I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I appreciate the author's purpose here, to shed more light on women of the middle ages who deserve the spotlight every bit as much as their fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, and nephews. I have many of her other titles on my TBR and plan to read them in due time.
Even so, something about this one did not work as well for me as I hoped it would. Still, it's not a terrible book at all. It is a decent addition to the plethora of work we currently have on the period.
I do know quite a bit about their parents, Edward I and his beloved wife Leonor of Castile. Their story is one that is not all that common in the middle ages - a marriage that truly seemed to be one of love and partnership. Altogether the couple had fourteen children, possibly fifteen even, but only six survived childhood. Five of those six were daughters...and then there's Edward II.
Side note - I feel bad for Edward II. He wasn't really cut out to be king. He was much more content hanging out with regular people, doing regular non-royal things. And how can one possibly expect to live up to the legacy of their father, when said father is Edward I, if they're not ready of the job anyway? It helped him in no way with the attention he gave his favorites, but I really wish he had just been allowed to go on his merry way and not be king; his rumored violent death was unnecessary.
Now, onto the stars of the show.
There's Eleanor of Bar, Joan of Acre, Margaret of Brabant, Mary of Woodstock, and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan.
Each woman shines on her own as we meet these five independent and sometimes headstrong women who at times defied expectations and made decisions for themselves. Not always, and we are not talking about some secret feminist manifesto here, but at various times in their lives each showed she was more than capable of taking her life in her own hands to decide what she wanted.
I'm personally partial to Mary, who was forced into a nunnery, but often left because she wanted to. While it was practical for large families with many daughters to send a few to nunneries, Mary was not always so keen on the idea. She did her duty as a daughter of a king, but she also managed to be true to herself as she travelled around the country.
I'm also keen on Joan, who defied her father by choosing her second husband for herself and even marrying him in secret. The secret was necessary due to the fact that he was no where near her social equal - a squire in Edward I's household. Edward was busy arranging her second marriage, no idea that she was already married. She knew she was in big trouble, so naturally she sent her children to visit him, in order to soften him up before she broke the news. It didn't work and instead landed her second husband in prison. Over time Edward relented for a couple reasons. Firstly because Joan was pregnant and there was no going back. Secondly, and more importantly to me, was Joan's statement on love and marriage...
"It is not considered ignominious, nor disgraceful, for a great earl to take a poor and mean woman to wife; neither, on the other hand, is it worthy of blame, or too difficult a thing for a countess to promote to honor a gallant youth."
The book is incredibly thorough and well-researched. The main issue for me was that is sometimes got repetitive. Someone already introduced would be introduced again later. On the other hand, for those who are less familiar with people of the period, this might have been useful in order to keep track of everyone.
That leads to my second issue - everyone under the sun was included, even more distant relatives who were not necessary in the telling of the lives of these women, seeing as how they're the ones the book is supposed to be about. And it is, don't get me wrong. I personally could have done without the extras.
I did enjoy seeing the daughters "grow" so to speak, and how their lives changed throughout not only their father's reign, but that of their brother's and then their nephew's. Seeing how they stayed connected, or didn't, was fascinating. All the while we are also given glimpses of the marriage and lives of Edward and Leonor, which I loved as well.
There is a lot of information here, especially given the period's penchant for husbands dying young, so multiple marriages abound - thus, so do many, many children. The author includes a sort of who's who at the end of the text, including who married who and when, which would be useful in a hardcopy so as to flip back and forth as needed.
Overall this is a valuable contribution, even if at times a bit bogged down by the monotony of birth, marriage, death; wash, rinse, repeat. Even so, the author brings the women to life and we are given another glimpse of a world long gone.