Queen Defiant is Anne O’Brien’s novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine released in the US today, June 7th. It was previously published in the UK as Devil’s Consort.
Anne is back on Fly High after her previous interesting guest post "Mirror, mirror on the wall ..." , which was an inquiry about Eleanor's aspect.
She has kindly accepted to answer my questions about the queen she so much admires today and there is another exciting giveaway!
Commenting this interview you'll get the chance to win a signed copy of Queen Defiant. This contest is open internationally and ends on June 14th, when the name of the winner will be announced. Don't forget your e-mail address!
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Thanks a lot Anne and welcome back to Fly High! My first question is : what is it that you most admire in Eleanor of Aquitaine?
Hello Maria Grazia. I’m delighted to be invited to return and introduce more of your readers to Eleanor of Aquitaine.
I think I most admire Eleanor’s spirit. She was so full of life, springing out from ever page I read about her when I first began my research. As I quickly discovered, even after an enormous gap of nine hundred years, her voice shouted out to me. She was of course not without flaws. I think she was utterly self-willed and self-centred, with more than a touch of arrigance. She made some decisions that it is difficult to admire. But Eleanor was a woman of her time and gives her own justifications. Perhaps her flaws make her more human and approachable, and therefore more appealing. For me she makes a fascinating heroine.
How and when did you get to discover her and you started researching on her?
I discovered Eleanor many years ago when I first started to read adult fiction. Even then I enjoyed historical novels and I came across The Passionate Brood by Margaret Campbell Barnes. It is a splendid novel of the Plantagenet family, focusing particularly on Richard the Lionheart and and the mythical character of Robin Hood, but Eleanor made a striking appearance in it. I loved the book, and was delighted when it was reissued recently. I read it again and I’m sure I enjoyed it just as much as I did in my young reading days.
And then I met her again in the classic film Lion in Winter (1968), with Katherine Hepburn playing a magnificently aging Eleanor opposite an idiosyncratic Peter O’Toole as Henry. They portray a stormy, volatile couple, unable to live together in peace in the final years of their marriage. When I think of Eleanor as she was in later life, I still see and hear Katharine in that role. Such power the screen has! Henry and Eleanor are here, the couple of the left, in one of their frequent confrontations. The costume was excellent, and the atmosphere of those turbulent times in the twelfth century was magnificent. I was hooked.
The idea for a novel about Eleanor did not come until last year – 2010 – when Eleanor’s early adventures were so compelling that I felt I must write about them.
What was the most difficult task in building up her personal story? What, instead, the most fascinating one?
Because Eleanor was born so long ago in 1122, the evidence for her life is very incomplete. Also much of it comes from her critics who attack both her character and her actions. My problem was filling in the gaps to make her story credible, and deciding which criticism to accept and which to discard. As a novelist rather than a writer of pure hsitory I am free to make my own choices, but they have to be true to the historical period and the character I am developing. Eleanor must retain her veracity.
But this in itself makes for a fascination: creating a fully rounded character from the bare bones of historical fact. I think this is what I love most about writing historical fiction.
What can we contemporary women possibly learn from her?
This is a difficult question to answer since Eleanor’s time is so different from our own. As women in the 21st century we have the freedom and independence that Eleanor could never have dreamt of. Eleanor had to accept that the pattern of her life and her actions were dependent to a large extent on the compliance of father or husband. Her marriage was decided by her father. She could not separate from Louis unless he agreed to it. How fortunate we are today to be able to make our own choices.
But whatever difficulties she faced, Eleanor remained true to her one ideal – to preserve her authority over Aquitaine. Perhaps we should take this lesson from her. If we have a goal in life we should pursue it with confidence and determination.
Did your research about Eleanor help you to better under stand how difficult it was to be a woman and a queen in the middle ages?
Defintiely it did. We would expect a Queen to have considerable power. Eleanor might be ruler in her own right but she lived in a world dominated by men and she was powerless to make her own decisions if they stood against her. Even when she manaaged to persuade Louis into an annulment, she could not safeguard Aquitaine unless she made an alliance with man who would give her physical protection – Henry Plantagenet. She had to use persuasion and guile and utter persistence to achiever her ends. A weak woman could very easily become a medieval doormat!
