Young Queens by Leah Redmond Chang is a fascinating and beautifully braided story of the lives of three queens “as complex and flawed human beings, their potential co-existing alongside their faults and frailties.”
“Young Queens follows the interlaced lives of Catherine, Elisabeth and Mary over the course of two decades. Telling their stories as one reveals patterns about women and power that we may miss or discount when assessing any of them in isolation.”
I chose this book as my most recent read due to my interest in verifying the accuracy of some of my favorite TV series and films like Reign (2013–2017), Mary Queen of Scots (2018), and The Serpent Queen (2022). After reading Young Queens, all of these works will require a rewatch.
This book is so fascinating and fun (if you’re a history nerd like me)! I found it every bit as delightful as the elaborate films and series! It’s not easy to write nonfiction that includes well chosen details and paints such a rich picture of history but is also thoroughly entertaining with gorgeous prose and flow. This book, a glass of wine, and a hammock in my backyard made for the perfect summer reading experience.
Whatever aspect of these queens lives is of most intrigue and interest for you personally, it’s in this book. From the perils of travel via carriage to new lands, the complicated issue of trust amongst royals, the gross ignorance of the times of the human body and its functions, the author deftly sorts through details large and small and presents a captivating look at these brave and bold young queens from all angles.
I found it interesting how mental health wasn’t even considered in the 1500s. The behaviors and emotional issues that would have been the result of oppressive patriarchy and the trauma of bodies and lives being currency with very little daily autonomy would be so great, but were often written off as laziness, bad habits, or a symptoms of a physical ailment.
One example of this is an observation of Elizabeth, at age 14, after her marriage to the 34 year old King Phillip, “There were other signs of disorder, hints that Elisabeth’s daily habits were less than healthful. Sometimes Catherine found Elisabeth self-indulgent, ready to ‘take to her bed as soon as she felt the least bit ill’. She neglected to exercise. She had a particular fondness for meat and a bad habit of snacking too much, which Catherine believed brought on the dreaded vomiting. Others in Elisabeth’s circle also noticed these bad habits.”
With limited tools and knowledge, people relied heavily on folk medicine and religion for support. “In the sixteenth century, people believed in the four humours, the medical doctrine preaching that the health of a person depended on the proper balance of four liquids coursing through the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. A mild predominance of any one liquid determined temperament. A person dominated by blood, for example, might be ‘sanguine’ or cheerful. A person tending towards bile might anger easily. A more severe disequilibrium among the humours, however, was the basis of disease.”
What a trip reading Young Queens! I am in awe of the author. I imagined her in libraries, pouring over letters and texts, fully immersed into the lives of these women. This is truly one of my favorite nonfiction reads in a long time. I would definitely recommend to fans of historical nonfiction, Catherine de’ Medici (my favorite), Mary Queens of Scots, and Elizabeth of Valois! My favorite genre is generally fantasy, and this world of queens and kings truly satisfies that craving too.
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