The legend of Eleanor of Aquitaine has spread far and wide, elaborated throughout history by fiction, myth and troubadour’s songs of courtly love. Weir brings all her talents to bear on this comprehensive novel, including a biographer’s intimate knowledge of the period that lends a particular authenticity to Captive Queen.
From Eleanor’s less-than-fulfilling marriage to Louis VII of France, her bawdy reputation in a stodgy court, from her behind-the-scenes machinations with Henry FitzEmpress (Henry II) to achieve a Church-approved divorce and a planned marriage to Henry to the turbulent years of their marriage and all it entails, it is impossible to view Eleanor in any light but extraordinary. As bold and brilliant as any man, Eleanor suffers from the popular notion that women are inferior beings and not meant to rule, forced to enter matrimony to enjoy any real power.
Certainly marriage to Henry facilitates one of the great powerful unions in Christendom, with Henry’s future aspirations to be crowned king of England, controlling Anjou, Normandy, Brittany, and Eleanor’s beloved Aquitaine. Their attraction is magnetic, yielding eleven children including sons Henry, Geoffrey, Richard the Lionhearted and John Lackland, as well as daughters for advantageous political marriages. That the boys will challenge their father is inevitable, given Henry’s penchant for playing his children like chess pieces, unwilling to relinquish his power.
As passionate love turns to bitterness and finally hate, the family drama plays out on a grand scale, every nuance and betrayal captured in a riveting tale where Eleanor’s hopes are dashed by Henry’s ambitions and Angevin rages. While Eleanor is no innocent, Weir portrays this complicated woman in a more favorable light than her arrogant husband, who brooks no hindrances to his excessive appetites and becomes more in thrall to his chancellor, Thomas Becket, than his wife. This bizarre triangle ends badly when Henry utters the fateful words, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
From the first days of wild romance to imprisonment at Henry’s hands for treason on behalf of her sons, this is no simple marriage but a union bred of instinct and ambition, long years of contentment followed by acrimony as Henry spars with a woman who is his intellectual equal, if not as brutal or self-serving. Weir masterfully defines the legend from the first bloom of love to its tragic end, Eleanor never quite able to extinguish her passion for one of the most notable English kings, captive indeed in body and heart.