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A daring book for mothers and sons

Rhonda Dredge

Courageous Queens tells 10 untold stories of history’s boldest rulers and it is not a comforting book by any means.

Readers should have a nice bowl of soup followed by a cup of tea and biscuit before delving.

History was an unkind place, not just for women but their sons.

Take the life of Hurrem, a slave who was selected by a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to be his wife.

The story tells of her brave move to build a hospital for female slaves in the centre of Constantinople.

She’s warned that the site she wants will advertise to the world her lowly background.

The queen throws this criticism back on her courtiers and instructs them to be clever about the purchase of the land so no-one knows what it’s to be used for.

Similar property deals occur in Melbourne with agents acting on behalf of clients to counter prejudice, and the tale is convincing.

In fact, it could have been an empowering story had not the coda been so bitter.

The reason slaves were chosen for Sultan’s wives is that they had no real power to protect their sons.

Custom required that a son be selected as the next Sultan and his brothers killed so they did not rise up against the ruler.

In the case of Hurrem, two of her sons fought each other for the dubious pleasure of perpetuating the barbaric tradition.

It is tempting to blame patriarchy for this travesty and for many of the other hardships in this book.

But the author Angela Buckingham, a playwright attached to La Mama Theatre, is not polemical, instead focusing on the actions of the women themselves.

She’s a good storyteller and knows that the truth is always more interesting and complex than the cautionary tales of fiction.

Her research should be commended. The stories with a medical note are particularly relevant, including the tale of Empress Maria Theresa who used logic to argue for the vaccination of her people against smallpox.

As the recent anti-vax movement has demonstrated, it’s difficult to get people to suspend disbelief long enough for a cure to set in.

A softly, softly approach usually works best but sometimes a daring raid is the only way of breaking down barriers.

If you’re up against the might of the British Empire, then you might have to charge the forces like Rani Lakshmibai did on horseback to protect her adopted son •

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