In recent years, there has been an outpouring of popular and scholarly history books looking at the relationships between royal mothers and their children. If you are looking for a change from flowers, chocolate and bubble bath, here are books about royal mothers that make great gifts!
The influence of powerful royal mothers on their daughters and granddaughters in the key theme in the works of popular historian Julia Gelardi. In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glorycompares three royal mothers and daughters in European history, Queen Isabella of Castile and her daughter, Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England; Empress Maria Theresa of the Hapsburg Empire and her fifteenth child Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, and Queen Victoria of Great Britain and her eldest child Victoria, Crown Princess of Prussia.
The difficulties experienced by Catherine, Marie Antoinette and the younger Victoria demonstrated that the lessons learned from their powerful mothers were not always effective at a foreign court. Gelardi provides an excellent introduction to some of the most famous royal women of the sixteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her other works, Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria and From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women, 1847-1928are also composite biographies of powerful royal matriarchs and their descendants.
Born to Rule looks at the influence of Queen Victoria over the five of her granddaughters who became the consorts of rulers while From Splendor to Revolution presents the last decades of Imperial Russia through the experiences of four Romanov matriarchs. Both are well written and provide a fresh perspective on the influence of powerful women over their families.
One of the most powerful mother figures to preside over the English court was Margaret Beaufort “My Lady, the King’s Mother” to Henry VII, the subject of Elizabeth Norton’s well written and well researched biography, Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty. Margaret gave birth to the future King when she was only thirteen years old and was instrumental to his triumph in the Wars of the Roses. She remained an influential cultural patron and political advisor after Henry ascended to the throne in 1485, surviving into the reign of King Henry VIII as “My Lady, the King’s Grandmam.” For historical fiction enthusiasts, Margaret Beaufort’s life has recently been dramatized in Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen.
One of the best scholarly works on the relationships between ruling and non-ruling royal women in the sixteenth century is Sharon Jansen’s The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe. Dynastic circumstances of the period resulted in an unusual number of female rulers and regents including Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, Catherine de Medici and Margaret of Parma. These women served as examples for other elite women of the sixteenth century and often mentored younger female relatives at their courts. While most history books provide royal family trees that focus on the male line, Jansen includes genealogical charts that emphasize the relationships between the women of Europe’s royal houses and the opportunities they had to influence successive generations.
For an introduction to the powerful Queens of England in the Middle Ages, two excellent choices are Lisa Hilton’s Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens and Helen Castor’s She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. Both works demonstrate that medieval English Queens had plenty of opportunities to exert political, religious and cultural influence through their roles as consorts and mothers of rulers. Hilton argues that the Queen’s influence actually declined between 1066 and 1509 as the Norman Queens had greater opportunities for independent action than the Consorts of the Yorkist and Tudor Kings. Castor looks at the ways that medieval female rulers negotiated their position in an environment where power was associated with masculinity. Both authors demonstrate that royal mothers wielded considerable power in England throughout the Middle Ages.