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Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre to Elizabeth Woodville

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‘An important and timely book’ — Philippa Gregory ‘This introduces new readers, in the most accessible and colourful way, to a group of royal women who certainly deserve more public notice than they have hitherto received.’ — Professor Ronald Hutton, author of The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present Until the mass hysteria of the seventeenth century, ‘An important and timely book’ — Philippa Gregory ‘This introduces new readers, in the most accessible and colourful way, to a group of royal women who certainly deserve more public notice than they have hitherto received.’ — Professor Ronald Hutton, author of The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present Until the mass hysteria of the seventeenth century, accusations of witchcraft in England were rare. However, four royal women, related in family and in court ties – Joan of Navarre, Eleanor Cobham, Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Elizabeth Woodville – were accused of practising witchcraft in order to kill or influence the king. Some of these women may have turned to the dark arts, but the purpose of the accusations was purely political. Despite their status, these women were vulnerable because of their gender as the men around them moved them like pawns for political gains. In Royal Witches, Gemma Hollman explores the lives and the cases of these so-called witches. In a time when the line between science and magic was blurred, these trials offer a tantalising insight of how malicious magic would be used and cause such mass hysteria in centuries to come.


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‘An important and timely book’ — Philippa Gregory ‘This introduces new readers, in the most accessible and colourful way, to a group of royal women who certainly deserve more public notice than they have hitherto received.’ — Professor Ronald Hutton, author of The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present Until the mass hysteria of the seventeenth century, ‘An important and timely book’ — Philippa Gregory ‘This introduces new readers, in the most accessible and colourful way, to a group of royal women who certainly deserve more public notice than they have hitherto received.’ — Professor Ronald Hutton, author of The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present Until the mass hysteria of the seventeenth century, accusations of witchcraft in England were rare. However, four royal women, related in family and in court ties – Joan of Navarre, Eleanor Cobham, Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Elizabeth Woodville – were accused of practising witchcraft in order to kill or influence the king. Some of these women may have turned to the dark arts, but the purpose of the accusations was purely political. Despite their status, these women were vulnerable because of their gender as the men around them moved them like pawns for political gains. In Royal Witches, Gemma Hollman explores the lives and the cases of these so-called witches. In a time when the line between science and magic was blurred, these trials offer a tantalising insight of how malicious magic would be used and cause such mass hysteria in centuries to come.

30 review for Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre to Elizabeth Woodville

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    In the fifteenth century, four women at the very highest levels of society were accused of witchcraft. While it is not impossible these women were ‘guilty’ of turning to folkloric charms and rituals or using the then-accepted science of astrology, these accusations all had clear ulterior methods. A cash-strapped king in desperate needs of funds, a court party wanting to discredit their popular rival, an alienated earl looking to discredit the queen and regain his position, a king looking for In the fifteenth century, four women at the very highest levels of society were accused of witchcraft. While it is not impossible these women were ‘guilty’ of turning to folkloric charms and rituals or using the then-accepted science of astrology, these accusations all had clear ulterior methods. A cash-strapped king in desperate needs of funds, a court party wanting to discredit their popular rival, an alienated earl looking to discredit the queen and regain his position, a king looking for ways to explain his usurpation of his nephews’ throne. Gemma Hollman explores the lives of and accusations against Joan of Navarre, Eleanor Cobham, Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Elizabeth Woodville. I was very excited when I first heard about this book and even pre-ordered it months ahead of its release (I was heartbroken when my bookshop had issues getting stock and I ended up getting it two weeks after the publication date). I’m interested in these four women, but especially Eleanor Cobham, and after reading about them in bits and pieces across a wide range of books, Royal Witches was a concentrated effort to tell their story in detail and explore the links between each woman. What’s more, judging from Hollman’s blog, this was going to be an account sympathetic to these women that explored these women from the perspective that they were not necessarily guilty. Royal Witches is beautifully written, clear and readable yet obviously with a wealth of research behind it. It is more of a narrative history than an academic study of the sources but Hollman’s goal seems to be to present these women to a wider audience, to tell their stories in a way that will appeal to a wide range of readers. There are a couple of little inaccuracies or simplification of some complicated historical issues. And there is some speculation, particularly in the early chapters dealing with Joan of Navarre, and guesswork which I feel may be the result of an author dealing with a paucity of evidence and trying to extract as much meaning as possible from what little evidence there is. I did particularly enjoy the chapters focusing on Eleanor Cobham’s tenure as the Duchess of Gloucester. Although she is a shadowy figure, I felt as Hollman worked hard to find glimpses of the real woman rather than blindly accepting the narratives about her as fact. This is not a reading of Eleanor as a stupid, arrogant whore whose extreme ambition proved her undoing but, rather a woman who suffered for being married to a man others wanted to discredit and alienate. Overall, what I really appreciated was that Hollman is interested in telling these women’s stories by delving beyond the accusations and narratives that have dominated our understanding of these women. Hollman wants to locate the real women behind the witches and show them to the world. Highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sophie Constable

    This is a very well-researched, well-written book. It was also about a subject that I didn't really know much about and therefore found it fascinating. It handles the women's lives very well and never seems to lose sight of who they were as people. This is a brilliant history book that I would recommend to everyone.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Éowyn

    Chapters on Joanne of Navarre and Eleanor Cobham were interesting, but she gets herself in a bit of a mess over the Wars of the Roses and trying to explain a very complicated situation. Her understanding of Medieval Canon Law is terrible - I refer her to the late Dr Ashdown-Hill for enlightenment. She seems prepared to give the Widvilles the benefit of the doubt to the point of whitewashing without extending this to others, so these chapters on Jaquette (note correct spelling!) and Elizabeth Chapters on Joanne of Navarre and Eleanor Cobham were interesting, but she gets herself in a bit of a mess over the Wars of the Roses and trying to explain a very complicated situation. Her understanding of Medieval Canon Law is terrible - I refer her to the late Dr Ashdown-Hill for enlightenment. She seems prepared to give the Widvilles the benefit of the doubt to the point of whitewashing without extending this to others, so these chapters on Jaquette (note correct spelling!) and Elizabeth Widvile seem extremely partisan.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Romina

    Very, very well researched and informative. Although I’ve read a lot on the Woodvilles and the Wars of the Roses, I leaned many new things with this book, which is always a plus. And I didn’t know anything about Joan of Navarre and Eleanor Cobham, so it was awesome to read about them for the first time. Congrats to the author on this novel book!

  5. 4 out of 5

    m clark

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Ball

  7. 5 out of 5

    Abi-rose

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ms J P Tunnicliffe

  9. 5 out of 5

    Helen

  10. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Cheresnick

  11. 4 out of 5

    Angi Plant

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tamise Hills

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  14. 5 out of 5

    Janina Barlow

  15. 4 out of 5

    Finch

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie O'Neill

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cherie Malpass

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sheila Hall

  19. 4 out of 5

    Angela McLean

  20. 4 out of 5

    t j b vignoles

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cat

  22. 4 out of 5

    A.L. Butcher

  23. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Byrne

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Donovan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lyndsy Spence

  27. 4 out of 5

    FireWyrm

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nicola Hall

  30. 4 out of 5

    Heather

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