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70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars By the Wrath of God, Queen of England
Some of the most fascinating characters in history hail from the murkier depths of times lacking much documentary sources. Perhaps their interest comes from this patchwork of conflicting sources, or perhaps the temporal distance lends enchantment. It also presents a problem for the biographer, in that the lack of sources makes it difficult to write authoritatively on the...
Published on 4 Jan. 2008 by I. Curry

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eleanor the Elusive
This is a highly detailed and informative book which attempts to bring to the fore of the Plantaganet period the often pivotal role played by Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Such an undertaking by Weir was something of an epic task, given the paucity of verifiable material associated with Eleanor and this paucity becomes too evident for much of the book. Indeed, for at...
Published on 11 Sept. 2011 by Tyke


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70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars By the Wrath of God, Queen of England, 4 Jan. 2008
By 
I. Curry "IDC" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Some of the most fascinating characters in history hail from the murkier depths of times lacking much documentary sources. Perhaps their interest comes from this patchwork of conflicting sources, or perhaps the temporal distance lends enchantment. It also presents a problem for the biographer, in that the lack of sources makes it difficult to write authoritatively on the subject. If the subject is a mystery then the book can't be much more than conjectures joined up with speculation.

Eleanor of Aquitaine occupies an odd place in such a time. As a ruler and heiress in her own right, and as queen of France and later England, her life is much more richly documented than most of her contemporaries. Her movements, lodgings, nutrition and clothing can be conjured from the surviving accounts. Richer detail comes from monastic accounts, surviving letters and a good deal of conjecture based on related sources.

Weir has chosen a fascinating subject. She was a woman ruler at a time when women's right to rule was far from established, and in many areas banned by Salic Law. She was forthright, independent and had unorthodox views that capture the essence of the troubadour culture that flourished in her Aquitanian provinces.

Eleanor was wife of Louis VII of France, and then Henry II of England. She was mother to Richard the Lion Heart, and of King John. She herself went on crusade, appearing as the Amazonian queen Penthesilea to rally the troops. She lived as everything from Queen to prisoner, and did so over a remarkable 82 years.

As a writer of engaging `popular' history, Weir has been criticised for dumbing down the subject. In my opinion this is ridiculous. The idea that a book need be impenetrable and complex to be worthy of the appellation `academic' strikes me as simply the fulmination of the historical profession seeking to ensure the plebs don't scale the ivory towers. Whilst Weir's book may not push too many boundaries, it does present its subject well, contextualises admirably and is properly referenced with what source material survives.

The dearth of source material is shown by Weir quoting in full the surviving letters from Eleanor to the pope at the time of Henry II's capture and imprisonment at the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor. As these are the most extensive extant sources it is not difficult to see why they have been quoted in full. But quotations of this length in a work of popular narrative history do somewhat stall the flow of the read. This is a minor point, and Weir compensates by ensuring most of the narrative is written in an engaging and pacey style. Some might sniff at such a tome, but if you have an interest in history you will be rewarded with a fascinating insight.
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eleanor empowered, 17 Aug. 2001
By A Customer
I was captivated by the title when I first came across it. Eleanor of Aquitane certainly proved to be an exceptionally well-written and captivating book, especially when compared to the mediocre efforts of many of our contemporary writers. Alison Weir succeeds in making a distant epoch come to life in a multidimensional way. She has been criticised, by some, for presenting a rather scanty picture of the queen, yet in this same sparse representation, which stems from limited resources available, lies the crux of the existence of a medieval woman. From the morsels of information available about the life of one of the most remarkable female figures of the early medieval period, we can infer that the medieval reality did not consider women as figures of much consequence. For there to have been even this little written about Eleanor she had to have been a particularly influential player in the male orientated society. Through MS Weir's very objective eyes we catch a fair glimpse of Eleanor's world, the consequences of her intelligence, strength and power. It is an effortless read, well worth the time and money.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eleanor the Elusive, 11 Sept. 2011
By 
Tyke (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Eleanor Of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England (Paperback)
This is a highly detailed and informative book which attempts to bring to the fore of the Plantaganet period the often pivotal role played by Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Such an undertaking by Weir was something of an epic task, given the paucity of verifiable material associated with Eleanor and this paucity becomes too evident for much of the book. Indeed, for at least 50% of its content, Eleanor is not mentioned at all, or is at best mentioned only by reference to the fact that there are no records relating to her at that time.

It is of course the men of her period who get the most ink and Eleanor forms largely a backdrop to their lives. However, what emerges is a picture of a woman of high intelligence and ability who had a colourful life to say the least. As matriarch of a family who make the Sopranos look like The Brady Bunch, her stamina and determination were crucial to both her own survival and that of her obnoxious brood.

Weir's depth of research is admirable and although it has of necessity enormous gaps in respect of Eleanor, her book presents a pretty thorough overview of the people and events with which she was linked. It also gives a different perspective on Richard the Lionheart, demolishing his illustrious reputation and presenting evidence that, while he may indeed have been fearless in battle, he was a spoiled, dangerous brat and a serial rapist. Both he and his mother seem to have regarded England as purely a private bank to fund their ambition for French territory.

