In 1450 Christine de Pisan took up the pen to defend her maligned sex. Her book, The City of Ladies, was built around preserving women’s reputations from the slights and misunderstandings of history. In it the author is visited by three spirits – Justice, Rectitude and Reason – who guide her in sifting through countless lives, in search of worthy citizens.
Nearly 600 years later, the historian and novelist Lisa Hilton picks up the book and promptly falls asleep, only to be visited by three great women from history: Cleopatra, Lucrezia Borgia and Catherine the Great. And they aren’t happy. Having found themselves barred from the original ‘City of Ladies’, they want to know why. And isn’t it time, they ask, for a new author to take up the pen?
What follows is a reassessment of the past, in which deeds and reputations, rumours and reality are held up to the light, and history is wrested back from the distortions of misogyny.