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Duchess of Aquitaine: A Novel of Eleanor Hardcover – June 13, 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Already queenly at 15, Eleanor is heiress to Aquitaine and Poitou in her own right and therefore outright prey to any vassal or lord able to get to her first upon her father's untimely death. Never less than lightning-minded, the fair duchess decides that the only lord and master she'll have is the next king of France. Louis VII, however, is a disappointing husband, and during the ill-conceived and poorly prosecuted Second Crusade (1147–1149), she learns just how disappointing he is. Henry Plantagenet, meanwhile, a mere child when she marries Louis, sees in her a beautiful lady, straight and sharp as a sword. Having decided to divorce Louis, Eleanor looks to Henry's father, Geoffrey of Anjou, as her next husband, until she meets Henry. Vivid descriptions of life in the Holy Land and of the Byzantine Court match vivid characterizations; Eleanor emerges as a formidable woman bent on marrying for herself and her political aspirations. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Years before Eleanor of Aquitaine gained prominence as a strong-willed queen of England, she was the 15-year-old heiress to the richest province of southern France. After her father's unexpected death in 1137, Eleanor brokers her own marriage with Louis Capet, the French king's heir. All too soon, Louis inherits the throne, and Eleanor learns that he's an exceptionally pious man ashamed of his attraction to her. With Louis set on establishing his royal authority, it's left to Eleanor to look out for the interests of her Poitevin countrymen. Despite having greater intelligence and political acumen than her ineffectual husband, she dutifully serves his will, even accompanying him on the Second Crusade. But events in Constantinople and Antioch turn her further against Louis, setting her on a path to divorce and her destiny as Henry Plantagenet's consort. Ball's prose sparkles with colorful images of medieval France and Byzantium; readers may find themselves turning pages slowly to absorb the atmosphere more fully. A compelling portrait of the younger years of one of England's most renowned royal women. Sarah Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (June 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312205333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312205331
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,609,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By hydro on July 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Eleanor of Aquitane is one of the most fascinating figures of medieval history. A woman of legendary beauty, strength and intelligence, she carved out a position of power in a era thoroughly hostile to women. And created a dynasty of kings whose names are legendary.

With that said, this book presents her as more of a perky "cheerleader" who relies on binding men to her by her beauty and possessions. There is no character development or depth-the characters remain as one dimensional as cardboard cutouts.

If interested in historical fiction concerning Eleanor, try Sharon Kay Peman. A far better writer, her books "When Christ and His Saints Slept" and "Time and Chance" (and her mystery series "Queen's Man", etc) capture not only the essence of the this period, but also clothe the players in layers of personality. So much so that they seem to reach out to us across the centuries and seem real.
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I've never read a non-fictional book about Eleanor of Aquitaine but I know something of her life story and I've read a number of novels in which she featured (by authors such as Sharon K. Penman, Pamela Kaufman, Annette Motley and others) and from this I have gotten a very strong impression of her character. She was strong, uncompromising, smarter then most of the men in her age and didn't know when to back down. This novel tells the story of Eleanor's life from when her father died and she had to marry the King of France to keep her lands, to when she ditches the queen for Henry Plantagenet, the future Henry II of England. And I just didn't get the same impression of the character of Eleanor from this book.

This is an interesting novel though. It has a slight pagan slant to it, starting off with a description of a dance to bring on the spring equinox which makes a pretty clear statement about the divinity of women. Then the first chapter is told from the point of view of a saint, and throughout the book there are visions and slight hints of a sort of catholic/nature magic mix which is helping Eleanor's destiny. But these things are so slight in the novel that they don't really make an impact. If the angle had been explored more I think this would have been a far better and definitely more different book. As it stands this a run of the mill historical novel with some mystical imagery thrown in.

And Eleanor, as smart and politically canny as she is shown in this book, just didn't fit with what I know about her, and certainly didn't jive with the "other" fictional Eleanor's I have read about.
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Format: Hardcover
The legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine cuts her teeth on the politics of expediency, cobbling together a marriage in 1137 with the son and heir of Louis the Fat, Louis VII, "pale, blonde, beardless, soft as a girl, with meek eyes cast down like a novice monk's." Thinking this a masterful bargain, Eleanor, at fifteen, controls Aquitaine and Poitou after he father's untimely death, seeking only to secure her lands and her person from plundering by a less noble union. It is an impulsive match she will learn to regret as the years pass, Louis a stern spiritual taskmaster with a cold and passionless heart. The saintly Louis is more brutal in his icy contempt for others than any soldier, bereft of compassion, as rigid in his beliefs as a saint and just as dangerous. Upon his arrival to claim his bride, his southern retainers trample Aquitaine and Poitou as though they are poor stepchildren, earning the enmity of Eleanor's subjects.

On the fateful day of her marriage, Eleanor's mistake is in assuming that her intended, the future King of France, is a potential political astute, rather than an unwitting and insecure pawn, who might better spend his days in self-flagellation and repentance in a dank monastery cell. Eleanor underestimates the nature of the man she marries and his commitment to his spiritual life. Louis the Pious will never appreciate his wife's talent for politics or her female charms, too enraptured by the nature of sin to live in the real world. On Crusade with Louis in 1147, Eleanor realizes the depth of her unhappiness and the futility of her struggle against men who will not countenance the intelligence of women. After humiliating defeat, Louis leaves the land of the infidels, revising his actions until he has become a hero, Eleanor the cause of the losses.
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I have read some of the author's other, sci-fi novels & wondered how she would deal with historical fiction. I don't think it's her forte.

I have no trouble believing that the young Eleanor's character wasn't the same as the Eleanor of old age's was, but I could not believe the idea that she would have had to alter her father's will to give her the protection of the French king.

Surely any ruler would have had such a plan in place from the moment an heir was born, even if the plan was expected to be revised when & if a male heir was born, etc. Rulers cared about their legacies & would have prepared for it. if Eleanor's father hadn't been inclined to do so, his mother or other family members would have insisted.

With this problem with the start of the novel, I questioned every other aspect throughout. If it had been science fiction, I would have assumed the people involved acted differently from earthlings.
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