To Be Queen
Penguin Group (USA)
Trade Paperback/400 pages
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"…a fitting frame for an amazing woman’s life…"
Evocative and lush portrait of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Alienor was the eldest daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine and quite precocious, thanks to her father teaching her politics and the art of governing. He set her feet on the path to obtain what she desired—to be queen—by having her confirmed as duchess of Aquitaine at a time when women were not seen as strong or capable enough of handling the reins of power. Alienor was bound to prove them wrong.
In Christy English’s version of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life, the woman who would be queen of two powerful nations was a strong woman, even at the age of fifteen when her father died. He was poisoned. Heeding her father’s words, she sealed the match between herself and Louis of France, a marriage contract her father had worked for years to obtain. When she was sixteen, she became Queen of France and remained Duchess of Aquitaine, controlling her own lands and money until she gave Louis a son, a task she did not accomplish.
To Be Queen is rich with detail and intrigue and a strong and much more complex woman emerges in English’s novel. Eleanor, the French pronunciation of Alienor, was not a woman to be trifled with, nor was she stupid or feckless. She was a woman of intellect and discipline and control determined to have what she wanted, but not at any cost. Eleanor was careful and not without her enemies, but she proved equal to their machinations and outlived most of her detractors.
In an age when women were little more than chattel, Eleanor was a lion among lambs, but a lion with a conscience at odds with the Catholic Church, a woman of strength, power and vision. She comes alive in English’s lush prose and provides an honest and lusty account of herself, sparing neither her enemies nor herself.
At the end of the book, with Henry I mounting the stage, I was anxious to know more and reluctant to leave Eleanor’s world. It is difficult to write about a strong woman without descending to parody or making the subject unlikable. Christy English does neither, affording Eleanor respect and a stage upon which to work magic. Eleanor was a lion and mistress of her own fate hundreds of years before the women’s movement and much more adept at politics and life than most men of her time—or ever. To Be Queen is a fitting frame for an amazing woman’s life.
Reviewer: J.M. Cornwell