Using a good range of contemporary sources, from chroniclers such as William of Tyre and Matthew Paris to artefacts such as the beautiful Melisende Psalter held in the British Library, Pangonis deftly weaves together the life stories of the dynasty of women who ruled in the Latin East during the twelfth century ... Perhaps the greatest strength of this work is that Pangonis situates these women in the landscape, architecture and culture of the Near East, combining physical descriptions of place with a colourful and engaging narrative. Like any work of popular history, Pangonis’s is creative in its imagining of events, and the narrative does not significantly challenge current interpretations, but Queens of Jerusalem explores some truly fascinating stories about women that deserve to be retold.
Using many primary sources that are well cited, [Pangonis] paints on evocative picture of a world with shifting allegiances in a region facing constant battles from an array of enemies ... It’s clear that Pangonis knows her history and can lay out facts and figures to support her reading of events. What’s trickier is the tightrope she walks of being true to historical context while being acutely sensitive to contemporary tastes. This is a book for the general public, not historians, so she feels compelled to forestall objections that could arise if modern values are placed on ancient times ... Her contemporary lens also makes her describe and judge the kings and princes in the book, the consorts of the featured women, as good or bad husbands by ridiculously modern standards ... If readers expect royalty to marry out of love, then they should head for the historical romance aisle, not the nonfiction section where this book belongs. Perhaps Pangonis is right to assume that the average reader needs her constant nudges and reminders. We are living in prickly times, after all. But the women in this history are as remarkable as she describes precisely because of when they lived. And we don’t really care how loving their marriages were. What’s interesting is how they ruled, the power they wielded, and the choices they made. After all, would a historian begin the description of a king’s tenure with the emotional state of his marriage? An introductory chapter laying out the ground rules of history and historical context could have obviated the need for the jerking around that happens throughout the book. Still, the basic history here is solid and intriguing, an important addition to medieval and women’s history.
... an intriguing alternative to the Runciman narrative ... a breathtaking, often bewildering chronicle of incessant conflict with adversity ... so hectic and disastrous that the narrative sometimes teeters on dark farce...It’s not the author’s fault: She’s impeccably true to the reality of the time and place ... seems more suited for a small-screen series than a single-volume book, with its busy succession of Baldwins and Bohemonds, amorous interludes, relentless action and dashing roles for supreme divas.