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

Jennifer Conner

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


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.


It is amazing what you can find at a great used bookstore. In this case "The Book House" www.bookhousestl.com. This appears to be a wonderfully researched history, from the Harvard University Press, of a remarkable 12th century queen. Crusades, Thomas Becket, Henry the II, Richard the Lion Heart and Magna Carta famed John are all a part of this amazing woman's life.

Rosemary Prawdzik

One of the other reviewers mentioned that she only made it to page 271 and discontinued reading this book because there really wasn't much about Eleanor. (The title is misleading.) And I have to agree. The title makes it sound like this book is about Eleanor but in actuality it is more about the times than it is about Eleanor. However, I did complete reading it mainly because every book I read about this time period adds more detail and more flavor to inform my understanding of this period in history. Since the Angevin empire covered so much territory, it certainly would have been helpful to have maps included instead of the photos of tombs.


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

Kathy Petersen

This story about Eleanor and her kings can be a bit rough going at times. Packed with details and wandering hither and yon - as Eleanor did - I occasionally had to re-read a page or two to remember where I was. But what a stunning cast of people, what a fascinating and complicated time, and what a fine work by Kelly.

Carolyn King

I was blessed with time to read the entire book this summer at a cabin in Vermont. I had waited over ten years to get to it, but was totally absorbed by page 270 and couldn't put it down. Although Amy Kelly's scrupulously researched work demands time and respect from the reader, I follow "Julie" in praising it and Sara Gothard in contrasting it to the array of contemporary scholarly approaches in use today. Kelly's book is not post-modern; it is not a novel; it is not romance. It is solid history, in understandable and clear language, sequenced as a lively narrative. It reads like a novel. While Eleanor is the central and longest lived character, the subject is the dynamic interplay of power, motives, and characters in twelfth-century Europe, which she experienced, influenced, and shaped. You will read the dramas behind Eleanor's lion in winter (Henry II); Thomas Becket's murder in the cathedral(by Eleanor's husband); Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, and the ransom of Eleanor's son (Richard Lion Heart); the Arthurian legends at Eleanor's Courts of Love (led by her daughter, Marie de Champlain); and the Amazon Crusader (Eleanor) with King Louis in the Holy Lands. Eleanor had intimate relationships with battling Popes, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Four Kings (two husbands, two sons). Their vengeful hatreds and power struggles - with each other and King Philip of France (her ex-husband's son)- tumble to a breathtaking climax after 387 pages. What a century ! What a Queen!


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


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.


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.

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.


There are books out there too dull to read.


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."

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