Review: Queen Isabella, Alison Weir

Rating: 3 out of 5

In a surprising twist, I accidentally planned books on Isabella and Edward III to be read one after the other. This gave me a greater exposure to the period as well as two author’s views on the subjects. The styles that Ms Weir and Mr Mortimer use are different, and I found them to be good for a subtly different approach.

It is Ms Weir’s way to describe the lifestyle of the people that she writes about. My realisation — when the reader was brought back to the design of a sleeping chamber as has happened so many times in her books — was sudden: I don’t read history because of this subject and I don’t particularly care about it in this context. Yet, a moment’s pause allowed me to reflect that actually I am very interested in this topic but on my own terms — and I am not a fan of Ms Weir’s descriptions of medieval lifestyle.

I think that what this book did exceptionally well — far better indeed than the one on Edward III — was the description of Edward II’s fate. As it is such an important part of Isabella’s life, Ms Weir took a very thorough look into this subject. No stone was left unturned and a very clear picture emerges (and one which often references Ian Mortimer, the author of Edward III’s biography). Yet, this account was both more logical and more readable than that of Mr Mortimer.

I think, overall, that much of Ms Weir wrote was to muddy the waters on Isabella. I agree with the conclusion — this was no She-Wolf — but I don’t agree with the methodology that got us there. The story is more about the life and times of Isabella, and the person is more obscure. I think I got some further info on Isabella from Edward’s biography, such as the visits to her before the Queen Mother’s death.

In the end, my combination reading served me very well here. The books complimented each other, and two detailed views of three decades joined up to become a narrative of six or seven. Yet, this is no masterpiece of narrative history.

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