Just thought I’d touch base and show you what I’m reading. As you can see, I have my hands full at the moment. It’s so nice to have such a great selection of books to dig into. I’ve just finished reading G. R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (which is amazing by the way, and it’s amazing how many references to the English Wars of the Roses there are. Cannot wait until the next instalment!) so now I’m 100% focussed on this pile!
After finishing my degree in Early Modern History, I have decided to start reading more into Medieval history. I’m not too sure what made me do this, perhaps it was my love of Martin’s Game of Thrones, but I’m so glad I have. I started with Alison Weir’s novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Captive Queen, and it just opened up a whole new world for me. I have always loved the Tudors since my secondary school history teacher taught me about Wolsey and Henry VIII with such passion. My dissertation about Anne Boleyn’s role in Wolsey’s downfall and her love affair with the king has given me some interesting ideas and theories that I’m hoping to explore in a MPhil (if i ever save up enough), but if I can’t go down that path hopefully I can detail them in a book (wishful thinking perhaps but I’m going to try!). These are tied up with certain Medieval Queens and the more I read the greedier I am about buying books that help illuminate the dark ages of English (and European) history.
History offers so many interesting characters and events sometimes it is difficult knowing where, and when, to start. I never thought of myself as a historian that favoured studying women but it seems naturally I have been drawn to some powerful female identities of the past. That’s not to say I ignore the men; I find Henry II extremely interesting, his mood changes and thirst for power are fascinating. I also have a bit of a soft spot for Cavour and his role in the Unification of Italy. That came through in an essay I wrote about his significance and it remains one of my favourite bits of work I have done. But these medieval queens are often shrouded in darkness, as the remaining evidence about their lives is relatively small when compared to the wives of Henry VIII. I think it is often thought that these women were perhaps dull and/or boring as women had far fewer rights than they do now, however I think this is a severe misconception. Yes, women’s rights were few and far between, yet these queens were able to exercise a surprising amount of power in their position, over both their king and his council. Of course there were barriers, there was a limit to what they could do but it is truly fascinating what they were able to achieve.
It is also interesting how the role of queenship and kingship dramatically changed after the Wars of the Roses. We then move into Early Modern History with the Renaissance and everything seems to change. Henry VIII is the one that struggles with this change the most. He is trapped between the age of knightly chivalry and the role of a warrior king and the age where councils and parliament were beginning to play a larger role in the countries affairs. His inability to provide a legitimate male heir linked with the instability of his claim to the throne dominates his later life. The role of kingship shifts during this period and while he struggles to come to terms with this he seeks different attributes in his different wives. I believe that perhaps Anne Boleyn had more in common with the previous queens of England, than she does with the future royalty, and that unfortunately, was a contributing factor to her unpopularity and execution. I am huge Anne Boleyn fan as you can probably already tell, but i really want to learn more about Henry’s other wives too, as well as all these fascinating Medieval and Plantagenet queens. As I find out more, posts will follow.
So, keep your eyes peeled, I will have some more book reviews up soon! As you can see, I have my hands full.