Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe

Written by Nancy Goldstone
Review by Susan Higginbotham

Four Queens is the fascinating story of four 13th-century sisters, all destined to become royal: Marguerite, Queen of France; Eleanor, Queen of England; Sanchia, Queen of the Romans; and Beatrice, Queen of Sicily.

Goldstone depicts these four very different women, the men they married, the society they lived in, and the many other players on the European and Middle Eastern stage in a lively, readable, and highly accessible style. As someone who was familiar with some of the events of the time, but not at all with others, I found this to be an excellent introduction to them. (For those wishing to delve further into the period, Goldstone provides a helpful bibliographic note.)

Four Queens is also impressive for what it doesn’t do. Though we never lose sight of the limitations gender imposed upon these women’s lives, Goldstone doesn’t belabor the point, as a lesser writer might have done, for instance, in the case of Sanchia, the sister who was the least successful at influencing events. Her treatment of her subjects, female and male alike, is sympathetic yet clear-eyed, a characteristic especially apparent in her summing up of the careers of Louis IX of France and Henry III of England.

This was one work of nonfiction I would have been happy to have lingered over longer.