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Having done in Seven Medieval Kings (1967), Dahmus turns his leaden prose on the ladies with equally lethal results. ""The Middle Ages held no number more sacred than seven"" so there are seven queens, ranging in fame and piety from the 6th century Theodora, the courtesan who married the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, to Margaret of Anjou, the luckless wife of England's non compos mentis Henry VI. Dahmus begins with the promise to prune away romantic accretions -- which leaves him with a paucity of hard biographical data and some gingerly, speculative quarrels with medieval chroniclers Procopius and Gregory of Tours. He worries a great deal about the reputations of the ladies -- were they cruel, were they promiscuous -- and far too little about their administrative accomplishments and the political and economic exigencies of feudalism. The queens, maidens and dowagers alike, remain shadowy foils for convoluted dynastic struggles whose significance the reader can't make out. A good press agent, Dahmus rarely disputes the panegyrical homilies according to which all high-born ladies were ""graceful, comely, prudent, amiable."" While deploring the fratricidal butcheries of the Merovingians, he is chivalrously sorry that Brunhild, the 6th century Medusa, ended her days ""tied by her hair, one arm and one leg, to the tail of an unbroken horse. . . cut to shreds by its hoofs at the pace it went."" Overall the pace here is plodding and even the vivacious and formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine lacks sparkle. Yarns of great dames tediously unwound.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 1971
Publisher: Doubleday