Michelle Kung
April 20, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Political power was rare for women in medieval Europe — except perhaps for the four daughters of the count of Provence: intelligent Marguerite, ambitious Eleanor, beautiful Sanchia, and feisty Beatrice. As Nancy Goldstone details in Four Queens, the preteen brides made the most of their marriages to the kings of France, England, Germany, and Sicily. And except for shy, doomed Sanchia, each worked to preserve the interests of her respective nation despite often weaker husbands, scheming families, and shifting alliances. Though the sequence of weddings, wars, and crusades can get confusing, Goldstone weaves a vivid tapestry worthy of her subjects.

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