One difficulty in writing about medieval women stems from their position in a male-oriented society, as few sources focus on them. Even a woman as prominent as Eleanor of Aquitaine was defined by her place in relation to men as wife, mother, or participant in events such as wars and crusades where men were the primary leaders. Brooks points out this problem in her postscript, where she speculates on what Eleanor looked like because no visual or literary portrait of this famous woman exists.
The task of a biographer of a medieval woman such as Eleanor of Aquitaine is therefore to maintain a focus on the woman, her personality, and her achievements, while, at the same time, placing her within the context of the male-dominated events of her era. Brooks manages this biographical dilemma successfully. While the author clarifies the complex feudal relationships between England and France, the controversy between church and state illustrated in the Becket affair, and the adventure of the Crusades, Eleanor of Aquitaine remains a dominant figure in these events.
Brooks depicts Eleanor as a strong woman in terms of both her physical constitution and her indomitable spirit. Her long life of eighty-two years, exceeding those of two husbands and most of her children and during which she gave birth to ten offspring, as well as her incessant travels as far as the Holy Land, Sicily, and Spain, shows her impressive physical resources. More important, however,...
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Eleanor of Aquitaine has been the subject of several biographies, the most thorough of which, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, was written by Amy Kelly and was first published in 1950. Despite the excellent research presented in this scholarly study, its detailed analysis of historical events of the twelfth century at times obscures the historical portrait of Eleanor herself.
In contrast, Eleanor of Aquitaine emerges more clearly in this biography by Brooks. She simplifies the historical situations that formed the context of Eleanor’s life without distorting their complexities. Thus, Queen Eleanor: Independent Spirit of the Medieval World provides a more vivid picture of Eleanor as a woman and serves as an excellent introduction to Eleanor and her life and times for young adult readers. Because her life was so eventful, this balanced biography may stimulate readers to explore further details about Eleanor and the many exciting events to which she was a witness and in which she was a participant.