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


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!

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.


I got really interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine after reading Regine Pernoud's considerably shorter ALIENOR d'Aquitaine. She mentions in her bibliography Kelly's book which she calls "absolutely remarkable in its scholarship and brilliance" That could well be, but it would take another scholar to make that claim. I do know it's an exhaustively detailed account of the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine which spanned most of the tumultuous 12th century in what is now western France and England. She died in 1204 at the age of 82, having outlived eight of her ten children, the most famous of whom were Richard the Lion Hearted and King John of Magna Carta fame. The "four kings" were Louis VII of France (she was duchess of the vast Aquitaine area) whom she married when she was 15, a marriage designed to cement France Aquitaine, Henry II of England whom she hastily married after her marriage to Louis was annulled, her son, Richard who was to die at age 42, and finally, the other son, the erratic John. She is the only woman to have been queen over both England and France. Why is she signficant? To read about her is to read about 12th century western Europe in all of its political and military intrigues which centered around consolidating power, making individual fiefdoms subservient to a larger kingdom. In a way, I suppose, it is the beginning of the move, away from a feudal society, always threatening to collapse into anarchy, toward nation states in Europe. Eleanor was everywhere. She lived in Paris, she went on a Crusade and spent time in Antioch and Byzantium, she lived in London. She knew the Popes, she was constantly plotting to create dynasties through royal marriages of her children. At the same time, she was sophisticated and the cult of courtly love and the creation of a knightly code of behavior based on the legendary King Arthur flourished at her court in Poitiers. I thought the most interesting part of the book was the conflict between idealistic religious motives and practical financial and political matters. Both crusades that Eleanor was involved in were failures. Huge sums were raised through levies and taxes to drive out the heathen from the Holy Places - the sums disappeared in the Middle East as if they had never existed. Richard the Lion Hearted cut his Middle East campaign short to come home and deal with back-stabbing on the part of his brother, John, who was taking over Richard's lands. On the way back, Richard was captured by German princes and held for an enormous ransom. This, in spite of a Papal "guarantee of safety". When appealed to, the Pope didn't lift a finger to help Richard. Why? Because he had other political constituents to satisfy. Eleanor, now in her 70's, was frantic, trying to obtain Richard's releas. She succeeded, but that in turn had more political reverberations, What must she have thought when she died, weak and withdrawn from the ongoing conflicts - that all of these battles had accomplished little?


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.

Jennifer Conner

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy KELLY (1978)


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


This was a very informative biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who ruled in France and England during the 12th Century, thanks to two marriages. She also bore two kings of England, Richard-the-Lionhearted, and King John. I don't believe I've ever read the facts behind these two legendary kings, nor had I ever read anything of Eleanor. I appreciated the research that so obviously went into this book, and I also appreciated the readable style.This book has caused me to become more interested in the Middle Ages.


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.


Slow going, but fascinating story. It helps to have seen "Lion in Winter" recently.


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


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.


This is one of the most intelligent and academically sound nonfiction books I've ever encountered, yet it reads with the movement, presence and passion of fiction. Amy Kelly's "Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings" is thoroughly engaging -- an exceptionally complete work on one of the most fascinating women in history. The story brings alive in flesh and blood the character of the fabled and notably beautiful woman whose 82+-year-life spanned the late 11th and early 12th centuries and whose intimate involvement in the transformation of feudal Europe cannot fairly be matched. Eleanor, who began as a young Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou and who was the richest marriage prize in all of Europe, was known, among other accomplishments, for leading 400 women to Jerusalem on the Second Crusade as Queen of France during her marriage to Louis VII (Capet) and for bearing two kings, John "Lackland" (of Magna Carta fame) and the heroic and well-loved King Richard Coeur-de-Lion, her eldest and favorite son, while Queen of England during her marriage to Henry II (Plantagenet). As Queen of England, Eleanor brought with her a great love for poetry, music and art. Her avid patronage of the arts and her sponsorship of the pursuit of courtly love solidified in history the lyric poetry and romantic ideals that originally arose in the ducal halls of her girlhood home, thanks to her grandfather Guillaume IX, who was the first Provencal poet and in whose court in Aquitaine troubadours and poets were encouraged and supported. Eleanor's political savvy and intellectual brilliance were not subservient to her artistic pursuits, however, as she demonstrated many times during her long life, both as a wise negotiator of treaties on her family lands in the beautiful, warm, fertile Loire river valley and including the entire southwest of France from Anjou to the Pyrenees and as Queen of the Angevin empire after the death of her husband Henry II. Life was not alway easy for a Queen: Eleanor conspired with her sons to revolt against her husband, for which she was imprisoned for 16 years until Henry's death. And if the above is not enough to fuel a deep and lively historical treatise, you have but to consider that, in addition to being centrally involved in the dynastic struggles between the Capets and the Plantagenets, Eleanor was intimately connected to and witnessed events such as the conflict that led to the death of Thomas Becket, the rise of the intellectual class (termed historically as a revolt), the intense struggle between church and state, the secularization of literature and other arts, and the rise of urban culture in the great European cities. Amy Kelly brings this rich historical figure to life in a way that only a handful of scholarly writers can manage. Bravo to "Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings."


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.


There are books out there too dull to read.


So it was written something like 50 years ago, so although not a literary masterpiece, it is a great historical biography about an amazingly powerful woman.

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