BBC 4' s fine documentary study of the female struggle for power in a male dominated society, She-Wolves—England's Early Queens, is now available on DVD from Athena. Based on historian Helen Castor's 2011 book She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, and written and presented by the author, the adaptation runs over three episodes at approximately one hour each.
Beginning with the thesis that a woman might be a queen, but in early England and clearly throughout the world at large the queen never quite had the same power of the king, any woman seeking such power either directly in her own right or even as a surrogate for a son or a weak, ineffectual husband was branded as an unwomanly creature, or in a term borrowed from a Shakespearian reference to Margaret of Anjou in Henry Vl, Part lll as the "She-wolf of France." And Shakespeare doesn't stop there, it is, he says "ill-beseeming" for someone of her sex "to triumph, like an Amazonian trull,/Upon their woes whom fortune captivates!" Even when a woman gets some power, it is, it seems only a matter of luck.
The series' first episode deals with Matilda, the daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror whose assent to the throne after Henry's death was thwarted by her cousin Stephen and Eleanor of Aquitaine, her daughter-in-law, perhaps best known today through the Katherine Hepburn portrayal in The Lion in Winter.
The second episode deals with Isabella who was married to the notorious Edward ll, only to find him more interested in the handsome Piers Gaveston and Shakespeare's "Amazonian trull," Margaret of Anjou, married at 15 to Henry Vl who was later to succumb to mental problems and fall into a kind of catatonic state. Margaret was forced to take the lead in defending the crown in the Wars of the Roses, the lengthy civil wars she and her supporters were eventually to lose.