Sunday, 8 December 2019

The Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone

The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, her daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone
Published in the UK by Weidenfeld And Nicolson in 2015.

One of my 2019 Mount TBR Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Won a paperback copy in a publisher giveaway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paris, 1572. Catherine de' Medici, the infamous queen mother of France, is a consummate pragmatist and powerbroker who has dominated the throne for thirty years. Her youngest daughter, Marguerite, the glamorous 'Queen Margot', is a passionate free spirit, the only adversary whom her mother can neither intimidate nor fully control.

When Catherine forces the Catholic Marguerite to marry the Protestant Henry of Navarre, she creates not only savage conflict within France but also a potent rival within her own family. Treacherous court politics, poisonings, international espionage and adultery form the background to a extraordinary story about two formidable queens, featuring a fascinating array of characters including such celebrated figures as Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots and Nostradamus.

The Rival Queens is a fascinatingly detailed portrait of the lives of Catherine de Medici and her youngest daughter Marguerite de Valois. These two women lived and ruled in France at the same time as Elizabeth the First so to me, as an English-speaking reader, they have been eclipsed by the English monarch, however I now discover that their reigns resound just as powerfully through European history as Elizabeth's. The sixteenth century could indeed be seen as the Age of Queens and I very much appreciated how Nancy Goldstone actually tells Catherine and Marguerite's own stories, frequently in their own words (rather than the more usual historical method of describing of the surrounding men, leaving the woman as somewhat of a vacuum at the centre of 'her' story!).

Centuries of intermarriage and the aristocracy's traditional lack of naming imagination does mean that The Rival Queens does get baffling at times although Goldstone does an admirable job of differentiating her Henris. I more often felt as though I was reading a novel because of her skill in bringing these people back to life in a very believable way so I could understand their political shenanigans and personal weaknesses, even while their actions grew increasingly more desperate and bizarre. However dysfunctional one's own family might seem, this brood of power-hungry backstabbers would certainly give them a run for their money, albeit most of it in the form of debts and IOUs.

I'd had The Rival Queens sat unread on a shelf for months and am now kicking myself for not having got around to this book sooner. I loved Goldstone's style and being able to immerse myself in history of a familiar period, but with so many new-to-me-people and events to discover. I now have a wider understanding and am keen to delve further into these tumultuous years, especially as seen through women's eyes.

Etsy Find!
by Marquise De Montespan in
California, USA

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Nancy Goldstone / History books / Books from England


  1. This sounds really good. I know nothing about these Queens but do find the topic interesting.

    1. I know embarrassingly little about such influential women through history so plan to search out more biographies like this in 2020

  2. Oooh! This sounds awesome! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    1. It's excellent! Lots of information and an engaging writing style

  3. I haven't really read anything fiction or non fiction about theseEuropean royalty women. In the future when I control the TBR a bit, I might branch out and try to read a few.

    1. I realised I have huge gaps in my knowledge of European history so am looking to change this next year

  4. I know the feeling of kicking yourself and wishing you had gotten to books sooner than you did! But you got to it now and it was the perfect time because you loved it! Sounds like you managed to learn quite a lot ^.^

    1. I did learn a lot and now I just have to remember it all!