Back Cover Blurb:
"Sixteenth-century Europe saw an explosion of female rule. From Isabella of Castile and her granddaughter Mary Tudor, to Catherine de Medici, Anne Boleyn, and Elizabeth Tudor, women wielded enormous power over their territories for more than a hundred years. In the sixteenth century, as in our own, the phenomenon of the powerful woman offered challenges and opportunities. Opportunities, as when in 1529 Margaret of Austria and Louise of Savoy negotiated the “Ladies’ peace” of Cambrai. Challenges, as when both Mary Queen of Scots and her kinswoman Elizabeth I came close to being destroyed by sexual scandal.
A fascinating group biography of some of the most beloved (and reviled) queens in history, Game of Queens tells the story of the powerful women who drove European history."
While not having finished "Game of Queens" quite yet, I can absolutely say that this book is well-written, thoughtfully laid out, and relatively easy to read. I say relatively only because of the sheer number of women covered in this ambitious work. I'd be willing to bet that anyone would have a bit of trouble following the names, places, families, and tittles that accompany each sixteenth-century queen - so it's through no fault whatsoever of Sarah Gristwood. In fact, I think she works to reduce the level of confusion surrounding these women and places. She makes a point to specify where she's talking about (example: "Meanwhile, in Scotland..." or "Let us now return to France..."). In a world where so many of these women shared names such as Anne, Mary, Catherine, or Margaret (with perhaps a slight distinction in Marguerite), the reader appreciates the author's help in keeping names straight.
This book spans the sixteenth century, beginning with Margaret of Austria's court and the joint king-and-queenship of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Of course, this moves along into Katherine of Aragon's travels to England for her marriage to Prince Arthur, as well as some background on young Anne Boleyn's education as a lady-in-waiting at Margaret's court. Because Sarah Gristwood parallels countries to discuss a single time period (roughly five-ten years at a time), we see many features of competing courts throughout Europe, and learn about the life and challenges of a lady in each location.
The basic themes of "Game of Queens" are ones that most of us are generally familiar with, I should think. For one, a woman in the political sphere was vital to her country, as she was a pawn in a gigantic European chess game (the chess theme is one that Sarah uses throughout the book, playing on the idea of the queen pawn being one of the most powerful pieces on the board - clever!). A woman of high breeding in her country could be used to secure alliances, to join countries, and to smooth tensions between rulers. Her impressive dowry could pad her marital country's coffers, making her valuable in both locations - and of course, almost nothing was more important that for her to produce the sought-after male heir (or heirs) to continue the royal lineage. Those who failed in that task almost never led happy lives as queens.
"Game of Queens" will continue (as I finish reading) through Elizabeth I's reign of England and her brutal competition with Mary Queen of Scots - a relationship that Sarah Gristwood describes as the end of the sixteenth-century game of queens. I plan to snuggle up on the couch during the cold evenings this week and finish it by the weekend, and then I'll add a shorter review to my Tudor Books page. Until I get to the end, however, i can say that any Tudor Enthusiast would enjoy this book and Sarah's creative, entertaining, and straightforward way of writing. This is an educational and enjoyable book for anyone who loves European history - whether they are very familiar with it or not.
Head over to Amazon.com to buy your copy of this fabulous book. Let's help Sarah Gristwood celebrate her publishing day!
Happy reading, Tudor Enthusiasts!