During Medieval and Tudor times, there was no question in peoples’ minds about the order of God’s creation – men ruled and women didn’t. Yet despite everything that stood in their way, a handful of extraordinary women did attempt to rule.
Historian Helen Castor explores seven queens who challenged male power.
From Matilda, the first woman who came within a hairs breadth of being crowned Queen of England, to the glorious reign of Elizabeth I, Helen looks at the dramatic, often violent, lives of the women who pursued power between them.
These are the stories of Matilda, Eleanor, Isabella, Margaret and the Tudor queens - Jane, Mary and Elizabeth. They are tales of dynastic strife, marriage, motherhood, divorce and betrayal but also of courage and determination to operate in world of double standards.
Episode 1: Matilda and Eleanor
800 years ago Matilda came within a hairs breadth of being the first woman to be crowned queen of England. In this episode, historian Helen Castor explores how Matilda reached this point and why her bid for the throne ultimately failed. Her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Aquitaine was an equally formidable woman, she’s remembered as the queen of courtly love but in reality during her long life, she divorced one king, married another, only to lead a rebellion against him. She only finally achieved the power she craved in her seventies.
Episode 2: Isabella and Margaret
In 1308 a 12-year-old girl, Isabella of France became queen of England when she married the English king. A century later another young French girl, Margaret of Anjou followed in her footsteps. Both these women were thrust into a violent and dysfunctional England and both felt driven to take control of the kingdom themselves. Isabella would be accused of murder and Margaret of destructive ambition – it was Margaret who Shakespeare named the She Wolf.
Episode 3: Jane, Mary and Elizabeth
In 1553 for the first time in English history, all the contenders for the crown were female. In the lives of these three Tudor queens, Jane, Mary and Elizabeth, Helen Castor explores how each woman struggled in turn with wearing a crown that was made for a male head. Elizabeth I seemed to show that not only could a woman rule but could do so gloriously. But at what cost?
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