Nancy Goldstone’s entertaining, highly-readable history chronicles the lives of four sisters from Provence who became queens in 13th century Europe. The eldest, Marguerite, marries Louis IX, King of France, and her sister Eleanor marries Henry III, King of England.
Goldstone writes mainly about Marguerite and Eleanor. Younger sisters Sanchia (who marries Henry’s younger brother Richard and becomes Queen of Germany) and Beatrice (wife of Louis’ younger brother Charles who becomes Queen of Sicily) have fewer chapters devoted to them in part because they were still children for the first half of the book and also because less is known about them.
I enjoy history and biographies, though sometimes the texts can be dry. Goldstone’s writing is not. Four Queens is entertaining and fast-paced. Aside from the sections on Louis IX’s crusade (aka foolish men get lots of people killed), I was never bored. Goldstone’s chapters frequently end with cliffhangers (e.g. in the end it would cost them the kingdom; the hook was baited but would the fish bite?) and her subtle wit is sprinkled throughout the book:
- “Charles would arrange for his grandson Charles Martel (eldest son of Charles’s eldest son, Charles, prince of Salerno; the family was not imaginative when it came to naming boys)” (301).
- “and somewhere along the line the realization gradually dawned that [his] much-vaunted financial strategy had simply been to pledge the same castles to everybody” (108).
Alison Weir blurbed the book and her novel and biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine are on my to-read list. While she doesn’t appear in Four Queens, Eleanor of Aquitaine’s legacy lingers: Eleanor of Provence and Sanchia married Eleanor of Aquitaine’s grandsons and Marguerite and Beatrice married her great-grandsons.