Game of Queens : The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe
The title of Sarah Gristwood’s novel Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe refers partially to the game of chess and the appearance of the uber-powerful queen piece on the board in the 16th century. It is no coincidence that this coincides with the very powerful Isabella of France’s ascension of the throne. The line of strong female queens and queen consorts that Gristwood masterfully traces begins there and continues through Queen Elizabeth I.
Gristwood takes a potentially boring historical list and turns it into a lively who’s who of European female rulers. She deftly negotiates the religious shifts and patriarchal mindset of the times to examine the many ways these women used their gender and positions to undermine the establishment in ways that were, at least, temporarily acceptable. She plots out the interconnectedness of European ruling families through marriages and the exchange of aristocratic children into neighboring houses for tutelage.
Though this web of intrigue could quickly become overwhelming, Gristwood provides a number of family trees in the front of the book, which make it possible to keep track of the players. Her research is thorough enough to make this novel an asset to the student of female rulers in the Renaissance, while being entertaining enough to keep the casual reader engaged. I cannot recommend it highly enough!