Normal Women is a radical reframing of our nation’s story, told not with the rise and fall of kings and the occasional queen, but through social and cultural transition, showing the agency, persistence, and effectiveness of women in society – from 1066 to modern times.
Did women do nothing to shape England’s culture and traditions during nine centuries of political turmoil, plague, famine, prosperity, religious reform? Philippa Gregory answers this question by telling stories of the soldiers, guild widows, highwaywomen, pirates, miners and ship owners, international traders, theatre impresarios, social campaigners and ‘female husbands’ who did much to build the fabric of our society and in ways as diverse and varied as the women themselves.
This is not another book about heroines. Instead, it is a book about millions of women, not just three or four. The ‘normal women’ you meet in these pages rode in jousts, flew Spitfires, issued their own currency and built ships, corn mills and houses as part of their daily lives. They went to war, tilled the fields, campaigned, wrote and loved. They committed crimes, or treason, worshipped many types of gods, cooked and nursed, invented things and rioted. A lot.
A landmark work of scholarship and storytelling, this is a history not a call to action. It looks back at facts and the past lives of some 50% of the population without the judgmental eyes of the present. It cannot be a celebratory account about women’s ‘rise’ because women are not equal yet. But by highlighting the drive, ingenuity and vast contribution made, it puts women back where they belong in our history – centre stage.
Book opens in 1066
I first had the idea for this book around the time that I wrote The Other Boleyn Girl, when I found a woman, Mary Boleyn, who made her own remarkable life but enters history only as the sister to the more famous Anne. She made me think of all the other women whose names and stories are lost, and even the stories my mother told me: about growing up during the war years, of her mother who did not dare to be a suffragette, of her aunt, a scholar who could not graduate from an English university, of the letters she edited, written by her kinswoman – an eighteenth-century feminist. This book is about them, and all the women who ‘lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs’.
"“You’ll lose count of the number of things you learn about women and their skewed place in history… The book is full of surprises… a brilliant, essential read”"Full Review
"Philippa Gregory has produced something rare and wonderful: a genuinely new history of our nation, with women at its beating heart"
"a beautiful and readable account of how extraordinary the everyday could be. Full of witchcraft, love, struggles, sexuality, work and religion, I could not put it down"
Adele Parks, Platinum
"Philippa has been working on this book for more than 10 years, women have been waiting for this gratifying and informative acknowledgment for a thousand."