Eleanor's son John's reputation as a cruel, lazy and snivelling version of his brother Richard, gets no makeover and only her husband Henry II comes out with a bit more lustre than history has traditionally given him. The reader is left with food for thought about why she chose to ally herself devotedly to her monstrous sons in preference to her less monstrous husband and this reflection emphasises the nature of power and the need for survival in her period.

Weir's book shows us that in Eleanor's time the acquisition of land was of paramount importance to European royalty and that today's allies were almost certain to be tomorrow's enemies - and vice versa. The daughters of noble and royal families were merely commodities to be bartered for land and power and the peasantry were of no account.

Overall, this book is not an easy read, in part because it has so many names and places throughout the whole of the text and in part because the absence of Eleanor from so much of it becomes a little frustrating. Though she occupies very few of its 355 pages, this is probably as good a job as can be done on Eleanor's life, but it isn't enough upon which to base a whole volume and relies heavily on padding from the better documented sources about her male contemporaries.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly readbale account of a Beautiful, wilful, strong, intelligent and passionate woman, 16 Oct. 2008
By 
Eleanor of Aquitaine was the queen of Louis VII of France and later Henry II of England. she was the mother of two English kings, Richard the Lionheart and John. France and England fought for many years over her vast French estates.
Eleanor was one of the most fable women of the Middle Ages and also one of the more controversial.
Beautiful, wilful, strong, intelligent, passionate and a famed lover. Much scandal was attached to her name, much of it with more than a little substance.
She seems to have had more than a few paramours while married to both kings, including Geoffrey of Anjou, father to her second husband, Henry II of England, while she was still married to Louis VI of France.
She was a great patron of troubadour poetry, inspiring some great and passionately expressed ballads.
she lived to be 82 but it was only towards the end of her life that she overcame the adversities and tragedies of her earlier years and became the de facto ruler of England.

The nuns of Fontrevault recorded in their necrology a glowing but conventional tribute to their late patroness, who had been a paragon among women and 'illuminated the world with the brilliance of her royal progeny, She graced the nobility of her birth with the honesty of her life, enriched it with her royal excellence, and adorned it with the flowers of her virtues, and her renown fr unmatched goodness she surpassed almost all the queens of the world'.
Sadly it was often the scandals associated with her youth, and not the wisdom of her stewardship of England during the reign of her sons that is remembered. Yet many ballads and stories have been attached to her name in the 800 years following her passing.
this was written in all sincerity because they knew her in her venerable old age.
We learn much of the role of women in Medieval nobility. In Eleanor's day, women were supposed to be chaste both inside and outside marriage, virginity and chastity being highly prized states. When it came to fornication women were usually apportioned the blame because they were descendants of Eve who had tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden. Promiscuity and brought great shame upon a women, including fines, social ostracism, and even in the case of royal and aristocratic women, execution. Women who engaged in sexual activity prior to marriage devalued themselves on the marriage market as no one wanted to 'buy' what they regarded as 'soiled goods'.
Such archaic and narrow minded views of women have for the most part withered away in Western society today but remain the order in Islamic societies.

Incarcerated and restricted during the reign of her husband Henry II, she played a powerful role under Richard and John, exhorting the Pope to see that Richard was freed while being held prisoner by the Duke of Austria and opposing the destructive power of Bishop William Longchamp of Ely. during Richard's reign, while Prince John acted as regent, while Richard was away on the crusades.
We learn oft he crusades, one of which Eleanor herself went on with Henry II, not long after their marriage, causing much scandal along the way, and engaging in conflict with her king, due to the scandals around her activities, while witnessing the great events of the crusade across Europe and the battles fought between the Crusaders and Muslims in the Holy Land.

I don't think that this book was at all dull or 'text booky'.
On the contrary it teaches the reader a great deal about the life and times of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and her husbands and children, while reading smoothly and interestedly like a novel. It marvelously brings the life of Eleanor to vividity, and the times she lived in to life, exploring a wide range of emotions, feelings, colours an sounds, while always making clear what is fact and what is unknown, legend or myth.
The author does not hesitate from strongly expressing her own opinions but on the other hand is honest about the grey areas where there is indeed no clear answer.
A difficult thing to do for a non fiction history, but one that clearly marks one

It is filled with many interesting facts and legends, which the author is clear to distinguish.
For example the author refutes the myth that Eleanor had Henry II's mistress Rosamund Clifford, and also does not give credence to Eleanor having presided over the fabled Courts of Love.

She also refutes the rumours that Richard I was a homosexual.

