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Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  9,561 ratings  ·  447 reviews
Renowned in her time for being the most beautiful woman in Europe, the wife of two kings and mother of three, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the great heroines of the Middle Ages. At a time when women were regarded as little more than chattel, Eleanor managed to defy convention as she exercised power in the political sphere and crucial influence over her husbands and sons ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 3rd 2001 by Ballantine Books (first published 1999)
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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettThe Name of the Rose by Umberto EcoThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey ChaucerA Distant Mirror by Barbara W. TuchmanWorld Without End by Ken Follett
Best Middle Ages Books
25th out of 866 books — 1,047 voters
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankEleanor of Aquitaine by Alison WeirCatherine the Great by Robert K. MassieThe Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison WeirWives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Female Biographies
2nd out of 609 books — 209 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan-Maat
Despite the title and the author's ambition to write a balanced account of Eleanor - neither on the side lines nor a romantic heroine - this book is best read as a friendly, accessible history of the early Plantagenets. Something to read if you've enjoyed The Lion in Winter and fancy knowing a bit more about that quarrelsome, competitive family.

Sadly Eleanor remains on the sidelines. Weir doesn't discuss the source material so as a reader you can't know if this was her choice or just inevitable
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Madeline
Alison Weir spends a lot of time in this book discusses common legends and misconceptions surrounding Eleanor, which was interesting for me because I hadn't heard any of them before. I really wasn't that familiar with Eleanor of Aquitaine before reading this - mostly I just knew that she went on crusade once, was Richard the Lionheart's mother, and was played by Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. From these three bits of information, we can at least deduce that she was kind of a badass.

Hav
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Mike Mcfarland
Feb 12, 2008 Mike Mcfarland rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: 12th century intermarriage.
Recommended to Mike by: Heather's mom
Shelves: non-fiction
A scholarly but lightly-written book on late 12th Century European politics, as told through the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor comes across as a remarkable woman, extremely strong-willed and independent. She originally married the King of France, and even joined him on a Crusade, then abandoned him for the King of England. Later, through her sons - Richard the Lionheart was her favorite - she fostered rebellions against the English King in his French territories. When the rebellions ende ...more
Kimberly
I've had a life-long and abiding interest in Eleanor of Aquitaine ever since I read a biography of her when I was 10 years old. I never realized, though, how little I actually knew about the Plantagenets...or how wrong what little I knew was...until I read Weir's book.

My only complaint about this book has less to do with Weir's impeccable scholarship and gift for narrative than it does with the scant record left behind by women, even notable women like Eleanor. (As an aside, it seems like a vast
...more
Rachel
I read this book in hardcover when it first came out before giving it to a friend (sorry Amy). At the time I seem to remember Weir saying in the introduction that it was more of a struggle to write this book than her Tudor histories due to the comparative lack and nature of sources (she relied chiefly on contemporary chroniclers, the richer biographical data of letters, diaries, etc no longer existing). Consequently I felt it was more of a struggle to read.

Not this time. I re-read the introducti
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Nikki
Alison Weir's biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine is thorough and well-researched, from birth to death. There's a lot of dates and names, and Weir's style doesn't really make that kind of detail absorbing, but there's plenty to interest a patient reader. My chief criticism is that Weir presents this as a complete portrait of Eleanor, commenting that previous accounts of her life rely too heavily on the actions of her husbands and sons, but Weir herself falls into that same pitfall. Whole chapters ...more
Pete daPixie
Alison Weir always gets at least four stars for every book I read of hers. Marks out of ten for this one, would be nine. Alison writes with all the authority and passion of the wildest beast that ever spurred a stirrup, galloping through the Angevin empire. Her subject, 'Eleanor of Aquitaine', is lifted from the mists and myths of eight hundred years. Her biography is also partly eclipsed as circumstance of the paternal world of the royal courts of Europe in the Middle Ages. Even so, the image i ...more
Rindis
I do think it is a good book, and good history. But it is not a biography of Eleanor. There have been numerous comments that the problems with the book revolve around there just not being enough direct material available to do a biography, and they're entirely justified. Large sections of the book go by with notes of 'Eleanor does not appear in any of the chronicles of this period'.

