Tuesday, April 17, 2012

276 (2012 #21). Captive Queen

by Alison Weir

Alison Weir is a noted historian who has written two other fictionalized accounts of women from British history, Innocent Traitor (Lady Jane Grey) and The Lady Elizabeth (the first).  While I enjoyed those, and also liked her nonfiction The Lady in the Tower, about the fall of Anne Boleyn, this novel about Eleanor of Aquitane was not quite as good as those.

On the plus side, the book introduced me to the life of this fascinating woman, whom I'd certainly heard of but knew little about.  Weir also included a seven-page author's note at the end of the book, where she identifies what is true and what is conjecture (much of the latter being due to little documentation from the late 12th century).  I also appreciated the family trees and map at the beginning of the book, that helped me keep track of who was who and what was where.

The book covers the period of Eleanor's life when she was involved with England's Henry II.  It starts at the end of her unsatisfying marriage to King Louis VII of France, when she first meets Henry, eleven years her junior, and has an affair with him (she's also apparently had affairs with Henry's father, a troubadour, and an uncle).  The Church annuls her marriage to Louis (despite having two daughters), apparently because they are too closely related, and she goes on to marry Henry.  At first their marriage is very passionate (they had eight children in thirteen years, including four sons who survive to adulthood), and in the novel, it seems they're constantly in bed (most of their conversations occur there).  Then Eleanor learns of Henry's infidelities, and Thomas Becket stirs up strife, and their sons start to fight each other and their father, and Henry "imprisons" Eleanor (hence the title) because of her support for her sons, especially her favorite, Richard.  After Henry's death in 1189, there is an epilogue (on Eleanor's deathbed in 1204) where she reflects on the last fifteen years of her life.

I could have done without much of the sex and Eleanor's lustful longings.  Not that I'm a prude, but I do think it detracted somewhat from the rest of the story.
Most of the cover pictures I found for the book were those pictured at left, in the style of Weir's other biographical novels.  I was more interested in the source for the photo on the cover of the large-print edition I read, pictured above.  I thought it might be a castle in Aquitane, perhaps one of Eleanor's, but could not find a source for the photo in the book.  Alas, an image search (with a cropping from the cover photo) proves it's not in Aquitane, it's the Ch√Ęteau de Azay-le-Rideau in France, built in the early 1500s, south of Tours, and a bit north of the old Aquitane.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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