When I was writing THE KING'S WITCH, a novel about Richard the Lionhearted's Crusade, one of the most riveting features for me was a character who wasn't even there.
Richard's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (heroine of the first novel in this group, THE SECRET ELEANOR) would have been an extraordinary woman in any age but in the 12th century, when women were suppressed, sequestered, and regarded as property, she was incredible. From the age of 15, when she married the son of the dying King of France, she was determined to wield power; throughout her disastrous marriage with Louis VII she took an active part in his regime, forcing him into adventures he had no gift for, accompanying him on Crusade, where she almost ditched him over matters of strategy.
Her independence and ambition horrified the men around her; Bernard of Clairvaux, for one, practically emitted steam through his ears when he mentioned her. Finessed out of power, she gave up on Louis. As Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, she ruled a territory larger than France, and she chose to marry the one man in Europe who could bring her even more: Henry of Anjou, about to become King of England. Between the two of them they made the greatest realm in Christendom, and the most fascinating family in the Middle Ages, the Plantagenets.
Eleanor fascinates me; it's hard to image how in her day and age she found the strength to be who she was. Standing up to Louis and his crowd was one thing, but Henry II was a formidable adversary and she seems to have ground him into the dirt, with the help of her boys. At the same time, she kept on top of her own fractious and troublesome country. The North did not dare assault the Langue d'Oc until well after she was dead. She was brave and broad-minded, and the men could never again stuff women entirely back into that little box of prayers and babies.
So writing a novel about her son, in which the main character is a woman of her time, I found Eleanor invading at every turn. She never appears in the flesh in the novel but she writes letters, she pops up in memories, she influences events by sheer force of character. A woman for all seasons.
Thank-you for this wonderful guest blog Cecelia Holland! Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of my favorite historical figures to read about and I loved reading your prospective on her. I will have my review of The King's Witch posted next week.
Alexandra of Penguin Books has been kind enough to offer two copies of The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland for a giveaway.
If you would like to win a copy of The King's Witch please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or about this great guest blog.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.
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The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday July 1st.