Sunday, July 6, 2003

Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Alison Weir

Lessons fit for a queen

David Wells
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Eleanor of Aquitaine married the two most powerful kings of her time and gave birth to two more. For the next 700 years historians cast her as wicked, scheming and downright unholy because she dared to use her considerable intelligence and influence to shape the policies of her male-dominated world.

Hillary Clinton should have read this book cover-to-cover before she ever wrote her own. Actually, she should have read it before she hooked up with her husband.

Eleanor was born a countess in 1122, became a duchess upon the death of her father and married King Louis VII of France while still a teenager. She inspired her husband to many things, including the Second Crusade.

There were plenty of political rivals who resented her influence with the king. She tended to argue against pillaging the countryside as being bad for a monarch's image. Rumors were spread that she was ambitious and unfaithful. She never produced a male heir and Louis eventually had the marriage annulled.

An ordinary woman of 1152 might have entered a convent. Not Eleanor. She married Henry of Anjou. He became King Henry II of England, and, with Eleanor as his queen, soon created an empire that stretched from Scotland to Spain and put Louis to shame. Once again, court intriguers couldn't stand having an outspoken woman so close to power and spoke against her. Henry didn't divorce or annul the marriage, but he did lock her up in a palace. This kept her out of they way while he carried on a series of widely reported affairs with younger women.

She outlived her husband and asserted herself into the details of the reigns of her sons - Richard the Lionhearted and then King John. The latter ignored her advice, and watched in regal incompetence as the empire his mother helped create dissolved around him. Eleanor died at 82, an immensely capable woman overshadowed by the less competent men who had surrounded her.

Books that might have changed the world
Off With Their Heads, by Dick Morris
Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Alison Weir
The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter
The Press Effect, by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman
A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
Letters to a Young Conservative, by Dinesh D'Souza

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