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Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life

(World Leaders Past & Present )

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  12,834 ratings  ·  603 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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3.97  · 
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Despite the title and the author's stated 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 definitely on the sidelines. Weir doesn't discuss the source material, so as a reader you can't know if this was her choice
I've been curious about the historical figure of Eleanor of Aquitaine for a long time. Finally, through Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life I was able to sate my eagerness to know what kind of life this woman, that was the Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right and Queen of both France and England, lived. One thing for sure, it wasn't an easy life. She had difficult husbands, but compensated somewhat through a constant struggle for power. We could say that she was fairly successful, since she lived in a ...more
Apr 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.

Oct 11, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Mike Mcfarland
Feb 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
Aug 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
'Aussie Rick'
Jun 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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 we
Steven Peterson
Jan 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 18, 2008 rated it liked it
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
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
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
an incomparable woman...

A scholarly introduction to the life of one of the most remarkable medieval women - Eleanor of Aquitaine, a wife of two and a mother of three kings. So few primary sources survive that we do not even have a reliable description of her appearance. Alison Weir provides a balanced portrait- she does not shy away from discussing the circumstantial evidence of Eleanor’s extramarital affairs in her youth or that of the queen's inciting her sons to overthrow her second husban
Feisty Harriet
2.5 stars. Like most books claiming to be a biography of a lesser known woman from hundreds of years ago, this book isn't so much about Eleanor of Aquitaine as it is about her husbands and sons, famous kings of medieval England and France, and other powerful men of the time. Eleanor herself was probably the wealthiest woman in Europe, owning/ruling in her own right about half of modern France before marrying King Louis and becoming a queen. She got bored with Louis, asked for an annulment, and t ...more
Some thoughts now that I've finished:

- I wish there had been more Eleanor in this book. She kind of made more cameo appearances in this book about her own life, rather than being the star. I'm not sure how much to fault Alison Weir for this, as I've enjoyed other biographies by her that I've read and this is really the first one I've been lukewarm on. And while it's true that this is the first Eleanor of Aquitaine biography I've read so there may be better ones, it's also true that overall there
Jun 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 07, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Alex Telander
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Dec 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Lisa Feld
Mar 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: boston
Weir faces some interesting challenges as a historian here: sifting reliable sources about Eleanor from apocryphal stories and putting together a coherent picture of the powerful queen from the traces left in chronicles about the men she influenced. What emerges is a remarkably clear and compelling story of an intelligent and capable woman who married two kings, birthed ten children, marched in two Crusades, ran kingdoms in her husbands' and sons' absences, incited her sons to rebellion, argued ...more
David Donald
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Alex Sarll
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of history’s most formidable women, so inevitably many have had axes to grind regarding her, whether about the immorality and awfulness of her terrible acts and attitudes, or about the ahead-of-her-time awesomeness indicated by those exact same acts and attitudes. And then of course you have the school of historians desperate to prove that everyone throughout history has been just as dull as themselves, and anything interesting must have been made up. Weir tries to s ...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
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf-history, nf-bio
I selected this book as a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, it is almost 500 pages, so I expected to learn a lot about the fascinating life of this famous queen. Unfortunately, not many reliable contemporary sources that record the protagonist life are available to us, and in consequence, my expectations had to be readjusted.
Even in this book, Eleanor remains a secondary figure. Many chapters are dedicated to the lives of the queen spouses (King Luis VII of France, Henry II of England), her fa
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Alison Weir is a British writer of history books for the general public, mostly in the form of biographies about British kings and queens, and of historical fiction. Before becoming an author, Weir worked as a teacher of children with special needs. She received her formal training in history at teacher training

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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.”
“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.” 8 likes
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