By Tracy Borman
Bantam Books, $30.00, 336 pages
Tracy Borman has set herself a difficult task in trying to write a book-length biography of Matilda, queen of William the Conqueror. Her book makes a valiant effort, but ultimately falls short of Borman’s best efforts. She is hampered by the scarcity of sources – there are relatively few primary sources from the 11th century, and virtually none written without ulterior motive. The result is a book that tries to pull together scraps. What the author does manage to construct from wisps of information is impressive. Readers get a definite sense that Matilda was a fiercely intelligent and ambitious woman who realized political success in a way that was unprecedented. However, the book does feel strongly repetitive, and because there are so few certain facts (when Matilda was born, when she was married, and how many children she had, just to name a few), the author spends a lot of time qualifying the information she gives and discussing the motives of chroniclers who recorded the information we do know. If you’re interested in the historical aspects of this very early piece of English history, Borman manages the delicate balance between scholarly and entertaining pretty well; however, it’s less captivating than some of her other historical work.
Reviewed by Katie Richards