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The Two Isabellas of King John (Hardback)

British History Medieval History P&S History Medieval

By Kristen McQuinn
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
ISBN: 9781526761644
Published: 23rd September 2021

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King John of England was married to two women: Isabella of Gloucester and Isabelle of Angoulême. The two women were central to shaping John and his reign, each in her own way molding the king and each other over their lives. Little is known about Isabella of Gloucester and she has largely become an historical footnote; Isabelle of Angoulême has a reputation as a witch and poisoner. However, both were products of their time, victims and pawns of the powerful men whose voices overwrote the experiences of women. By examining these two very different women through a modern feminist lens, The Two Isabellas offers new insight into one of England’s lesser-known queens and a different interpretation of one of its least popular kings.

In The Two Isabellas of King John, Kristen McQuinn offers new and intriguing insights into two of England’s important yet little understood queen-consorts, the wives of King John. Taking a feminist light, McQuinn brightly shines it on both England’s least well-known consort, Isabella of Gloucester, his first wife, and one of its least popular, Isabelle of Angoulême, his child bride.

"Overall, the book was a very enjoyable read, with very few negatives."

Family & Community Historical Research Society Newsletter, June 2022

"The book has interesting things to say about women in the 12th and 13th centuries."

Edward James - Historical Novels Review

"A very worthwhile addition to ‘King John literature’".

Stephen Ede-Borrett, The Pike and Shot Society

This book provided an interesting look into King John and his fascinating wives. Isabella of Gloucester is often overlooked and it was extremely interesting to read about her and her life. Isabella of Angouleme is one of the most interesting and maligned English queens and I loved learning about her too.

NetGalley, Melisa Safchinsky

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Precious little is known about the two Isabellas of King John. Isabella of Gloucester, his first wife, is but a shadow and left very little trace in historical record. Isabella of Angouleme, John's second wife, is a somewhat better documented figure but there is a vast amount of myths and misconceptions about her life, character and marriages.

It is the second Isabella that interests me the most. In 2015 I visited the Fontevraud Abbey where Isabella's effigy can still be admired today. I always wanted to learn more about the woman whose beautiful face was etched in the effigy but since she was a controversial figure during her lifetime, most historians repeat the assertions of medieval chroniclers who depicted her as evil seductress, adulteress and even a witch.

I had high hopes for Kristen McQuinn's book and wasn't disappointed. McQuinn provides a through analysis of what is known about the two Isabellas, both from contemporary and modern perspective. She analyses the historical sources but also delves into modern depictions of the two women.

This book was a joy to read, highly recommended.

NetGalley, S. Constant Reader

Kristen McQuinn presents a formidable account of his life with his two wives, Isabella of Gloucester and Isabelle of Angouleme. Fascinating!

Books Monthly

It’s clear that the author Kristen McQuinn went to town on her research. She has done an excellent job in highlighting just how ruthless leaders could be in their quest for power, how appalling they subsequently were at practising leadership and how women were treated with contempt in a male-oriented society. I loved the frequent descriptions of Eleanor of Aquitaine – cultured, enlightened, as power-hungry as any of her male counterparts, and a real firebrand with a biting wit that could put anyone in their place.

NetGalley, Richard Lewis

I enjoyed this--the author has a gift for making the often sparse and vague medieval source material very engaging and readable.

NetGalley, Claire Grothe

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Finally! A marvellous look at two forgotten English queens and an interesting account of King John's marital life.
Isabella of Gloucester was his first wife, a union that remained childless after it was annulled early on for reasons of consanguinity.
Not too much is known about this English bride but the author manages with brio to open a small window into her life.
Isabelle of Angoulême is my favorite and her union to John owes a lot to the very complex geopolitical issues prevalent at the time on the continent and the difficult management of the vast Plantagenets Empire.
Isabelle deserves today her full biography. As resilient and strong minded as her formidable mother in law, Alienor of Aquitaine, Isabelle was married twice and gave birth to 14 children who managed to reach adulthood. No small feat at the beginning of the 13th century! She was also the matriarch of the clan of the Lusignans whose subsequent move to England will prove to be a godsend for their half brother Henry III when it came later to destroy the Montforts' unquenchable quest to grab the crown.
Kristen McQuinn gives us delightful dual portrait of 2 medieval consorts during a troublesome period of English history. Highly recommended to anyone interested in Medieval history, women conditions and their history during the Middle Ages and the place of royalty in English and French societies at the time.

NetGalley, Jean Luc Estrella

About Kristen McQuinn

Kristen McQuinn holds a BA and an MA from Arizona State University in English literature with a concentration on medieval holy women’s writing. She has published work ranging from the writings of holy women to tea in literature to Star Trek. Kristen currently contributes to the Historical Novel Review and Discovering Diamonds.

Perfect Partner

The Two Eleanors of Henry III The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort (Hardback)

Eleanor of Provence was born in the province of her name in 1223. She has come to England at the age of twelve to marry the king, Henry III. He’s sixteen years older, but was a boy when he ascended the throne. He’s a kind, sensitive sort whose only personal attachments to women so far have been to his three sisters. The youngest of them is called Eleanor too. She was only nine when, for political reasons, her first marriage took place, but she’s already a chaste twenty-year old widow when the new queen arrives in 1236. In a short time, this Eleanor will marry the rising star of her brother’s…

By Darren Baker

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