Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings

ISBN: 0674242548
ISBN 13: 9780674242548
By: Amy Kelly

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About this book

The story of that amazingly influential and still somewhat mysterious woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine, has the dramatic interest of a novel. She was at the very center of the rich culture and clashing politics of the twelfth century. Richest marriage prize of the Middle Ages, she was Queen of France as the wife of Louis VII, and went with him on the exciting and disastrous Second Crusade. Inspiration of troubadours and trouveres, she played a large part in rendering fashionable the Courts of Love and in establishing the whole courtly tradition of medieval times. Divorced from Louis, she married Henry Plantagenet, who became Henry II of England. Her resources and resourcefulness helped Henry win his throne, she was involved in the conflict over Thomas Becket, and, after Henry s death, she handled the affairs of the Angevin empire with a sagacity that brought her the trust and confidence of popes and kings and emperors. Having been first a Capet and then a Plantagenet, Queen Eleanor was the central figure in the bitter rivalry between those houses for the control of their continental domains a rivalry that excited the whole period: after Henry s death, her sons, Richard Coeur-de-Lion and John Lackland (of Magna Carta fame), fiercely pursued the feud up to and even beyond the end of the century. But the dynastic struggle of the period was accompanied by other stirrings: the intellectual revolt, the struggle between church and state, the secularization of literature and other arts, the rise of the distinctive urban culture of the great cities. Eleanor was concerned with all the movements, closely connected with all the personages; and she knew every city from London and Paris to Byzantium, Jerusalem, and Rome. Amy Kelly s story of the queen s long life the first modern biography brings together more authentic information about her than has ever been assembled before and reveals in Eleanor a greatness of vision, an intelligence, and a political sagacity that have been missed by those who have dwelt on her caprice and frivolity. It also brings to life the whole period in whose every aspect Eleanor and her four kings were so intimately and influentially involved. Miss Kelly tells Eleanor s absorbing story as it has long waited to be told with verve and style and a sense of the quality of life in those times, and yet with a scrupulous care for the historic facts.

Reader's Thoughts


This thing reads like an awesome fantasy novel, and it's actually a woman's real life.


I apologize, but any book about Eleanor and Henry is a great book!


Absolutely FASCINATING book. I wrote a paper on Eleanor when I was in 8th grade and have been entranced by her ever since. Definitely highly recommended!


While an older book, this biography of Eleanor is both riveting and rollicking. Eleanor is not always framed in soft lighting by the author, who is well-given to point out Eleanor's shortcomings and flaws, but paints a dramatic portrait of a woman ahead of her time (a little cliche, I know) that influenced the power politics and course of two nations during the turbulent early Middle Ages. While not having the same modern prose style of Allison Weir, this is still a worthwhile read.


I was directed toward this book by a professor when I was struggling to come up with a theme for a term paper. I'd never heard of Eleanor until then, but I was hooked. An excellent introduction to that era, and a remarkable woman far ahead of her time.


This is probably the best written of the Eleanor biographies, dating from the fifties and published by Harvard. It is Amy Kelly's life work: she toiled at it for ages and never wrote another book. The current fashion in medieval studies would frown on the emphasis on Eleanor and her daughter's supposed participation in Courts of Love. But this book gives a taste of what the twelfth century must have been like, and will perhaps make readers want to know more. My book group is reading Alison Weir's bio, and finding it "dry." Kelly's book is anything but.


A bit hrad going in parts but gives you a well rounded picture of Eleanor, Louis, Henry Ii, Richard Lionheart and John Lackland- best parts are about Crusade and horrible things that happened

Athena Ninlil

The best biography on Eleanor of Aquitaine which is descriptive and vivid with details not just about this fascinating woman, duchess, countess and twice times queen, but also of her contemporaries. Laden with facts, wonderfully researched and a myriad of details written in such a way you literally are trabsported back to the twelfth century and start of the following century. Eleabor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings is a Must-Read for everyone.


When I read novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine, the person I think of is the Eleanor portrayed here.


