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. In this beautifully written biography, Alison Weir paints a vibrant portrait of this truly exceptional woman, and provides new insights into her intimate world. Eleanor of Aquitaine lived a long life of many contrasts, of splendor and desolation, power and peril, and in this stunning narrative, Weir captures the woman— and the queen—in all her glory. With astonishing historic detail, mesmerizing pageantry, and irresistible accounts of royal scandal and intrigue, she recreates not only a remarkable personality but a magnificent past era.
As delicately textured as a 12th-century tapestry, royal biographer Weir's (The Life of Elizabeth I, etc.) newest book is exhilarating in its color, ambition and human warmth. The author exhibits a breathtaking grasp of the physical and cultural context of Queen Eleanor's life, presenting a fuller, more holistic appreciation of a dazzling world whose charms can easily be anesthetized by dull narrative. And from the start, her auburn-haired subject, a live wire in a restrictive society, muse of poets and crusaders, seduces the reader. Weir conveys a deep empathy for the relaxed south of France where Eleanor was raised, a natural home for the gospel of courtly love. She paints a Brueghelesque picture of England, where wolves roamed the forests and people made skates in winter out of animal bones. In approaching as complex a subject as feudalism, Weir wears her learning lightly and has a pleasant habit of anticipating all the questions of a curious reader. Her account parades a sequence of extraordinary characters: the saintly abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, who as an adolescent leapt into a freezing pond until his erection subsided; Eleanor's first husband, Louis VII of France, haunted by the screams of burning victims after his assault on a village in Champagne; her lover, Raymond of Poitiers, who could bend an iron bar with his bare hands; and her second husband, Henry II of England, her princely mirror in energy, intelligence and sexuality. Above all, there is the heroine, viewed clear-sightedly in all her intoxicating and imperious irresistibility. Illus. not seen by PW.