This “engrossing, fast-paced, extremely well-researched biography” (Booklist) transports us to Tudor and Stuart England as Alice Spencer, the daughter of an upstart sheep farmer, becomes one of the most powerful women in the country and establishes a powerful dynasty that endures to this day. Perfect for fans of The Duchess Countess and Georgiana.
Alice Spencer was born in 1560 to a family on the rise. Her grandfather had amassed a sizeable estate of fertile grazing land and made a small fortune in sheep farming, allowing him to purchase a simple but distinguished manor house called Althorp.
With her sizable dowry, Alice married the heir to one of the most powerful aristocratic families in the country, eventually becoming the Countess of Derby. Though she enjoyed modest renown, it wasn’t until her husband’s sudden death (after he turned in a group of Catholics for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I) that Alice and her family’s future changed forever.
Faced with a lawsuit from her brother-in-law over her late husband’s fortune, Alice raised eyebrows by marrying England’s most powerful lawyer. Together, they were victorious, and Alice focused her attentions on securing appropriate husbands for her daughters, increasing her land ownings, and securing a bright future for her grandchildren and the entire Spencer family. But they would not completely escape scandals, and as the matriarch, Alice had to face an infamous trial that threatened everything she had worked so hard for.
Now, in “this riveting tale reads more like a legal thriller than historical nonfiction” (Beth Morrison, coauthor of The Lawless Land), the full story of the remarkable Alice Spencer Stanley Egerton is revealed. A woman both ahead of and part of her time, Alice’s ruthless challenging of the status quo has inspired future generations of Spencers and will change the way you view Tudor women.
About the Author
Vanessa Wilkie is the William A. Moffett Senior Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. She has a PhD in British history and gender history and an MA in public history from the University of California, Riverside. She lives in Los Angeles. A Woman of Influence is her first book.
“A fascinating story, well told.” –Allan Massie, The Wall Street Journal
“A royal biography you won't want to miss.” —Town and Country
”Engrossing and well-researched...This biography fascinates.” —Publishers Weekly
“Diligent archival research reveals a unique, independent Elizabethan woman.” —Kirkus
“An engrossing, fast-paced, extremely well-researched biography…Views on the role of Tudor women are challenged in this devourable text, perfect for readers of biography, history, women’s history, and anyone interested in the ancestors of Princess Diana.” —Booklist
“A Woman of Influence tells the spectacular, unlikely life story of Alice Spencer, who rose from a family of sixteenth-century sheep farmers to wield riches and power as the Countess of Derby. In this triumphant book, Vanessa Wilkie has carefully pieced together the true tales of a remarkable woman who outlasted two husbands, accusations of treason, a family sex scandal, countless lawsuits, and three monarchs—enjoying brushes with Shakespeare and inspiring the pens of Spenser and Milton along the way. It’s a thrilling history of an imitable woman by a brilliant new voice.” —Devoney Looser, Author of Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontes
“Alice Spencer has long defied biographers, but no more. In a brilliantly researched, fast-paced narrative, Vanessa Wilkie uncovers the tumultuous life of an extraordinary woman who rose from humble origins to catapult herself and her family into the highest ranks of English society. A literary connoisseur and John Milton’s first patron, she was as astute in defining taste and fashion as in managing men and weathering the storms of dynastic politics, litigation and scandal. A must-read for anyone interested in early modern England and the ancestry of Princess Diana.” —John Guy and Julia Fox, co-authors of the forthcoming Hunting the Falcon: King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
“An immersive account of one woman’s singular and shrewd navigation of a system that was fundamentally not designed for her. A Woman of Influence is both impeccably detailed and acutely analyzed through the lens of contemporary gender politics.” —Koa Beck, author of White Feminist
“This riveting tale reads more like a legal thriller than historical nonfiction. In a lifetime spanning the rule of three monarchs, Alice Spencer confronts a series of almost unbelievable events, ranging from tense courtroom drama to stories of dark sexual deeds. Her independence and deftness in navigating courtly life reveal her inner strength.” —Beth Morrison, coauthor of the Tales of the Lawless Land series
“Historian Vanessa Wilkie introduces readers to Princess Diana’s forbear, the remarkable Alice Spencer, and uses her storytelling skills to bring litigious, savvy Alice to life. In a dangerous, patriarchal world that was, at best, indifferent to women, and often openly hostile to them, Alice brilliantly wielded the power of her station and her sex. Highly recommended to any history lover who appreciates fine scholarship delivered with engaging style.” —Deborah Harkness, historian and author of the All Souls series