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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 900 years later we still remember, February 17, 2003
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This review is from: Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography (Paperback)
Name 5 important women born between 100 a.d. and 1900 a.d. Eleanor of Aquitaine has to be on your list, perhaps in the first or second postion.
Born in the 12th century, she married Louis VII of France, divorced him and married Henry II King of England. She bore 10 children, 2 to Louis, and 8 to Henry. Among them Prince John and Richard the lion hearted of Robin Hood fame.
It was a time of great change. The Church was changing. It no longer saw women soley as the spawn of Satan. The cult of the Virgin Mary was taking hold. The politics of monarchy were changing. King Louis VII ruled only a small portion of what is modern day France. King Henry II wasn't even English, but a French nobleman who benefited from the untimely death of William the Conqueror's heir, and Civil War in England. He could "seize the day".(Horace) The second crusade led by Louis, failed miserably; perhaps some of modern day Muslin/Christian conflict has roots here. It appears that Louis did not heed Horace's advice.
And Eleanor, where was she? Well she joined Louis on the Crusade. In fact she was blamed for the outcome of the first disasterous battle. It seems that it is easier to blame the queen and her excessive luggage, than the head of the crusading army. Thousands began the Crusade, only hundreds returned. It is not hard to imagine how Eleanor and the others felt. But, she was stuck with Louis. Or was she? Louis needed a male heir, and Eleanor had not produced one. Divorce was not what Louis wanted, but he did need that male heir, and Eleanor was not getting any younger. And so, he freed Eleanor.
Imagine Louis' surprise at her marrying Henry just 8 weeks later. By the way she forgot to ask his permission. Louis was not happy.
But Henry was. He got Eleanor and Acquitaine, 5 sons of which 4 survived to manhood, 3 daughters who through marriage, could be used to achieve his political ambitions. Everything is going so well. Then what does he do? Well, Henry falls in love. Eleanor moves out, back to Aquitaine. And then? The male children of this estranged couple plot against their father, then seek asylum with Louis Capet, Eleanor's X. Of course, mother Eleanor is easy to blame.
In modern terms we might refer to this family as disfunctional. However, that disfunction had a price, and a payoff. France and England warred on and off over the next 300 years. Eleanor's decendants sat on the thrones of England, France, Jerusalem, and the Holy Roman Empire. We remember her today. And unlike many of the middle ages chroniclers, we think that she was important and we admire her.
It is difficult to write a biography from the distance of eight or nine centuries. There are few reliable, contemporay sources. It is most difficult to write one about the most powerful woman in Europe, since few thought that women were important enough to chronicle except in the blame game. Marion Meade has done such an admirable job. Her biography make Eleanor come alive. That this book, copywrited in 1977, remains in print is a testament to her impecable research and excellent writing.
I highly recommend this book.
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