Tag Archives: Eleanor of Aquitaine

SONG AT DAWN by Jean Gill

Set in 1150, during the height of the troubadour era, this novel is about a young girl who calls herself Estela de Matin, who finds herself thrust into the service of the charismatic Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204), who at the time of this novel, was Queen of France. (She became Queen of England two years later with her marriage to Henry of Anjou aka Henry II of England.)


The best part about this novel is the beginning. Immediately, we are thrust into a mystery. What is a nicely brought-up girl like Estela doing in a ditch? Why is she dressed in servant’s clothes? How did she acquire her dog? What is her real name? And what is she doing with a valuable musical instrument?


This last question is answered almost immediately, as Estela opens her mouth and sings beautifully, accompanying herself on the instrument. In this way, she succeeds in avoiding punishment (having her hand cut off for stealing), and founds a welcome of sorts in Queen Eleanor’s court.


The reason for why she is lying in a ditch is not given until the end of the novel, and I have to say that I found the ending weak. Ms. Gill gave us a truly wonderful beginning to her novel. It is a pity that the end fizzled away. Four stars.

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Christy English’s THE QUEEN’S PAWN

This is the most unusual historical novel I have ever read. The story of the rivalry between Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen to Louis VII of France and Henry II of England, and her daughter-in-law Princess Alais of France, daughter to the same Louis whom Eleanor discarded by another wife.

The problem with writing novels about real people is the tangled family trees and tangled politics that one has to deal with. But Christy English, in her debut novel THE QUEEN’S PAWN has hit upon a novel solution. It is to slow the action down to a crawl by giving the reader a blow-by-blow account of every facial gesture, bodily reaction and thought in a series of tells.

If you’ve been reading my book reviews over the years, you know I am not a fan of tells. Too often they are intrusive and annoying, because they are – in effect – TELLING the reader what to think! And readers do not like that.

However, it is NOT possible to write a novel without having some tells sprinkled in. It is too clunky and laborious to convey everything merely by describing expression or bodily reaction without giving the reader some clue as to what is going on in the character’s mind. One way around this is to use interior monologue. And Ms. English does use some of that. But what struck me was how often she told the reader what to think. Here is an example of what I mean, two passages taken from the same page. The tells are in BLOCK CAPS.


“Richard bowed to us, and we curtsied. “I hope to see you again,” he said to me, LOWERING HIS VOICE SLIGHTLY, AS IF TO GIVE US PRIVACY THAT WE NO LONGER HAD.”

“Richard smiled, HIS FACE SOFTENING STILL FURTHER AT THE SIGHT OF THE BOY. He touched the crown of the boy’s head and the page rose to his feet.
“My lord prince, the queen calls for you to go on a hunt.”


There are three things that are odd about Ms. English’s writing style:

  1. The slowness of the pacing. It rarely gets much faster than this.
  2. The number of tells.
  3. The fact that these tells are almost always NOT annoying. Sometimes they are. But considering that the novel is literally stuffed with these observations that tell you what to think, it is surprising how unobtrusive they are.

So how does she do it? By not wasting words. What I mean by that is that everything she writes has a point to it, and the point is the emotional river that her characters inhabit. Where most people go wrong is in writing things that are not deeply connected to their character’s emotions. Ms. English does not make that mistake. Like Jane Austen, she has found a way to make tells both fresh and compelling. Five stars.

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This is the first one of Ariana Franklin’s MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH series that I’ve read, and I must say I enjoyed it even though there was one horrendous incident in the novel, in which the screams of the victim were hauntingly portrayed. (The nastiness and brutishness of the Middle Ages was well-portrayed and believable.) I agreed with other readers, however, that the author should NOT have dismissed Eleanor of Aquitaine as someone who was not her husband’s intellectual equal. I can imagine Henry saying that about her, but I didn’t think that Franklin should let her authorial opinions intrude at this point. Especially as she is probably wrong.

The book was enjoyable until the end. What a lazy way to end a novel! It was extremely annoying because it was so obviously a marketing pitch for the next one. Apart from the cheap ending, I enjoyed the novel. Four stars for an entertaining novel, 1 star for the lazy ending making this 3 stars.

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Interesting Tidbits about Eleanor of Aquitaine

When I started writing THWARTED QUEEN, I knew that I was writing about a remarkable woman. Cecylee Neville (1415-1495) was the mother to two kings of England, and an ancestress to the present royal family. She survived the death of her husband and three sons, and saw her family split apart as her sons fought over the throne of England.

I wanted my readers to understand what made Cecylee so remarkable, and I decided I needed a heroine for her. Now, who would fit the bill? Another English Queen who was the mother of two kings of England, and survived many family tragedies? The answer, of course, is Eleanor of Aquitaine, as she is known today. (In her day, she was known as Alienor of Acquitaine).

