Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England

By Bisson, Thomas N. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England


Bisson, Thomas N., The Catholic Historical Review


Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England. By Ralph V Turner. (New Haven:Yale University Press. 2009. Pp. xviii, 395. $35.00 ISBN 978-0-300-1 191 1-4.)

One of the most famous women of the Middle Ages, Eleanor of Aquitaine has no shortage of biographers. Their works fill American libraries, which hardly keep up with those multiplying in French. Ralph Turner knows what they say, especially with respect to "mythology" and what he calls the "black legend" (cover text) of a frivolous and licentious queen. But his real interest lies in the sources of knowledge, in stripping away such legends in quest of a more accurate Eleanor.

His results command respect. From a lifetime's research on Plantagenet ways and means, Turner has a sure hand in the evidence. His Eleanor is persuasive in three ways. She is the grand protagonist of a historic Poitevin civilization, ever insistent on its claims and her own inheritance. Second, she was, whenever possible, a working queen. Gaining experience alongside King Louis Vu in the 1 140s, she pressed King Henry ? for the responsibility he soon learned to distrust or withhold. Repeatedly, his queen regained (as well as lost) her initiatives, to the extent of achieving virtual regencies after Henry's death in 1 189. Third, and most successfully, Turner brings out the implications of Eleanor's astonishing stamina and longevity. Her support for Richard and John not only helped them through dangerous crises of power and succession but also exemplified her humanely maternal instincts (and energy) and her wisdom in old age. The "black legend" wholly misses the point, Turner justly concludes.

The strength of this book owes much to its author's conception of Eleanor's place in successive societies of power. Whether it is her paternal Aquitaine, her bridal France, or her long and troubled Angevin attachments, her life is set forth in its social contexts. The book is quite as much a history of courtly power as of personality; an alternative history- and a good oneof Henry ? …

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