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Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography

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"Marion Meade has told the story of Eleanor, wild, devious, from a thoroughly historical but different point of view: a woman's point of view."—Allene Talmey, Vogue. "Marion Meade has told the story of Eleanor, wild, devious, from a thoroughly historical but different point of view: a woman's point of view."—Allene Talmey, Vogue.


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"Marion Meade has told the story of Eleanor, wild, devious, from a thoroughly historical but different point of view: a woman's point of view."—Allene Talmey, Vogue. "Marion Meade has told the story of Eleanor, wild, devious, from a thoroughly historical but different point of view: a woman's point of view."—Allene Talmey, Vogue.

30 review for Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Stockard Miller

    This was hands down one of the best biographies I have ever read. I have long admired Eleanor, the woman who was a queen twice, first in France, and the second being the queen to the formidable Henry II of England. Together they sired eight children, two of them becoming future kings of England in their own right. Boy, what she went through and achieved for her children is truly astounding. She was a formidable woman who knew to pick her battles. She most certainly made some mistakes along the w This was hands down one of the best biographies I have ever read. I have long admired Eleanor, the woman who was a queen twice, first in France, and the second being the queen to the formidable Henry II of England. Together they sired eight children, two of them becoming future kings of England in their own right. Boy, what she went through and achieved for her children is truly astounding. She was a formidable woman who knew to pick her battles. She most certainly made some mistakes along the way, but for the time period, when women were mostly kept in the background, Eleanor was always in the forefront. She lived to be 82 years old, quite a feat for the time as well. Before I read this book, my only reference for Eleanor was the famous film, "The Lion in Winter." Even then, I fell in love with the woman she was, and have always wanted to learn more about her. This book gave me that and much more. Not only a biography, but a detailed historical account of her life, and those of her husband, Henry II, and her sons. It definitely made me want to read more about the various figures during her lifetime.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    Average biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It does a good job of bringing together what evidence we have for Eleanor's life--her political involvements, her family disputes, her religious and cultural patronage--but it has to be admitted that what we have isn't much. Meade falls into the trap of saying that Eleanor 'must' have done such and such, or 'must' have felt something else, when she has no evidence beyond her own extrapolations and inferences. Decent introduction, but take it always with Average biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It does a good job of bringing together what evidence we have for Eleanor's life--her political involvements, her family disputes, her religious and cultural patronage--but it has to be admitted that what we have isn't much. Meade falls into the trap of saying that Eleanor 'must' have done such and such, or 'must' have felt something else, when she has no evidence beyond her own extrapolations and inferences. Decent introduction, but take it always with a grain of salt.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    Eleanor grew up in the Dukedom of Aquitaine at a time when most of France was ruled by England. In northern Europe, and England, women had little social standing. Aquitaine, in the south, named "land of waters" by the Romans, was a rich land, filled with orchards and vineyards; life was good for those in power. Leisure was preeminent and women were more highly respected. They could inherit property and many became wealthy landowners. Such was Eleanor's case. She had inherited Aquitaine, which ma Eleanor grew up in the Dukedom of Aquitaine at a time when most of France was ruled by England. In northern Europe, and England, women had little social standing. Aquitaine, in the south, named "land of waters" by the Romans, was a rich land, filled with orchards and vineyards; life was good for those in power. Leisure was preeminent and women were more highly respected. They could inherit property and many became wealthy landowners. Such was Eleanor's case. She had inherited Aquitaine, which made her a rich prize for any king. She was only fifteen when her father, the Duke, died, and King Louis the Fat (he was so enormous he was virtually unable to sit up) arranged a marriage between his second son, Louis, and the attractive Eleanor, now heir to the most prized lands in Europe. Louis was a retiring young man best suited, most thought, for the monastery. Eleanor wasted no time -- remember she was still an adolescent -- corrupting (in the mind of her mother-in-law) Louis to the more secular ways of the south. Their marriage was a catastrophe. He was ineffectual, indecisive, inadequate, generally most ofthe "in's" one can apply. Louis' Second Crusade