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“For Real, For Realm: Excellent Eleanor”

By Winnie Czulinski, Writer, Editor and Publishing-Promo Pro.

Easter Day, April Fool’s Day — and Eleanor of Aquitaine Day.

Today, April 1, marks the passing in 1204 of a royal woman who didn’t believe in hiding behind her skirts. So, why not Eleanor of Aquitaine Day? You will find her starring in lists like “the 10 best English queens in history”… “the top 10 most powerful women in history”… “most fascinating/feistiest female rulers”… and the “definitive ranking of the 11 most bad-ass queens in history.”

She also is called “the Olenna Tyrell of medieval Europe,” and is fixed firmly in many minds as Katharine Hepburn, who did an Academy-Award winning performance as Eleanor in 1968 film The Lion in Winter.

Cover portrait for "Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine © Duncan Long

Eleanor of Aquitaine at 30, a portrait © Duncan Long based on the bust of Eleanor and her second husband, the future Henry II of England. The sculpture is in The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, well-educated by her noble birth, was also quite a multi-tasker, with administrating the Realm, going on Crusade, and keeping her sons Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland in good order. The combined power of husband Henry II and both their sons could not match Eleanor’s brainpower and accomplishments.

She often ruled without her husband (whether Louis VII or Henry II), ruled in her sons’ place, and became the matriarch of England’s Plantagenet dynasty. And it was all in a day’s work to collect ransom and trek to Austria where her lionine son had been captured by Duke Leopold. Dealing with popes didn’t faze her, either.This dame was born for biz, and easily could have bearded the entire Dragon’s Den.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of books about Eleanor the queen. Toronto author and former Fifth Estate-TV producer Robert (S.P.) Fripp gives us Power of a Woman: Memoirs of a Turbulent Life: Eleanor of Aquitaine. And he is strong evidence that it’s not only a woman who can understand a strong woman in this “iron, bearded world.”

Fripp gets how she also fought her long life through to build and keep feminine power in an era dominated by the old boys’ network of Church and and royal courts. You don’t have to act like a man to succeed in corporate or crown society, is what we modern women have been told. In fact, Eleanor was a great proponent of courtly love and troubadours, recognizing that a society perpetually at war needs its softer side.

Eleanor of Aquitaine in old age, by forensic artist David Major

Fading out? Eleanor of Aquitaine in old age. Forensic artist David Major added 50 years to bring Eleanor to her final months of life, the period in which she dictates her memoirs.

In Power of a Woman, Fripp has Eleanor, at 81, talk her life, love and castle-boardroom-and-battlefield deals and doings to her waiting-woman Aline. And though the latter never speaks, we feel her presence, her reactions, and her own character growth. She learns a lot from her queenly employer, and who would not from this boss?

In the telling, there are no, or precious few, speech marks to please the eye – and considering that this is a 388-page story, one had better be well-entertained for it. Fortunately, there’s a lot of action and colour in Eleanor’s narrative. Fripp’s research, detail and storyteller impressions of that era and royalty of medieval England and France are vivid enough to suggest he lived, breathed, felt, smelt and triumphed in those times, man to woman.

The power of this author. Another master touch to ensure Eleanor will always be near the top of those global for-all-time queen lists.