In The Summer Queen Elizabeth Chadwick takes on one of the most famous and to some infamous women of the middle ages, Eleanor of Aquitaine. This is one of Chadwick’s biggest character challenges yet. Little is known of the smaller details of Eleanor’s life. Broad historical information is available, but who was the woman? How did the death of her father and her marriage to King Louis effect her life? What was it like for her to go on crusade as a woman? Did she really have an affair with her uncle in the Levant? How did she view her freedom after divorcing Louis? How was her marriage to Henry II arranged? And on and on…
Chadwick as written about other historical figures of the this time period, the empress Matilda, William Marshal, the Bigods and others. However, NONE of these people rise to the level fame as Eleanor.
Taking on the great characters of history is difficult challenge because so many readers come to the book with their own impression of the person. In The Summer Queen my imagination didn’t exactly match Chadwick’s.
The Summer Queen covers Eleanor’s life from late childhood through her marriage to King Louis of France and ends with her second husband, King Henry II, taking the English throne. I understand that Chadwick has to balance the development of a young woman with the strong-willed, cleaver and plotting Queen that Eleanor is described as in later life. It is a hard transition. For me, Chadwick did not pull it off.
Eleanor is greatly misused by Louis and marginalized as a power…this is believable… but somehow Chadwick does not have Eleanor grow enough based on these events. During this period, Eleanor might have gained inner strength and seen a wider world on her way to the Holy Land. I think this is the time she earns her spurs and while she may not start welding power yet, she would understand and political scene. It is this period where I really see her laying in wait and honing her skills as a crafty political player.
I do agree that Eleanor and her uncle NEVER had an affair and Chadwick handles that well in her book. But, I think Eleanor might have been more of a flirt than Chadwick gives her credit for…Growing up in the sensual Aquitaine it would have been second nature and way of behavior that Eleanor likely didn’t even notice. Also, I feel as if Chadwick downplayed Eleanor’s great beauty.
The writing in the book is good and the story moves. There is nothing “wrong” with the book. It is simply that for me, the Eleanor on Chadwick’s pages doesn’t meet the Eleanor of my imagination.