The best books on queens and queenship

Elena Woodacre Author Of Queens and Queenship
By Elena Woodacre

The Books I Picked & Why

Queenship in Medieval Europe

By Theresa Earenfight

Queenship in Medieval Europe

Why this book?

Theresa Earenfight is a renowned queenship scholar whose ideas about queens and queenship inspired me when I was a graduate student and continue to excite me today. This is a book that I recommend to my own students as the perfect place to start with medieval queenship. Earenfight’s book moves chronologically across the Middle Ages, drawing together examples of queens from all across Europe to illustrate key ideas about queenship and demonstrate how different women exercised the queen’s office. An engaging read which is underpinned by years of research and deep expertise in the field.


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Forgotten Queens of Islam

By Fatima Mernissi

Forgotten Queens of Islam

Why this book?

This book has rightly become a classic in the field and is a book I keep returning to for Mernissi’s fantastic insights into the particularities of queenship in the Islamic world and her fascinating examples of the agency of royal women. Mernissi’s passion for the subject, and for the wider history of women’s political agency in the Islamic world springs from the page, making this an absorbing read. A more recent work that builds on Mernissi’s book and is also highly recommended is Shahla Haeri’s The Unforgettable Queens of Islam - both Mernissi and Haeri make clear connections between royal women of the premodern era and modern female politicians today.


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Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao

By Keith McMahon

Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao

Why this book?

Imperial China provides an incredible case study for queenship and the agency of royal women. Keith McMahon’s two volumes, Women Shall Not Rule and the follow-on Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing are the ideal introductions to the lives and roles of women in Imperial China. You won’t need a background in queenship studies or an understanding of Asian history to enjoy this book and absorb both the anecdotes of the intriguing women featured and the key arguments that McMahon makes on how the position of royal women shifted over individual reigns as well as major dynastic transitions.


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The Routledge Companion to Women and Monarchy in the Ancient Mediterranean World

By Elizabeth D. Carney, Sabine Müeller

The Routledge Companion to Women and Monarchy in the Ancient Mediterranean World

Why this book?

This is a weighty tome at well over 500 pages but well worth the investment as this edited collection is bursting with case studies of royal women from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to the end of Imperial Rome. The editors have brought together a large group of experts to offer chapters on groups of women, issues in an ancient monarchy such as Egyptian brother-sister marriages, and the representation of royal women in ancient sources, historiography, and modern popular culture. Cleopatra and the ancient world was my original gateway into queens and queenship—there are plenty of interesting women to inspire anyone to learn more about the pivotal role they played in the development of monarchy in the ancient world.


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Becoming a Queen in Early Modern Europe: East and West

By Kataryzna Kosior

Becoming a Queen in Early Modern Europe: East and West

Why this book?

Early modern Europe is a ‘hot spot’ for queenship studies and there are countless individual biographies, works on groups of royal women and collections on key themes which I could have recommended. I’ve chosen this work as, like Earenfight, it is a great place to begin exploring what it meant to be a queen in this period. Unlike Earenfight, this book is divided up by key themes instead of working chronologically, exploring various facets such as royal weddings and ceremonial, motherhood and political agency. Kosior also brings together plenty of European examples to illustrate these themes and a distinctive feature is that she includes Polish royal women who are often missing in studies of queenship, which gives this book a unique and interesting angle.


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