Queens of the Conquest, 1066-1167

Written by Alison Weir
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Alison Weir charts the lives of Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror; Matilda of Scotland, wife of Henry I; Adeliza of Louvain, Henry’s second wife; Matilda of Boulogne, wife of King Stephen; and the Empress Maud (another Matilda), only surviving child of Henry I, and heir to the English throne. All of them were intelligent, pious, strong women who wielded considerable power in their own right. Weir eschews the academic history’ route, and instead illuminates the everyday lives of the five queens in detail and explains how the system worked. We learn what a medieval queen actually did and how she wielded influence. Matilda of Flanders, for example, corresponded with Pope Gregory VII; St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote regularly to Matilda of Boulogne; and the Empress Maud mediated between Thomas Becket and her son, Henry II. Weir also examines the inherent contradiction between being female (modest and pious) and being a queen, (being politically astute and wielding power in her own right). It was frequently a difficult tightrope. The extended family tree and two appendices, one giving the sources, and the other the texts of letters between the queens and the church, are really helpful. An illuminating read.