Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Young Queens:
The Kardashians are amateurs compared to these people.
The story of the early lives of Catherine de Medici, Mary Queen of Scots, and Elisabeth de Valois.
Fact for Non-History People:
King Francis of France stayed in the room the night of the marriage of Catherine de Medici and his son Prince Henry to ensure….well that everything went fine.
Fact for History Nerds:
You know how you’re supposed to have eight great-grandparents? Don Carlos of Spain, heir to the throne, only had four.
My Take on Young Queens:
A great history book is one that avoids the easy tropes and cliches of its character. When you start Leah Redmond Chang’s Young Queens, the prologue seems to set up a book about 3 women who would do marvelous things in an imperfect world. I must admit, I was initially worried the narrative would paper over the shortcomings of its subjects and not dive too deeply into their flaws and what made them humans with immense power. I now apologize for jumping to my wildly inaccurate prediction.
Chang tells the story of Catherine de’ Medici, her daughter Elisabeth de Valois, and Mary Queen of Scots who was also related because of course they were all related back then. It should be noted that Chang spends the vast majority of the book on the three queens in their younger years. Mary’s long imprisonment is barely touched upon and Catherine’s actions around the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre are almost footnotes.
However, I found this to be one of the strengths of the book. Chang is able to spend more time on what most books skip over in the lives of these queens. Along the way, Chang does not shy from praising and criticizing each woman. Catherine alone could easily be a pure sociopath or master politician depending on how you want to slant her. Chang also touches upon how being women affected their lives and their choices, but I also felt Chang just as clearly showed that their religion and other choices could have just as strong an effect on them. More than anything, Chang shows that they were people with power, and they had to wield it in a way to keep that power, otherwise it didn’t matter who they were.
It is a great book and anyone with a love of history should have it on their “must read” list.
(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)
So dang good. Read it! Buy it here!