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Power of a Woman – Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Power of a Woman, a historical fiction novel

IN THIS HISTORICAL FICTION novel, Power of a Woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine recalls memoirs of ‘interesting’ times. Eleanor fought her long life through to build and keep feminine power in an era dominated by men of the Church and royal courts. Eleanor prevailed in an ‘iron, bearded world’ she tells us; through wars, crusade, Thomas Becket, failed marriages to kings—Louis VII and Henry II—too many sons, and many more trials.

Power of a Woman captures Eleanor’s thoughts in her voice, recalling exploits that carried her through the peaks and troughs of the turbulent years.

Around 1152, an unknown stonemason carved Eleanor of Aquitaine’s face with that of her second husband, the soon-to-be King Henry II of England. (Metropolitan Museum, NY.)

Around 1152, an unknown stonemason carved Eleanor of Aquitaine’s face with that of her second husband, the soon-to-be King Henry II of England. (Metropolitan Museum, NY.)

WHILE SHE DICTATES, Eleanor lives her roles again: as duchess of Aquitaine, queen of France, warring courtier, patron of troubadours, crusader, queen and regent of England, empire builder, femme fatale and the subject of romantic verse; as the mother of too many sons, founder of her Court of Ladies, instigator and arbiter of family strife, scorned wife, banished exile, regent of England again, ransom collector, peacemaker, matchmaker, and perpetual negotiator. At eighty-one, this magnificent lady ‘retires’, in part to dictate the royal progress of her life.

‘Language is a woman’s weapon, her siege engine that knocks down male walls’

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‘Power of a Woman’ – Eleanor of Aquitaine’s book, in a nutshell

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Power of a Woman

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Portrait © Duncan Long, 2007. Based on the limestone bust of Eleanor with Henry at The Cloisters, New York.

Eleanor brings to life her astonishing odyssey in ‘Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine‘, her memoir of marriages to two warring kings, Louis VII of France, then Henry II of England. The title in Czech says it well: A Queen to Two Kings.

Eleanor recalls wars, crusade, intrigues and ruthless diplomacy while confessing her loves, hopes for her children and their fates. She even barters with God: “Let me die before You gather in another child, or the child of a child, of mine! I would prefer to relinquish this old body quietly, but be warned! If I must be borne hence cursing Christ, as Henry was, I shall.”

Eleanor spent her long life struggling to assert her will against kings (her two husbands and two sons), popes and emperors while carving out space for the feminine in history. Dry wit marks Eleanor’s tale of her Court of Ladies and her mystique as the femme fatale of her day.

‘Oh, the indignity of being a woman at war!’

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Reader reviews, excerpts, an Eleanor of Aquitaine timeline

Historical fiction novel 'Power of a Woman' Eleanor of Aquitaine's memoirs of 'interesting' times

An Eleanor fan from far away!

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Why write Eleanor of Aquitaine’s memoirs?

Because Eleanor deserved it!

Historical fiction novel, Eleanor of Aquitaine, 'Power of a Woman'

Cover of the Czech language edition, Královna dvou králu (A Queen to Two Kings) © 2010

There’s the real answer to that question. I muffed my chance to give it when a woman asked at a reading: “Why? Why write Eleanor’s life as her memoirs? Wasn’t it harder than straight biography?”

Yes, it was harder. But how wonderful if we had inherited Eleanor’s memoirs, letting us touch her rebellious spirit first hand.

I wrote her memoirs to learn what she stood for and what made her tick. I believed in her right to challenge the status quo, putting the dominant male hierarchies of Church and State on notice: “Here I stand!” I believed in her right to intuit the mindset of alpha males so well that she asserted herself among them, moved beyond them, attempted to move women forward, shaped roles for herself, and, at least in part, moved armies and ruled an empire.

That’s why Power of a Woman turned out as it did, channeling Eleanor. She needed a hearing. It’s the ‘Why’ of her life that matters. It’s the ‘Why’ that motivated her life, her astonishing being. In a treacherous world she believed in herself, setting a model for assertiveness, not only in our past, her present, but for women in our present, too.

‘Kings have lain me, but no man can claim me’

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* ‘Power of a Woman’ photo notes:

Around 1152, an unknown stonemason carved Eleanor of Aquitaine’s face with that of her second husband, the soon-to-be King Henry II of England. Eleanor was thirty. Artist Duncan Long used this bust at The Cloisters as his model, transforming stone into flesh to illustrate Eleanor’s face for the cover of Power of a Woman.  A contemporary description gave us her eye color. The Cloisters in New York houses this sculpture, which once decorated a capital in the Church of Notre Dame du Bourg, Le Langon, in Lower Poitou. Stone by stone, the building and its bust were dismantled and moved from France to The Cloisters in Manhattan under the direction of James Rorimer. This is the only three-dimensional contemporary likeness of Eleanor to come down to us. Robert Fripp commissioned the cover portrait of Eleanor for his book, Power of a Woman. For other uses, Duncan Long retains the copyright.

‘I do not speak as an old dame reclaiming her lost glory. I have wisdom enough to let the past pass by.  I say this to you now, not from the folly of vanities past, but as the earthly embodiment, long ago, of that essence which is the power of a woman’ / Eleanor, Ch. 15

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Eleanor of Aquitaine, essays

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