The Book of Eleanor
The twelfth century was chock full of monumental historical figures: Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, Louis VII, Bernard of Clairvaux. In my mind, Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose life was story-book, is one of the most dynamic influences of that century.
Eleanor’s history is well known. Unhappily married to religious fanatic Louis VII of France, Eleanor is finally freed from her vows. Most biographers and novelists relate that Eleanor and King Henry had “eyes” for each other well before her marriage to Louis was annulled, and that their marriage was turbulent and passionate. Not so in Kaufman’s interpretation. Indeed, Eleanor is nothing more than a political pawn to Henry, who deprives her of marrying her one true love, Baron Rancon. In fact, in this story there is nothing attractive about Henry in the least.
Pamela Kaufman researched this novel for fifteen years, and the depth of her knowledge is evident. This book is written in Eleanor’s very immediate and personal voice, but one that I found a bit too modern and strident for Eleanor. Surely Eleanor was a rebel, but she was also a queen twice over, well trained in the niceties of royal behavior. Historical purists may find themselves questioning some of the facts presented here, including the Rancon-Eleanor connection. Nevertheless, once I focused on Eleanor as a woman, not as a queen, I found the book enjoyable and quick reading.