One cannot help but be inspired and awed by Alienor (Eleanor) of Aquitane. In this telling of her story, Chadwick has given her the very human face of wife, of mother and of queen, filled with hope, dashed by the continual betrayal by Henry on all fronts.
Love betrayed turns to icy repudiation and fear. One cannot read this without feeling the heights of Alienor's passion and the depths of her helplessness at Henry's plays for power.
Henry is portrayed as a wilful man of intense passions, a conqueror's arrogance and little compassion. How to hold what he has conquered and take what he hasn't consumes him.
It is difficult to see where the blame might lay for Henry's sons' greed and ambition. Alienor gives us insight into their characters. What we might look at doubtfully she doesn't. As she intimates at one stage when as children Harry and Richard fight over a toy sword, these are princes born to rule and that the male line of the Angevins have the very Devil in them. Unfortunately that means constant sibling rivalry. Continually Henry seems to give to his sons with one hand and take with the other, thus stirring them to anger.
Alienor's reflections about some of the key decisions that Henry makes are level headed and astute. Henry's actions would indeed 'come home to roost.' Thomas A'Beckett being the prime example.When Alienor is forcibly imprisoned by Henry and treated so abysmally my heart went out to her. Factual or not, the very act of Henry forcing himself sexually upon Alienor epitomizes Henry's lust for power and revenge. Symbolically this was an act of war, an act of anger and an act of attempting to beat Alienor into submission. A very physical act of subverting what had been between them in the past--repudiating that tie.
Surrounded by enemies on all sides, excepting for the faithful Isabel and too few others, Alienor is indeed to be pitied. And yet even this incarceration in the end strengthens her resolve. An amazing woman.
The side story of Isabel is just as fascinating and again leaves the very real impression of noble women and their inheritances as bargaining points, as political rewards for Henry to dispose of as he will. Look to the marriages and alignments of his own daughters.
Chadwick's comments in the author's notes are as always revealing and helpful.
This is a gripping story of the very real drama played out at the personal level between Eleanor of Aquitane and Henry II. A superb companion to The Summer Queen.
A NetGalley ARC