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Matildas and Matriarchs in England's Epic Strife ("Women of the Anarchy" Book Review)



"Women of the Anarchy" by Sharon Bennett Connolly is a captivating exploration of the often-overlooked female figures who played pivotal roles during the tumultuous period of the Anarchy in 12th-century England. While civil wars are traditionally dominated by tales of men in battle, Connolly brings to light the equally significant contributions of mothers, sisters, and wives who navigated the complexities of a conflict that shaped the destiny of a nation.


The narrative begins by setting the stage for the Anarchy, a nineteen-year civil war triggered by Stephen of Blois' usurpation of the English throne from his cousin Empress Matilda. Connolly skillfully introduces the two primary female protagonists, Empress Matilda and Queen Matilda, who become the faces of opposing factions. As the sole surviving legitimate child of Henry I, Empress Matilda valiantly fought for her birthright and that of her children. On the opposing side, Queen Matilda supported her husband, Stephen, and played a crucial role in sustaining the fight for the English crown.


What makes "Women of the Anarchy" stand out is its focus on the broader spectrum of royal women impacted by the conflict. Connolly weaves a rich tapestry of characters, including grandmothers and mothers such as Matilda of Flanders, Saint Margaret of Scotland, Matilda of Scotland, and Adeliza of Louvain. These influential women served as role models, imparting invaluable lessons to the two Matildas on how to balance their roles as queens while preserving their individual identities.


The author skillfully introduces readers to a diverse array of intriguing characters, such as Isabel de Vermandois, Ada de Warenne, Lucy Countess of Chester, Ela de Talvas, Mary of Boulogne, Isabel Countess of Warenne and Surrey, and culminates with the remarkable story of Eleanor of Aquitaine. These women, although unable to wield swords in battle, exhibited their strength, resilience, and resourcefulness, shaping the fortunes of war during a time of conflict and lawlessness.


Connolly's narrative is marked by meticulous research and a keen eye for detail. She adeptly distinguishes between the various Matildas, offering clarity in a narrative that encompasses multiple generations and characters. The author not only delves into the personal ambitions, strengths, and weaknesses of these women but also explores how their actions influenced the trajectory of the Anarchy and ultimately led to the birth of the Plantagenet dynasty.

"Women of the Anarchy" breathes new life into this centuries-old story, offering a fresh perspective on a historical period often overshadowed by male-centric narratives. Connolly's writing is both engaging and informative, making this book a compelling read for anyone interested in the Anarchy and the remarkable women who defined this pivotal era in English history.


Currently I am embarking on writing a book on medieval women and have found "Women of the Anarchy" an indispensable source in researching women who influenced the web of history.


Thank you to Amberley Books for "Women of the Anarchy", it was a fantastic read and I urge people to purchase the book which can be found here:



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