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,...
(The entire section is 478 words.)