was a disaster. The presence of Eleanor and her ladies with their enormous baggage train made travel difficult. The Pope's personal intervention, virtually dragging them to bed to force reconsumation of their marriage was the catalyst for the final dissolution, because the product of this pathetic reunion was a girl, and Louis' Capetians desperately needed a male to continue the line. Then Henry and the Plantagenets entered on the scene. Interestingly, Plantagenet was not a family name. It came from a nickname of Henry's father, Geoffrey of Anjou, who used to wear the yellow blossom of the broom plant, the planta genesta, in his hair. Eleanor was tired of Louis -- once she said it was like being married to a monk -- and when she met eighteen-year-old Henry, eleven years her junior and heir to Anjou and all of England, she fell head over heels in lust for him. Meade suspects that sexual attraction, richly spiced with political advantage, was a major justification for her divorce from Louis. Consanguinity was the publicly announced reason permitting annulment. She married Henry eight weeks later. It was a stinging slap at the Capetian, for he and Henry were bitter enemies. Henry Plantagenet became the most radical monarch in English history. During the next thirty-five years he revolutionized government, streamlining it and making it so efficient the government could function king-less if necessary. Eleanor played a major role in the reexamination of the role of women in the twelfth century. Even the Church abandoned its traditional view of women as an instrument of the devil, but women continued to oscillate between superiority and inferiority. Eleanor and her daughter by Louis, who lived with her as she approached her later forties and became estranged from Henry, made a conscious and deliberate effort to define the female role in a legal code of social conduct called Tractus de Amore et de Amoris & medies. It was loosely modeled after Ovid but is almost the opposite to his Art of Loving. Their tract proclaimed woman to be the" dominant figure, the man merely a pupil who must be carefully instructed until he becomes a fit partner for his lady. " Woman is supreme, a goddess to be approached by her man only with reverence. When Eleanor died at age 82, she had been a queen for sixty-six years. She produced several sons, including Richard Coeur-de-Lion, famous for his third crusade but notorious for his flaunted homosexuality (a problem because it meant he would produce no heir), and King John, whose meanness, recklessness and appalling judgment resulted in the Magna Carta. Perhaps because of his evil personality, he was the only English king ever named John. Eleanor was the glue that held the Plantagenets together, and after her death, her first husband's descendants made considerable inroads into Henry's Normandy and her beloved Aquitaine.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Eleanor of Aquitaine Marion Meade Read it in disintegrating mass market oversized paperback at 416 pages including tiny biblio and appendix. In a century almost exclusively dominated by men Eleanor stands apart and above her contemporaries. Over the course of her life she married two kings and mothered three (two of which actually sat on the Plantagenet throne.) She traveled with her husband to the distant lands of the near east as an active Crusader and came from a court that espoused the virtues Eleanor of Aquitaine Marion Meade Read it in disintegrating mass market oversized paperback at 416 pages including tiny biblio and appendix. In a century almost exclusively dominated by men Eleanor stands apart and above her contemporaries. Over the course of her life she married two kings and mothered three (two of which actually sat on the Plantagenet throne.) She traveled with her husband to the distant lands of the near east as an active Crusader and came from a court that espoused the virtues of troubadours and poetry. She was a glimmer of light in an otherwise very dark part of history. But despite all of this she created a lot of chaos, she pulled strings and worked actively against her first and second husband and in a way she facilitated the destruction of all she fostered. An interesting character for sure. The problem of course is that ancient sources for Eleanor are thin. Most of what we know about her movements, what charters she signed, and her overall communications is very limited and comes from her kingly attachments. Meade is simply forced to use a very reduced set of source material from the age, most of which details her husband's movements or the chroniclers that make short reference when she's in procession. This all translates to a widely speculative biography where Meade takes the liberty to hypothesize and expand on the unknown. I'm not always sure Meade is successful in that. She lets herself speculate on how Eleanor felt about this or that and we have no way of knowing and Meade often justifies her actions which were tantamount to tyranny. She is successful though in outlining this Queens amazing life in amazing times. Worth a read I suppose if the 12th century Europe is of interest to you. I also see that a lot of women seem to enjoy Eleanor or at least reading about her, no doubt because of her influence in a time dominated by males and their interactions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cwelshhans

