She-Wolves: England's Early Queens

Isabella and Margaret

Series 1 - Episode 2 Isabella and Margaret

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Review

Two Frenchwomen who became queens of England each came to be labelled “she-wolf”: Isabella by poet Thomas Gray and Margaret of Anjou by Shakespeare. But did they really deserve such a vicious epithet? That’s the question posed by Helen Castor in another fluent and gripping history class.

Both women stepped forward at times of crisis to dominate the political landscape, Isabella in the early 1300s and Margaret more than a century later. Without ever resorting to idolatry — the protagonists were brutal in their ambition — Castor flags up the misogyny that viewed female power as inherently immoral or grotesque.

Filmed strolling around the key landmarks, in that factual-TV way that makes you wonder if there are any other people in the world, Castor lets the history do the talking, neatly and thrillingly. In fact, the portraits are so individually fascinating that you wonder why this wasn’t a six-part series.

Summary

Historian Helen Castor explores the lives of Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou, two French-born queens of England whose ambition and desire for power caused outrage in medieval Britain. Isabella, wife of King Edward II in the 14th century, was accused of murder, while 100 years later Margaret, who was married to Henry VI, was regarded as a destructively ambitious figure - and would go on to be labelled a `she-wolf' by Shakespeare. However, Castor argues it was their gender, rather than their behaviour, that lay at the root of their public vilification.

Cast & Crew

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