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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
really liked it
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.
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.