The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth

Helen Castor

Foreword by the author

A new fully illustrated Folio Society edition of Helen Castor’s She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth which depicts the lives of four remarkable medieval women: Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella, Margaret of Anjou. 


In 1553, as Edward VI, Henry VIII’s longed-for male heir, lay dying in his bed, the only contenders for his crown – for the first time in English history – were all female. And although England had never previously had a reigning queen, women’s hands had reached for power and the crown many times before, and for their pains might be vilified as she-wolves.

Production Details

Bound in cloth blocked with a design based on the Matilda seal, drawn by Neil Gower

Set in Centaur

488 pages

Frontispiece, 24 pages of colour plates and 5 hand-drawn maps

Printed endpapers

Blocked slipcase

10˝ x 6¾˝

Four remarkable medieval women

Celebrated historian Helen Castor reveals four exceptional women who paved the way for the reign of Elizabeth I: Empress Matilda, the granddaughter of William the Conqueror, who so nearly took the throne for herself; Eleanor of Aquitaine, who married two kings and was the mother of two more; Queen Isabella, noted for her beauty, diplomacy and intelligence who would challenge the misrule of her husband, Edward II; and Margaret of Anjou, who held sway over the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses – wars that would end with a Tudor dynasty and the creation of true female monarchs. Castor tells their dramatic stories and captures the paradox they faced: that traits deemed essential and admirable in a male ruler were abominable in a female. Women were ’inherently inferior to men and predisposed to sin’, to preserve their virtue, they had to submit to ’God-given male authority’. A power-seeking woman was therefore a violation of the natural order– she was feral, threatening, lupine … a She-Wolf.

This beautiful edition illuminates this bestselling history with a wealth of colour images, selected with the author’s input. Among them are photographs of effigies and stained-glass portraits, and paintings of battles, coronations and executions. Also included are genealogical tables for each key figure and new hand-drawn maps. Castor’s foreword – newly commissioned for this edition – highlights the enduring significance of the ’she-wolf’. Her lively commentary takes in Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton and ’the Matilda effect’, coined by historian Margaret Rossiter in the 1990s to describe bias against female scientists. This luxurious edition also features a printed slipcase, a striking binding and decorated endpapers.

About Helen Castor

Helen Castor is a historian of the Middle Ages and sixteenth century, and a Bye-Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Her first book, Blood & Roses, a biography of the 15th-century Paston family, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2005 and won the English Association’s Beatrice White Prize in 2006. Her second, She-Wolves, was made into a three-part television series, and was widely selected as one of the books of the year for 2010. Her latest, Joan of Arc: A History, won the Franco-British Society Book Prize in 2014. She presents history programmes for BBC Television, Channel 4 and BBC Radio, including Radio 4’s Making History.


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