Friday, December 16, 2011

CAPTIVE QUEEN A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir HISTORICAL FICTION REVIEW

Published 2010, Doubleday Canada (a division of Random House), ISBN 978-0-385-66708-1, 473 pages

Captive Queen, a Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the third historical fiction novel written by acclaimed biographer, Alison Weir. Her recent historical fiction novels include The Lady Elizabeth (Elizabeth 1) and Innocent Traitor (Jane Grey).

Having read her two previous historical fiction novels, I expected the same excellence in her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine, indisputably one of the most fascinating women of the 12th century. Unfortunately, the first approximately 250 pages disappoint.

Captive Queen begins when Eleanor at 28 years old meets 19 year-old Henry FitzEmpress, the future King Henry II of England, at the Court of Louis VII of France, Eleanor's spouse. Louis is pious to the extreme; in fact, so pious the possibility of begetting a son by Eleanor, who has already birthed two girls, is remote.

An annulment of Eleanor and Louis' marriage is quickly arranged and, almost just as hastily, Eleanor and Henry are married. Thus begins about 200 pages of the sexual escapades of Eleanor and Henry, who are madly in lust. I found the first half of this novel more concerned with their bed romps than any substantive historical occurrences.

Thomas Becket figures prominently in this novel and is viewed by Eleanor as an adversary. His martyrdom profoundly affects Henry but, by this time, a distance has grown between the spouses that precludes Eleanor providing comfort.

Eleanor hears rumors of Henry's infidelities, which he considers the normal activities of a healthy male and she believes the ultimate betrayal, and struggles to accept the fact that Henry, indeed, has been unfaithful.

It is not until Henry falls madly in love with “Rosamund the Fair” and Eleanor accepts their marriage is over in all but legality, does Alison Weir start to focus on the political aspects and machinations of Eleanor and her sons to gain the power their father continually denied them, whilst Henry is forced to fight against his rebellious sons as well as maintain control of his far-flung domains.

From this point on, Captive Queen fulfilled the expectations I had of Alison Weir. This is an author who has researched and written extensively about various historical royal figures, including a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor's fierce determination to ensure her sons receive their inheritances leads to Henry incarcerating her for 15 years. Her imprisonment only ends when Henry dies and her son, Richard the Lionheart, comes to the throne.

The underlying theme of Captive Queen is an intelligent, ambitious woman who finds herself no less trapped by her marriage to Henry than to Louis VII. She might have possessed the physical love Louis VII was incapable of for a period of time, but, in essence, she is as powerless and at the mercy of Henry as she ever was with Louis. It is the truth of the times. Women were subjugated by men, even the fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine, who experienced a far less restrictive life until her incarceration than any other woman of the era.

Historical fiction novels I recommend about Eleanor of Aquitaine are Duchess of Aquitaine by Margaret Ball (exceptional) and Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ And His Saints Slept (this book completely hooked me on this author - highly recommended), Time and Chance, Devil's Brood and cameos in Here Be Dragons and Lionheart.

I would prefer to allocate Captive, Queen, A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a 3 star rating for the first 200 pages and a 4 star rating for the remainder of the novel. But, seeing as novels are rated as a whole, I have given it:

Rating: ***1/2 Stars (Above Average)

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