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Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings (Harvard Paperbacks) Paperback – January 31, 1991

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Editorial Reviews Review

Was there ever a ruler, man or woman, quite as fascinating as Eleanor of Aquitaine? The ruler of France's largest kingdom from the age of 15, Eleanor (1122- 1204) was renowned for beauty, intelligence, and the thoughtful application of power. Her marriage to her second husband, Henry Plantagenet of Normandy, brought her to the English throne; the birth of their sons John Lackland and Richard I Lionheart forever changed the face of medieval European history. Always at the center of her world, Eleanor remains a fascinating figure even today, and Amy Kelly captures the whirlwind of her life in this entrancing biography.


A chronicle written with a dash and spirit… As a history of the violent, vigorous, brutal, treacherous, idealistic and generally spectacular twelfth century in Western Europe, Kelly's book is absorbing… I found every bit of it fascinating. (Orville Prescott New York Times)

I recently read Eleanor of Acquitane and the Four Kings for the third time, and pray that I live long enough to read it at least twice more. A beautifully written work of impeccable scholarship, it re-creates Eleanor and her 12th-century background in meticulous, mezmerizing detail. (Alan Helms Boston Sunday Globe 1996-09-15)

A magnificent book, thorough and complete and beautifully written. (Thomas B. Costain)

The book is based on sound scholarship and written with selective skill and with considerable style. (New Yorker)

Amy Kelly writes truth for truth. When she does not know, she says so. When she guesses, she says she is guessing. She makes no 'attempt to fictionize.' Yet her book reads like colorful romance…rich and stimulating. (Thomas Caldecot Chubb New York Times Book Review)

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvard Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674242548
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674242548
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

153 of 166 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ms. Kelly's biography of Eleanor is one of the most engaging examples of historical fiction that I have ever read, and as a result, I've re-read this book three times. Ms. Kelly clearly identifies her primary sources and is frank about issues in Eleanor's life that are disputed. She also writes, when appropriate, with a sense of irony that is probably lost on less perceptive readers -- and thus the inappropriate references to "self-righteous" style (an unfortunate misnomer common to those unfamiliar with English in our age of sloppy thinking and writing since the reader probably means "over-wrought" style, which is used in cases where Ms. Kelly is conveying some idea of the weightiness and pomp that are perceptible at courtly occasions. How anyone could be "horrified" by this book is beyond me since that word is more appropriate to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-type of movie than a fine biography based on scholarship. I think that that particular reader's judgement tells us more about his/her state of mind than it does about this book. Ms. Kelly does us all a great favor by relating something about the huge constellation of important characters who constituted the Renaissance of the 12th Century and who played a role in Eleanor's life. After all, she moved in the most elevated circles of one of the most intriguing eras in history. To those who find it baffling that Ms. Kelly relates information about such key figures as Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbe Suger, Abelard and Heloise, Kings Louis, Philip, Henry, Richard, and John, and that she conveys something about the vast difference in outlook between the "heretical" inhabitants of the langue d'oc versus their couterparts in Paris, I can only ask: why read at all?Read more ›
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Carlton on September 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
Kelly is a Harvard academic writing immediately after WWII (this book was published in 1950). With the huge number of historical fiction works now available on Eleanor, it is interesting to see what the primary sources actually say about her, the people who surrounded her, the places and the times. Kelly uses most of the now recognized primary sources so this work is a fairly good summary of the known facts about Eleanor and her period in history.
If you have read any of the historical fiction concerning Eleanor, this is a great reality check. It's fun to find the actual characters upon which some of the fiction was based....for example, the troubadour Bernard, about whom so many tales of romance with Eleanor are built, is carefully followed from his arrival at Henry and Eleanor's first court through the famous lyrics in which he celebrates her beauty and charm. There are many other similar examples, all making Kelly's work well worth the time to read if you are a dedicated fan of Eleanor or this period in France or England.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan A. Gregg on December 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
How depressing that my fellow reviewers can't appreciate the elegance and sophistication of Kelly's writing. A beautiful and fascinating insight into one of history's most remarkable women, and gee, if you have to use the dictionary once in a while, all the better.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on December 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
For over half a century, readers have turned to Amy Kelly's book for an exciting look at a broad swath of European history. From 1137 through her death in 1204, Eleanor was a principal player on the stage of history. She was married to two kings -- the mediocre Louis VII and the hot-tempered Henry II -- and mother to two other kings -- Richard the Lion-Hearted and King John the chicken-hearted. She had travelled to Constantinople, Jerusalem, Germany, and all around England and France.

Among the characters that pass through this history are St Bernard of Clairvaux, the Abbot Segur, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus, Saladin, King Philip Augustus of France, Thomas Becket, Popes Celestine III and Innocent III, and hundreds of nobles, knights, clerics, and others. This history is a pageant, but one played for keeps. Excommunications and interdicts were bandied about as frequently as harsh words; and every fight had an ecclesiastical dimension.

Is your wife getting long in the tooth? Just get the clergy to declare that the marriage should be annulled because of consanguinity (which consanguinity was of course known by the kings who married their cousins). Just as he is about to wed Ingeborg of Denmark, Philip Augustus has second thoughts; and the outraged Dane betook herself to a nunnery and began a years-long letter-writing campaign that finally got the attention of Innocent III.

After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the Normans held both England and a large part of France. The Capetian kings vainly tried to take pieces of France back from the Angevin kings Henry II and Richard, but only under John Lackland (appropriately named) did they begin to have any measure of success.

Where was Eleanor in all this? To her 83rd year, she was a player.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Cyberlibrarian on June 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a scholarly work that does not attempt to cater to the pop-culture-obsessed masses. If you are looking for a book that is simple and easy-to-read, this one is not for you. Kelly takes an in-depth look at the life of one of the most fascinating people of all time, and she writes for people who already know something about the period. This book was written well before the recent trend towards revisionist and dumbed-down history, and the serious reader is better off for it.
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Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings (Harvard Paperbacks)
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