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"Picturing Melisende, and other medieval queens, is not easy. The historian must get close to the texts, angle them this way and that, and seek out traces of their subjects. But as Katherine Pangonis makes clear in this vivid history, the effort is worthwhile, adding depth and unexpected detail to the understanding of the past.

The Crusades tend to be remembered, on page and screen, as a manly and Manichean struggle, in which Christian warred with Muslim and cold steel defended iron convictions. As this book shows, the reality was far muddier, more female—and far more interesting.


Tilt the medieval chronicles and you find leaders who are not the mild maidens of legend but instead women who—in the absence of dead, weak or warring husbands—ruled cities, withstood sieges and, “more mannish than the Amazons”, set off on Crusades themselves."

“An intriguing alternative to the Runciman narrative. A multigenerational drama at court and beyond, told through story-filled profiles, selected to remit various sins of omission and restitute the full historical record. Breathtaking. The pace never lags. Pangonis is impeccably true to the reality of the time and place.”—The Wall Street Journal

“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 the Latin East in 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 with a colourful and engaging narrative.”

"Beautifully constructed, highly intelligent, perceptive, humane and empathetic, this wonderful book turns the forgotten women rulers of Jerusalem from powerless broodmares into complex actors with agency, ingenuity and fascinating lives."

"Fascinating, intriguing, exciting and authoritative. Here are the female rulers of the crusader states as shrewd politicians, warrior queens and mothers and wives, holding their own against male crusader states and Islamic warlords in the ruthless arena of the Middle East. The female crusader potentates have long been neglected, so this is long overdue and it was worth waiting for."

The subjects of this important and inspiring book have regularly been resigned to the footnotes of history. But the Queens of Jerusalem are history-makers, game-changers. Delight in their company in this seminal and scintillating debut 

Times Literary Supplement

Dr Natasha Hodgson

Full review:

William Dalrymple

Simon Sebag-Montefiore

Bettany Hughes

"Recent scholarship has transformed understanding of the role of women in the European Middle Ages. Now Kate Pangonis's careful yet lively and engaging study focuses light on the public, domestic and social place of noble and royal women in the unique political and dynastic circumstances of the multi-cultural crusader states of the Levant. In a refreshing shift of historical emphasis, these women, whether players or pawns, are brought to life on their own terms, their experiences and careers, even if shaped by men, viewed from a distinctive feminine perspective"

Christopher Tyerman

Professor of the History of the Crusades

University of Oxford

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