Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elizabeth of York

Written by Lisa Hilton
Review by Adelaida Lower

From the 11th to the 15th centuries, twenty women became queens consort of England. In her new book, Lisa Hilton, author of Athenais: The Life of Louis XIV’s Mistress, tells the story of what she calls an “exceptional confederacy.” Detailing the queens’ lives with the enthusiasm and compassion of an advocate, Hilton sifts through the ashbins of history, separating legends and facts and identifying partisan innuendo. The queens consort comprise a magnificent collection, some foolish and reckless, others extraordinarily courageous. “They were not passive or powerless,” Hilton writes, but they each had to manipulate the stereotypes of femininity, and cope with societal anxieties about sexuality and power. Hilton gives the same consideration to Eleanor of Aquitaine than to less well-known names, such as Matilda of Boulogne or Joanna of Navarre. The result is a series of compelling portraits, a spectacle of sometimes surprising love matches, dynastic marriages, and even sexless unions. But how this grand league of women endured war, constant preoccupations with finances, the Crusades, adultery, the envies of courtiers, and, often, peripatetic lives, is endlessly fascinating.