Worse, from a biography point of view, there are few real conclusions or statements of what Eleanor was like. I thi
...more
Kerri
A historical, non-fiction accounting of Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of two kings (France's King Louis VII and England's King Henry II) and mother of three kings (England's Young King Henry, King Richard I and King John). She was born in 1122 and died at the age of 82....quite a phenomenal life span for that time period. Her influence, direct and indirect, helped to shape the history of France, England and quite a bit of the European continent. Eleanor's descendants include Kings and Queens of sev ...more
Steven Peterson
This is another in Alison Weir’s series of historical biographical works. As always, the book is well-written with much historical detail coming from each page. As with some of her other works (such as “Katherine Swynford”), she takes a less than complete record of the person about whom she is writing and creates a plausible rendering of that person’s life. She notes where evidence is slim and makes cautious suggestions as to what might have happened during periods of time with little record of ...more
Christy
As if "Timeline" hadn't convinced me enough, life in the Middle Ages was damn hard! This biography was not so much about Eleanor of Aquitaine as about the events and the men that governed her life: feudal wars, countless treaties made and broken, provences switching hands, marriages made and then annulled because of "consanguinity," kings and bishops being crowned and excommunicated, and women being sold in marriage during their early years (earliest was three?) to make good on those treaties. N ...more
Alex Telander
There are not many important women of the Middle Ages, but Eleanor of Aquitaine has to be the most prominent and important: wife to King Louis VII of France and King Henry II of Britain and Aquitaine, mother of King Richard the Lionheart and King John of Magna Carta fame.

Quite a few biographies have been written over the years of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but there has never been one so adherent to primary and secondary sources, to the extent that the scenes depicted veritably come to life before yo
...more
Kelly
Jun 11, 2007 Kelly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: female history geeks
This one was not as easy for me to get through as The Princes in the Tower, but I still enjoyed it. The reason it reads a little slower is just because of the exhaustive notes and the fact that she spends a lot more time on analysis of sources here. Which makes it feel more authoritative, but also a bit more like a textbook. However, Eleanor's life was sexy and interesting enough on its own. It really doesn't need that much help to be a page turner. I finished it and really liked it. Recommended ...more
Faye Stone
For saying this was a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, this book had surprisingly little information on the Queen herself. Instead, it read as a documentation of the actions of her various husbands, sons and, at one point, Thomas Beckett. I understand the need to contextualize the period and Eleanor's position within it but I felt like I rather lost sight of Eleanor at some points. For instance, a detailed analysis of Beckett's and Henry's relationship was underpinned by the conclusion that th ...more
Amy
It’s probably not a good idea to approach a book of medieval history with high entertainment expectations. Life in twelfth-century Europe? A grim, relentless grind of war, disease, famine (or food so bad famine’s almost preferable) and unquestioning obedience to God, king, overlord, husband—even for the Queen of England and duchess of what constitutes most of modern-day France.

So my attitude going into Eleanor of Aquitaine—dread, fortified by strong coffee—was just about right. And wouldn’t you
...more
Nigel
I arrived at this volume rather randomly, and picked it up to read likewise, being familiar with the name Eleanor of Aquitaine and being aware that it was evocative of... something, but I couldn't really remember what. About halfway through, I realised I was thinking primarily of a childhood Christmas viewing of The Lion In Winter, so yay for nostalgia. Anyway, Eleanor's story puts her dead centre at the pulsing heart of the formation of Europe, for all that as a person she ends up sidelined a l ...more
David Donald
As with most any of the biographies Alison Weir writes, it is well researched history of times when not so much is available, but more can be teased from newly discovered sources. She does make some interpretations and extrapolations, but always logical ones based from the data she researches. Extrapolations intended to make the place and culture of the times more clear to us. She also always writes entertainingly and gives you a sense of the subject and their world.
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Interesting, and probably really 3.5 stars. In part it is a history of Eleanor's times, but since she did much to make those times what they were, that didn't bother me.
Victoria Johnston
I really enjoyed this book. A great , well researched overview of an amazing lady. Alison Weir gives a balanced view of her life.

Generally, you tend to get either the romantic heroine view or the unnatural woman view when you read about Eleanor because she polarised opinion during her lifetime. She was Queen of both France and England and founded the Plantagenet dynasty in England.

Not a perfect woman by any stretch of the imagination - the evidence suggests she was not faithful t her first husb
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Kristin
My fascination with Eleanor of Aquitaine began when I first saw The Lion in Winter, and Eleanor (played by Katharine Hepburn) asks her husband, King Henry II, "Do you ever wonder if I slept with your father?" and in that moment I wanted to be her. Ever since then other biographies I've read about her either view her through rose colored glasses or see her as the evil whore archetype. Alison Weir's Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life is the first I've read that paints her as a real person, with her own ...more
Abby
I was torn between giving this 3 or 4 stars, as it was really a 3.5. I was inclined to go for 3, but I listened to it as an audiobook, so I'm giving it a bit of a boost. There were large passages that simply lost my attention, which I might have had an easier time with if I were reading it in print. I understand that in a historical biography, especially of a woman, you're going to get a lot of information about the other people in her life (especially the men). However, I've read other historic ...more
Paul
I'm two chapters into this book, and I've decided to bail out. This book is almost a textbook on France in the 12th century. The author, in spite of a understandable feminist view of Eleanor, was objective and not necessarily sympathetic to Eleanor. Eleanor was known to play politics, and lovers. She actually got divorced (practically unheard of in the 12th century) and remarried King Henry II of England. Pretty good hook.

