Nancy Goldstone’s The Rival Queens is one part biography of Marguerite de Valois, half a part biography of Catherine de Medici, and half a part outline of the French Religious Wars. Catherine getting first billing the in subtitle, the focus is largely on Margarite.

In one extent, this makes a lot of sense, as she wrote, or at least started, her own memoirs which were heavily sourced for this book. The Rival Queens effectively starts with the marriage of Catherine to Henri II, so the early part of the book naturally focuses on her; but as Margarite grows up, she becomes the focal point of the book, with Catherine becoming part of the surrounding cast.

Overall, it’s a very well done look at the period from the general viewpoint of the French court. There is talk about various towns and forts trading hands (mostly between the French government and the Hugenots), that could have used a few maps for a grasp of the geography involved, but the politics and personal relations are the focus of the book.