Eleanor, duchess of Aquitaine, is stuck in a loveless marriage with the French king. When she meets young and charismatic Henry Plantagenet, she falls in love instantly. After her divorce from Louis, she doesn’t hesitate to marry Henry. When he becomes king of England, the two of them together hold a realm from England all the way to the Spanish border. But Henry is no loyal husband and doesn’t want to share his power. Not with Eleanor, but neither with their sons. And when the cubs shall awake, rebellion looms around the corner.
I heard some rumours that a tv series about Eleanor was in the making based on this book. I’m usually no fan of Weir’s older historical fiction books (‘Innocent traitor‘ about Jane Grey being the exception) and I had heard that Captive queen wasn’t good. But I still wanted to see what kind of Eleanor is represented here, before watching the tv series.
I can already admit that I understand why people don’t like this portrayal. The book opens in the French court where Eleanor is trying to get a divorce since her husband the king doesn’t visit her bed too often, the result being only two daughters and no heir. She meets Henry Plantagenet, son of her former lover Geoffrey, count of Anjou, and instantly wants to bed him. In the first 150 pages there is sex everywhere.
Eleanor is portrayed as a sensual but also human woman. She makes mistakes, a lot of them. She’s too trustful and naively in love with her second husband. This is a refreshing take on her, but also far away from the strong and independent woman we know. We get an Eleanor making decisions based on her lust feelings rather than her wit.
Henry is at first a young and ambitious boy who adores his queen, but soon he grows into a forceful and short tempered man. The novel focuses on their relationship, with all their heights but also heavy arguments. The problem is that when at times Henry and Eleanor are not together, Weir struggles to write a story.
The writing is bad. There’s a lot of bad dialogue, too many sex scenes, strange changes in perspectives and almost no character development apart from the two main characters. During both the conflict with Becket and her imprisonment after the rebellion, Eleanor is too far away from the action and Weir has to turn to the ‘as you know Bob’ tactic.
I can’t help but compare this book to Chadwick excellent’s trilogy about Eleanor and come to the conclusion that ‘Captive queen‘ can’t live up to that. The only thing I did like is that there is no heavy focus on all of her pregnancies and births. Weir is more creative in handling all the children, although we don’t miss their conception ;).
But still, I enjoyed some parts of the story. This book is not as bad as some people say. I can handle some sex and detail. But I just couldn’t sympathize with this Eleanor as much as with Chadwick’s. Weir is not the best fiction writer. However, I did like her book about Catherine of Aragon enough, to continue the Six Tudor queens series.
What’s your favourite book about Eleanor of Aquitaine?