Captive Queen: A Novel Of Eleanor Of Aquitaine by Alison WeirCaptive Queen: A Novel Of Eleanor Of Aquitaine by Alison Weir

Captive Queen: A Novel Of Eleanor Of Aquitaine

byAlison Weir

Paperback | April 19, 2011

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For historical fiction readers, a tantalizing new novel from New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir about the passionate and notorious French queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Renowned for her highly acclaimed and bestselling British histories, Alison Weir has in recent years made a major impact on the fiction scene with her novels about Queen Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey. In this latest offering, she imagines the world of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the beautiful twelfth-century woman who was Queen of France until she abandoned her royal husband for the younger man who would become King of England. In a relationship based on lust and a mutual desire for great power, Henry II and Eleanor took over the English throne in 1154, thus beginning one of the most influential reigns and tumultuous royal marriages in all of history. In this novel, Weir uses her extensive knowledge to paint a most vivid portrait of this fascinating woman.


From the Hardcover edition.
ALISON WEIRis the author of two previous books of historical fiction, Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth. Her non-fiction books include The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella, Mistress of the Monarchy, and, most recently, The Lady in the Tower.From the Hardcover edition.
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Title:Captive Queen: A Novel Of Eleanor Of AquitaineFormat:PaperbackDimensions:544 pages, 7.98 × 5.15 × 1.15 inPublished:April 19, 2011Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385667094

ISBN - 13:9780385667098

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pretty good Eleanor of Aquitaine is a very interesting woman, but at times the book could get a little dull. Better written than some other historical fiction out there.
Date published: 2018-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very in-depth I had never heard of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I was always intrigued with the Tudor court. When I picked up other books by Alison Weir and came across this book I had to grab it. It was very in-depth and intriguing to read. I feel like I know Eleanor of Aquitaine and the struggles and pain that she went through.
Date published: 2017-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love this Prior to reading this novel I hadn't hear of Eleanor Aquitaine, and now I feel as though I know her personally. Alison Weir does such a fantastic job of capturing and personalizing her characters while weaving a fantastic story around their lives.
Date published: 2017-03-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good At times i couldn't wait to skip, but the story is good overall. Sometimes hr thoughts and desires mentioned are not needed.
Date published: 2015-08-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Eleanor of Acquitaine I really wasn't sure what to expect of this book, knowing little of this era. However, I loved it. The characters were rich and the story enthralling.
Date published: 2015-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captive Queen Alison Weir brought to life the fascinating story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a thoroughly vibrant and strong woman. Eleanor could easily fit into today's world as a leader of England, much akin to Margaret Thatcher. An enjoyable read, difficult to put down until the last page has been turned. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I really liked this Eleanor of Aquitaine was married to King Louis VII of France, but after she got an annulment from him, she almost immediately turned around and married Henry Plantagenet (Henry II) of England. Eleanor and Henry had many children, and plenty of disagreements - Henry had mistresses and Eleanor wanted more control over her Aquitaine lands. For a number of years, Henry imprisoned Eleanor after he felt that she played a part in his sons' revolt against him. This book primarily focuses on Eleanor's life while she was married to Henry. I really liked this. I know a lot of people didn't, but I liked the story. This is the first I've read about Eleanor of Aquitaine, though, and I already knew I'd go on to read more than this (both fiction and nonfiction).
Date published: 2012-09-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Left me Disappointed A novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine Eleanor of Aquitaine was a fascinating woman and a legend; highlights of her life have been recounted numerous times. This historical fiction is yet another side of the turbulent life of one of the world’s most passionate and charismatic queens. The tale is told with vitality and empathy and gives a new dimension on the terrible story of lust and fruitful union which eventually turned into a marriage from hell. The novel opens in 1152, when Eleanor then married to Louis VII of France and mother of two daughters meet and was smitten by young Henry FitzEmpress (Henry II) who was 11 years her junior. Eleanor’s less-than-fulfilling marriage to Louis VII led her into the arms of Henry and with her divorce and subsequent marriage, they became one of the most powerful unions in Christendom with control over Anjou, Normandy, Brittany, Aquitaine and eventually England, when Henry was crowned king. At first their attraction is magical and filled with lust and passion, their union yields eleven children. Unfortunately through the years their love turns to bitterness and their life begins a fiery downward spiral marred by power struggles, betrayals, bitter rivalries and Eleanor’s long imprisonment. I enjoy quality historical fiction from time to time but his one left me somewhat disappointed. It took a while to warm up to the characters there was too much emphasis on their bedroom exploits but the modern narrative and language made it easy to understand, however the consequences are, it also resembled a romance novel with all its clichés. The best part of the book in my view is the chapters around events concerning Thomas Beckett; this interesting person spiked my interest. To say that this novel is not well-written or engaging would be false, Ms. Weir manages to capture the essence of a medieval marriage, one of love and convenience, that led to one of the most extraordinary and tempestuous marriages in history.
Date published: 2011-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a Great Novel! I wish I could give it more than 5 stars! Alison Weir grabs the reader right from the first chapter and keeps the exciting pace up throughout the entire book. A riveting portrayal of the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. She certainly does a fine job bringing this historical period to life. I can't wait to read more novels from this very gifted author.
Date published: 2011-05-01

