The twenty-three Norman and Stuart kings could count thirty-four queens between them, each with their part to play in this turbulent period of English history, be it heroic or tragic. Mark Hichens’ meticulously researched book tells of their shifting fortunes, at times enthroned in splendour, at times hunted fugitives.
Few queens sought to be ‘the power behind the throne’, while others unintentionally changed the course of history. Catherine of Aragon, by the stand she took, had a role in paving the way for the Reformation. Queen Mary II, uniquely a queen regnant and a queen consort, equally influenced a new political era by her actions, while Eleanor of Aquitaine will always be remembered for being the wife of a king of France and then of a king of England.
Lasting happiness came to few English queens, many of whom married at the behest of their parents, often despite a huge difference in age. They were expected to be prolific bearers of children (Eleanor of Castile bore Edward I at least fourteen offspring) and a constant support to their often quirky and libidinous husbands, whether mighty warriors or ineffective weaklings. In an age of bloodshed and dark deeds their influence was nearly always benign and forbearing.