Two women who shared a name, related by marriage but divided by political and monetary motives. In Medieval Europe, this statement could refer to any number of women, but the two women who are the center of this particular story revolve around medieval England and the reign of King Henry III. One was Henry’s sister whose marriages and money problems were a thorn in her brother’s side. The other was Henry III’s wife who stood by his side and protected their children even when the nation despised her. Their names were Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence respectfully; their stories are filled with disasters and triumphs that would shape how England was ruled in medieval times. Darren Baker explores their lives and the lives of their families in his latest biography, “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor De Montfort”.
I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I wanted to read more books about Medieval Europe and this one caught my eye. I have never read a book by Darren Baker or about either Eleanors, so I did not know what to expect. I am glad I decided to take a chance on this book.
Baker’s book begins with the story of King John’s children, King Henry III and his sister Eleanor Plantagenet. As Henry III was figuring out how his new rule would work under the newly formed Magna Carta, Eleanor Plantagenet was married to William Marshal. In all likelihood, their union would have been successful, except that he died in 1231; they were only married for seven years, but this marriage would leave a massive inheritance problem in the form of the Marshal estate. Instead of marrying again, Eleanor decided to become a bride of Christ.
In the meantime, Henry III found his wife in France, Eleanor of Provence, making an alliance with the French that would prove to be beneficial in the long run. As Henry and Eleanor were settling down into married life, Eleanor Plantagenet left the religious life to marry Simon de Montfort, a friend and rising star in Henry III’s court. These two couples were thick as thieves until money and politics drove a wedge between them that could never be repaired. This conflict between the couples would help establish a parliamentary democracy in England, that caused a civil war to break out between the Montfortians/ Lusignans and the King/Savoyards. The war would end at the Battle of Evesham.
Since this is a double biography, Baker takes the time to show both sides of the conflict, through Eleanor de Montfort and Eleanor of Provence’s stories. It is really interesting to see how each woman handled the conflict and how chroniclers either praised or criticized them for their actions and who they were. My only concern with Baker’s approach is that he will sometimes put words into the mouths or in the minds of the historical figures. You could understand what Baker’s opinions were on certain issues. I don’t think I would have minded if it was every once in a while, but it was quite frequent and it started to bother me.
Overall, I did enjoy Baker’s writing style in this book. It may be a double biography, but it reads like a historical fiction novel. Although it is sometimes difficult to tell the two Eleanors apart, Baker does his best and presents a fascinating tale of a family in turmoil over finances and power. “The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort” by Darren Baker is an enjoyable introduction into this fascinating, tumultuous time in Medieval English history.