She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Blanche of Castile, Queen of France, and reported the following:
Page 99 lands the reader in the thick of Blanche’s first regency, when she ruled France during the eight year minority of her son, St Louis, between 1226 and 1234. Blanche dealt firmly, as all contemporary rulers did, with fractious barons and a church which disliked contributing to the costs of protecting the realm. Page 99 finds her dealing with equal firmness with the newly-constituted University of Paris. In 1229 the students had got drunk, rioted, and trashed a tavern. They had done much the same in 1200, claiming that they were members of the clergy and could not be prosecuted under secular law. The king, Philip Augustus, determined to retain Paris’s reputation as the ‘new Athens’, supported the students against his own police force. But in 1229, Blanche faced the students down. The tavern they had trashed was church property, and Blanche had the support of the bishop of Paris and the papal legate, Romanus Frangipani. The students went on strike. They left Paris, and scattered to other cities in France. King Henry III of England, who was doing his best to get back French lands lost by his father, King John in 1204, wrote to encourage the disaffected students to move their university to England. He wrote from Reading Abbey – I teach at the University of Reading – and rather suggested the Paris students should reconstitute their University there. I always find it a shame that they went a bit further up the Thames and founded the University at Oxford! The students also attacked Blanche in scabrous songs, accusing her of being the mistress of the papal legate, Romanus. Blanche did what even the formidable king Philip had not dared to do. She held her ground against the students, and within a couple of years they came back. Page 99 shows why a contemporary chronicler compared her to the legendary Persian Empress, Semiramis.Learn more about Blanche of Castile, Queen of France at the Yale University Press website.