Alison Weir is one of my favourite authors of ‘popular’ history. Although not an officially accredited historian, Ms Weir demonstrates her tireless efforts in the research behind her biographies, and can be relied upon to provide the facts: both those that can be proven, and educated assumptions or inferences.
Many of the Queens covered in this book are of the lesser known variety. Just about everyone recognises Eleanor of Aquitaine or Anne Boleyn; fewer are aware that the Empress Maud or Matilda of Flanders even existed, never mind who they were in any great detail. This gives us two main problems:
1. This is women’s history. As such direct evidence is harder to find, often lacking focus and open to interpretation both by modern scholars and by the many biographers and scholars who have touched this evidence since its inception.
2. Writing about less familiar personages has both a positive and a negative aspect. On the plus side there is less ‘popular opinion’ or general knowledge about any individual so you are not battling as many misconceptions about what is ‘known’ about that person. In the negative you have to be able to describe the individual, the society surrounding the individual, and their place in that society to the general reader who may not be familiar with that period of history. In addition for popular history you also have to make it interesting so that the general reader will be encouraged to finish the work.
Alison Weir is successful on both fronts. She has obviously waded through the hundreds or possibly thousands of sources of information on each individual, and this extensive research has been broken down so that even those completely unfamiliar with the person or history will be able to follow and enjoy the biography.
This type of biography will always have weak spots. Educated inferences and assumptions must be made to be able to present a full picture. When the subject is a woman this is even more necessary as the material will always be less than that available for a man of a similar status. Alison Weir has successfully produced a book that is both knowledgeable and entertaining, and most importantly, can be relied upon to be truthful as far as any historian can ascertain from limited sources.
I’d recommend this book to anyone with a general or academic interest.
*Advanced Reading Copy provided by publisher in lieu of an honest review.