To Be Queen

Written by Christy English
Review by Kathryn Johnson

Few women in the High Middle Ages have proven as complex, powerful, and enigmatic as Eleanor of Aquitaine. Through sheer will, she carved out a place for herself in history that remains unmatched. During the 80 years of her life, she was queen first of France, then of England (a feat never repeated by another), as well as Duchess of Aquitaine. She was a patroness of the arts, participated in the Second Crusade, served as regent for her son Richard the Lionheart and saw her younger son John take over the throne of England after his brother’s death. But it is Eleanor’s early years that author Christy English focuses on in her new novel, To Be Queen.

Young Eleanor isn’t easy to like, but English draws the reader into her world. The queen leaves her daughters behind as part of the bargain to gain her freedom from her first husband, King Louis VII. The author does a laudable job of weaving together research with Eleanor’s imagined motivation and actions. Vivid historical details enhance the young queen’s first-person narrative, but the writing style is often spare, almost journalistic. We’re more often aware of Eleanor’s stated political and private goals than of her deep emotional character. Her shift in loyalty from one husband to the next is less dependent upon romance, as hinted at in the cover blurb, than upon calculation to ensure her future power and retention of her beloved Aquitaine. But after all, isn’t this far more believable, given the times? Love was rarely an issue when arranging royal marriages until recently.

Read and enjoy this novel for its gem-like glimpses into the cold realities of royal life and its luscious historical flavor, not for the love story implied by the cover blurb.