Eleanor of Aquitaine is a 12th century icon who has fascinated readers for 800 years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive.
This stunning novel introduces an Eleanor that all other writers have missed. Based on the most up-to-date research, it is the first novel to show Eleanor beginning her married life at 13. Barely out of childhood, this gives an entirely new slant to how Eleanor is treated bv those around her. She was often the victim and her first marriage was horribly abusive.
Overflowing with scandal, passion, triumph and tragedy, Eleanor’s legendary story begins when her beloved father dies in the summer of 1137, and she is made to marry the young prince Louis of France. A week after the marriage she becomes a queen and her life will change beyond recognition . . .
For me this was one of the most anticipated books of 2013. After having seen the play The Lion in Winter in London in January 2012 I became very interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine. Last year I also read Alison Weir’s non-fiction work on Eleanor, which awakened this interest even further, because for a woman of her time she lead a truly remarkable life. I only wanted to read more about her, which is why I was so excited when I found out that Elizabeth Chadwick hadn’t written just one book about her, but a trilogy dedicated to the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I’d never read anything by Elizabeth Chadwick before, so that was a first, and it was also my first fictional novel about Eleanor.
The book outlived all my expectations. At times I had to slow myself down while reading it because I didn’t want it to be over too quickly. I was savouring each and every page of the book and I just loved it from beginning to end. The story starts when Eleanor, called Alienor in the book because that’s what she would have been called, is 13 years old, just before she marries Louis of France and subsequently becomes Queen. Most of this book deals with her trials and tribulations as the wife of King Louis, and her crusade to the Holy Land. She faces a lot of difficulties in her first marriage, which isn’t a happy one: Alienor and Louis are unable to get a male heir and Louis much prefers to devote his time to his faith rather than rule his country properly. Their crusade to the Holy Land turns out to be a disaster, and not long after they return they finally get papal dispensation to get their marriage annulled.
Alienor is now a free woman and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, or so she thinks. Even before her marriage is officially annulled there are already multiple suitors for her hand, and there’s even an attempt to kidnap her and force her to marry. Alienor realises she can’t remain unmarried, and eventually marries Henry of Anjou, heir to the English throne.
The book ends during the early days of Alienor’s second marriage, and her story will continue in the sequels The Winter Crown and The Autumn Throne.
I really love the way how Alienor is portrayed in this novel. At the beginning she’s rather naïve, which is natural for a girl of only 13, but very soon after her marriage you can see how she’s beginning to change. She grows up very quickly, and she’s very strong-willed and opinionated. A lot of people have called her a woman “ahead of her time”, though Chadwick disagrees with this and calls her “a woman of her time” which I’m inclined to agree with. You can tell that Alienor was a strong, independent woman, and had she lived at a later date she would have been amazing. But as it stands she lived in the 12th century and, as much as it probably frustrated her, she was only a woman and therefore very restricted in what she could and couldn’t do.
The book often shows these moments of frustration when Alienor feels that she should be allowed to rule instead of her husband because he’s a very incompetent ruler, and also when she realises that she has to remarry because as long as she remains unmarried her life is in danger.
The Summer Queen really sucked me right in from the start, and refused to let me go until I had finished the last page. I can safely say that it’s one of my favourite reads of the year, and I may even go as far as to call it one of the best historical fiction novels I’ve ever read.
(And can I have the next book now please?)