So I was thrilled to discover one of my favorite authors – Sharon Kay Penman – writing about Queen Eleanor in her blog. In the following excerpt, she talks about a visit she made to the Louvre to see something that belonged to Eleanor:


Our major objective was to see the beautiful pear-shaped rock crystal vase that was given by Eleanor to Louis after their marriage in 1137….George Beech, author of “The Eleanor of Aquitaine Vase” in Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lord and Lady, my favorite book about our duchess, makes a convincing case that the vase was a gift from the Muslim king of the Spanish city of Saragossa to Eleanor’s grandfather, Duke William IX in 1120 and that it is of truly ancient origin, possibly crafted in Persia before the 7th century. There is an intimacy about this vase, perhaps because we know Eleanor held it, caressed it, and cherished it enough to give as a wedding gift, and the inscription by Abbot Suger brings us even closer to the “Queen of Aquitaine,” as he calls her, the “newly wed bride on their first voyage.” It is interesting, too, that Abbot Suger chose to name her as “Aanor,” for in her charters, she always called herself Alienor.


Here I must pause to digress. My understanding is that Alienor was so called, because her mother was called Aenor, and she was “the other Aenor”, which in Latin becomes Alienor, from the word alias.  Perhaps Abbot Suger called her Aenor  because her mother was already dead, and there was no need for the alias part of the name. Sharon Kay Penman continues:


It was believed until recently that Eleanor was 15 at the time of her marriage to Louis, but now, thanks to the research of Andrew W. Lewis, we know she was actually born in 1124, and was therefore only 13 when she became Louis’s bride and, several months, later, Queen of France. A very young age for a girl to—in a matter of months—lose her father, gain a husband, and leave her beloved homeland of Aquitaine for a new life in Paris.


I am always keeping track of dates, it is something of an obsession with me. When I was a girl, I was told that Eleanor was born in 1122 and died in 1204. There is little dispute about her death, because by then she was so famous that it would have been well recorded. But her birth? Not so much. If she was born in 1122, she would have been about 15 when she wed Louis of France. Then a few years ago, I heard from another source that she’d been born in 1120, which would have made her thirteen years older than Henry of Anjou, her second husband. Believing this date to be correct, I write this “fact” into my novel. Now Sharon tells us that the latest research indicates she was born in 1124, making her only nine years older than Henry.

Such is the life of the historical novelist. We try so hard to get our facts correct, only to find that they still elude us.

If you would like to read more about Eleanor, Henry and her interesting family on Sharon’s blog, point your browser to:  http://sharonkaypenman.com/blog/

Image: The city of Poitiers, France where Eleanor may have been born, maybe in 1124.










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Eleanor of Aquitaine & Geoffrey Le Bel: An Affair?

I love Eleanor of Aquitaine (1120-1204). Who could not? She was such a vivid personality, a beautiful woman and someone who was not shy about breaking with convention. When I was writing THWARTED QUEEN about Cecylee Neville, Duchess of York (1415-1495), I decided to give Cecylee a heroine. Cecylee was a remarkable person in her own right who seems to have kept her husband Richard, Duke of York (1411-1460) wrapped firmly around her little finger. So what better heroine to give her than the spirited and beautiful Eleanor?


I was just reading a piece by Elizabeth Chadwick posted on her blog LIVING THE HISTORY, and it seems that there was gossip that Eleanor had an affair with her future father-in-law Geoffrey of Anjou. Or that is what some ill-intentioned gossips said. Pointing out that the press often gets things wrong, and that she herself was described as having written a movie, when she’d actually adapted it, Ms. Chadwick states that in her opinion, it was probably a flirtation, which may have been used as a decoy to set her husband, the King of France off on the wrong scent. You see, the person that Eleanor was really interested in was Geoffrey’s son Henry, who was thirteen years her junior. The much more famous Henry became not only Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, he also became Henry II of England. King Louis of France would have done anything to prevent their marriage.

Had he known of it.

Image is a photo I took of Eleanor resting peacefully next to her second husband Henry II, at Fontevraud L’Abbaye in France. An admirer has given her a pink rose.

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This is a site that promotes new work by historical novelists. It is run by four ladies: Allie who loves reading about controversial women from history, Arleigh, a former book store owner, avid reader, and owner of 500+ historical novels, Heather, a recent college grad who works in the criminal justice system and loves the novels of Phillippa Gregory, Robin Maxwell, Michelle Moran and Jean Plaidy, and lastly, Lizzy, an at-home mom who enjoys escaping into the pages of historical fiction.

At the beginning of April, the blog featured Christy English, who has must written a novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine titled TO BE QUEEN. This is a must-have link for those of us who want to know about new historical fiction coming off the presses (virtual and otherwise). You can find it by clicking here.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. FAMILY SPLINTERS is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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