    This book was thorough, but readable, and I enjoyed the unapologetically feminist approach. Meade did not hesitate to point out the number of things Eleanor did that were unique for a woman living when she did. The entire book moved along, and it would be a good start for anyone looking to learn about Eleanor of Acquitaine. It just doesn't quite live up to Alison Weir's masterpiece on the same subject. This book was thorough, but readable, and I enjoyed the unapologetically feminist approach. Meade did not hesitate to point out the number of things Eleanor did that were unique for a woman living when she did. The entire book moved along, and it would be a good start for anyone looking to learn about Eleanor of Acquitaine. It just doesn't quite live up to Alison Weir's masterpiece on the same subject.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy

    This was a hard read. I like reading historical/biographical fiction. But this one was hard. It definitely did not flow easily. But it was interesting, and kept me company between classes in college.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This book has been sitting in the attic for nearly a decade. As a student I tried to read it for my studies and gave up. While very readable, you are left wondering how much of it is true as Marion Meade continually over-stretches her sources and tells you how characters "must" have been feeling. Ultimately, the work feels like it could be fiction. While the author, writing in 1977, can perhaps not be expected to have overthrown the then-prevalant views of some topics where research has uncovered This book has been sitting in the attic for nearly a decade. As a student I tried to read it for my studies and gave up. While very readable, you are left wondering how much of it is true as Marion Meade continually over-stretches her sources and tells you how characters "must" have been feeling. Ultimately, the work feels like it could be fiction. While the author, writing in 1977, can perhaps not be expected to have overthrown the then-prevalant views of some topics where research has uncovered uncertainities and raised new questions - over the existence of courts of love, for instance, or against Richard the Lionheart's homosexuality - some errors and curious turns of phrase do creep into the text. To pick one small example, it would be hard to guess that Richard faced some (admittedly relatively minor) military resistance in support of his brother John, after his return from captivity. Eleanor and he 'made a relaxed progress to Nottingham' - no mention of his assault on the castle and subsequent council at which he ordered the punishment of many of John's adherents. Now that I am reading "Eleanor of Aquitaine" for pleasure, I am free to enjoy the book, but anyone using this for study would be advised to keep "Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady" a collection of essays edited by Bonnie Wheeler and John Carmi Parsons close at hand.

  8. 4 out of 5

    linda

    Bought this in a secondhand shop off of Rue de Severin in Paris and consumed it by the time I was back in London less than a week later. A really gorgeous, lively biography of a really gorgeous and lively woman, and it has one of the best lines about Eleanor of Aquitaine, about how she was the wife of two kings and the mother of Richard the Lionhearted, but whenever we think of her, we only ever think of her as Eleanor. Really, really wonderful.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lorina Stephens

    Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Marion Meade, is a well-written, highly informative and entertaining read about one of Europe’s most remarkable and influential women. Meade places Eleanor on the large as well as intimate and personal stages, allowing readers to understand what made Eleanor into the cultured, sometimes tempestuous, always intelligent woman who loved and lost two kings and empires. Highly recommended.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Abbie

    This is okay. My mom really wanted me to read this book. I enjoyed the historical references. It was a little long and sometimes boring but still a nice read. For historical buffs the book is great. For novel lovers, steer clear.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Looking at my worn copy from 30 years ago, I am reminded of how much I enjoyed this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    JoséMaría BlancoWhite

    Eleanor of Aquitaine was indeed a woman worth a biography, even with the scanty details about her life as we have, as a very interesting historical figure of Medieval times between France and England. We do have plenty of information about her life but not about her the woman. Marion Meade makes this up I'm afraid with a lot of personal wishful thinking: where there's not one single physical detail to grab on to, she makes her come to live by inferences from her relationships with other people a Eleanor of Aquitaine was indeed a woman worth a biography, even with the scanty details about her life as we have, as a very interesting historical figure of Medieval times between France and England. We do have plenty of information about her life but not about her the woman. Marion Meade makes this up I'm afraid with a lot of personal wishful thinking: where there's not one single physical detail to grab on to, she makes her come to live by inferences from her relationships with other people and by her own way of life. Where no witness can be called on to tell us how she felt, or what were the inclinations of her heart, Ms. Meade fills in the gap with her own stuff, which is not bad stuff if we speak in terms of fiction, even historical fiction. For she moves on swiftly through the myriad of happenings taking place family-wise and historical-wise strictly speaking. We attend the Crusades, we travel throughout most of modern France over and over, we witness battles, family feuds, coronations, the killing of Beckett, and much, much more. All of it interesting enough, and presented as in relation to Leonor's life. So historical facts abound. And it does not become entangled at all (it could easily have been). But I'd rather have made up the gaps myself. I think an honest historian needs to draw the line clearly between what we know and what we assume. Mixing fiction and history doesn't help credibility. Of course the creative facet of the author only operates on the deeply personal level; historical facts are not messed with. But nevertheless, when I am reading history I'd like the author to stick to the facts, and whatever incursions into fictional territory I'd like to be -at least- warned. Its a good read, though; a bit too long, but makes for a good history read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ina

