- Fizzy Thoughts: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Eleanor of Aquitaine
Alison Weir
1999
346 pages

I finished Eleanor. Yay me.

This book really should have been titled Eleanor, who lived in the Middle Ages and who was wife of Louis, King of France, and then wife of Henry II, king of England, and mom to lots of kids, but especially Henry, the Young King who never got to be king, and Richard the Lion-hearted, and King John. Because let's face it. She may have been an important woman, but there's not a whole lot in the historical record about her (other than she endowed this abbey and she begatted that kid and she bought some tapestries). So her story could have been told in oh, about 50 pages. The rest is just filler, in the form of men. Most especially men named Henry and Geoffrey and John. I kid you not. There were so many Geoffrey's running around it was incestuous.

So big disappointment. I was all excited to read about a strong female historical figure. Unfortunately, I mostly got dead white men. And much as George W. would prolly disagree, dead white men do not good history make. Oh...excuse me...my politics are showing.

To further confuse matters and make the story even more stultifying, most of the characters seemed to be distantly related. An example:

  • Eleanor married Louis, king of France. Louis already had two daughters from a prior marriage. Eleanor gave him two more.
  • They got divorced, for many possible reasons. The official version was that they were 4th cousins. A fact they conveniently forgot when they got married.
  • So then Eleanor married Henry, future king of England. And also her cousin. Third, I think. And Louis remarried, too. I forget who. I don't think they were cousins, although there's a good chance they were. There seemed to be a lot of that going on.
  • They all had more kids.
  • And then one of Louis' daughters gets engaged to one of Eleanor's sons.
  • They would have gotten married, except King Henry had an affair with her and she had a kid. Or two.
There's a whole lot of ick going on there. Oh, and I almost forgot! There's a rumor that Eleanor had an affair with Geoffrey (Henry's dad Geoffrey. Not to be confused with Henry's brother Geoffrey. Or Henry and Eleanor's son Henry. Or Henry's illegitimate son, also named Geoffrey.) before they were married. She did her future father-in-law. As I said, a whole lot of ick going on. Although I think Henry bonking (and impregnating) his son's fiancee takes the cake.

However, according to the book, they did all celebrate Christmas happily together on many an occasion. Details of the celebration were not provided. I shudder to imagine.

I read this for the World Citizen Challenge. And boy do I feel wordly. If anyone has a less incestuous recommendation for my next history selection, I am open to suggestions.




Seriously. Because I can be serious, you know. Well, almost. This is one of those typically staid and serious history books that I try to avoid. The kind that give history a bad rap and make people dread the subject. If you like your history served up with a side of ivory tower seriousness, then this is the book for you. If you're more of a historical fiction, Maus taught me more than I ever learned in high school type of learner, than skip this baby.

14 comment(s):

herschelian said...

I plowed through the Alison Weir book on Eleanor too, mainly because I'd visited her tomb in France and wanted to know more about her. For some entertainment, I recommend the film "The Lion in Winter" made in 1968 and with a stellar cast - Peter O'Toole, Katherine Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins - which is all based on the turbulent marriage of Eleanor and Henry II.
A piece of useless information for you. The very first winner of a million ££ on 'Who Want's to Be a Millionaire' here in the UK, won with her final question being on Eleanor and Henry.

Dar said...

Sorry this one didn't cut it Jill but I agree, my history needs a good old fiction backdrop to go with it. I'll certainly be avoiding this one-staid and serious is not for me.

Beth F said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth F said...

I had the exact same experience with this book. And apparently I'm a glutton for punishment because I read a second book about Eleanor. Watch the film, it was fun.

Don't give up on Alison Weir though. She's written bunches of great nonfiction. And now she's writing fiction, and the one I read was good.

I am, however, done reading about Eleanor unless it's a juicy HF.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Did Weir talk about Eleanor's alleged affair with her uncle Raymond whilst she was on crusade with Louis?

Yeah...whole lotta ick.

Better stuff about Eleanor and Henry? That would be Sharon Kay Penman's series that started with "When Christ and His Saints Slept," followed by "Time and Chance" and the marvelous "Devil's Brood." Good stuff there.

Joanne said...

Heh - your review seems 10 times more entertaining than the actual book :P I will gladly skip this one.

Eva said...

Loved your review, though I suspect I wouldn't like the book! I've been reading a biography of Mary Queen of Scots on and off for awhile now that's really interesting and definitely does the whole 'strong female' thing. It's by John Guy. So far, there hasn't been any incest that I can remember. :)

Melissa said...

Too funny, too funny! Love the review. And you're right, there was a whole lotta ick going on back then. Glad I live now. :)

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

one of my favorite lines from your review:

"The rest is just filler, in the form of men."

I'm thinking of a voice-over to a flash-back of a certain summer ...

softdrink said...

herschelian - hmmm, maybe someday I'll win a million bucks, which is the only thing that would redeem this book.

Dar - I agree, historical fiction is sooooo much better

Beth - I have Isabella on the shelf...I wonder if it's worth it?

Michele - yep, only it was more a case of were they or weren't they doing the nasty. Weir had her doubts.

Joanne - I think I need to borrow some of your comic books. :-D

Eva - Should've gone with Mary, eh? But I don't know if I can do another biography.

Melissa - me, too...if only because of indoor plumbing!

Dawn - hah!

Ladytink_534 said...

I know very little about Eleanor but I think I'll take you up on the skip suggestion! Do not need a snore-fest!

Kim said...

Loved this--very entertaining and I am sure much more so than the actual book! A whole lotta ick going on!!!
*smiles*
Kim

raych said...

I had one prof tell us that the English Royals are the hardest ones to keep straight because they all re-used names (Richard, Edward, Henry, Geoffrey) and all married their cousins. So I made myself a long, Wikipedia'd list of who was king when, and what they did, and who succeeded them. It's been immensely helpful.

Kim said...

Thanks for the heads up. I want to learn more about Eleanor, but it sounds like I could as much ast here is with historical non-fiction and enjoy the reading better.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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