A Review of ‘Heroines of the Medieval World’ by Sharon Bennett Connolly

‘These are the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history.  The lives and actions of medieval women were restricted by the men who ruled the homes, countries and world they lived in.  It was men who fought wars, made laws and dictated religious doctrine.  It was men who were taught to read, trained to rule and expected to fight.  Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were downtrodden, retiring and obedient housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children (preferably boys) and serve their husbands.  Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women who broke the mould: those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history’.

Sharon Bennett Connolly presents her reader with a variety of biographical accounts of notable women from the Middle Ages. Some are already well documented historical figures.  Others are not so well celebrated in popular history but it is clear to see why they, as their stories unfold, wholly deserve a place in their own right.

The meticulously researched book is divided into twelve chapters with titles such as ‘Heroines in History’, ‘Scandalous Heroines’, ‘The Pawns’, ‘Warrior Heroines’ and ‘Literary Heroines’ providing the reader with an insightful examination of each woman’s life in turn. Some of the stories entwine throughout the chapters as one might expect for royal women during the Middle Ages. Others are stand-alone tales of bravery such as that of Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orléans and Nicholaa de la Haye, famed for holding Lincoln Castle whilst under siege for forty days. Stories of religious dedication are told in the form of Mary of Blois and the anchorite, Julian of Norwich. There are examples of women used as pawns for marriage, child bearing and inheritance in a world dominated by men and, whilst some ultimately triumph, many of these life stories are tragically short and moving. However, each of these women were distinguished for their intelligence, courage, tenacity and resilience demonstrated often in incredibly difficult circumstances.

Other notable figures include Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of Woodstock, Æthelflæd, Katherine Swynford, Margaret the Maid of Norway and Gwenllian the daughter of the last native Prince of Wales, held captive by three English kings in turn—Edward I, Edward II and Edward III—in a priory for her entire life.

Connolly draws in the reader, and keeps them spellbound, with her warm and insightful writing style. This accessible book is an excellent choice for anyone interested in the subject matter but who can find dense non-fiction books challenging to digest.

Sharon Bennett Connolly’s collection of stories is a fascinating female-centric journey through the Middle Ages. An inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable read!

Reviewed by Kate Hope

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from the Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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  1. Sharon Connolly says:

    Wow! What a wonderful review. Thank you so much! I will be smiling all day.

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