Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life

Renowned in her time for being the most beautiful woman in Europe, the wife of two kings and mother of three, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the great heroines of the Middle Ages. At a time when women were regarded as little more than chattel, Eleanor managed to defy convention as she exercised power in the political sphere and crucial influence over her husbands and sons

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    Jan-Maat

    Despite the title and the author’s stated ambition to write a balanced account of Eleanor – neither on the side lines nor a romantic heroine – this book is best read as a friendly, accessible history of the early Plantagenets. Something to read if you’ve enjoyed The Lion in Winter and fancy knowing a bit more about that quarrelsome, competitive family.

    Sadly Eleanor remains definitely on the sidelines. Weir doesn’t discuss the source material, so as a reader you can’t know if this was her choice

    Sadly Eleanor remains definitely on the sidelines. Weir doesn’t discuss the source material, so as a reader you can’t know if this was her choice or just inevitable given the material she had to work with. Weir could have spent time discussing in general terms what the life of a great Duchess and Queen would have been like, but she prefers to concentrate on the political (or family (view spoiler)) drama. This is great if you want to know more about Henry II and Richard I, but it does mean that she gives space to discussing events that don’t touch on Eleanor, her activities or her relationship with her own lands of Aquitaine. Within sight of the end of the book there is a throw away reference to the impact of the town charters that Eleanor issued had on increasing prosperity in Aquitaine. It is the kind of detail that suggests that there was information that Weir could have expanded on that might have brought us closer to Eleanor. The title person taking the back seat in a book that is, apparently, meant to be about her isn’t a great sign. Though I suppose it does indicate how our fascination for the idea of a person like Eleanor,can easily run far, far ahead of our ability to have a sensible discussion about them. We can’t know such people as individuals, though we can think about them in terms of the web-like structures of power and authority and custom and tradition in which they sat. However as an account of the early Plantagenets, that striving bunch all struggling against one another for power, it is a decent read.

    Weir is an amateur historian, I spotted a couple of mistakes (using Turks as a synonym for Muslim makes no sense at all when discussing medieval Sicily and the Truce of God was not a crusader privilege it was like the similarly named Peace of God an agreement that nobles and knights swore to not to fight on certain days and not to harm certain non-combatants in the course of warfare) which makes me wondering how many there were that I didn’t pick up on. Weir makes a lot of use of chronicles, it is good that she’s taking the time to use primary sources and not just rely on other people’s subsequent work, but she does not seem to have been reading them critically. Chronicles are a bit like newspapers today, they have their political biases and they tend to tell certain types of story while ignoring others, its not advisable to take them at face value (view spoiler).

    This particularly struck me as a potential problem in her treatment of stories of adultery involving Eleanor. While on the one hand I’m sure everyone can think of examples of modern politicians who have managed to have affairs and keep it fairly secret for years, on the other hand in the middle ages without reliable contraceptives that would have been a very big risk for noble women to run. You start to wonder how much the stories of adulterous relationships in chronicles are just gossip and particularly the gossip of people sworn to celibacy imagining that people in the secular world are indiscriminately having sex all the time.

    However Weir’s book is a nice tale of conniving, back-stabbing, intriguing, power-hungry folk, filled with appropriate medieval bad language even if Eleanor herself remains elusive in this biography about her.
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    Lizzy

    I’ve been curious about the historical figure of Eleanor of Aquitaine for a long time. Finally, through Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life I was able to sate my eagerness to know what kind of life this woman, that was the Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right and Queen of both France and England, lived. One thing for sure, it wasn’t an easy life. She had difficult husbands, but compensated somewhat through a constant struggle for power. We could say that she was fairly successful, since she lived in a

    Just a taste of Weir’s great novel, where the author discusses how restrictive and how excrutianting for women Eleanor’s time was:

    “In this martial world dominated by men, women had little place. The Church’s teachings might underpin feudal morality, yet when it came to the practicalities of life, a ruthless pragmatism often came into play. Kings and noblemen married for political advantage, and women rarely had any say in how they or their wealth were to be disposed in marriage. Kings would sell off heiresses and rich widows to the highest bidder, for political or territorial advantage, and those who resisted were heavily fined.

    Young girls of good birth were strictly reared, often in convents, and married off at fourteen or even earlier to suit their parents’ or overlord’s purposes. The betrothal of infants was not uncommon, despite the church’s disapproval. It was a father’s duty to bestow his daughters in marriage; if he was dead, his overlord or the King himself would act for him. Personal choice was rarely and issue.

    Upon marriage, a girl’s property and rights became invested in her husband, to whom she owed absolute obedience. Every husband had the right to enforce this duty in whichever way he thought fit–as Eleanor was to find out to her cost. Wife-beating was common, although the Church did at this time attempt to restrict the length of the rod that a husband might use.”

    I really enjoyed Alison Weir‘s book. Recommended.
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    Madeline

    Apr 02, 2010

    rated it
    really liked it

    Alison Weir spends a lot of time in this book discusses common legends and misconceptions surrounding Eleanor, which was interesting for me because I hadn’t heard any of them before. I really wasn’t that familiar with Eleanor of Aquitaine before reading this – mostly I just knew that she went on crusade once, was Richard the Lionheart’s mother, and was played by Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. From these three bits of information, we can at least deduce that she was kind of a badass.

    Hav

    Having finished this account of her life, I have to admit that I now know a lot more about everyone else in Eleanor’s life than I do about Eleanor herself. Weir does her best, but the fact is there just isn’t that much concrete information about Eleanor, aside from a few letters (which were recorded by her clerk, who may have actually composed the letters himself) and some documents stating how much money she spent at a certain time or when she traveled to England. For the majority of the book, Eleanor is sort of kept to the sidelines, occasionally coming into the picture when she gets involved with her husband’s/sons’/relatives’ politics. Alison Weir is very careful not to take anything for granted and examines all the evidence before making a claim about what Eleanor did at any given time, which is a good thing for a historian to do, but it also means Eleanor is not actually very present in this biography.

    Which is not to say that it isn’t a good biography. The Plantagenets were one batshit crazy family, and reading about their violent shenanigens is always a good time. Just don’t go into this book expecting Eleanor to be present on every page – entire chapters can go by without mentioning her. However, when she does make an appearance she is always being awesome, because she is Eleanor of Motherfucking Aquitaine. Take this letter she wrote to the Pope, basically tearing him a new one for not helping to free her son Richard after he was captured while on crusade:

    “Is your power derived from God or from men? Did not the God of Gods speak to you through His apostle Peter, that whatsoever you bind on Earth shall be bound also in Heaven, and whatsoever you loose on Earth shall be loosed also in Heaven? Why then do you so long negligently, nay cruelly, delay to free my son, or is it rather that you do not dare? Perhaps you will say that this power is given to you over souls, not bodies: so be it, I will certainly be satisfied if you bind the souls of those who keep my son bound in prison.
    It is your province to release my son, unless the fear of God has yielded to a human fear. Restore my son to me, then, O man of God, if indeed you are a man of God and not a man of mere blood. For know that if you are slow in releasing my son, from your hand will the Most High require his blood.”

    She wrote that to the Pope. The Pope. All I can say to that is, damn, lady!
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