This turned out to be a completely different book from the one I expected. I thought I was going to read a fairly straightforward historical description about the Empress Constance returning to Sicily to reclaim her father’s kingdom; instead I got a mixture of history and travel book, which jumped back and forwards not only between Constance and the present day followers in her footsteps, but also within Constance’s own story. And although it took me longer to read than I intended, I really enjoyed it.

I normally dislike non-fiction books or films about historical subjects that are inaccurate or play about with history for dramatic effect, but for some reason didn’t mind the fact that the author of Travels With A Medieval Queen has created some imaginary relationships for her protagonist because so little is known about her real companions and she couldn’t bear to have Constance unaccompanied through her journey. So there is an imaginary Arab servant, and imaginary female doctor, and an invented romance with a real poet, Frederick von Hausen.

The story of Constance is fascinating; her marriage to the cold and ruthless Henry VI, son of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, her years of infertility and her astonishing first pregnancy at the age of 41, which led her, according to many sources, to deal with suggestions of trickery by giving birth in public. In a tent in the town square. In December.

And against the background of Constance’s own story are the author and her friend retracing as far as they can Constance’s journey from Germany to Sicily.

There are lots of wonderful nuggets of information supplied in passing. I didn’t know that there were so many women doctors during the 12th century, effectively de-legitimised when medicine became “professional” and therefore male. I didn’t know that in the early middle ages red actually meant coloured in general and could cover anything from yellow to purple.

Also, it’s always a good sign when I read bits of a book out to the Book God, and I did a fair bit of that with this one. And it made me want to find out more about the period, and especially Constance’s son Frederick, destined to become Holy Roman Emperor. Delightful. And my first read for the Non-Fiction Five challenge.

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