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Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Legend [Hardcover]

D. D. R. Owen
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1993 0631170723 978-0631170723 0
This fascinating new biography tells the story of one of the most influential figures of the twelfth century, Eleanor of Aquitaine, successively queen of France and of England. First married to the future French King Louis VII, she later married Henry, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. After invading England in 1154, and following the death of Stephen, he became King as Henry II, Eleanor was Queen of an empire stretching from the Scottish borders to the Pyrenees. Of Eleanor's eight children, two were future kings of England: Richard the Lionheart and John. Her behaviour and political motives have always been open to question, and the intrigues of herself and her children against Henry are notorious. Supported by Eleanor (believed by many to be the prime mover in the affair), the three eldest sons soon openly rebelled against their father. The rebellion collapsed and as a result Eleanor was imprisoned for sixteen years. Nevertheless, after Henry's death, her efforts successfully assured Richard's accession, and later John's own. Professor Owen's portrait separates the true historical Eleanor from the legend. In tracing her life he reassesses her political importance in the reigns of Henry, Richard and John, her role as a literary and cultural patron and her influence in the twelfth-century renaissance. Even in her own day, she caught the imagination of commentators, and the final parts of Professor Owen's biography examine the legend that built up around her life and in twelfth-century epic and romance.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Eleanor has remained a staple of storytellers for 800 years, yet according to Owen (Univ. of St. Andrews), too often the legends that grew up around her name were taken as history. This is true even of modern histories such as Amy Kelly's Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings (1950). Part biography and part literary study, Owen's book attempts to separate the historical personage from the figure of legend and romance. It argues that Eleanor was the model for Guenevere in the great Arthurian romances of her time. While insisting on treating as history only those facts supported by the historical record, Owen's work does speculate on what the courtly romances tell us of Eleanor's character. Though not a full biography, this is a fascinating and scholarly examination of how history and romance have become interwoven in Eleanor of Aquitaine. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.
- Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&I Univ. Lib., Kingsville
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Roy Owen's intimate knowledge of medieval literature and his discrimination in using it enable him to look at Eleanor of Aquitaine both through the legends that built up around her life and through medieval epic and romance .... A stimulating and challenging book that depicts Eleanor sympathetically as a credible person." Marjorie Chibnall, Emeritus Fellow, Clare College, Cambridge

"D. D. R. Owen, well-known for his translations from Cretien de Troyes, has written a fine addition to the already substantial shelf of Eleanor of Aquitaine biography. He has something brand new and convincing to argue: that Eleanor's personality must have been shaped by the literary milieu in which she grew up, and that legends about her, in turn, shaped some of the literary traditions that developed alongside and after her career. This biography is as much about the literary response, medieval and modern, to the facts of Eleanor's life as it is a record of the facts themselves." Medium Aevum

"This is a fascinating and scholarly examination of how history and romance have become interwoven in Eleanor of Aquitaine. Recommended for academic and large public libraries." Library Journal

"Eleanor of Aquitaine is the stuff of which rather too much history has been made. It is therefore a relief to read D. D. R. Owen's new and well-judged assessment of this fascinating and enigmatic figure. This biography succeeds where so many others have failed precisely because of its honesty and its refusal to compromise with the evidence." Historian --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Blackwell Pub (May 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631170723
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631170723
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #868,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eleanor of Aquitaine: beauty and warts, but no fluff December 5, 2007
The late D.D.R. Owen was Professor Emeritus of French at Scotland's University of St. Andrews. He had acquired the languages, the deep cultural knowledge and the scholar's discipline that equipped him to compose a fine, restrained biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Owen's treatment is careful to draw a line between rumor and fact (insofar as that line can be drawn more than eight centuries later). He exposes rumors, plays them down and turns his attention to accenting history.

Eleanor was a patron and sponsor of troubadours at her many courts. Verses and songs in her praise inevitably fueled the whiff of scandal. Her enemies' verses and whisperings, her larger than life character and the written records of tut-tutting clerics from Paris to Antioch all darkened her record. Owen set himself the task of rubbing away the grime of ages to expose the life at the core. His account of Eleanor's limitations and excesses is no less interesting for that. Thus he can show more clearly than most how much authority this amazing woman did, or did not, exercise through sixty-seven years during which she counseled, provoked or scorned four kings, two of them her husbands, two of them her sons.

Owen's "Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Legend" is the book for readers who want their Eleanor, beauty, warts and all, but shorn of celebrity fluff. In that sense it complements Bonnie Wheeler's and John Parsons' "Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady." Both books offer scholarly approaches. They are well matched in presenting well-crafted interpretations of violent, turbulent, very strange times, with a strong-willed queen presiding.

Robert Fripp, author of
Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable biography October 25, 2012
I found a second hand edition of this book after seeing it referenced in some other works on Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is eminently readable, particularly as Owen is not above filling in the gaps with his own inferences and imaginings. Having said that, he is careful to draw the line between fact and his own fiction, but one does need to read with attention to be sure of noticing the distinction.

I would perhaps have preferred to see more extensive referencing where he does state fact - sometimes it feels like you're just expected to take his word for it. I would have liked to know when he was drawing on primary sources and when he was stating commonly assumed facts. For example, he states that King John was born at Oxford as a matter of fact, with no reference, although I have recently read elsewhere that this is not actually an indisputable fact.

The book also traces the development of various myths, legends and literature associated with Eleanor - Rosamund Clifford, the Amazon Crusaders, Courts of Love etc, beginning by establishing what contemporary evidence exists (if any) for these, and then how they have been built upon, and even accepted as fact by subsequent historians.

Over all, an interesting and enjoyable read, but those of a more scholarly inclination might benefit from reading some more recent scholarship on the subject, such as Ralph Turner's biography "Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England" as well as the collection of essays mentioned by an earlier reviewer - "Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady", which may help to sort fact from fiction or conjecture.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eleanor March 10, 2003
A Kid's Review
This is a great book. I learned so much from this book. I am doing a project on Queen Eleanor and it helped me so much.I hope everyone else learns as much as I did! I hope that she will still have her name in history in a houndred years from now. ENJOY the book.
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2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography of a wonderful women April 10, 2000
By A Customer
This book was an accurate account of Eleanor of Aquitaine. He does a wonderful job in depicting her life.
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