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Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – April 3, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 215 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Combining the pace and descriptive quality of a novel with the authority of a textbook, Alison Weir's study of the revered and reviled Eleanor of Aquitaine should be valuable to anyone with an interest in medieval European history. Wife of Louis VII of France and subsequently of Henry II of England, and mother of Richard "the Lion-Hearted," Eleanor played a prominent part in the politics of the 12th century. The author of a number of other books on the medieval period (Life of Elizabeth I, The Children of Henry VIII), Weir brings all the color and ever-present dangers of Eleanor's world to life, filling the text with absorbing background detail and revelatory contemporary anecdotes. She is concerned throughout to make critical analysis of the primary sources, the later myths about Eleanor, and other modern biographies. This results in a fresh and thoughtful perspective on the energetic life of a determined and ambitious woman living with the sexism, excesses, and violence of a society in which the word of a single man could condemn thousands to death. Eleanor of Aquitaine is a vivacious but scholarly book with extensive notes and references, giving an objective and rich account of the staunch Eleanor, her feuding family and her complex and unstable world. --Karen Tiley, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

As delicately textured as a 12th-century tapestry, royal biographer Weir's (The Life of Elizabeth I, etc.) newest book is exhilarating in its color, ambition and human warmth. The author exhibits a breathtaking grasp of the physical and cultural context of Queen Eleanor's life, presenting a fuller, more holistic appreciation of a dazzling world whose charms can easily be anesthetized by dull narrative. And from the start, her auburn-haired subject, a live wire in a restrictive society, muse of poets and crusaders, seduces the reader. Weir conveys a deep empathy for the relaxed south of France where Eleanor was raised, a natural home for the gospel of courtly love. She paints a Brueghelesque picture of England, where wolves roamed the forests and people made skates in winter out of animal bones. In approaching as complex a subject as feudalism, Weir wears her learning lightly and has a pleasant habit of anticipating all the questions of a curious reader. Her account parades a sequence of extraordinary characters: the saintly abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, who as an adolescent leapt into a freezing pond until his erection subsided; Eleanor's first husband, Louis VII of France, haunted by the screams of burning victims after his assault on a village in Champagne; her lover, Raymond of Poitiers, who could bend an iron bar with his bare hands; and her second husband, Henry II of England, her princely mirror in energy, intelligence and sexuality. Above all, there is the heroine, viewed clear-sightedly in all her intoxicating and imperious irresistibility. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 441 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (April 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345434870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345434876
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Compton on April 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ever since I saw Katherine Hepburn play Eleanor of Aquitaine in the film Lion in Winter, I have read everything available on this fascinating 12th century woman - and this book was, by far, the most readable, and probably the most accurate. Though Allison Weir avoids over romanticizing the story by passing along legends as facts (that Eleanor murdered her husband's mistress or the many tales surrounding her Court of Love), she still weaves a fascinating tale. Because Weir is such a stickler for researched facts, there are long sections where she admits that very little is known about what exactly Eleanor was doing at the time (most notably during the murder of Thomas Becket), but I still never lost interest - and she provides enough balanced background on the many characters that you develop a true understanding for their complicated motives. After reading Weir's other books (especially the definitive "Six Wives of Henry VIII"), I was positive that this would be another enjoyable history lesson - and Ms. Weir, as usual, did not disappoint!
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Format: Hardcover
Once again Alison Weir has produced another wonderful and exciting biography. In this book on Eleanor of Aquitaine she has told the story of this most interesting person in a manner that had me glued to the pages. I must state that I have not previously read any books on this subject, quite a few on Richard I but nothing on his mother. I usually enjoy military history but this was an excellent story, well researched and well presented with heaps of plots, fighting and treachery. The story may well be known to quite a few people out there but to me this book offered the first timer a grand and interesting panorama of this most interesting person during a most interesting period. The narrative was quick and exciting, moving along covering a vast period of time and people however I never got lost in the story. On a number of occasions points in dispute were threshed out and a common sense approach was adopted in trying to find the truth of the matter. Eleanor of Aquitaine had a number of detractors throughout history but I think the author tried to present her story in a non biased manner. This is a good book and I think that most people will enjoy the story and even those who know the whole story should gain something from this account.
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By A Customer on December 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
She was the wife of two kings (Louis VII of France and Henry II of England) and a fascinating and controversial woman in her own right. Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, was one of the most important and influential personalities of the Middle Ages and she truly comes alive in Alison Weir's masterful biography. After a short introduction on the history and culture of Southern France, Ms. Weir describes Eleanor's life in wonderful detail, examining contemporary sources, modern historical investigations, myth and reality. Everything you ever heard about Eleanor is here: her marriage to King Louis, her journey to Constantinople and Jerusalem during the Second Crusade, her marriage to King Henry, her emotional and political relations with her sons (two of them were also kings of England: Richard the Lionheart and King John), her role as Queen Regent, the legendary Courts of Love, and her imprisonment and eventual release are all told in Alison Weir's wonderful style. The author also includes a lot of information about other fascinating personalities of the time, such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Becket and William the Marshall, and she always manages to evoke the feeling of the period. This is a very well researched and brilliantly written biography that reads like a historical novel.
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Format: Paperback
This book was a delight to read -- well-reasearched, descriptive, engaging. _Eleanor of Aquitaine_ gives you the information of a well-researched thesis with the pacing of a novel. However, it was a subtle disappointment because the information on Eleanor was much less than I had expected. (Note to self: Next time read an excerpt!)
Weir sets the reader up in the Forward, mentioning that little information about Eleanor has been found or proven. However, she is quick to point out the difference between her book and the books of other authors attempting to portray Eleanor. Weir claims that some previous biographers have painted a not-so-virtuous picture of Eleanor because they have relied on poor evidence. (For example, many biographers have used fictional works -- poetry, songs -- of the period to prove that Eleanor was an adultress.)
A continuing refrain in the book is, "Some historians have said X. Contemporary theorists have said Y. Based on the evidence I've seen, I can't decide between X or Y." While I do appreciate Wier's unbiased opinion, it didn't always make for the most interesting reading. Often I felt dissatisfied because I wanted to know more - I wanted to know the truth. However, perhaps that is Weir's point - we'll never truly know what Eleanor was like because there is simply not enough evidence.
In order to learn more about Eleanor's life, Wier had to painstakingly resurrect it from accounts of the lives of her children and family members. Consequently, the book serves as an excellent primer about Eleanor's historical period and family. For me, this was an unexpected bonus because I know very little about medieval times, the Crusades, etc. However, readers that are very medieval-savvy may find Weir's extensive (but necessary) digressions annoying.
Overall: If you're looking for a peek into the life of a lesser-known historical figure and time period, this book is an excellent choice.
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