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Bibliophile price: £6.50
Women have traditionally exercised 'soft power', networking and applying anonymous pressure. This book challenges the relegation of women's influence to the boudoir by investigating the lives and work of the 30 women in Europe who were monarchs in their own right over a 500-year period. The author prefers the title 'female kings' because 'queen' can also mean a consort. Not all of the 30 women discussed here were monarchs; some were empresses, and some ruled jointly, for instance Mary II of England who was joint sovereign with William of Orange. Five of the women ruled in the British Isles, including not only the 16th century half-sisters Elizabeth and Mary, but also Mary Queen of Scots, and later Queen Anne. Until recently Anne has been regarded as a political lightweight, but she was a shrewd operator, keeping her husband in the background and assuming strong rule with the help of female advisers such as the Duchess of Marlborough, whose friendship with the Queen is the subject of the film The Favourite. Over in Europe the Habsburg succession was a perennial conundrum, but in the 18th century Maria Theresa emerged from the war of the Austrian Succession to become a major cultural patron, inaugurating diplomatic and military academies and rivalling the cultural dominance of her near-contemporary Catherine the Great of Russia. Medieval rulers include the two Neapolitan Queens Joanna, the powerful Margaret of Denmark and the warlike Isabel of Castile and the more obscure Charlotte of Cyprus and Isabel Clara Eugenia of the Netherlands. 271pp.

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