The count and countess of Provence had four daughters. A normal medieval family might have been disappointed that they didn’t have any sons, but not this one, because not only can these girls inherit, they can also be manuevered into place to become queens of countries across Europe. Marguerite is first, sent away to marry the French king, where she finds herself dominated by her mother-in-law and unable to exercise her own intellect. Then Eleanore is escorted to cold and rainy England to marry the “old” English king Henry III. Beatrice and Sanchia don’t gain their status as queen until well after marriage, but each have a husband chosen to benefit the family. Throughout their lives, the sisters work together and sometimes against one another, whether or not they choose to obey the family motto, “Family comes first”.
For me, this book got off to an excellent start. I liked the relationship between the sisters as they were young, and the different ways that each sister adapts to her new life as a married woman. Because of the difference in ages, the marriages are staggered, so for a good portion of the first half of the book events are new and fresh. Each sister grows up and adapts to her marriage and husband differently, so that we get a great feel for each of their personalities and their struggles. It’s also nice to read something which focuses so clearly on the relationships between powerful siblings in a historical context and how ambition can put a huge wrench in the best of intentions.
Unfortunately, after the sisters were all married and settled, as often happens, the book started to lag. I can never really blame the author in these situations because, quite frankly, most women’s lives in this period, even those of queens, had the same cycle of pregnancy and birth which (for me at least) just doesn’t make for that exciting a story. In general, a queen gets pregnant, has a baby, and then hands the baby off to someone else. Occasionally one of them is separated from and then longs for her children, and Marguerite in particular has a dramatic time going off on Crusade for years and saving her incompetent husband, but I think the whole book lost a little bit and I struggled to get back to it. Plus, because there are four sisters, there are a number of scenes where the sisters get together and fight about various things, all of them being stubborn and none giving any ground. Beatrice is the main culprit here, as she spends most of the book longing for her sisters’ love and trying to win it and then coming up against a wall. It felt repetitive, even though there were still things going on in the wider plot.
I also think the book suffered because Eleanore and Marguerite were the more interesting queens – Sanchia and Beatrice married younger brothers who took crowns elsewhere and it is fairly clear that they hadn’t done much which was significant or left a huge historical record. The author’s hands are tied in these cases, of course.
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but Four Sisters, All Queens left me a bit cold after a promising start. Still a good prospect for someone who is looking for a book about powerful women and the relationships between them in medieval Europe.
I received this book for free for review.