As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her diamond jubilee, HLL’s mind turns to other great queens who have ruled and in times more hostile to the idea of females in power. Below are some excellent biographies of some of the most outstanding and influential women in history.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Sovereign of both Scotland and France as a mere child, Mary led her armies into glorious victory and ignominious defeat, was accused of the murder of her husband and became a captive at the age of 25 from which only her execution as a Catholic martyr would release her. John Guy’s My Heart is My Own is a highly readable account of the life and times of this extraordinary woman. Its strength lies in its vivid descriptions and unsentimental portrayal of one of the most romanticised characters in the British Isles – a worthy winner of the Whitbread Prize for Biography.
Alison Weir is a born storyteller and a master of bringing to life the machinations of court, politics and desire. Her Elizabeth the Queen takes a slightly different angle on a well-worn subject by using as its starting point the private life of Elizabeth with the different aspects of her reign radiating out from her complex personality. Elizabeth is the unattainable Virgin Queen and the jealous flirt, the executor of her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and the compassionate ruler, the wild-tempered wench irritated by minor things and the courageous and implacable defeater of the Armada. The last chapter which looks at her final days and legacy is unexpectedly moving.
The figurehead of the Counter-Reformation, Mary Tudor is often dismissed as ‘Bloody Mary’ a woman given to burning heretics and precious little else. The real tale is more multi-faceted, with Mary struggling alone for most of her life, deprived of constant parental support and presence and in later life abandoned by her husband, Philip of Spain. Bitter and angry she may have become but she was also sensitive, loyal and principled. David Loades’ skill lies in his meticulous and erudite scholarship and in humanising a woman much demonised.
Catherine de Medici
A quick hop over the Channel brings us to Catherine de Medici, heiress and imprisoned orphan, who rose to become Queen of France and a mother of three Kings. This is an absolute swashbuckler of a book full of religious strife, intrigue, incest, passion, occult and the most powerful personalities. Leonie Frieda manages to make historical research look captivating, producing a book that enthralls and delights.
Take heart, Hard Luxe Living