Something a bit different from The Year of the Flood and other novels I’ll admit I’ve been struggling with recently is The Captive Queen by Alison Weir. Weir started out writing histories and her focus has largely been on the Tudors. However, her inspiration for this novel comes from her biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
It’s an enjoyable and obviously thoroughly-researched novel that opens up the lives of Eleanor, her husbands (Louis VII of France and Henry II), and her sons including Richard the Lionheart and King John.
This is a family at war and a marriage which starts out happy is thwarted by betrayal, ambition and the confines of gender. Eleanor, a grand duchess in her own right, enables the future Henry II to dominate an empire stretching from Scotland to the Pyrenees. Henry, and subsequently Richard (very differently portrayed to English legend) try to dominate Eleanor’s Aquitaine. She gets glimpses of power, but never gets to exercise the real partnership which she really wants. That drives a family and two countries to war.
Eleanor’s fate is a sadly familiar theme within many of the novels with a royal theme that I’ve read – including Joana “the Mad’s” portayal in The Lost Queen. History has been traditionally written and shaped by men, but it’s fascinating to read the new insights offered by authors like Philippa Gregory, Weir and others, who are bringing new light to bear on war, dynasty and power.