Eleanor’s Daughter: A Novel of Marie de Champagne

Written by June Hall McCash
Review by Misty Urban

McCash brings her scholarship to life with this vivid reimagining of the life of Marie, Countess of Champagne, a patroness of the arts and the first child of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Louis VII of France. The novel begins with Marie’s birth, the adventures of the Second Crusade, and the divorce that alienates Eleanor from her daughters; Marie feels her mother’s lack as she leaves home for school, then weds Henri, Count of Champagne. Eleanor continues to be the compass of Marie’s life as she becomes an artistic patron in her own right and encourages the courts of love and the cult of fin’amor in a sincere effort to civilize the young men of court. The intelligent Marie resents the attitudes toward women prevalent in her world, especially when her long tenure as regent of Champagne proves her capable, hospitable, and well-mannered—the epitome of medieval womanhood.

Readers will enjoy how faithfully McCash renders 12th-century France, portraying the intricate loyalties and feudal squabbles, the pervasive presence of the Catholic Church, and the useless brutality of the Crusades. Sources including charters, chronicles, medieval poetry, and material artifacts of the period—such as Marie’s personal seal, depicted on the cover—are woven into a story populated by several famous historical figures, including Bernard of Clairvaux, Philip of Flanders, and Eleanor’s second, fractious English family. If Marie’s inward life feels less fully rendered than her external one, it may be because her desires to be a dutiful daughter, wife, mother, and ruler seem conventional next to Eleanor’s exploits. McCash’s thoughtful interpretations of the historical record add poignancy, for instance her reason Chretien de Troyes never completed the Lancelot romance that Marie commissioned him to write. This intricate, detailed tapestry of a medieval noblewoman’s life will delight those who know the period well and those who want to.