The best medieval historical fiction with fierce female protagonists

Who am I?

My first recollection of a fascination with medieval history occurred while watching Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood. I soon exhausted our school library’s limited selection of tales of kings and castles. Much later, a history degree and decades spent in Germany and England allowed me to delve deeply into historical research, gaining a specialized knowledge into the areas in which I was most interested. I am particularly fascinated with the lives of women, most of whom medieval chroniclers relegate to a brief mention as wives and mothers. There are clearly stories here yet to be told and I am always excited to learn of new scholarship.

I wrote...

Her Dangerous Journey Home

By Lee Swanson,

Book cover of Her Dangerous Journey Home

What is my book about?

1310, London – Young Christina Kohl returns to London having been knighted by Edward II for her bravery fighting against the Scots. She is accompanied by the young noblewoman she saved, who will be joining the court of Queen Isabella. Unexpectedly, Christina and Lady Cecily fall in love, only to have their plans for a life together cruelly torn from them.

Now, another woman holds sway over her life. Her loathed enemy, Katharine Volker, goads Christina to depart England, voyaging to the Baltic waters of her birthplace. She travels not to engage in trade, but to seek vengeance against the pirates who killed her father and brother. Christina will need to use all her cleverness and skill if she is to survive Her Dangerous Journey Home.

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The books I picked & why

The Cloistered Lady

By Coirle Mooney,

Book cover of The Cloistered Lady

Why did I love this book?

Eleanor of Aquitaine is certainly one of the most formidable women of the Middle Ages; not just because she was queen to two kings, but because she had the courage to openly defy them both.

Consequently, I raced to order Coirle Mooney’s first novel in her The Medieval Ladies series, followed quickly by the second, The Cloistered Lady. I absolutely love the author’s ability to craft vivid descriptions of time and place, especially the uncommon setting of the nunnery at Fontrevault. Joanna, Queen Eleanor’s lady-in-waiting, is a delightfully complex character.

Like Christina Kohl in my series, she is wonderfully human; but her fears and shortcomings are balanced out by her sometimes-surprising strength and compassion. I enjoyed all three novels in the series, but this one most of all.

By Coirle Mooney,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An enchanting historical drama set in Medieval France! For fans of Philippa Gregory, Elizabeth Chadwick, Carol McGrath and Anne O’Brien.

Joanna and Alice are forced from dazzling court life to bleak confinement…

1173, France

Eleanor of Aquitaine has been arrested for rebelling against her husband, King Henry II of England.

Her loyal ladies-in-waiting, Alice and Joanna of Agen have fled to the nunnery at Fontrevault, where they are anxiously awaiting news of their queen.

Alice and Joanna struggle to adapt to their cramped new home at the Abbey. Each is secretly nursing a broken heart – and harbouring unholy desires.…

The Stone Rose

By Carol McGrath,

Book cover of The Stone Rose

Why did I love this book?

How can I write about fierce women of the Middle Ages and not include the woman referred to by the sobriquet She-Wolf of France?

Carol McGrath’s The Stone Rose presents the story of Queen Isabella’s strength and determination framed around her ill-fated marriage to King Edward II in a beautiful tapestry threaded with both painstakingly researched historical fact and masterfully imaginative fiction.

The author’s extensive knowledge of the time period is evidenced by the accuracy of detail that is interwoven into the narrative. Since Edward’s reign forms the backdrop for my series, my own interest is obvious; however, the tale of Isabella’s struggle to protect herself and those she loves in the face of rampant intrigue and treachery will appeal to all.

By Carol McGrath,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A real tour de force of gripping writing, rich historical detail and complex, fascinating characters. Superb!' NICOLA CORNICK on The Stone Rose


* 'Springs to vivid life for the reader . . . A compulsive read' ANNE O'BRIEN

* 'An enticing and intriguing tale of a woman who is driven to desperate and ruthless lengths to protect those she loves' ALEXANDRA WALSH

* 'Carol McGrath really got into Isabella's head . . . Enlightening' SHARON BENNETT CONNOLLY

* 'Bold and compelling' JENNY BARDEN

* 'A novel that's a definite page-turner' LIZ…

Book cover of The Girl Empress: The Chronicle of Maud

Why did I love this book?

