I was first introduced to the historical writing of Alison Weir in 2000. Browsing the history section of a small bookstore I was drawn to the cover of Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life.
I had never heard of Eleanor of Aquitaine because women are always ignored in history but I liked the cover. I liked the idea of reading about a woman in history that was so influential and had a large enough history that someone could write a book about her.
Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life
Eleanor was born sometime around 1122 and would become the Queen of France through her first marriage and the Queen of England through her second marriage.
Alison Weir is able to construct an amazing biography and detailed timeline of her life which is quite a feat considering that women were not that well documented in medieval Europe.
But Eleanor was extraordinary. She wasn’t just Queen of France or Queen of England. She was an involved monarch. She supported her husbands in their quests and was even entrusted as regent, not a common occurrence.
Something that I appreciate about Weir’s writing is that she makes the history relatable. Many historians, although they do not like popular history writing, are not capable of making people want to read the minute details. Weir is able to humanize the history of 12th century France and England and to help you understand the motivations of all people involved.
A history of a woman from so long ago could be devoid of interesting details that make you want to learn about her and care about her. But Weir seems to have an understanding of Eleanor – something other historians aren’t able to convey.
The Captive Queen
After I finished reading this book, I continued to the author Q&A in the back of the book. I was drawn to a story Alison Weir told about visiting Eleanor’s grave at Fontevrant Abbey. She describes a vision of Eleanor telling her to tell her story.
That admission has always stayed with me because I too feel very connected to the history that I study and write about.
Weir makes you care about this obscure medieval queen in the non-fiction book but in the fictionalized version, Weir is able to fill in the blanks. She is able to convey what Eleanor may have felt or why she did things that she did and we go on the emotional journey with Eleanor.
The fantastic life of this interesting woman is on full display in the Captive Queen and the title takes on a double meaning. She may have led the most interesting and privileged life, but she also lived in an era that forced her to submit her freedom and riches to the men surrounding her. That pain and irritation comes through to illustrate a multidimensional woman that may not have always chosen the best way or the smart way, but she always strove to control her life and destiny. That lesson is a great one for women of today.
Both books are well written and carry Weir’s unique feminist voice. I implore you to read both the non-fiction and fictionalized version of this woman’s life. Her journey is similar to the journey of many women in history and the lessons that can be gained from both books are invaluable.
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