Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters who Ruled Europe

My former boss from the Attorney General's office and I get together several times a year and have a grand book swap. We have similar tastes in books, so I always look forward to what she brings me.

She brought this book, which is about four sisters from Provence, France who all became queens during the 13th Century. One was queen of France, one of England, one of Sicily (mostly a purchased title by her husband), and one of Germany (also a purchased title).

This was without a doubt the most engaging and readable history book I've come across in a long time. The amount of contemporary documentation available to Nancy Goldstone, the author, is incredible, so she is able to provide very complete pictures of the lives of these women.

One of the things that amazed me about the stories of these women is how long kings and queens would leave their countries for. The king and queen of France go on a crusade to the Holy Land, which goes horribly awry, and are away for several years, leaving the country in the hands of the queen mother while they are gone. Could you imagine such a system now?

I also didn't know that there were royal titles essentially up for sale. One of the sisters became queen of Sicily, very briefly before dying, because her husband offered the pope a lot of money and fronted his own army to overthrow the ruler who was already there.

I'd say that example is so different from how things work today, but given our current political system, I'm not so sure that's accurate.

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