Royal Witches: Witchcraft and the Nobility in Fifteenth-Century England

In Royal Witches: Witchcraft and the Nobility in Fifteenth-Century England, historian Gemma Hollman considers a point at which two subjects of women's history intersect: the political roles played by royal women in medieval and early modern Europe, and in witch trials. The result is a fascinating story of the power and vulnerability of female royalty.

Hollman explores the lives of four women who married into England's royal family in the turbulent period between Henry IV's usurpation of the British throne and the Wars of the Roses: Joan of Navarre, Eleanor Cobham, Jacquetta of Luxembourg (later Jacquetta Woodville) and Elizabeth Woodville. She tells the story of each woman's marriage. (Unusual among European nobility at the time, all four marriages were love matches.) After establishing the political context of those marriages, Hollman demonstrates how accusations of witchcraft were used to attack each woman and, in two cases, her husband's political position as well.

Hollman does an excellent job of demonstrating how accusations of witchcraft lead to the falls of Joan, Eleanor and Jacquetta and how those accusations, and each woman's defense, relate to one another. The final section of the book, which deals with the better-known history of Elizabeth Woodville's life as Edward IV's wife and the tragic dissolution of her family after his death, is well told, but less clearly linked to Hollman's central argument. Despite this unevenness, Royal Witches makes an intriguing addition to the growing genre of books dealing with royal women in medieval Europe, like Helen Castor's She-Wolves and more recently Kelcey Wilson-Lee's Daughters of Chivalry. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

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