At the time of Kelly's writing history was still, as it had been for centuries, the matter of a well-crafted narrative backed up by sound research. And a well-crafted narrative backed up by sound research is what Amy Kelly provides. And Kelly creates compelling narrative history - she pays actual attention to her narrative voice and literary style, she provides end notes instead of footnotes that interrupt the flow of reading, she attempts to keep her reader aesthetically as well as intellectually engaged. And perhaps my familiarity with newer histories led me to expect something an historian from 50 years ago could not possibly provide - what the actual woman's life would have looked like, day-in and day-out, how she must have understood her own role vis-à-vis Louis or Henry or her sons, the forces that crafted her own ambitions, which were considerable. I should not, I suppose, expect an historian of Kelly's era to fix her lens too firmly on Eleanor who, as a woman, would not have been considered overly important to the history of European nation-building, the primary focus of traditional history.
Eleanor, who began as a young Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou and who was the richest marriage prize in all of Europe, was known, among other accomplishments, for leading 400 women to Jerusalem on the Second Crusade as Queen of France during her marriage to Louis VII (Capet) and for bearing two kings, John "Lackland" (of Magna Carta fame) and the heroic and well-loved King Richard Coeur-de-Lion, her eldest and favorite son, while Queen of England during her marriage to Henry II (Plantagenet). Eleanor's political savvy and intellectual brilliance were not subservient to her artistic pursuits, however, as she demonstrated many times during her long life, both as a wise negotiator of treaties on her family lands in the beautiful, warm, fertile Loire river valley and including the entire southwest of France from Anjou to the Pyrenees and as Queen of the Angevin empire after the death of her husband Henry II.
I've been fascinated by Eleanor - Alianor, in her own time - for a long while now and despite it's age, this book added more to my knowledge of this amazing woman than I'd have guessed possible. I've read nearly every book available about Queen Eleanor, yet her story never ceases to amaze me.
I do know it's an exhaustively detailed account of the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine which spanned most of the tumultuous 12th century in what is now western France and England. She died in 1204 at the age of 82, having outlived eight of her ten children, the most famous of whom were Richard the Lion Hearted and King John of Magna Carta fame. The "four kings" were Louis VII of France (she was duchess of the vast Aquitaine area) whom she married when she was 15, a marriage designed to cement France Aquitaine, Henry II of England whom she hastily married after her marriage to Louis was annulled, her son, Richard who was to die at age 42, and finally, the other son, the erratic John. I thought the most interesting part of the book was the conflict between idealistic religious motives and practical financial and political matters.
While Eleanor is the central and longest lived character, the subject is the dynamic interplay of power, motives, and characters in twelfth-century Europe, which she experienced, influenced, and shaped. Their vengeful hatreds and power struggles - with each other and King Philip of France (her ex-husband's son)- tumble to a breathtaking climax after 387 pages.
Then two of her four sons ascended the throne: Richard I, King of England, and John, his successor.
The title makes it sound like this book is about Eleanor but in actuality it is more about the times than it is about Eleanor.
Amy Kelly wrote so dramatically about Eleanor and her life.