The Summer Queen

Written by Elizabeth Chadwick
Review by Richard Lee

Elizabeth Chadwick writing Eleanor of Aquitaine is an enticing prospect. In earlier Chadwick books, Eleanor has been the subject of vignettes. This is her chance to give one of the most remarkable lives of medieval royalty the definitive portrait of our generation, in a trilogy that will necessarily be chock-full of iconic events. No-one is better qualified for the task.

This opening novel takes a very young Eleanor and demonstrates how unglamorous glamour can be. Initially cosseted, events push her to an enforced marriage as child-bride to a complete stranger – which also, of course, makes her Queen of France, and one of the most feted heiresses in medieval Europe. The story unfolds in marital difficulty, scandal, court intrigue, crusade, and finally a dynastic shift – leaving us poised for a new beginning in the next book.

For me the stand-out episodes surrounded Petronella’s wayward and damaging romance, the emotional and political breakdown in the Holy Land, and Henry Plantagenet’s energetic arrival in the tale. Equally well written, but less enjoyable, were the scenes of Louis’ psychological breakdown, and Eleanor’s increasing sense of entrapment.

Chadwick’s writing is at its very best, both sensitive and nuanced, and I very much look forward to the next – for me more exciting – episode in Eleanor’s life.