By Alison Weir.
Alison Weir’s writing is so accessible and compulsively readable. She is careful to weigh up evidence and say when something is inconclusive, but at the same time she manages to tell a fabulous story, with descriptions vivid enough to play in my mind.
Remarkable in her own time and from the distance of 800 years, Eleanor’s story is fascinating: Riding like an amazon to the Holy Land astride her horse, getting an annulment from her marriage to the King of France and then riding straight off to marry his enemy, having an affair with her uncle (actually, probably having affairs with two different uncles at different points in her life…), sailing a stormy journey across the Channel at seven months pregnant with an infant in tow, and watching her many children grow up to fight and intrigue (often against one another, or their father).
In fact, it’s crazy how much moving about the Royals did. They were pretty much nomadic, riding or marching hundreds of miles, crossing mountain passes in winter (which Eleanor did at age 77), and thought nothing of nipping across the Channel as frequently as a modern day commute, whatever the weather.
It is horrifying though, the way people viewed things. That a woman could wield such power and yet at the same time have so little of it. One month she’s de facto ruler of a Kingdom, the next she’s imprisoned for overstepping. It’s as though they realised that women were capable and intelligent, but they kept getting scared of this realisation.
Though I love history and am fascinated by it, my vivid imagination and empathic brain always struggle with it. There’s all these enthralling tales of Kings, Queens, Dukes, Empresses and their squabbles and plots and wars, but every time I read “so he laid waste to the whole region in revenge”, or “he was busy capturing this town that was under siege”, or “the soldiers rampaged through the surrounding lands” I just think of the ordinary people going about their lives. People trying to make a living, taking care of their homes, rearing animals, raising a family, kids playing …and then in sweep these armies to kill, torture, rape, plunder, and set everything on fire. Those that survived the onslaught faced famine as their ravaged lands could no longer feed them. And then probably, after all these lives, loves and hopes are swept away the two warring parties will kiss and make up, all chivalrous after their quarrel. It’s all a bit too much for my angry heart sometimes (that massacre in the ‘Holy Land’ is going to stick in my mind for the rest of my life).
I am sure you will hear this again as it happens every time I read a history book*. It really plays with my poor sensitive soul! However, it doesn’t diminish the fascination I have with history or with Eleanor’s truly amazing life story. I really recommend this book as it’s so readable and yet thorough. Just brace yourself, it’s a bumpy ride!
*I am aware such things are not entirely consigned to the past, so I extend that to “anything about wars and armies at any time or place, past or present”.