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She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  6,060 ratings  ·  448 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
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published 2011 by Faber & Faber
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3.98  · 
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 ·  6,060 ratings  ·  448 reviews

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Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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

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
Nov 10, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Sandi *~The Pirate Wench~*
Had to get who is who straight again..geez..

4 1/2 Stars.. again

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 and such Queen or such and such King.
I find some of them ( historical figures ) very confusing and I still get them mixed up...what can I say *shrugs*
Now if the names back then weren't all the same it be a p
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
MaryJanice Davidson
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
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
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A few months ago, I was channel-surfing for something to watch while ironing, and one of the local channels had a series called She-Wolves about the queens who fought for their right to rule. The first queen of England whose name meant anything to me was Mary, and I watched out of curiosity, intending to switch channels when the show became boring. My ironing wasn't done that night.

Considering that the overwhelming majority of the historical record springs from the pens of men, Helen Castor has
Feb 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, history
Rounded up from 2.5 stars. This is a fascinating topic but Castor is a dreadfully dull writer. This should not have taken me so long to get through.
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
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Castor's lucid prose, historical acuity, and affection for her subjects make this book so engaging that when I encountered it in the course of my research I read it in full rather than skimming it for just the information I needed. I'm grateful to Castor; my project, however, is not.
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 09, 2010 marked it as to-read
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.
Rhuddem Gwelin
Dec 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Very interesting to read about these women who were, or tried to be, once and future queens. 12th century Matilda (mentioned in my novel 'The Wrathful Traveller), also 12th century Eleanor of Aquitaine (also mentioned in my novel 'The Wrathful Travller), 14th century Isabella, 15th century Margaret of Anjou - a personal favourite because of Shakespeare. It's tough for women in our times but, oh dear oh dear oh dear, what these women had to go through. There is much material here that fills out t ...more
Abigail Hartman
Sep 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
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
Rio (Lynne)
Jun 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
May 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
This book is about the women who ruled England before Queen Elizabeth, but in true educational fashion, Helen Castor introduces us (within the first two chapters) to a young Queen Elizabeth. The mode continues at the end of the book when we read a bit more about Queen Elizabeth through the reign of her half-sister Queen Mary Tudor who ruled following the disputed reign of Lady Jane Grey and of how the whirlwind developed of her becoming Queen of England. The author circles around in true course ...more
Alastair Rosie
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Marie Z. Johansen
May 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jennifer Rayment
Feb 24, 2011 rated it liked it
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
While each of the women covered in She-Wolves was fascinating and Helen Castor did an admirable job writing this book, the unfortunate truth is that there isn't enough in the historical record on many of these women to write in-depth on them and them alone. As a result, the book often ends up reciting the history of the men around these women, with occasional commentary on what the women were probably feeling or doing shoe-horned in.

The result is a large amount of history condensed to roughly 1
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
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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
“Amid the chaos and confusion, one thing alone was certain: for the first time, a woman would sit upon the throne of England.” 7 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.” 2 likes
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