BLANCHE OF CASTILE by Regine Pernoud


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Whereas Pernoud seems to have dealt handily with the dramatic upheavals in the lives of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1973) and Heloise and Abelard (1969) -- combining dragnet research with a certain verve -- this portrait of Blanche of Castile, granddaughter of Eleanor, wife of Louis VIII, mother of Louis IX, Regent and co-Regent at intervals, is somewhat dim. The problem here is, apparently, that Blanche's chief contribution to chaotic 13th century Europe was her strong and intelligent diplomacy and power manipulation -- essentially a matter for firm political scholarship which would point to drifts and trends underlying and directing the events. However, Pernoud seems set on producing the real Blanche, from unweighed contemporary sources (minstrel ballads and chronicles mostly), miscellany concerning dress and expenditures, and sheer speculations concerning extra-political motivations. There are tales testifying to the Queen's goodness of heart, her largesse, her devotion to husband and family, and her early beauty and later piety. One cannot fault these conclusions -- although medieval language (used to whatever purpose) has been taken out of the context of a time when written words were often strictly ceremonial, or merely decorative. Pernoud yields occasionally to an unwise tendency to embroider the thin portrait: ""As they stood side by side on their coronation day Blanche well knew that her husband's heart was hers alone. . . ."" Uh huh. A misty Blanche still, and too much of a tangle of events for most.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1975
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan