The Last Queen
C. W. Gortner
The year is 1492 and the subject is Juana of Castile, better known to history as “Juana La Loca,” or Juana the Mad. The daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Juana was given in marriage to a man as cruel as he was dashing. But when Juana becomes the heir to the Spanish throne, her life is completely upended, and not for the better. Suddenly, the court becomes a dangerous place and before long, the woman known as Juana the Mad is born.
We’ve all seen the stars posing next to wax figures of themselves at Madame Tussauds. But Madame Tussauds isn’t just a name. She was a real woman who lived during the time of the French Revolution and tutored the king’s sister in the art of wax. When the Revolution came she was given a choice: to be imprisoned for her connections to the royal family or to make wax casts of those being guillotined. Unsurprisingly, she chose the latter, and more than two hundred years later her wax museum still draws visitors from around the world.
By alternating first person points of view between Elizabeth I and her flame-haired cousin, Lettice Knollys, Margaret George gives us a glimpse into the lives of two fascinating women who happen to be vying for the love of the very same man. Although Lettice is the one who marries Robert Dudley, she is destined to become merely a footnote in history while Elizabeth goes on to become one of the greatest queens ever to rule England.
The Shadow Queen
Claude des Oeillets. If you’ve never heard of her, that’s all right. Most people haven’t. The daughter of traveling players, Claude rises through society to become an attendant of Louis XIV’s mistress, Athenais de Montespan. By telling the story of the Sun King’s court through Claude’s eyes, Gulland introduces us to the glittering world of 17th century theatre. Unique and compelling and a definite must-read.
The Conqueror's Wife
The world remembers Alexander the Great, but what of all the women who helped him achieve greatness? From Alexander’s ambitious wife Roxana to his half-sister Thessalonike, Thornton writes a truly gripping tale about some of the most devious and powerful women ever to have been forgotten by history.
The Sister Queens
This is the story of Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, very different sisters who both become queens in the 13th century. The relationship between these women makes this book well worth reading, not to mention the fascinating historical tidbits which Perinot excels at weaving throughout her books.
Lady of the Eternal City
Emperor Hadrian’s fascinating wife Sabrina is the focus of this truly unputdownable novel. This is one of the best books I’ve read set in ancient Rome. Don’t believe me? Just check out the reviews on Amazon. Five stars!
Lady Jane Grey is the focus of this novel set during the time of Henry VIII. For Tudor lovers, this is an absolute must-read, as it focuses on a much-forgotten queen whose very brief time on England’s throne ended with a charge of treason (hence the title). Completely riveting from the very first page, Weir’s novel makes you feel immediate sympathy for Grey, whose short life means she often doesn’t get the attention she deserves.
Although most people imagine that Cleopatra’s story ended with her suicide, for her surviving children, twins named Selene and Alexander, it was only the beginning. Brought to Rome to be raised in the court of Emperor Augustus, Selene and her brother must navigate treacherous waters in order to stay alive. And although the story of Cleopatra’s daughter is largely forgotten, Selene eventually becomes a queen herself, as celebrated for her wit and charm as her mother had been.
The Second Empress
History is a funny thing. Most of the time it comes to us on the tips of lances and the shoulders of armed men. We know about King Ferdinand of Spain, but what about his fascinating daughter Juana of Castile? We remember what happened to poor Louis XVI, but how about the woman who preserved his face in wax? For history lovers interested in hearing more women’s voices, here are a few of my favorite books.
Featured image: Everett – Art/Shutterstock.com