Alison Weir is an excellent writer of history, and I don’t believe I’ve ever been disappointed by one of her books. I always finish them marveling at how much I’ve learned, and how Weir manages to touch on so much scholarship while still maintaining a highly readable style and preserving the narrative thread of the history. Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England, which tells the story of the French wife of Edward II, is no exception.
History is a fascinating subject generally, but I find it particularly interesting to read about how certain women managed to work within rigid cultural systems and make a huge impact. Weir does her usual excellent job of fleshing out the character, goals, and limitations of Isabella’s career, showing how she influenced the trajectories of international politics and policy.
Isabella was not an angelic character, but history has sometimes maligned her unfairly, as Weird shows. Her weakness, as is so often the case, was her downfall, but setting it in context helps us to see Isabella as a complex person, rather than settling one pejorative name on her. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it goes a long way to explaining it. It’s interesting to speculate on how things might have been different had she not been sent to a foreign country as a child to live in a terrible situation with no one to advise her or bring her up. It’s probably also worth noting that history judges queens far more harshly than kings for infidelity, a fact which Weir also places in historical context.
So all in all, Queen Isabella is an excellent and informative book, and would be a great choice if you enjoy history.
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