black_queen (black_queen) wrote in 50bookchallenge,


#71 Elizabeth Norton: "Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England"

I do not remember why I picked up this book. Sure, I like to read biographies of various historical personages, women especially, but, to be honest, I've never heard of Elfrida. Perhaps, I thought it will be interesting to read about early Middle Ages.
And it is not a bad book. I read it with interest. It is just that there is predictably very little documentary knowledge about Elfrida and I often felt that the author was making completely unfounded statements. For example, about Elfrida witnessing a charter after the bishops:

She was philosophical about this drop in status and at least pleased to see that she was listed as the king's mother, an important recognition of her queenship.

Well... how do we know? Perhaps she was seething inside but saw no way to change it. There is a number of similar statements, which would be fine in a novel, but not here. Was she really eager to return to court or did she leave her retirement because she did not think her son could rule well without her guidance?

Then again, some sentences simply boggle the mind. For example, when talking about various tales circulating about Elfrida later on, the author writes:

Similarly, the idea of the elderly queen, who by that stage was living in semi-retirement at Wherwell nunnery, going out into the forest to transform herself into a horse is ridiculous

Fair enough, nowadays people (mostly) don't believe in werewolves (and were... horses?) and such. But in the above it appears, that it is not the turning into a horse per se which is unbelievable, but rather the fact that an old almost-nun would do it.

All in all though, I am glad I read it.

#72 Alison Weir: Elizabeth of York

Another historical biography. A well-known author, a well-known queen. But this time, I was definitely disappointed. First of all, Alison Weir takes an almost Shakespearean line towards Richard III. Yep, he was horrible tyrant, and ambitious unprincipled murdered. He probably did not love his wife and only wanted to marry his niece Elizabeth, who did not want him one bit, in order to consolidate his hold on the throne. Of course, he murdered the princes. To me, this is a disappointingly black-and-white picture and moreover I agree with the old argument that if Richard killed the princes, he would have displayed their bodies. He would not be losing anything really at this stage - everybody already believed he killed them - but he would make it known that there were no other Yorkist pretenders to the crown.

Still, the book is admittedly not about Richard. However, I found there was not that much Elizabeth in it either. There was a lot of information about her clothes and about her expenditure. Often it read like an enlivened expenditure book, but there was rather little discussion about herself and her relationship with her family, old and new.

The author often stresses that Elizabeth displayed traditional medieval virtues of being beautiful, kind and complacent. I wonder how real the last one was. She does not look particularly mild in her portraits. She was surrounded by very strong-willed women: her mother and her mother-in-law were anything but complacent. Her daughter married for love, defying the her brother the king. Her granddaughters Mary I, Elisabeth I and Mary Stuart all ruled, at least for a time, on their own and were all very strong characters. It must have been a bit of struggle to give up all that spirit and become complacent.

A bit disappointing.

#73 Terry Pratchett: Raising Steam

A wonderful-wonderful book! With wonderful Vetinari. (Everybody else is great too, but I particularly like Vetinari and I like the books where there is a bit more of him, so this series is my definite favorite).
Tags: biography, fantasy, history, non-fiction

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