3 out of 4 stars
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The history of the 12th century in the royal courts of Europe and Great Britain was full of juicy drama and political exploits. Matilda the Queen by Richard S. Rose tells the story of the life of Matilda, her conquest for the crown of England, and her family life.
Prior to this, I knew very little about the events that this story references, and was pleasantly surprised by how accessible and easy-to-follow this author’s version was. This book is actually a play written in (mostly) non-rhyming verse, and as a result the storyline is primarily driven by expository dialogue. This results in a quick-moving plot but fewer descriptions of character background and location setting than is typical within a novel.
The play begins with Matilda, daughter of King of England Henry I, being betrothed while still a child to an older Heinrich V. Ten years later, we find Matilda has become the Queen of Germany as well as the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, however she and her husband have no sons. A shipwreck results in the loss of the lives of her brothers, her father’s only other potential heirs, resulting in a threat to the English crown. The play takes us through the political decisions and strategies engaged by Matilda and her father (and later, her son), and the resulting marriages and wars that take place between the various rulers involved. Each party is fighting for the same thing – ownership of the crown and title of King of England.
One of the most impressive things about this work is the author’s ability to pack so much detail and action within a relatively short number of pages, in a way that is engaging and straight-forward. I was concerned prior to starting the play that the cast of characters was fairly large and some of them had similar names. However, as I read through the events, I was never confused about who the characters involved were, or their role in the events being described. Reading about these actual historical events in this engaging format encouraged me to seek out additional information about Matilda which I consider another positive – my favorite way to learn about history is through literature.
The only negatives about this play are the fact that I noticed a few typos, and that I would have preferred a bit more time spent on setting descriptions. It almost seemed that the location of each scene was superfluous to the plot of the play – that the conversations between the characters could have taken place anywhere – which made it tough to fully immerse myself in the scene. However, the dialogue was well-written and I enjoyed the bits of it that rhymed (and appreciated that the rhyming was limited). I rate this play 3 out of 4 stars and recommend it for readers who enjoy Shakespeare, and who are interested in concise historical accounts of medieval Europe.
Matilda the Queen
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