I made it about 270 pages through this 400+-page book before calling it quits, and I experienced a bit of guilt at dropping out when I did. I like this book. Published some 50 years ago, Amy Kelly's history is beautifully written, well-researched and extremely detailed. What made me put it down is not, as avid readers of history may assume, related to its age. For less-than-avid readers of history I'll here point out the modern historiographical conceit to which I refer - as so much else in today's world, in the discipline of history, newer is considered better. Certainly, histories published in the last 5-10 years employ the newest theories and, as such, have found fruitful alternatives to the antiquated "Great Men" treatment of history. History has moved into post-modern waters swimming with anthropological theory, microhistory, post-colonial theory and so forth. Traditional reliance on unproblematized narrative has passed out of vogue in most current schools of historical thought. Modern methodologies pose ontological and epistemological questions to the very project of researching and writing history. They explore the nature of language, ways of generating meaning, and modes of expression. Such methods, as different as they are from each other, share a mistrust of traditional (read: old) linear narrative. That said, older historiography still has a corner on something these theory-laden new methodologies achieve only unevenly - readability. At the time of Kelly's writing history was still, as it had been for centuries, the matter of a well-crafted narrative backed up by sound research. Period. And a well-crafted narrative backed up by sound research is what Amy Kelly provides. Notwithstanding the epistemological problems inherent in narrative, I must admit a strong affection and even preference for it. And Kelly creates compelling narrative history - she pays actual attention to her narrative voice and literary style, she provides end notes instead of footnotes that interrupt the flow of reading, she attempts to keep her reader aesthetically as well as intellectually engaged. She does not, however, offer much of what her title promises - Eleanor of Aquitaine.Naturally, to discuss Eleanor of Aquitaine one must also discuss those "Four Kings", the men whose fortunes were so tied to her own, through amity or enmity (or both, as seems to have been standard in Eleanor's relationships). And perhaps my familiarity with newer histories led me to expect something an historian from 50 years ago could not possibly provide - what the actual woman's life would have looked like, day-in and day-out, how she must have understood her own role vis-à-vis Louis or Henry or her sons, the forces that crafted her own ambitions, which were considerable. Instead, Kelly roots her narrative firmly in the male gaze - i.e., when Henry imprisons Eleanor for 16 years, the narrative does not explore Eleanor's experience of these years, but instead, for chapters on end, follows Henry, as though it were a work solely about him. I should not, I suppose, expect an historian of Kelly's era to fix her lens too firmly on Eleanor who, as a woman, would not have been considered overly important to the history of European nation-building, the primary focus of traditional history. Shifting that focus is the work of later historians who turned their attention from "Great Men" to other groups of people, less mentioned and more difficult to get at. I confess, though, to expecting Kelly's titular figure to play a central role in her own history, if not in traditional History with a capital H. In defense of this expectation - of all medieval women Eleanor of Aquitaine has few rivals for the era's most powerful, influential and commented-upon woman. Surely, even in the 1950s, she merited a work of history all her own. Even Eleanor's contemporaries paid her that sort of attention.


Good Book! Rich in backgorund of the players, the times and as to why Eleanor was the bright, adventurious, power player she was. Also insightful into the Crusades and a myth breaker of the Holy Quest and good Richard. Truly an pre-read for Lion in the Winter. Recommended for those into the middle ages and powerful people.

Christina Gimlin

Has to be the best researched book on the subject, and compellingly written.


A fantastically researched and beautifully written text. I've been fascinated by Eleanor - Alianor, in her own time - for a long while now and despite it's age, this book added more to my knowledge of this amazing woman than I'd have guessed possible. I've read nearly every book available about Queen Eleanor, yet her story never ceases to amaze me. Having outlived two husbands - both kings - and eight of her ten children, her life is simply fascinating. In a time where women did not have power, she wielded more, and for longer, than any other queen dared dream. I will say this is not the book I'd start with for those who know nothing about Eleanor. It can be a bit dense, particularly in Eleanor's absence as Henry's prisoner all those years. But the stories are all so entwined, it would be impossible to have told hers without her sons' - Richard and John of course. I can't praise this book enough. Don't let the publication date trick you into thinking it's irrelevant; it's wonderfully written and really brings a remarkable woman to life.


This was a great story. I had no idea that Eleanor of Aquitaine was not only responsible for the troubador tradition, but also that she was the mother of Richard and John. What an amazing woman and what an incredible life. Relating this to the history of the Albigensian heresy, it makes sense that a woman raised in Southern France would be independent. Very much worth reading for an understanding of medieval politics and history and at least one woman's role in creating that history.


I never knew anything about Eleanor of Aquitaine or her role in the crusades. Fascinating read about the mother of Richard the Lionheart and John, signer of the Magna Carta. I really enjoyed this, but it is slow. Perfect bedtime reading.

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