The best books on England’s medieval queens

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by England’s medieval queens since picking up a copy of Norah Lofts’ Queens of Britain as a child. I studied Archaeology at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, focussing on the Anglo-Saxons. While my PhD and later work primarily focuses on the Tudor period, I have remained passionate about medieval queenship, writing the first biography of Queen Elfrida, as well as a longer book, England’s Queens, containing mini-biographies of every woman who served as reigning queen, consort or king’s wife. It has been a pleasure to share my top picks (from amongst many other wonderful titles), which I feel really bring England’s medieval queens to life.


I wrote...

Book cover of Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England

What is my book about?

Contrary to popular belief, Anglo-Saxon England had queens, with the tenth-century Elfrida being the most powerful and notorious of them all. She was the first woman to be crowned Queen of England, sharing her husband King Edgar’s imperial coronation at Bath in 973. The couple made a love match, with claims that they plotted the death of her first husband to ensure that she was free. 

Edgar divorced his second wife after conducting an adulterous affair with Elfrida. Elfrida was implicated in the murder of her stepson, King Edward the Martyr, who died on a visit to her at Corfe Castle. She then ruled England on behalf of her young son for six years before he expelled her from court. The life of Queen Elfrida was filled with drama as she rose to become the most powerful woman in Anglo-Saxon England.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

Elizabeth Norton Why did I love 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.

By Catherine Hanley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Matilda as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A life of Matilda-empress, skilled military leader, and one of the greatest figures of the English Middle Ages

"[Matilda] will attract a growing audience interested in stories of women challenging the male-dominated European past."-Alexandra Locking, Medieval Review

"A lively and authoritative account."-Katherine Harvey, Times Literary Supplement

Matilda was a daughter, wife, and mother. But she was also empress, heir to the English crown-the first woman ever to hold the position-and an able military general.

This new biography explores Matilda's achievements as military and political leader, and sets her life and career in full context. Catherine Hanley provides fresh insight into…


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

Elizabeth Norton Why did I love 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.

By Pauline Stafford,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Queen Emma and Queen Edith as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Through detailed study of these women the author demonstrates the integral place of royal queens in the rule of the English kingdom and in the process of unification by which England was made.


Book cover of Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

Elizabeth Norton Why did I love 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.

By Sara Cockerill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eleanor of Castile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eleanor of Castile, the remarkable woman behind England's greatest medieval king, Edward I, has been effectively airbrushed from history; yet she had one of the most fascinating lives of any of England's queens. Her childhood was spent in the centre of the Spanish reconquest and was dominated by her military hero of a father (St Ferdinand) and her prodigiously clever brother (King Alfonso X the Learned). Married at the age of twelve and a mother at thirteen, she gave birth to at least sixteen children, most of whom died young. She was a prisoner for a year amid a civil…


Book cover of Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower

Elizabeth Norton Why did I love 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.

By David Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Elizabeth Woodville as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elizabeth Woodville is a historical character whose life no novelist would ever have dared invent. She has been portrayed as an enchantress, as an unprincipled advancer of her family's fortunes and a plucky but pitiful queen in Shakespeare's histories. She has been alternatively championed and vilified by her contemporaries and five centuries of historians, dramatists and novelists, but what was she really like?

In this revealing account of Elizabeth's life David Baldwin sets out to tell the story of this complex and intriguing woman. Was she the malign influence many of her critics held her to be? Was she a…


Book cover of Matilda, Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England

Elizabeth Norton Why did I love 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.

By Tracy Borman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Matilda, Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Read the thrilling, tempestuous story of the 'first' Queen of England.

Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, was the first woman to be crowned Queen of England and formally recognised as such by her subjects. Beyond this, however, little is known of her. No contemporary images of her remain, and the chroniclers of her age left us only the faintest clues as to her life. Who was this spectral queen?

In this first major biography, Tracy Borman sifts through the evidence to uncover an extraordinary story. Matilda was loving and pious, possessed strength, ambition and intelligence, and was fiercely independent.…


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Book cover of Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

Jennifer Silva Redmond Author Of Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat

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Interested in queens, the Middle Ages, and Europe?

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