Civil war has threatened ruling monarchs several times in English history.

The first instance is the bloody 12th-century conflict between King Stephen and the rival claimant, his cousin Matilda. Yet, the woman known as Empress Maud had already experienced an incredible life before returning to England in 1139 to challenge Stephen’s rule.

The early years of this truly remarkable woman's life are masterfully recounted in Amy Mantravadi’s The Girl Empress. Despite being a first-person narrative, the author has deftly interwoven a myriad of twelfth-century minutiae that should satisfy both readers enamored with historical detail as well as those craving a rollicking adventure story.

I especially liked how the author incorporated other historical figures into the story; each of these encounters was like finding a little jewel.

By Amy Mantravadi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The history books remember her as Empress Mathilda, but her path to sovereignty began when she was just a girl named Maud. Engaged, estranged, and crowned by the age of twelve, this is her story . . . As the firstborn legitimate child of King Henry I of England, Princess Maud is faced with the fiercest crisis of her eight-year-old life when she learns that she will be sent to Germany to marry the Holy Roman Emperor. To make matters worse, her husband-to-be is in the midst of a disagreement with the Pope, and the threat of civil war continuously…

Book cover of Lotharingia: Charlemagne's Heir

Why did I love this book?

For medieval women, the right to assume title and property upon the death of their fathers or husbands could not be taken for granted. Most succumbed to the pressure to marry and relinquished their right to rule to conniving husbands, trapping themselves in loveless relationships.

A few, such as Matilda of Canossa, refused to be cowed into submission. Lara Byrne’s Lotharingia: Charlemagne’s Heir, is a wonderfully engaging blend of scholarly research and rich storytelling detailing the early life of this courageous woman. The characterizations are beautifully well-developed; I found some to virtually leap off the page and into the reader’s heart.

Like Christina Kohl in my series, Comitissa Matilda is a woman unafraid, whether to pursue forbidden love or to wield a sword in battle.

By Lara Byrne,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A unique tale of love and politics, betrayal and survival, male and female power, relics and prophecies, against the Machiavellian backdrop of the Investiture Controversy.

A.D. 1062. The Holy Roman Emperor is dead, and his underage son, snatched from his mother, is a puppet in the hands of regents. The fate of the empire lies in the hands of three women. Surprisingly, the Church takes their side, but Rome’s support has a price. Matilde refuses to be a pawn in the marriage game. Is she the child of Charlemagne’s prophecy? HFC 2021 BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNER (WORLD HISTORICAL…

Book cover of The Greenest Branch: A Novel of Germany's First Female Physician

Why did I love this book?

During my years in Germany, a favorite getaway was a stroll through the vineyards above the town of Rüdesheim am Rhein to the Abbey of St, Hildegard.

Well-familiar with the life of this brilliant, multi-faceted woman, I was hesitant to undertake P.K. Adams’ novel The Greenest Branch, especially when I discovered it was written in the first person. To my delight, I found my fears to be unfounded. The author has masterfully captured what I believe to be the spiritual essence of Hildegard in both her narrative and dialogue.

Adams’ portrayal of Hildegard’s struggle against the misogyny of the 12th century Church, as personified by Prior Helenger, forms a central conflict to the novel; as does her self-denial of worldly pleasures of the flesh while embracing the pain of self-mortification.

By P K Adams,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Hauntingly beautiful and meticulously researched. P.K. Adams writes about the Middle Ages like someone who has lived there. Hildegard’s story is inspiring, and her voice feels so real that it’s almost spooky.” – Jessica Cale, author of Tyburn.

In The Greenest Branch the medieval era comes vividly to life in all its romanticism and splendor, but the societal strictures that prevent women from being able to access education and live independent lives are also on display.

The year is 1115, and Germany is torn apart by a conflict between the Emperor and the Pope over who should have the right…

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