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Eleanor of Aquitaine was a legend in her own very long lifetime and has enlivened many a legend since. She inherited a vast duchy at fifteen, married two kings and survived them to go down between battles at eighty-two. She was, as well, the reigning Queen of the first court of troubadours, a renowned beauty, a hapless prisoner, and an energetic and conspiring grandmother. Somewhere behind her reputation lurks a real woman, but Marion Meade, who sets herself the task, can't seem to find her. After apologizing for the slightness of known detail--and surely this is true with most medieval biography--Meade tells the story straightforwardly enough, and she is deft with the delicate power politics of the time. But the woman Eleanor comes out all fits and starts: bored with a crusade, she gets a divorce; offended by a husband's love affair, she sets up her own court; quarrels with hubby, starts a civil war. The woman of charm and wit and craft attested to by history does not appear. Meade has added many unusual details to the story Amy Kelly told so well in Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, but she has not woven her strands together as Kelly did to bring the 12th century to life. Instead we have dubious historian's tricks to fill up the blind spots (many a ""possibly,"" ""she must have thought,"" and even ""Little did Eleanor know""), references to ""enlightened consciousness,"" and attempts at psychology--such as Henry Plantagenet's supposed craving for a strong, older woman, Eleanor, because his mother, the Empress Matilda, was one. Eleanor's legend has simply been updated again.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1977
ISBN: 0140153381
Publisher: Hawthorn Books