    If your motivation to read this book is to read about the real Eleanor of Aquitaine you’ve got the wrong book. As I’ve come to understand this book is one of the first examples which called on the retelling of Eleanor’s story. But I guess this book is a bit dated now. Becoming a student of Eleanor’s life I realized reading this one was something I had to do though. The text has a good flow and as far as storytelling goes Meade does a great job. Her many assumptions written as truths bother me a If your motivation to read this book is to read about the real Eleanor of Aquitaine you’ve got the wrong book. As I’ve come to understand this book is one of the first examples which called on the retelling of Eleanor’s story. But I guess this book is a bit dated now. Becoming a student of Eleanor’s life I realized reading this one was something I had to do though. The text has a good flow and as far as storytelling goes Meade does a great job. Her many assumptions written as truths bother me a lot though (how can she know exactly what Eleanor and others of her time thought when we have no reliable source for it?). And she exaggerates sometimes to a degree which makes me cringe. The first problem though is that I don’t trust the actual information she gives, and neither should you. Much of this is dated and simply not true. Two examples: The Rosamund Clifford storyline is there (sigh) and she writes of the courts of love as they were a historical fact (which we know they were not). I guess this is yet another book on the legendary Eleanor, the romanized version, with small appearances here and there from the real woman. In other words, if you’re looking for a good book on the actual Eleanor of Aquitaine go read books written by scholars in the subject published after 2010 (I recommend the part on her in Castor’s “She-Wolves”). With new information and fresh perspectives Eleanor’s story is being rewritten at the moment and therefore books have become outdated fast. This is one of them. This book is more of a testament to the made up “courts of love queen”. If that’s of interests to you I guess this is your thing. But if you think this book will give you the true story you’ve bet your money on the wrong horse.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    While a long book and Marion Meade clearly has a strong bias in favor of Eleanor, the book is fascinating both from its amazing history of world/European geography as well as feminism's roots. I was either never taught in my history classes or failed to comprehend just how tangled up the boundry lines of all of modern European countries have been during the last millineum. The feuding between such "stable" nations as France and England as late as the 12th century and even the fighting between ro While a long book and Marion Meade clearly has a strong bias in favor of Eleanor, the book is fascinating both from its amazing history of world/European geography as well as feminism's roots. I was either never taught in my history classes or failed to comprehend just how tangled up the boundry lines of all of modern European countries have been during the last millineum. The feuding between such "stable" nations as France and England as late as the 12th century and even the fighting between royal siblings for power and property gave me new perspective on world politics today. Additionally, the failed history of the Crusades and the "truth" about such modern mythical heros/villans such as of Richard the Lion-Hearted or King John is quite interesting. Eleanor herself is obviously an astonishing women -- even for modern times her energy and persistance would be legendary. More young women need to be taught today her belief in self-determination.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    An insightful biography of a highly interesting woman. I have never read anything about Eleanor of Aquitaine before and I found this book was very well researched and a delight to read. I recognised a few of the key players in her life (especially Thomas of Beckett, Peter Abelard and Richard III) and it was great to find out more about the times they existed and the main powers in Europe at the time.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paula Hartman

    Eleanor of Aquitaine didn't leave any diaries and none of her contemporaries even described her appearance except to say she was beautiful. The author took what information she did have and really made Eleanor come alive for the reader. Her writing isn't as "fun" as that of Alison Weir but it was still enjoyable. Eleanor of Aquitaine didn't leave any diaries and none of her contemporaries even described her appearance except to say she was beautiful. The author took what information she did have and really made Eleanor come alive for the reader. Her writing isn't as "fun" as that of Alison Weir but it was still enjoyable.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    It flows well and moves along, but I wouldn't say it was an unbiased biography. It flows well and moves along, but I wouldn't say it was an unbiased biography.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Ekstrom

