Travels with a Medieval Queen

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9780374278786: Travels with a Medieval Queen

Two Women Set Out Across Europe in Search of a Dead Queen

The medieval queen in question is Constance of Hauteville, daughter of the Norman King Roger II of Sicily, wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, and mother to the Emperor Frederick II. In 1194, at the age of forty, Constance journeyed from Germany south to reconquer her father's throne. On the way she discovered that she was pregnant for the first time. She decided to give birth in public so that the world would know the child was truly hers. These intriguing facts, and very few others, are all we know directly of Constance's life.

Seventeen years ago, Mary Taylor Simeti promised in On Persephone's Island--her now-classic memoir of an American in Sicily--that she would someday tell the story of Constance (who was, like her, an expatriate and the mother of a bicultural family). In Travels with a Medieval Queen, Simeti keeps her promise: retracing Constance's route from Germany to Sicily, contrasting the exotic setting of Constance's childhood in Palermo with that of her married life in the north, and drawing on reading in contiguous fields to flesh out a spare legacy of historical facts. This is the beautifully illustrated chronicle of Simeti's twentieth-century travels, first in books, then on the road, as she searches the landscapes and the monuments that survive from the twelfth century for clues to the inner life of a mother who was also a monarch.

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About the Author:

Mary Taylor Simeti, an American writer who has kived in Silcily for almost forty years, is the author of On Perephone's Island, Pomp and Sustenance, and Bitter Almonds.

From Publishers Weekly:

Simeti offers a delightful, reflective reconstruction of a journey undertaken in 1194-1195 by the Sicilian princess Constance from the dark forests of Germany back to her ancestral island in the company of her cold, conquering husband, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. Simeti, who has lived in Sicily for 40 years and written about the island in Pomp and Sustenance and On Persephone's Island, retraces Constance's itinerary in the relative comfort of her car, creating a pleasant exchange between the two journeys. She empathizes intensely with the princess's more grueling travails, from the horseback ride across the Alps, to the dangerous experience of childbirth (which, with her first child, Constance chose to undergo in public to prove that the child was hers). Throughout the book's 12 chapters corresponding to the months of Constance's trip, Simeti renders her sense of connection with her subject: they are both expatriates caught between two cultures, maneuvering for space in a male world. As Simeti is aware, much of the reconstruction is a projection of her own experience, since few documents speak directly to Constance's life. The author senses and evokes possibilities, introducing invented characters like the princess's Arab nurse or fictitious relationships such as her wooing by the courtly poet Frederick von Hausen. She dips into medieval scholarship, rather than immersing herself fully, though her friendship with Columbia University professor Caroline Walker Bynum bears fruit in the discussion of individualism in the Middle Ages. Like another 12th-century traveler, Gerald of Wales, Simeti is fond of engrossing intellectual side trips (astrology, chess, medicine, etc.). 144 b&w and 10 color photos.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Mary Taylor Simeti
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2001)
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