©2009 Nancy Goldstone; (P)2009 Tantor
"Resilient Queen Joanna of Naples (1326-1382) weathered overwhelming political challenges, financial ruin and a papal-run murder trial for the death of her Hungarian husband - all by age 22. Veteran author Goldstone...expertly describes bloodthirsty 14th-century politics and the complex family entanglements that encouraged siblings and cousins to clash over kingdoms like toddlers brawling over toys. Adding to the fray was Joanna's military support for "anti-pope" Clement VII against Pope Urban VI, ultimately helping create the Great Schism." (Publishers Weekly)
This is an excellent book describing a formidable woman, made all the more amazing in the fact that her story has dropped into obscurity. Long before Queen Elizabeth I, the prototype of strong female leaders, Queen Joanna led Naples for an almost 40 year reign. During these turbulent times of war and disease, she repeatedly managed to get the upper hand and provide a stable government. Unlike a male leader able to lead soldiers into battle, she had to have a husband able to lead the fight on her behalf. Unfortunately, all but her last husband, decided to break agreements and try to take power for himself. Not only did she deal with scheming (and sometimes violent) husbands, she also had to handle relatives with rival claims. Plus she had to negotiate with a few different popes during her reign. As a young queen, she managed to outwit the Pope. He sent a representative to run her government, so she refused to send the annual tribute to the Pope since she wasn't in charge of her government. When her first husband was murdered, she had to face the Pope in order to defend herself of the charges. The beginning of the book describes Joanna's journey to the Pope through areas decimated by plague. One of the issues that I thought of through this book is the fateful (bad) decision of Joanna's mother-in-law. In order to calm the family quarrels, a double wedding of Joanna and her sister to the Hungarian family members was planned to ensure peace. However, after Joanna and Andrew of Hungary were married, his mother decided to break the agreement so that her other son could make another match to expand their prospects. Joanna's grandfather Robert the Wise was so incensed by this that on his deathbed he specified in his will that Andrew would never be crowned king. Joanna would try to calm the tension after his death. But after Andrew was murdered, the feud raged again. Unlike Queen Elizabeth, Queen Joanna didn't have a happy ending, finally caught up in the family fight. I had no knowledge of Queen Joanna before this book. I am glad I stumbled upon it.
NOTE: stay with the book until the very end (even past the currency) since the Nazis become part of the story about Joanna's archive.
The subject matter is slightly interesting, but certainly not engrossing. The narration is the most annoying part - the different voices used to portray the different people is unnecessary and quite inane. The book seems to spend more time on the political turmoil of 14th century Italy and Europe (did ANYONE rule peacefully in that century?) than about Joanna herself.
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