On writing

Alison Weir on writing about England's medieval queens

Queens of the Conquest is the first in a new series exploring the fascinating lives of England’s medieval queens. Alison Weir explains why she found it important to write about these extraordinary women

I am delighted to be publishing Queens of the Conquest, the first book in my new series, England's Medieval Queens. In these four volumes, I will be recounting a saga that has all the elements of a historical soap opera. After Agnes Strickland published her ground-breaking, but now hopelessly outdated and highly romanticised Lives of the Queens of England in twelve volumes in the 1840s, the story of these fascinating women was long neglected by historians. However, in recent years, interest in medieval queenship has revived, and there have been some notable academic studies and some excellent single or composite biographies. 

But it needs four volumes to tell in detail the story of English queenship – which is effectively the history from the Norman Conquest to the Battle of Bosworth, from a female point of view - and allow intimate insights into how these queens lived and how they exercised power and influence in a man’s world. Many of their lives overlap, therefore these books will not be a series of biographies, but a seamless tale of royal lives.

The process of writing this book was essentially the piecing together of numerous pieces of research, and what struck me forcibly was not so much any particular strand of research, but the overarching theme that emerged from it all, which was the real power that these women wielded - more than any English medieval queen since, even Eleanor of Aquitaine. It's often said that medieval women were subservient to men, and dominated by them, as is demonstrated by the tale of William the Conqueror beating up Matilda of Flanders after she turned him down on account of his bastardy; but the Norman queens were sharers in the royal dominion. They even led armies and directed military campaigns. Two, Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Matilda, waged a civil war so fierce that it was said that God and His saints slept. So, first and foremost, it's all about female power!

In writing these books, I will be fulfilling the ambition of decades, for the extensive research for the series is my only remaining major unpublished work.

 

Did you know...?

1. Two of the queens in this book – Adeliza of Louvain and Matilda of Boulogne – may have been as young as twelve when were married.

2. Matilda of Scotland had allegedly been veiled as a nun. She wore a hair cloth under her royal habit, and trod the churches barefoot. She washed the feet of the diseased, handling their ulcers dripping with corruption, and kissed the sores of lepers.

3. Although acknowledged as queen, the Empress Matilda was never crowned, because the Londoners took exception to her overbearing ways and drove her out. At one point, she even made her escape from Oxford Castle, camouflaged by a snow storm.

More about the author

Queens of the Conquest

Alison Weir

The story of England’s medieval queens is vivid and stirring, packed with tragedy, high drama and even comedy. It is a chronicle of love, murder, war and betrayal, filled with passion, intrigue and sorrow, peopled by a cast of heroines, villains, stateswomen and lovers. In the first volume of this epic new series, Alison Weir strips away centuries of romantic mythology and prejudice to reveal the lives of England’s queens in the century after the Norman Conquest.

Beginning with Matilda of Flanders, who supported William the Conqueror in his invasion of England in 1066, and culminating in the turbulent life of the Empress Maud, who claimed to be queen of England in her own right and fought a bitter war to that end, the five Norman queens emerge as hugely influential figures and fascinating characters.

Much more than a series of individual biographies, Queens of the Conquest is a seamless tale of interconnected lives and a rich portrait of English history in a time of flux. In Alison Weir’s hands these five extraordinary women reclaim their rightful roles at the centre of English history.

Related features

.