The first in Ms. Chadwick’s sweeping trilogy of Eleanor of Aquitaine (known as “Alienor”) begins when her father, Duke of Aquitaine, dies on a pilgrimage and 13 year old Alienor is ordered to wed Louis (eventually Louis VII) of France for her own protection and the continuation of her duchy. A second son who trained to be a monk until his older brother’s death forced him to the throne, Louis is ill-matched to handle the independent, driving force that is Alienor. Louis blames her for their inability to conceive a son, for her flamboyant style of dressing, and for her quick, decisive, and intuitive style of governing that is so different than his own. After a miserable crusade to the Holy Lands, Louis and Alienor agree it’s better to have their marriage annulled. Leaving behind her two daughters Marie and Alix in Paris, Alienor strikes out on her own and takes a chance on a young upstart who aspires to the throne of England. Henry and Alienor form an instantaneous, almost innate bond. Both share a fiery determination to protect their vassals, expand their lands, and succeed. But there is a darker side of their relationship too, with an ongoing jousting match to determine position. Henry is consumed with a restless ambition that marginally includes his wife. It is only when Henry is weakened by illness that he gives Alienor the respect and attention she so craves. Once again, Alienor rails against her lot as a broodmare, yearning for a true partnership than neither of her husbands are willing to give.
Though this version of Alienor’s story isn’t significantly different than other published accounts, the strength of this book lies in Alienor’s relationships, her connection (of lack thereof) with her husband Louis, her rigid first mother-in-law Adelaide, her impetuous sister Petronilla, her paramour Geoffrey de Racon, and her imperious second mother-in-law the Empress Matilda. I was struck by how much Alienor’s life seemed to mirror that of the late Princess Diana. Their journeys from scared young bride to independent woman in control of her own destiny are eerily similar, though Alienor was granted a much longer life to complete her trek.
The only woman to be both a queen of France and a queen of England – Alienor is an eternally fascinating character, probably the first woman powerful and brave enough to write her own story, going against the tide of society, the church, and conventional wisdom. This book reveals a woman who comes into her own, grasping for her own destiny with both hands – a story that is rich and inspiring.
The second book in the trilogy, “The Winter Crown” was published September 2014 in the UK, and Ms. Chadwick informed me that it will be released in the US in September 2015. The audiobook is available now on Audible, however, for those who (like me) cannot wait.
Amazon link for “Summer Queen” is here.