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Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life (1999)

by Alison Weir

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2,866375,011 (3.88)86
In this beautifully written biography, Alison Weir paints a vibrant portrait of a truly exceptional woman and provides new insights into her intimate world. 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. Eleanor of Aquitaine lived a long life of many contrasts, of splendor and desolation, power and peril, and in this stunning narrative, Weir captures the womanâ??and the queenâ??in all her glory. With astonishing historic detail, mesmerizing pageantry, and irresistible accounts of royal scandal and intrigue, she recreates not only a remarkable personality but a magnificent pas… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Alison Weir's Eleanor of Aquitaine brings to life a remarkable (and remarkably long-lived) woman. She married two kings, and was the mother of three more. She went on Crusade. One of the kings she married was the son of a man she'd likely had an affair with before her marriage, and she was rumored to have been a little too close to her own uncle. Despite having been a desirable wife to the kings of both France and England because of her inheritance, she never really ceded control of those lands to her husbands. She actively encouraged her sons to rebel against and try to overthrow her husband, Henry II of England. This is some soap-opera level stuff.

Weir has quickly become one of my favorite historians to read, because she has a way of synthesizing lots of information into an easily readable and understandable narrative. She's open about when the scholarship is unclear, or there's more than one version of a particular event, and she tells the reader why she has chosen to take a particular position on what likely really happened. She knows that her reader isn't as immersed in the subject as she is and provides context for the events she relates...she finds a good middle ground between assuming her readers know too little or too much.

My only real exposure to Eleanor's story had been the movie version of The Lion In Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, which I saw several years ago and remember little of apart from Eleanor being portrayed as a ruthless schemer. Weir never stoops to that kind of caricature of the people involved in Eleanor's life, especially Eleanor herself: she was a political opportunist to be sure, but she also lived in an era that was especially skeptical of women in power and the accounts of her that survive reflect that bias. I've got quite a few of Weir's books on my TBR, and I always look forward to them and recommend them (including this one!) heartily. ( )
  ghneumann | Jun 14, 2024 |
Eleanor of Aquitaine was blessed with a long and eventful life where she traveled all over Europe and some of the Middle East. Unfortunately, us readers aren't quite so lucky, as there is very little information surviving about Eleanor's deeds and accomplishments. As a result, Weir must make do with manor records and whether or not her subject is mentioned in the accounts from various chroniclers in order to track her whereabouts. This leaves a very incomplete picture, which is quite frustrating for a reader.

For me, the most interesting part was when Eleanor's son Richard I becomes king and must rely on his mother to drum up support for him in England. Weir spends time talking about how she rounded up the barons of England and made them pledge their loyalty to her son. When he's captured by the Duke of Austria, Weir discusses how she gathered the ransom money and what laws she had to pass to accomplish this. Weir herself says that this period of Eleanor's life is likely what brought her everlasting fame, as she was a beloved queen of England, intelligent and compassionate for her subjects. If only we could've seen more of this Eleanor when she was in her domains of Aquitaine, Gascony, and Poitou, which Weir glosses over. Eleanor is nothing more than "their beloved duchess" and she keeps them quiet because she "understands their ways", but very little is said beyond that.

Since Eleanor's life would only take about a hundred pages to relate, Weir fills the book by regaling the political landscape of the time. There is a lot of information about Eleanor's husbands, Louis VII and Henry II, as well as her sons. It's certainly one way to talk about Eleanor's life, and for those not familiar with the politics at this time, it's very interesting. Personally, I found it dull because all I wanted was to read about Eleanor, and I was sorely disappointed to find her largely missing.

Weir makes it her mission to dismantle all of the myths around Eleanor, but she seems to be a bit selective in this regard. While she states that the 'Court of Love' was nonexistent, she defends it as probable that Eleanor slept with her uncle Raymond as well as Henry's father, Geoffrey of Anjou. She also pushes back against the idea that Richard I was homosexual, even though most modern historians have accepted this because none of the historians at the time commented on it. As a result, this biography, while informative from a high level, general perspective, is still pretty lacking in fundamental ways.

That said, I wouldn't rate this book lower than three stars. It's very well-written and approachable. You don't need to have a PhD to understand this book. Additionally, it's not Weir's fault that information regarding Eleanor is so sparse. The only thing we know Eleanor owned was an elaborate vase. Beyond that, not much has survived. Weir did what she could with the information available to her. It's frustrating, but I do appreciate even this glimpse into Eleanor's exciting life. ( )
  readerbug2 | Nov 16, 2023 |
Well written book that's easy to read despite the complexity of people and politics. It's not my period and this provided a great primer full of fascinating bits and bobs. ( )
  expatscot | Sep 26, 2023 |
From reading [THE CAPTIVE QUEEN], I remembered how happy Eleanor originally was
with her Henry of Anjou and how she only wanted to live back home in Aquitaine.

With this book, I was again shocked that she would allow the barbarity of her son Richard to be approved
and continued by her in her own country.

This non fiction version of Eleanor's life included Maps! Photos!
while the author delivered detailed and incisive information about,
despite her intelligence, strength, perseverance, and resolution,
this not very admirable woman. ( )
  m.belljackson | Apr 11, 2023 |
A very detailed, historically deep biography of this remarkable woman's life. Told with a great deal of background on Eleanor's lineage, such as the House of Anjou and the Houses of Blois and Champagne (and with family trees to help make sense of it all) as well as great detail on both Louis VII and Henry II. Those details pull in the importance of Eleanor's land holdings and power in a way that make her remarkable life even more captivating.

Ms. Weir also goes into great detail about the battles her sons waged, especially Richard I, "the Lionheart," on her/their territories in Blois, Aquitaine, and other kingdoms of modern-day France. And she also points out that Richard I was the King of England with only 10 months spent in his kingdom. Just 10 months!

But on to Eleanor. She managed to survive 10 years as a prisoner of her husband (having spent last year in lockdown I can appreciate her sanity a whole lot more), and was taken prisoner because she had the brains and guile to counsel her sons to fight for their own kingdoms. And the Second Crusade? She had the audacity to come along and bring other Cruisaders' wives and their courts along with her. Sadly, at the end of the Crusade, many were left to starve or die of Plague because they did not have the wealth to buy transit on the ships back to Aquitaine/Blois/Anjou.

My main gripe with this book is the off-hand dismissal of two facets of Eleanor's life and influence: the Courts of Love and the historical background of Robin Hood. The first is described at length as nothing more than a fabrication by a chaplain at the court of Marie de Champagne, leaving all the other centuries' worth of historical and biographical references of Eleanor presiding over this rich artistic lineage as nothing more than made up stories. For the Robin Hood legend, dismissing the evidence of the historical Robin Hood as "sparse and confusing" and belonging to the 16th Century is troubling in the context of her otherwise strong insistence of historical research and accuracy. ( )
  threadnsong | Jul 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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Dedication
This book is dedicated
with heartfelt thanks
to my agent
JULIAN ALEXANDER

and to
JILL BLACK
who has edited so many of my books
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In the Romanesque cathedral of Poitiers a man and a woman stood before the high altar, exchanging wedding vows.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Alison Wier is a misspelling of Alison Weir.
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In this beautifully written biography, Alison Weir paints a vibrant portrait of a truly exceptional woman and provides new insights into her intimate world. 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. Eleanor of Aquitaine lived a long life of many contrasts, of splendor and desolation, power and peril, and in this stunning narrative, Weir captures the womanâ??and the queenâ??in all her glory. With astonishing historic detail, mesmerizing pageantry, and irresistible accounts of royal scandal and intrigue, she recreates not only a remarkable personality but a magnificent pas

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