Book Review – ‘The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503’ by J.L. Laynesmith

JL Laynesmith 'The Last Medieval Queens'
JL Laynesmith ‘The Last Medieval Queens’

J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), Paperback, ISBN 978-0-199-27956-2

Title: The lives of the last Medieval Queens – this book looks at Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville and Elizabeth of York. However, I think it could also have done with looking more at Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Margaret Beaufort because, although they weren’t Queens, sometimes they almost had the same power as them, and definitely influenced the Queens themselves.

Preface: The introduction gives a broad overview of the lives of the women, and why these particular women are so fascinating. It gives a brief rundown of their lives, and how they link to each other. It also introduces other people who influenced the lives of the Queens and the monarchy, like the Earl of Warwick the “kingmaker”, the Duke of York, the Earl of Salisbury, the children of the queens, and the kings that the queens were married to.

Citations: I liked how this book had references at the bottom of pages rather than at the end of the book. It makes it much easier to find particular references and the sources they refer to. There is also extra information included within the citations, and some extra information on the sources. The citations are one of the better aspects of this book.

Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.
Elizabeth Woodville c.1471.

Contents: The thematic approach is interesting, but the chapters could have been better divided down though. A book that length divided into only five chapters doesn’t provide enough information on some of their involvements, for example in the wars and battles that were raging outside the court. Some of their importance is downplayed into the sections that the author wants to explore, rather than what is actually there.

Genre/Audience: This book seems to be aimed at a scholarly audience, with lots of information and references throughout. It is a historical and biographical mix, with lots of comparisons, similarities and differences drawn between the different women discussed. You really need to have at least a basic background of the women themselves and of the period in which they lived in order to understand some of the nuances in this book.

Concepts: The range of concepts discussed could have been broader. It seems to have been limited to Queens as Mothers, Rituals of Queenship, Queen’s Family, and Court and Household. There is more to queenship than the court itself, and I think the book could have benefitted from more discussion on perceptions, which is just touched upon. It did lack a bit of a personal touch in my opinion. The women don’t come across as very real, but more like untouchable paragons. But they were real people and should feel that way.

Sources: There is a good range of both primary and secondary sources, well-researched and well-cited. Sources are also fully referenced, including edition, publication and page numbers. I can see no complaints about the source work in this book at all. Perhaps more could have been said about the sources themselves, but I feel that is a little picky.

Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master
Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master

Illustrations: Only a few images scattered throughout this book – no portraits or places that I can remember seeing, but some rarer images from Books of Hours, prayer rolls and other contemporary images. An interesting selection but could have done with having some portraits, particularly of the women discussed in the book. Also, images of the places where they lived could have added something to some of the passages which seemed a little bland.

Other works: It doesn’t seem that Laynesmith has written any other books. However, other books on Medieval queens exist – The Women of the Cousins’ War by Philippa Gregory, Michael Jones and David Baldwin is just one. Others include Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood, Queen’s Consort: England’s Medieval Queens by Lisa Hilton, and She Wolves: the Notorious Queens of Medieval England by Elizabeth Norton.

My Rating: 13/20

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