Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Eleanor of Aquitaine" by Alison Weir

If one were to peruse my bookshelves - 

Okay, no, not speaking in the second person, it's annoying.

If you looked at my bookshelves, you'd see a whole lot of biographies.  About women.  Who attained great heights of power.  Most of them wore big poofy dresses.

I have kind of an addiction to biographies about female royalty, or the mistresses of monarchs.  And so, because it was one of the few biographies at Barnes and Nobles which I had not read, I bought "Eleanor of Aquitaine."  I was vaguely familiar with her from world history in high school and from watching "The Lion in Winter," also in high school (Katherine Hepburn did a stellar job), but I really didn't know much about her.  Until just recently, that is.

Although the book was enlightening, there wasn't actually that much information about Eleanor herself.  It was more a biography of Henry II and Richard the Lionheart by way of Eleanor of Aquitaine.  That said, it was still an impressive read, and much enjoyed.

Eleanor was definitely what my dad would call a "go getter:" unhappy in her marriage to the French king, she had it annulled on grounds of consanguinity (in other words: kissing cousins) and married herself to Henry II, who was by all accounts much better looking and a more manly and effective ruler than his French counterpart.  She also happened to be related to him by the same degree that she was related to her French ex, but that was beside the point: the woman was determined to get what she wanted.  

SHE HELPED HER SONS DECLARE WAR ON HER HUSBAND.  That takes some guts, you've gotta admit.

I'm not 100% sure of why I enjoy reading biographies of powerful women so much.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that they used the only thing they were valued for (their looks, essentially) to attain and keep political power in a male dominated world.  They fascinate me, though, and Eleanor of Aquitaine was no exception.  If you're into the whole female domination thing...

One of the things I appreciate about Ms. Weir's writing (I have read multiple books, but I get her confused with Antonia Fraser, so I won't name the others) is that they are so well researched and documented.  No fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants biographer is she.  I've fallen victim to many biographies in which the authoress (typically, sadly enough) fails to include a comprehensive list of works cited, let alone add in footnotes or endnotes.  It's refreshing to know that a work of nonfiction has been properly researched.  And Ms. Weir's style of writing is definitely engaging.

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