The Duchess of Aquitaine

Written by Margaret Ball
Review by Ilysa Magnus


Ah! A novel about Eleanor that covers her days before Henry II!

The historical facts surrounding Eleanor’s life with Henry II are well known. Ball’s novel, though, takes us to a time in Eleanor’s life when she is creating herself – out of grief, out of fear, out of sheer desperation. She is 15 when her father, the Duke of Aquitaine, dies suddenly. Upon the Duke’s death, Eleanor becomes one of the most coveted prizes in Christendom, the beautiful heiress to the richest province in France, and the likeliest victim of a marriage by kidnap.

How Eleanor avoids that eventuality and decides her own fate is a joy to behold in Ball’s talented hands. Eleanor hatches a plan to wed King Louis, not realizing that she is marrying a man who should have been a monk, and spends years both miserable and lonely. Yet despite that unhappiness, Eleanor becomes wise counsel to her husband, and is considered a threat by many around him because she is smart and knows her politics.

Anyone who knows me knows that I will read anything about Eleanor. For the most part, I am bored or angered or simply put off by most renditions of Eleanor’s life. I’m glad that the years I’ve been waiting for the publication of Ball’s book have been well worth the wait. Her characters are beautifully drawn, especially those of Eleanor and Louis. The plot moves along swiftly and deftly. Eleanor’s experiences on crusade with Louis are appealing, exciting and just plain marvelous. In less than 400 pages, Ball manages to personalize Eleanor so entirely to us that we forget that we’re reading about one of the greatest women in history.

Obviously, I loved this book and was sad when it ended… with Eleanor’s marriage to Henry!