Also being Queen did not absolve Eleanor from criticism. She made many enemies who were not reluctant to criticise her and work against her. Eleanor had to be strong-willed not to bow before some truly malicious attacks from men such as Bernard of Clairveax and Templar Galeran. Which is , of course, exactly what Eleanor was.
And if you could time travel, would you be more frightened, excited or fascinated by the chance to go back to Eleanor’s time? Why?
I would be fascinated To experience the luxurious lifestyle af Aquitaine, such as Eleanor lived in her favourite home in the Maugergeonne Tower in Poitiers, as shown below, built by her grandfather, Duke William the IX.
I would love to see Eleanor living here with the extravagant banquests, the troubadours with their songs of courtly love, and her clothes that Bernard of Clairvaux criticised so viciously, with her trailing skirts and knotted sleeves and her soft shoes of squirrel fur. And then I would wish to go back to Henry Plantagenet’s great castle of Chinon in the Loire Valley, shown below, where Eleanor was incarcerated by Henry in the latter years of their marriage.
As a prisoner here, Eleanor lived in luxurious circumstances but was unable to escape and keep in touch with events either in Aquitaine or in Engalnd. I am sure she found this very difficult to tolerate. Henry allowed her to join him at Court for festivals such as Christmas, but she had always to return to her prison, sometimes here at Chinon, sometimes at Sarum in England. Sadly their marraige had been destroyed by Eleanor stirring her sons to rebellion against their father.
Could you briefly tell us about the most important men in her life and her relationship with them?
Louis VII. Eleanor’s first husband, an unfortunate choice for the lively Eleanor. Not the eldest son – Louis became heir to the throne on the death of his brother - he had been raised from childhood to enter the church. As Eleanor said furiously irritated with him: I married a monk. Louis was everything Eleanor was not: mild mannered, lacking in confidence, monkish in his habits of penitance and abstinence. She grew more and more dissatisfied with him adn impatient with his lack of decision making. Her wish for an annulment comes as no suprise!
Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. Rumours abound over Eleanor’s relationship with the handsome Count, father of her future husband. There is no direct evidence, but I think it most likely that they indulged in a a brief affair of lust and stunning physical attraction when they met in Poitiers. I believe that Eleanor would have found Geoffrey utterly seductive after years of Louis’ increasing lack of interest in her. I am sure Geoffrey saw the affair as a means of persuading Eleanor to his side in negotiations with Louis. I expect it was an affair they both enjoyed.
Raymond, Prince of Antioch. Raymond was Eleanor’s uncle, her father’s brother. There was only a span of about ten years between them and Eleanor’s knowledge of this charismatic man before my story opens would have been very brief. What happens between them in Antioch when Eleanor was crusading? The rumours were very strong and refused to die. I thought there was enough to merit including the episode. To find out more (so that I do not spoil the anticipation here) you must read Queen Defiant.
Henry Plantagenet. Eleanor’s second husband.
Here Eleanor and Henry lie side by side in the Abbey of Fontrevrault. They were originally buried in the crypt but the tombs were desecrated during the French Revolution and their bones scattered, but they have since been restored and moved into their present position. Henry was eleven years Eleanor’s, yet he was a perfect match for her and a foil for her strong will. Restless, mercurial, brilliant, Henry was impatient to build an empire and saw Eleanor’s lands as a major step on that road. Eleanor saw in Henry a strong sword-arm to protect Aquitaine. It was a truly explosive relationship and I think not without physical attraction.
How would you introduce your portrait of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Queen Defiant in about 50 words?
In her lifetime Eleanor was the most scandalous woman in all of Christendom. Passionate and couragous, vividly beautiful and highly educated, Eleanor was determined to hold fast to her independence and rule Aquitaine. Rejecting one husband, she gambled everything on an alliance with Henry Plantagent, a young man as power-hungry and ambitious as she was, a man who could provide her with the fulfilment she had lacked with Louis of France.
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