The best books on England’s medieval queens

Elizabeth Norton Author Of Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England
By Elizabeth Norton

The Books I Picked & Why

Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

By Catherine Hanley

Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

Why this book?

There is no better place to start this list than with Empress Matilda, England’s first reigning queen. Matilda, who vied for the English throne against her cousin, King Stephen, has always been a personal favourite of mine. She came tantalisingly close, in 1141, to securing her coronation and recognition of her rule. I was therefore very excited to read Catherine Hanley’s expertly written biography. I love the detail given on Matilda’s actions, with Hanley’s research impeccably detailed. This is one of the most valuable accounts of the life of an early English monarch.


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Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-Century England

By Pauline Stafford

Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-Century England

Why this book?

Going back into the Anglo-Saxon period, Pauline Stafford’s joint study of the powerful Queens Edith and Emma is essential reading. Stafford’s research into these two women is peerless, providing the most comprehensive study of late Anglo-Saxon queenship to date. She has left no stone unturned in her research, giving fine detail to the lives and activities of her subjects. Stafford’s book certainly disproves the common misapprehension that the Anglo-Saxons did not have queens.


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Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

By Sara Cockerill

Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

Why this book?

Eleanor of Castile, who was the first wife of Edward I, is one of the most fascinating of English queens. Posthumously, thanks to the series of crosses her husband erected in her memory, she gained the reputation of a perfect, peerless queen. However, the real Eleanor was very much a controversial figure, renowned for her acquisitiveness. Eleanor has been the subject of much academic study in the work of John Carmi Parsons and others, however, I particularly recommend Sara Cockerill’s recent study for its compelling narrative and detailed research. Cockerill brings this fascinating figure to life, giving equal weight to her political importance and her significant role within the royal family.


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Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower

By David Baldwin

Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower

Why this book?

My next pick takes us right up to the end of the medieval period, with David Baldwin’s highly readable biography of Elizabeth Woodville. While the legitimacy of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth is still hotly debated, she was undoubtedly presented to the world as his queen. Through his highly detailed research, Baldwin is able to add fine detail to a woman whose life was filled with drama and tragedy. In this biography, the woman emerges from behind the queen.


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Matilda, Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England

By Tracy Borman

Matilda, Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England

Why this book?

While I take issue with the book’s subtitle (the Anglo-Saxons had queens!), this first full-length biography of Matilda, the wife of William I, is not to be missed. Matilda of Flanders, who served as regent of both Normandy and England was a hugely important figure in the later history of English queenship, providing a model by which the wives of her descendants attempted to live. Tracy Borman takes what little information survives on Matilda to weave a compelling and captivating narrative, fleshing out the life of a woman who has hitherto remained in the shadows.


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