This narrative is highly readable, an account of a fascinating and strong-willed women and queen.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellant coverage of a vital period of history, 4 Aug. 2000
By A Customer
I am surprised by some of the criticisms of this book. True, there would appear to be very little source material to give a detailed description of the life and character of the heroine, but the book is so much more than that. Alison Weir is to be greatly complemented for her rigorous refusal to speculate or invent salacious details where no evidence exists. She shows herself, yet again, to be a careful and fair historian. Where there is doubt she openly sets out the competing versions and states her own conclusion. You may not always agree, but at least you can decide for yourself. The true value of this book is that it charts the uneasy and capricious relations between England and Royal France at a (or even "the") key period of the development of both nations as we know them today. The fascination is that Eleanor knew all the key players well, found herself in such wildly differing camps, and was present (even if in the background) at so many key events. It is fair to say that the book might be more accurately titled "England and France during the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine", but that is hardly a substantial criticism. The details of expenditure on Eleanor's personal items are of value in that they show the extent to which she was, or was not, in the King's favour at different times. I would not describe the book as dry. It is factual in parts, but it is a history book and the learning is worn lightly. One remarkable achievement is that you do not lose track of the complex familial relations of the main players. This book has encouraged me to read further about this fascinating era. It is another excellent book from Alison Weir and I would recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone interested in this period.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent. Well conceived, well executed, well researched, 23 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: Eleanor Of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England (Paperback)
Alison Weir is here as good as always, when writing about history (non-fiction). And with a fascinating character as Eleanor of Aquitaine, it is still better than usual. It's a well conceived and well executed work, with care evident even in the titles of chapters.

I'm not a historian, but I got the impression that this is a well researched work. Most of the time, when the author does not have precise information, she just states that - or, in fewer occasions, she ventures a guess, but says it is a guess.

She does not treat Eleanor's story apart from the people who lived in her times. She writes a bit about Eleanor's grandfather, her father, her first husband King Louis of France, most of her children, some of her grandchildren. And a lot about Henry II and Richard the Lion Heart. She even gives us brief biographical information about the main chroniclers of the time, whom she used as primary sources, and it's nice to know about them.

There are three good maps, and a number of genealogical tables (although I can't understand why, in this day and age, genealogical tables in books are apparently still facsimiles of originals written by hand, which affects their readability).

At the end of the book, you just hope that Alison Weir will write once more about the life of another major figure of the Middle Ages.

I would even dare to make a suggestion (in case she ever hears about this review): a book by her about the Dukes of Burgundy could be great!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good; thoroughly researched., 3 Feb. 2000
By A Customer
A good and thoroughly researched biography. The author, however, sometimes displays unease with the period and the lack of extant and reliable written sources. Both style and approach, unfortunately, lack some of the confidence with which the author has treated subsequent periods of medieval English history.
The result is a work which can be too general and pedantic in its treatment of the socio-ecomonic conditions of 12th Century Europe and often looses sight of its central subject. However, it does offer many insights into the complicated politics of the era and the forces which motivated Eleanor, achieving a synthesis of the overly simplistic pictures of Eleanor as either 'evil witch' or 'courtly icon'. A sober account of both the life and times of an unique, immensely important and successful player on the political stage of the known world.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read about a remarkable woman, 21 Oct. 2004
Alison Weir has the gift of combining historical expertise with real story-telling skill thereby bringing long-dead people to life in a way that few can match. Although there are relatively few contemporary sources for Eleanor's life, Ms Weir combines fact and knowledge of the era to flesh out the bones, so to speak. It's a fascinating story containing all the elements of a good blockbuster - love, power, family, intrigue, money, conflict - set in a world of chivalry, knightly adventures and medieval pageantry. Even better, it's all true!
Eleanor was married to two kings, mother of two kings and was a feudal lord of enormous tracts of land in her own right - in an age when women were seen as mere chattels to be disposed of as and when (and to whom) the men pleased, she is an inspiration and a one-off. Fab read, cool heroine, true story - and you don't have to be a history buff to enjoy it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you liked "The Lion in Winter" - this is for you!, 18 Feb. 2000
By A Customer
When Henry II was 51 he declared that he was the oldest man he knew! Eleanor, his wife, lived until 82 years of age, and when she was 78 she made a progress of 1000 miles around her provinces in France....all this in an age where there were no roads, carts with wooden wheels, no medicine, no communications, and every important lord went about laying towns to waste and cutting off people's bits for their crimes. The youth of today would end up as living stumps if the same methods of justice prevailed today. Eleanor must have been a brilliant woman to have dealt with not only a difficult age and social structure and WIN! She had 10 children and was married to the kings of France and England. Her genes lay in all the royal families of Europe. And.....WOW! Did she have motivation, guts and commitment! Read it... and watch "Lion in Winter" again.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent biography, 18 Aug. 2006
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
I didn't know very much about Eleanor apart from her being the mother of Richard I & John and so I really enjoyed this book. It's a good read if you're not familiar with this period as Weir takes the time to explain the cultural and political environment in which the story is taking place. I've studied medieval literature but not history and so this was an excellent 'filler' and interesting to see where myth and literature intersect with known or documented history.

Having said that, my gut feel is that the history is probably biased and clearly not objective. But I guess whether that's a problem or not depends on why you're reading the book: if it's for a 'historical' take then this probably isn't for you, or it should at least be supplemented with something more academic. If, like me, you're looking for an entertaining read that fills in some of the gaps in your knowledge, then I can fully recommend this.
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Eleanor Of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England
Eleanor Of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir (Paperback - 10 Jan. 2008)
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