In Which We Review a Paper Doll Book for the First Time

A couple of weeks ago on e-Bay, I came across a book called Infamous Women Paper Dolls, featuring, among other women, Margaret of Anjou. Naturally, I had to see a copy, and it arrived in my mailbox today.

Infamous Women was published in 1994 by Bellerophon Books, which has produced a number of other books in this vein, including Great Women, Henry VIII and His Wives, and Elizabeth I. The book contains a figure for each woman featured and an extra outfit to dress her in, along with a brief biographical sketch of each woman. It’s not possible to use the paper dolls without destroying the biographical sketches, so I’m guessing the idea is to photocopy the pages with the dolls if one is actually inclined to play dress-up. Both the dolls and the costumes can be colored.

Margaret, of course, is just one of the women featured here: Isabella of France, Joanna of Naples, Isabelle of Bavaria, Lucrezia Borgia, Catherine de Medici, Frances Howard, and Catherine the Great are some of the others who have the honor to be included. I can’t really tell what the target audience of this book and the others in the series is. Most people, I suspect, will buy them for the illustrations rather than to actually use as coloring books. The biographies, which cheerfully recount the ladies’ various love affairs, clearly aren’t aimed at a juvenile audience, nor is the nude picture of Semiramis.

The best feature of these books is the illustrations, which are taken from contemporary depictions. Margaret of Anjou’s paper-doll self is based on the portrait medal of her by Pietro da Milano, and Isabella of France’s doll is taken from the Isabella Psalter. (I can’t reproduce the images here for copyright reasons, but if I were Edward II, I’d treat Isabella with respect, because she looks quite displeased here. Margaret, on the other hand, looks rather cheerful.)

Neither the artist nor the writer are credited here. The writer has a certain dry sense of humor: In describing Joanna of Naples’ death, we’re told, “Charles announced that Joanna had died a natural death. This was true, since it is natural for someone held between two feather beds to die for lack of air.” Describing Roger Mortimer’s escape from the Tower, the author writes, “Since most prisons do not offer their prisoners holes in the walls, drugged guards, and rope ladders, many people suspected that the Queen had helped him.”

Of the women in here, there’s only a couple I’m very familiar with, so I can’t make any pronouncements about the accuracy of the biographies as a whole. It’s unlikely that Isabella of France had anything to do with Roger Mortimer’s escape, but at least the author doesn’t regurgitate the old myth about Isabella being locked up in Castle Rising and going mad. As for Margaret of Anjou, she’s credited almost single-handedly with starting the Wars of the Roses, with no acknowledgment that men like the Duke of York had their own ambitions. The “Holy Ghost” statement about Edward of Lancaster’s birth is trotted out, taken, as usual, out of context. Margaret is depicted as being in control of Henry VI from the onset of their marriage, and poor Henry himself is reduced to a saintly caricature. Of course, as this was published in 1994, the author didn’t have the benefit of the recent research into Margaret’s life, though that’s no excuse for chronological errors such as having Margaret fleeing to France after the capture of Henry VI. For the most part, though, I didn’t see any huge bloopers here; in Margaret’s case, what’s most bothersome is the failure to put her actions into context or to acknowledge the difficult position in which she found herself. But perhaps that’s too much to expect from a book entitled Infamous Women, which naturally emphasizes the negative.

As for the play aspect of this book, Margaret’s outfit is provided with sufficient tabs to stay on Margaret. Those wishing to color, however, are advised to use a very sharp crayon, as otherwise one will have the utmost difficulty staying within the lines.

(P.S. How do you like the new blog layout?)

(P.P.S. I’ve started a Facebook group for The Beaufort Family. If you’re on Facebook, join in!)

9 thoughts on “In Which We Review a Paper Doll Book for the First Time”

  1. Infamous? The only thing’s that’s infamous about most of the ladies mentioned is that all we have is historical innuendo, tittle-tattle, gossip, rumour – in short hearsay – and all provided by men.

    I am somewhat at a loss to understand how Isabella of Bavaria the French equivalent of MoA made the list . Poor woman what she went through with a mad husband – Charles VI of France – and the 100 Years’ War. What a downer Agincourt must have been. Her only ‘crime’ as far as I can see was becoming a patroness of the poet Christine de Pisan – one of Jacquette of Luxembourg’s favourite authors – a lady with progressive ideas who some regard as a medieval feminist which wouldn’t have gone down well in a misogynistic world particularly the Church always banging on about the inferiority of women.

    Joanna and Lucrezia were both victims of prejudiced men with axes to grind and a need to look good themselves. During her lifetime of her husband Catherine of Medici found herself in the same position as the late Princess Diana and afterward had to cope with continuous civil war both religious and political and sons dropping dead one after another. In the case of the other Catherine there is no evidence to support the notion that she was behind both deposition and death of her husband. In fact both Catherines were leading patronesses of the arts particularly the latter whose culture-boosting efforts made it possible for later Russians like Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky to become world-renowned.

    It is true that Frances Howard was guilty of the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury but he was such a nasty little oik with a penchant for trouble-making that I’m rather with certain ladies of Chicago on this one ‘ He had it coming’.

    How about a list of infamous men? On second thoughts better not. No prizes for guessing which two kings would top the list.

    Thanks to the Big Heat and some poxy insect inflating my right index finger I’ve been really out for the last two weeks – couldn’t even peel a potato at one stage. Hope things improve by Saturday. Better take a thermos of ice, some energy drinks and a spare tube of Factor 30 with me. Dare say the guys in armour might feel the need too.

    PS Love the new blog

    Have you seen the portrait of MoA in Michael Hicks's revised WOTR? Not sure it's the Pietro di Milano model but very impressive and very regal.

  2. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, Kathryn!

    Trish, quite true–most of the ladies in the book seemed to be unjustly classed as infamous.

    Which book by Hicks do you mean? He has a new book titled The Wars of the Roses coming out later this year, and I think he has a couple already by that title–I get them hopelessly confused.

  3. The revised edition I spoke of is the latest in the British Libray catalogue.

    The portrait iself is a medallion which makes me suspect it's that of Pietro di Milano. I was rather struck by the contrast between that of Wikipedia and that in MH's book so I went so far thanks to BL hi-tec to upload a copy onto my E-stick. If you would like me to forward a copy you're more than welcome.

    I was also curious about the actual phtography iself which led me to a website called Topham Picture Gallery aka TopFoto which specialises in historical subjects ranging from the medieval to the present day.

    The website is and you need to click on 'Gallery' and then search. It has two pages on MoA. The first entry is that of the medallion though considerably reduced to that in the MH book.

    I meant to tell you a couple of weeks ago but having been pretty well down for the count during that period hope you understand.

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