, 2011 Joan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Feminists, English historians, Royalty buffs
I think in many ways Matilda impressed me the most, then perhaps Margaret. I already knew a lot about Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was absolutely remarkable, and Isabella was a tragic figure who allowed love to corrumpt her after a horrible mock marriage to the homosexual king of England. Margaret was another queen married to a completely unsuitable king. However, she was loyal to her likely brain damaged or emotionally damaged husband and only changed the focus to her son when it became clear that ...more
Penny
I was half way through the first chapter before I noticed the dedication at the front - 2 such original names of teachers could only mean than Helen Castor was an alumni of the same school as myself - so I read on with increased interest every now and again catching a whiff of the dry humour of Miss Yates and the sympathy of Miss Lenygon - and vice versa - although not mentioned in this book no-one I know has ever shown more sympathy for Mary Queen of Scots - imprisoned and denied her chance of ...more
Kathleen
I loved this book. I knew some about Matilda and Mary Tudor, but the other women were pretty hazy. Castor did a great job bringing them to life, dragging all their dramatic and powerful exploits out into the light of day. Eleanor of Aquitaine might be my favorite, although the idea of Matilda racing across the landscape, battling with King Stephen, is awfully compelling. Margaret of Anjou was also pretty cool--really surprising--but I was a little worn out as it all wound down.

This is a pretty
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Shawn Thrasher
A new appreciation for these incredibly badass women, particularly Margaret of Anjou. Castor is a sharp, good writer, clear and clever. The chapter on Margaret of Anjou was particularly good (and eye-opening). There is also a keen line that runs through the book from Matilda through Mary Tudor - or perhaps I should say an arrow that points to Elizabeth. Castor's queens build on the deeds of the previous woman, until Elizabeth rules alone.
Joanne Hall
A hefty but fascinating book, written in an an engaging tone that avoids the dryness of some history books. Helen Castor tells the story of four queens who wielded their own power behind, or on behalf of, or for, the throne of England.
The book is divided into four sections, each section taking on a queen and telling her story :
Matilda - who went to war with her own cousin to secure the succession of her son.
The legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine, who ruled on behalf of Richard the Lionheart during h
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Eve


A great book. So much of women's history is unknown or uncelebrated so it was great to investigate these incredible women. I was also struck by how their family concerns, petty jealousies and feuds were writ on such a national scale. Impressive women they were but their stories add further to my discomfort with the concept of monarchy.
Jennifer Stilwell
I thought this was a really interesting book. It was a little slow at times, and took me a while to finish, but I learned a lot about some very important women in England's history. They were pretty remarkable!
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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
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More about Helen Castor...
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“. . . 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.” 0 likes
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