Even as a self-proclaimed Anglophile, and British history major in college, I must admit that I did not know much about Eleanor of Aquitaine. I am very glad to have stumbled upon this completed three-part series by Elizabeth Chadwick. Chadwick is a new author to me, but I enjoyed her style of writing and great attention to historical detail. Historical fiction cannot be easy to write but is so wonderful to read when an author gets it right.
The books begins when Aelinor (the actual spelling of Eleanor’s name during the 12th Century) became the Duchess of Aquitaine when she was 13 years old due to the untimely death of her father. Aquitaine was a powerful duchy that was sworn to the French King, but the territory had vast resources that almost rivaled the crown. When Aelinor became Duchess, she was immediately married to the new French King, Louis VII of France. Aelinor is taken out of her homeland in southern France and begins a new life in Paris with her husband, the King. Their marriage starts off well enough, but Louis’s religious fervor and their inability to have a son leads the union to sour quickly.
History tells us that Aelinor and Louis eventually had their marriage annulled, and Aelinor quickly marries Henry, Duke of Normandy, who will become Henry II of England. I won’t go into the details of the book further, as it is a delicious read.
Chadwick’s version of Aelinor is a strong and powerful woman. In the 12th Century a woman could hold power, but still needed to rule at the side of a man. Aelinor resented this fact but knew how to manipulate men and still exercise her power. During her marriage to King Louis of France, she was often criticized for focusing too much on her outward appearance and other frivolities in life. Several passages stuck out to me on this topic:
“She would dress as she chose, because clothes and appearance were part of a woman’s armor in this world whether Bernard of Clairvaux approved or not. The soul was no better or worse for what its fleshly vessel wore.”
“She had become an expert at wearing masks, so much so that sometimes it was difficult to find her true self beneath the layers: the laughing child in Poitiers, her future a golden, untrodden road, glittering with possibilities. “Well,” she said to Marchisa, and her smile hardened like glass. “To battle.”
In the 21st century, I have often thought of my clothing and make-up as a sort of armor. I take great pride in looking my best, and wearing a good outfit with a full face of beautiful make up makes me feel ready and confident to tackle the day ahead. I have a very demanding job, so feeling and looking my best is an easy way to boost my confidence when I am in a tough spot at work. Some people think dressing well and enjoying make up or hair care is a frivolous indulgence. However, it brings me great joy and confidence, and I share this characteristic with Chadwick’s Aelinor of Aquitaine.
“The Summer Queen” was a thoroughly enjoyable book. Anyone with an appreciation for strong willed women, French or English history, and a very chase and proper love triangle (but don’t worry, there is lots of sex!) will enjoy this novel. As I mentioned, The Summer Queen is the first book in a three part series, and I have added book 2 to my hold list at the library so I can continue Aelinor’s journey.
Feel free to check out some previous book reviews and random travel posts at Barely Mediocre.