During the opening moments of the new She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens we see some grainy black and white footage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It is the earliest film of a woman assuming the role that exists. As the three-part series shows us though, the once-unthinkable idea of a female ruling the land stretches back over 800 years. The seven women whose lives are chronicled are some of the most formidable in history. Their attempts to assume the throne led to some very interesting moments in English history, and it is all laid out in this fascinating mini-series.
From the happy and civil 1953 coronation, we go back in time to the life of Matilda (1102-1167). Matilda was the daughter of King Henry I, and granddaughter of William the Conqueror. When her father died in 1141, she was the first woman to attempt to claim the crown. This led to 20 years of civil war, as the people of England were simply not ready to be led by a queen. In the end, she capitulated, and her son Henry II was crowned. The episode concludes with an examination of the life of Eleanor (1124-1204). Eleanor was Matilda’s daughter-in-law, and as ambitious as her mother-in-law. For all intents and purposes, she ruled while her son was away at battle.
The second episode of the series focuses on the lives of Isabella (1295-1358) and Margaret (1430-1482). Isabella married Edward II when she was just 12 years old. In 1326, her lover Roger Mortimer joined her to depose the king, and rule for three years. Margaret was named the “She-Wolf of France” by none other than William Shakespeare.
In the third and final episode, we meet three more women who would attempt, and finally succed in ruling the land. These are Jane (1537-1554), Mary I (1516-1558), and Elizabeth I (1533-1603). When King Edward VI died in 1553, there were only women in line to assume the title. His cousin Lady Jane Grey was decreed Queen by him on his deathbed, which led to her male heirs assuming the title.
The oldest daughter of Henry was Mary Tudor. She set out to claim the throne with over 10,000 troops. Mary became the first Queen to be crowned. She is remembered in history as “Bloody Mary.” Finally we come to the 25-year-old Elizabeth, who assumed the role after the death of Bloody Mary. Elizabeth ruled for 45 years, and had the nickname of “The Virgin Queen,” as she never married. Her death ended the Tudor Dynasty.
The DVD She Wolves, released by the Athena Learning Company, includes the three one-hour episodes on one disc. The DVD comes with a 16-page booklet, and a biography of Helen Castor. Dr. Helen Castor wrote the book She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (2010) upon which the series is based, and serves as narrator. She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens offers us a highly compelling look at seven phenomenal women.