The Forgotten Queen (Warrior Queen)

Written by Haley Elizabeth Garwood
Review by Cynthia McArthur

The early twelfth century, during the reign of Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, was a time of relative peace. It was only after the death of King Henry that England and France were thrust into a civil war which lasted for many years.

The war between Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Mathilda, is the stuff of great storytelling. Stephen usurped the throne of England despite the fact that Henry wanted his daughter, Mathilda, to rule, and even though Stephen swore allegiance to Mathilda twice during her father’s lifetime. Garwood insinuates, however, that Stephen’s motivation for stealing the crown was a very personal one. She posits that Stephen and Mathilda were lovers for many years before Stephen made himself king, and that Mathilda’s first child, born during her marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou (the boy who was to become Henry II), was Stephen’s son. Stephen’s undaunted passion for Mathilda and his inability to have her for his own – spurred by his own wife’s relentless political ambitions – was, perhaps, the source of the usurpation. An interesting theory that makes for some fun reading.

My problem is not with the theory of the relationship or of the resulting civil war, which is well documented both in history books and in Garwood’s version, but with Garwood’s presentation of the story. The informality of the language (other characters calling Mathilda “Matti” throughout the book, a nickname which is totally inconsistent with her “Warrior Queen” image) and Garwood’s refusal to have Mathilda abide by strictly adhered to social conventions of the day seem anachronistic. For instance, Mathilda regularly ignores her father’s and husband’s authority, which includes spitting in Geoffrey’s face and refusing to appear when her father requires her attendance. Indeed, when King Henry is forced to seek out Mathilda, I could not believe that Henry did not mete out corporal punishment, or worse!

I respect the fact that Garwood is taking the legends of the forgotten women of English history out of mothballs and giving these fascinating women their due. I think, though, that Garwood should not have modernized Mathilda, who, as far as I’m concerned, is a woman for the ages.