Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: Queen Isabella, by Alison Weir

Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England is a biography of the wife of Edward II. It’s actually a composite of things: a biography of Isabella’s most intimate household moments, drawn from her extensive household account books (want to know what was used as toilet paper in the English royal household? It’s in there), as well as an account of her relationship with her husband, his favorites, and her lover, Roger Mortimer.

My major problem with this book is Weir’s extreme bias in favor of Isabella. Weir even goes so far as to blame Edward entirely for the breakdown of the royal marriage and for Isabella’s changed demeanor during it. It’s almost as though the author went into the research and writing of this book thinking, “I’m going to vindicate Isabella.” This is a work of popular history, and as such, I feel that Weir could have been more impartial in her assessment of Isabella’s story. All that’s really known about Isabella’s day-to-day life comes from her book of household accounts, and Weir continually tries to make presumptions about how the queen “might” have felt or “perhaps” have thought.

All that said, however, I enjoyed the detail that Weir goes into in telling what little is known about Isabella’s life. Weir certainly has a way with words, and she’s very good about bringing historical figures to life on the page. If you’re a newcomer to the history and politics of early-14th century England, I wouldn’t recommend this, however.

Also reviewed by: Jackets and Covers


S. Krishna said...

Thanks for the article about things authors shouldn't do on! It was really interesting.

I've heard that Alison Weir tends to show bias in her works. I've only read her historical fiction.

Meghan said...

I've found her to have some bias, but almost all historians do and some, particularly Victorian ones, will twist the facts at will to suit their particular hypothesis. We're trying to get away from this now, but as we're all human it's quite difficult; this sort of thing is especially tricky because we know so little about Isabella that it's very easy to balance the information one way or the other.

I read this book last year and I definitely felt the spin; the problem is we know very little and it's hard to disprove anything as unlikely as it seems. I've read several of Alison Weir's works and I think she suffers from not having had a full education in history, personally; she approaches things from a fresh perspective but she isn't always adding to the discussion because she hasn't read the beginnings of it, if you know what I mean. And I have read more entertaining "academic" works to be perfectly honest. I think this is the worst of hers that I have read.

Of course, I do appreciate her for bringing history to the masses and I do like reading her books, so take that with a grain of salt. I'm sorry for using your blog as a sounding point!

- medieval bookworm

Daphne said...

I read her Princes in the Tower and her treatment was very similar - only that it was so biased against Richard III that I believe I called it a "hatchet job". I'm sure every writer has bias for/against their subject to a certain extent, but there is still such a thing as balance (even if not entirely objective).

Ladytink_534 said...

I've thought about picking up her book The Lady Elizabeth but I might have to rethink that because I've found that when an author can't really remain impartial it hurts the book (whether fiction or non-fiction) for me.

bookchronicle said...

Great review, and bias in biographies is definitely a huge issue. I remember reading one on Jane Austen, which I was fond of but a lot of "Austen-o-philes" loathe.

Laura said...

Have you read Weir's The Innocent Traitor? I've seen it around lots of book sales, but I don't know how good it is?

bandgeeek11 said...

I have read Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth. Some parts of the stories overlap and it is interesting to see situations from Lady Jane Grey's point of view and Elizabeth's. Overall I found reading her books very enjoyable but as I do with all historical fiction, I did some of my own research to see what history actually shows about certain events. I think that is the best course to take.


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