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THE POWER BEHIND THE THRONE...
on 7 March 2003
In this, her fifth book in the Plantagenet series, Jean Plaidy, renowned writer of historical fiction also known to her devoted fans as Victoria Holt, tackles the two most powerful women of the early thirteenth century, Isabella of Angouleme, the Dowager Queen of England, and Blanche, the Dowager Queen of France.
The heartbreakingly beautiful and sensual Isabella, a woman with little motherly instincts, had been married to King John of England, the most depraved, dissolute, and evil tyrant ever to rule over England, when she was just a child of twelve. John had been the youngest son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England. Unfortunately, he did not follow in the footsteps of his father in terms of his ability to govern his widespread kingdom. When John died a mysterious death, both Isabella and England were freed from his tyranny, and his and Isabella's eldest son, though a mere boy of nine at the time, became King Henry III of England. Isabella was now the Dowager Queen of England.
Meanwhile, across the English Channel in France, Blanche, the granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England, had married Louis VIII of France. Her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had handpicked her for that explicit purpose, as Eleanor had sensed in Blanche one such as she, a person with the wit and drive to be a strong queen. The marriage of Blanche and Louis had been a happy one, until an untimely death took Louis, who had been a well-meaning, though weak, king. Their handsome son, Louis, would become King Louis IX of France at the age of twelve. The beautiful Blanche, a virtuous and regal woman, was now the Dowager Queen of France.
When Isabella and Blanche would meet, it was clear that neither woman had much love for the other. When King John of England died, Isabella remarried Count Hugh of Lusignan, the man to whom she had originally been betrothed a lifetime ago, before King John had abducted her and made her his child bride. The fact that Joanna, her daughter with John, was now betrothed to Hugh did not deter Isabella from her determination to marry her first love. So, in addition to being the Dowager Queen of England, Isabella became a Countess through her marriage to Hugh, who was a vassal of France.
This was an untenable situation for Isabella, who despised Blanche and refused to give her and her son the homage that they were due. Isabella ruled her husband Hugh through her ability to provide many amorous and sensuous delights, causing him to commit many grave errors in judgment that were to cause much disharmony in his life. Isabella was single-minded in her determination to cause Blanche as much trouble as possible. She plotted and intrigued against the French crown and no perfidy was too great, encouraging her son, Henry, to try to regain the lands that his father, King John, had recklessly lost to the French. Blanche, however, was not oblivious to Isabella's hatred of her and, being a clever woman, made the necessary moves to keep her in check. One day, however, Isabella went too far and attempted the ultimate act of treason. It was an act that was to cause the tempestuous Isabella of Angouleme to come to an ignominious end.
This is a well-written and interesting work of historical fiction, revolving around two women who wielded a great deal of influence in early thirteenth century England and France. Replete with historical detail, the author paints a living picture of the political intrigues of the day. Historical figures are made three dimensional, adding a vibrancy to this enjoyable book, which those who love historical fiction of this period should enjoy.