When we think of the infamous queens of England, some names come to mind, but one rises to the top for the number of black myths and influence surrounding her name: Eleanor of Aquitaine. The orphaned Duchess of Aquitaine, who married the future King Louis VII of France, went on the Second Crusades with her husband, survived battles and kidnappings, and ended up divorcing her first husband because she couldn’t give a male son. So, she married the young Count of Anjou, who would become the first king of the Plantagenet dynasty, King Henry II, who had a large family and split her time between England and France. Eleanor would eventually side with her sons, rebel against Henry, and spend 15 years in prison. A fire-cracker of a queen, but how many of the stories surrounding the titular queen are true? In her latest biography, “Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires,” Sara Cockerill dives deep into the archives to tell the true story of this much-maligned queen of England and France.
I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed reading books about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and when I heard about this biography, I was fascinated. A few of my history friends have read this book and enjoyed it, so I wanted to see what the hype was about regarding this particular title.
Cockerill begins by showing what myths are typically associated with Eleanor of Aquitaine and how these myths have developed over time. She explains that Eleanor was a much more subdued queen than we imagined her to be and that her dive into the primary sources will show her readers the true Eleanor of Aquitaine. Cockerill then moves into the history of the Duchy of Aquitaine and Eleanor’s family, shaping her into the ruler and mother she would become.
The bulk of this book explores Eleanor of Aquitaine’s married life, first to King Louis VII of France and then to King Henry II of England. As Queen of France, Eleanor had two daughters, went on the Second Crusades, was kidnapped by pirates, and saw numerous battles. Eleanor’s reputation was blackened during the Crusades with the alleged Affair at Antioch. Still, Cockerill takes the time to go through the origins of each myth and show what might have happened according to the primary sources available. With the demise of the marriage of Eleanor and Louis VII, we see how Eleanor met Henry II and how her time as Queen of England was different than her time as Queen of France. We see her relationships with her sons and daughters and how her marriage with Henry went sour.
Most of the primary sources Sara Cockerill explores are charters that Eleanor of Aquitaine worked on as Duchess of Aquitaine and as Queen of France and England. This means it is more academic, and for casual history lovers, it can come across as a bit dry in some places. Overall, I found this a compelling retelling of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s story that gave me a lot to think about her and her time. Suppose you want a new biography that will present a fresh approach to the life and times of Eleanor of Aquitaine. In that case, I highly recommend you read “Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires” by Sara Cockerill.