Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: To Be Queen: A Novel of the Early Life of Eleanor of Aquitain

To Be Queen: A Novel of the Early Life of Eleanor of AquitaineTo Be Queen: A Novel of the Early Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Christy English

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can you imagine my surprise when Christy English asked me if I would like to review her book? I was leaping up and down inside but had to rail myself in as I warned her she must expect a honest review...she expected nothing else. Now all I had to do is wait for the book to arrive!

Who would I meet? Would it be the lady depicted in "Becket" who was not beautiful in her brief appearance as a shrewish looking and acting woman surrounded by a passel of young children. Or it be the strong, Eleanor of "Lion in Winter" (but a younger version)?

As I read "To Be Queen", I saw Katherine Hepburn's Eleanor, the child and young woman of "Lion in Winter". She was smart, quick child who adored her instructor father who taught her more than reading and writing. He taught her statesmanship, as she would one day be the ruler of his vast estates. She was taught critical thinking as well as controlling her facial expressions.

Her father's home was one of "courtly love" with troubadours who sang songs in tribute to a woman's attributes as well as did most men. The court was lively with music, dancing, and innocent flirtations (well, ok, some were not so innocent). What better muse could there be but the duke's daughter, Eleanor (think of the young Elizabeth Taylor's startling beauty).

As Eleanor was to be his inheritor, it was important to father and child that a great marriage be arranged. What greater prize for the largest land holder than Louis of France (future King Louis VII)! Their goal will be obtained, but at what price?

Louis, unlike his queen, was not raised to rule. He was raised by very devout catholic churchmen to be the most devoted of the devout. They therefore were his most trusted advisers; necessitating Eleanor to practice all the lessons learned at her father's knee. Though he loves her, Louis's catholic guilt is most strong in the bedroom causing him to visit there infrequently.

If Aquitaine is brightness, freshness, joyous, and musical, Paris is its opposite! It is gloomy and smelly. Between the priests and the court, Eleanor must be on constant guard as they would all destroy her if they could. In many cases, it is more than dislike and disapproval, it is hate.

Yes, this was the Eleanor I wanted to meet! The woman of strength and passion who will leave her husband, the King of France, to marry the future King of England, Henry, a man who saw her as an equal in all things.

There is so much more to this story but I don't want to spoil it for you! It is well worth you time!