For king and country

<strong>Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens</strong>

<em>Lisa Hilton</em>

Weidenfeld & Nic

This history charts the evolution of “queenship”, from the first recorded consecration of a queen (the 12-year-old daughter of Charles the Bald) through to the reign of Elizabeth of York, mother of Henry VIII.

Hilton aims to set out how the role grew and developed, but she also paints lively, intimate portraits of the women themselves, and her account challenges a number of accepted orthodoxies. Arranged marriages, she points out, were not necessarily loveless (quite the opposite in the case of Matilda of Flanders and William the Conqueror, and King Stephen was even so “eccentrically affectionate” as to stay faithful to his wife).

Yet while the throne invested queens with “sacred capital”, they were still pawns, married off as children or teenagers. And while many may have had influence over their husbands, suspicions about “intimate persuasions” (perceived or otherwise) could often be very dangerous for them, too.

“Medieval queens” is a somewhat arbitrary term, because, as Hilton displays so effectively through the depth of her research, no two queens were the same, either in role or character. This range actually lets her thesis down a little, but nonetheless makes for a fascinating read.

This article first appeared in the 03 November 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Israel v Hamas