Unfortunately, the book is not very compelling. Page after page brings a
...more
Laurie
Jul 29, 2011 Laurie added it
Many biographies and historical novels have been written about Eleanor, and somehow, she always slips away, like an elusive mermaid. Alison Weir tries to limit her sources to contemporary accounts, but since the standards of evidence were not the same in those times, the results are frustrating. In a time when we know what prescriptions were in Michael Jackson or Brittany Murphy's house when they died, it's hard to accept that whole years of Eleanor's life are lost, especially the years when she ...more
Lisa
When I was at school, I was under the impression that history was dreadfully boring and stuffy and loathed most of my lessons. However, having since been bitten by the history bug thanks to watching Horrible Histories and becoming completely obsessed with Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell, I now lay all of the blame for that firmly at the feet of my teacher, who must have been completely inept to have made our history sound so dreary. I've now decided to embark on a bit of an odyssey through as mu ...more
StrangeBedfellows
This is an excellent book, and for several reasons. First off, I covers a particularly interesting family during a particularly interesting time. Whether or not you like Eleanor of Aquitaine, you can't deny she's a key player in European history. Of course, this isn't just Eleanor's story. You'll read all about Henry II and their tumultuous brood of children. Eleanor and Henry are definitely the "it" couple of the 1100s, and their lives are so eventful and intriguing that it puts daytime drama t ...more
Marieke
May 10, 2011 Marieke rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Marieke by: Wendy's updates
This had a lot of new information for me and i will probably read it again someday. i enjoyed it quite a lot so rereading it should not be too hard. I was a little skeptical about how someone could write a biography about a woman who lived in the 12th century (who cares that she was a "queen") but Weir did interesting things with this...correcting mistakes that past historians had made, discussing evidence, and describing the times in which Eleanor lived and the men who surrounded her--the book ...more
Ami
I want a bumper sticker that says "I heart Alison Weir." She, without a doubt, is one of my favorite biographers because I can trust her completely. She does not rely of hearsay or legend, but searches through the contemporary writings of her subject and their peers to worm out the truth. Where there is no definitive answer, she gives her readers her best educated guess, but always reminds us that it is merely a guess.

In this biography, I learned more about the fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine
...more
Ali
To me, as someone who is not an historian, the task of trying to resaerch a woman who lived 800 years ago, would seem an impossible one. In her Preface to this book Alison Weir explains how difficult it was to find relieable sources, and how others had warned her it would be impossible to bring Eleanor of Aqitaine to life. Therefore it should not be a surprise that after reading this remarkable book - Eleanor does remain largely a figure shrouded in the mists and mystery of time. I have read som ...more
Beth
You know the Disney version of Robin Hood, with the whistling rooster and Robin Hood as a fox? When I hear the names of Richard the Lionhearted and Prince John, that movie is the first thing that comes to mind: royal personages as lions with crowns. So picking up a biography about the mother of these two was eye opening for me. Kind of like stepping into a world of legend and fairy tale and finding it populated with history and fact.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was quite a woman. Especially considering
...more
Louise
This is a very well researched narrative on the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Unlike other women of her era, she controlled property, was able to retain it and, therefore, was a participant in and not a bystander to events. The nuns of Fontevrault extol the "brilliance" of the "royal progeny" with which she "illuminated the world". There were no newspapers then, and being cloistered, they had only Eleanor's word on this. While she is the mother of 2 kings (3 if the "Younger King" counts), these ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Alison Weir (born 1951) is a British writer of history books for the general public, mostly in the form of biographies about British kings and queens. She currently lives in Surrey, England, with her two children.

Before becoming an author, Weir worked as a teacher of children with special needs. She received her
...more
More about Alison Weir...
The Six Wives of Henry VIII Innocent Traitor The Life of Elizabeth I The Lady Elizabeth Henry VIII: The King and His Court

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“In this martial world dominated by men, women had little place. The Church's teachings might underpin feudal morality, yet when it came to the practicalities of life, a ruthless pragmatism often came into play. Kings and noblemen married for political advantage, and women rarely had any say in how they or their wealth were to be disposed in marriage. Kings would sell off heiresses and rich widows to the highest bidder, for political or territorial advantage, and those who resisted were heavily fined.

Young girls of good birth were strictly reared, often in convents, and married off at fourteen or even earlier to suit their parents' or overlord's purposes. The betrothal of infants was not uncommon, despite the church's disapproval. It was a father's duty to bestow his daughters in marriage; if he was dead, his overlord or the King himself would act for him. Personal choice was rarely and issue.

Upon marriage, a girl's property and rights became invested in her husband, to whom she owed absolute obedience. Every husband had the right to enforce this duty in whichever way he thought fit--as Eleanor was to find out to her cost. Wife-beating was common, although the Church did at this time attempt to restrict the length of the rod that a husband might use.”
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“Court life for a queen of France at that time was, however, stultifyingly routine. Eleanor found that she was expected to be no more than a decorative asset to her husband, the mother of his heirs and the arbiter of good taste and modesty.” 3 likes
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