Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Author: Alison Weir
Category: Historical Biography (non-fiction)
Published: USA, 2001

Eleanor of Aquitane was born in 1122, the eldest daughter of William X of Aquitaine. In 1137, Eleanor was proclaimed heir to the duchy of Aquitaine upon her father's death. She was 15 years old.

Soon after becoming Duchess of Aquitaine, she married King Louis VII of France, to whom she was married for fifteen years and bore him two daughters. However, in 1152, at the age of 30, Eleanor and Louis had their marriage declared invalid on account of the fact that they were too closely related.

Eleanor was then free to marry King Henry II of England, who was 11 years her junior, but considered by Eleanor to be a far greater catch than Louis. Eleanor bore Henry many children, including three Kings.

Life at the royal court was one spent constantly on the move and at war. Henry's Kingdom was vast, encompassing not only England but also a large portion of mainland Europe. When Henry wasnt fighting off invaders, he was quelling internal rebellions, one of which was made by his sons at the instigation of and with support from Eleanor. Henry was furious and had Eleanor imprisoned until his death in 1189, at which point her favourite son, Richard, took the throne and released her.

Not content to live out the rest of her life in quiet retirement, Eleanor threw herself back into the role of Duchess of Aquitaine until her death at aged 82 years in 1204.

Alison Weir has managed to put together an astounding scholarly account of the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, as well as that of her husbands and sons. Eleanor lived during a time when women were regarded as little more than the property of their husbands, so there isnt as much information about her as there is about her male relatives, a fact pressed by the author.

However, Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life provides a fascinating insight into what life would have been like for a Medieval woman of Eleanor's standing. Alison Weir writes beautifully, and has an amazing ability to make fact feel like fiction, so her non-fiction work is easier to follow and far more interesting for the reader than that of many of her associates.

"Denied for so long the exercise of power, for which she had a natural aptitude, [Eleanor] came into her own at an age when most women were either dead or long in retirement, and ruled capably as any man. She was no shrinking violet, but a tough, capable, and resourceful woman who travelled widely throughout the known world and was acquainted with most of the great figures of the age. Remarkable in a period when females were relegated to a servile role, she was, as Richard of Devizes so astutely claimed, an incomparable woman".
- Alison Weir


  1. I have this book and am looking forward to reading it. Thanks for participating in the Women Unbound Challenge.

  2. I love reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine. She has long been one of my favourite historical figures!


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