When Women Ruled the World by Maureen Quilligan Book Review

When Women Ruled the World by Maureen Quilligan Book Review

While the 16th century was a time of instability and change, especially in matters of religion, it also is unique for its female rulers and their relationships with one another. Four remarkable women ruled western Europe; Mary I and her sister Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots on the island of Britain and Catherine de Medici who was regent of France for many years. These ‘sister’ queens were joined not only by the ties of blood and marriage, but also in a recognition that they were stronger working together as women in a world of men.

While the history I remember casts these four women as jealous rivals, always out to score points from one another, When Women Ruled the World shows the reader a different view. One where these powerful women supported and respected each other and aimed to maintain friendly alliances. The book focuses on the gifts they gave each other, not mere signs of affection but gifts that telegraphed respect, cooperation, and support.

The surviving gifts are examined in terms of their meanings to gifter and recipient, as well as the gifts deeper meaning and context in terms of history. We see the handmade book the young Elizabeth makes for her stepmother, Katherine Parr, which brought about a reconciliation. The book of poetry given by Catherine to Elizabeth, that contains warning against devious councillors, and the solid gold font gifted by Elizabeth to Mary Stuart on the baptism of Mary’s son James.

The book is a fascinating look at some astonishing works of art (lots of lovely pictures!) and their deeper meanings, as well as an eye-opening re-examination of the relationships between a group of powerful connected women.

Reviewed by Meghan (Head of Retail)

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