    A balanced history of Eleanor; I would liked more quotations from sources.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Woodruffe

    Had a very interesting life, I enjoyed the book but the chapters were too long. Difficult to find a convenient place to stop.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Katie Taylor

    a formidable woman born 800 years too early to be truly appreciated

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

    Eleanor of Aquitaine is a fascinating woman and unfortunately, overall, there is not a lot of information available about her. Margaret Meade certainly put all that was available in her book, and she added quite a bit of conjecture, which I have no issue with, but the book then vacillated between being a slog of a text book and travelogue, to sections of fanciful guesses at feelings. It needed a stronger editor to make it entertaining as well as informative. It was incredibly researched and thor Eleanor of Aquitaine is a fascinating woman and unfortunately, overall, there is not a lot of information available about her. Margaret Meade certainly put all that was available in her book, and she added quite a bit of conjecture, which I have no issue with, but the book then vacillated between being a slog of a text book and travelogue, to sections of fanciful guesses at feelings. It needed a stronger editor to make it entertaining as well as informative. It was incredibly researched and thorough and that's to be admired. I would love to know the reality of Eleanor's situation, her thoughts and her secret to longevity!

  22. 4 out of 5

    James

    Eleanor is a fascinating historical character, as wife of two kings, mother of two more, and Duchess of Aquitaine and major player in her own right. The subject of this book is interesting enough therefore, but a few bits on the writing side mean it's only three stars. While I like a narrative history compared to a purely dry comparison of sources, Meade goes too far at times. Her confident statements about Eleanor's inner thoughts in particular, seems to assign predictions to her which I suspec Eleanor is a fascinating historical character, as wife of two kings, mother of two more, and Duchess of Aquitaine and major player in her own right. The subject of this book is interesting enough therefore, but a few bits on the writing side mean it's only three stars. While I like a narrative history compared to a purely dry comparison of sources, Meade goes too far at times. Her confident statements about Eleanor's inner thoughts in particular, seems to assign predictions to her which I suspect benefit from the author's historical hindsight. Perhaps these are sourced but it's impossible to tell as there is no discussion at all of available sources.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Williams

    Marion Meade makes some assumptions in this book, but I could forgive her in that I suspected that she was making the best out of the information she had. She does give us a flavour of life for Europeans in twelfth century Europe and a lively insight into the life of Eleanor of Aquitane, a woman whose actions were (and remain) controversial, yet feisty. This is an engaging biography. Credit is due, as I found this a page-turner, which is rare in a non-fiction her/history book!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This fluctuates between lovely descriptive passages and long winded sentences assuming knowledge of the 12th century, particularly the church. It is almost like turning a faucet on and off - a few sentences imagining the emotional state and motivation of each character, then a bunch of historical facts crammed in to show that this is a true story. I lost interest after 100 pages.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sydney

    This book was good. Very, very informative for the little we seem to know about Eleanor. It was quite funny as well. It was a requirement to read this for my Western Civilization class (had a quiz on the book as well). I just did not find this book to appealing, though that might be because it was a "forced" read instead of my personal choice to read. This book was good. Very, very informative for the little we seem to know about Eleanor. It was quite funny as well. It was a requirement to read this for my Western Civilization class (had a quiz on the book as well). I just did not find this book to appealing, though that might be because it was a "forced" read instead of my personal choice to read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    I really enjoyed the biography overall and I learnt a lot, but the author often writes as if the reader is already expected to know certain things, which I don't think is particularly helpful in a historical biography. I really enjoyed the biography overall and I learnt a lot, but the author often writes as if the reader is already expected to know certain things, which I don't think is particularly helpful in a historical biography.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Summer

    This woman was phenomenal and accomplished more in the 12th century than I ever thought possible.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Winfield

    It's hard to find good biographies of smart, powerful women from this patriarchal era, but despite the gaps in the record of Eleanor's life, this is a fantastic read. Recommend. It's hard to find good biographies of smart, powerful women from this patriarchal era, but despite the gaps in the record of Eleanor's life, this is a fantastic read. Recommend.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ernestine

    I could not put this remarkable book down.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Powroznik

    Some reviews have said that this book would appeal to fans of nonfictions. I would agree.

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