She-Wolves: England's Early Queens

Matilda and Eleanor

Series 1 - Episode 1 Matilda and Eleanor



The Marvel Comics title belies a rich story, full of captivating twists and shocking betrayals. The first of three profiles of women who challenged male power focuses on two formidable figures: Matilda and her daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The daughter of King Henry I, Matilda was the first woman to claim the English throne in her own right. The rightful heir, she was pipped to the post in 1135 by her conniving cousin Stephen of Blois – one of the nobles who had sworn allegiance to her. And while Eleanor is remembered as the queen of courtly love, she in fact divorced one king and married another, only to mount a rebellion against him.

The achievements of both women are extraordinary. Tough and pragmatic, both kicked against the status quo, fought for their sons and ensured dynastic continuation. Presenter Helen Castor displays a firm grip on her material, and her calm delivery is full of measured interpretation.


Helen Castor explores the role of queens in medieval and Tudor England, analysing how they evolved from being the wives of kings to powerful figures in their own right - but faced great struggles to impose their authority in a male-dominated society. She begins by recalling the life of Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, who waged war against her cousin Stephen in the mid-12th century in a bid to be recognised as her father's rightful successor. The historian also charts the turbulent life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of Henry II, who played a major role in governing England during the latter half of the 12th century.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Helen Castor
Director Lucy Swingler
Executive Producer Ross Wilson
Executive Producer Sam Anthony
Producer Lucy Swingler