Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > The Captive Queen

The Captive Queen by Alison Weir
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's review
Nov 03, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: librarybooks
Recommended to Jennifer (JC-S) by:

‘I am a captive in this marriage.’

This novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), a Queen of both France and England is the subject of Alison Weir’s third historical novel. Ms Weir has previously written a biography of Eleanor (first published in 1999) and I was interested in how she would approach the same subject from a fictional perspective.

Eleanor of Aquitaine had a fascinating life. As the sole heir to the Duchy of Aquitaine, she was married to Louis in 1137 just before he became King Louis VII. She was divorced from Louis VII in 1152 on the dubious grounds of consanguinity (they had two daughters, but no sons) and shortly afterwards married Henry, son of Count Geoffrey of Anjou.

The novel opens in 1152, and is mostly focussed on Eleanor’s marriage to Henry. A marriage which, apparently, was based on mutual physical attraction and lust, as is amply demonstrated in the pages of the novel. Between them, Henry and Eleanor ruled over Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Normandy, England and Aquitaine and they had nine children: six sons and three daughters.

So what went wrong? Because despite all that they shared, Henry ended up keeping Eleanor in some form of captivity for seventeen years because she supported her sons (especially Young Henry and Richard) in defying his authority. Eleanor outlives Henry, sees her favourite son Richard (the Lionheart) rule and dies aged about 82 part way through the reign of her youngest son John.

A long and fascinating life to be sure, but I don’t think that this novel does it justice. The focus on interpersonal relationships largely excludes any deeper appreciation of the political realities or of Henry II’s troubled relationship with the church which lead to the murder of Thomas Becket. Eleanor may well have been headstrong and beautiful, but surely she wasn’t quite so naïve?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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