Read from the Book

1Paris, August 1151  Please God, let me not betray myself, Queen Eleanor prayed inwardly as she seated herself gracefully on the carved wooden throne next to her husband, King Louis. The royal court of France had assembled in the gloomy, cavernous hall in the Palace of the Cité, which commanded one half of the Île de la Cité on the River Seine, facing the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Eleanor had always hated this palace, with its grim, crumbling stone tower and dark, chilly rooms. She had tried to lighten the oppressive hall with expensive tapestries from Bourges, but it still had a stark, somber aspect, for all the summer sunshine piercing the narrow windows. Oh, how she longed for the graceful castles of her native Aquitaine, built of light mellow stone on lushly wooded hilltops! How she longed to be in Aquitaine itself, and that other world in the sun-baked south that she had been obliged to leave behind all those years ago. But she had schooled her thoughts not to stray in that direction. If they did, she feared, she might go mad. Instead, she must fix her attention on the ceremony that was about to begin, and play her queenly role as best she could. She had failed Louis, and France, in so many ways—more than anyone could know—so she could at least contrive to look suitably decorative. Before the King and Queen were gathered the chief lords and vassals of France, a motley band in their scarlets, russets, and furs, and a bevy of tonsured churchmen, all—save for one—resplendent in voluminous, rustling robes. They were waiting to witness the ending of a war. Louis looked drawn and tired, his cheeks still flushed with the fever that had laid him low for some weeks now, but at least, thought Eleanor, he had risen from his bed. Of course, Bernard of Clairvaux, that meddlesome abbot standing apart in his unbleached linen tunic, had told him to, and when Bernard spoke, Louis, and nearly everyone else in Christendom, invariably jumped. She did not love Louis, but she would have done much, especially at this time when he was low in body and spirits, to spare him any hurt—and herself the shame and the fearful consequences of exposure. She had thought herself safe, that her great sin was a secret she would take with her to her grave, but now the one person who might, by a chance look or gesture, betray her and imperil her very existence was about to walk through the great doors at the end of the hall: Geoffrey, Count of Anjou—whom men called “Plantagenet,” on account of the broom flower he customarily wore in his hat. Really, though, she thought resentfully, Louis could hardly blame her for what she had done. It was he, or rather the churchmen who dominated his life, who had condemned her to live out her miserable existence as an exile in this forbidding northern kingdom with its gray skies and dour people; and to follow a suffocating, almost monastic régime, cloistered from the world with only her ladies for company. For fourteen long years now, her life had been mostly barren of excitement and pleasure—and it was only in a few stolen moments that she had briefly known another existence. With Marcabru; with Geoffrey; and, later, with Raymond. Sweet sins that must never be disclosed outside the confessional, and certainly not to Louis, her husband. She was his queen and Geoffrey his vassal, and both had betrayed their sacred oaths. Thus ran the Queen’s tumultuous thoughts as she sat with the King on their high thrones, waiting for Geoffrey and his son Henry to arrive, so that Louis could exchange with them the kiss of peace and receive Henry’s formal homage. The war was thus to be neatly concluded—except there could be no neat conclusion to Eleanor’s inner turmoil. For this was to be the first time she had set eyes on Geoffrey since that blissful, sinful autumn in Poitou, five years before. It had not been love, and it had not lasted. But she had never been able to erase from her mind the erotic memory of herself and Geoffrey coupling gloriously between silken sheets, the candlelight a golden glow on their entwined bodies. Their coming together had been a revelation after the fumbling embarrassment of the marriage bed and the crude awakening afforded her by Marcabru; she had never dreamed that a man could give her such prolonged pleasure. It had surged again and again until she cried out with the joy of it, and it had made her aware, as never before, what was lacking in her union with Louis. Yet she had forced herself to forget, because Louis must never know. One suspected betrayal was enough, and that had hurt him so deeply his heart could never be mended. Things had not been the same between them since, and all she was praying for now was the best way out of the ruins of their marriage. And now Geoffrey was in Paris, in this very palace, and she was terrified in case either of them unwittingly gave Louis or anyone else—the all-seeing Abbot Bernard in particular—cause to wonder what had passed between them. In France they did terrible things to queens who were found guilty of adultery. Who had not heard the dreadful old tale of Brunhilde, the wife of King Clotaire, who had been falsely accused of infidelity and murder, and torn to death by wild horses tethered to her hair, hands, and feet? Eleanor shuddered whenever she thought of it. Would Louis be so merciless if he found out that she had betrayed him? She did not think so, but neither did she want to put him to the test. He must never, ever know that she had lain with Geoffrey. Even so, fearful though she was, she could not but remember how it had been between them, and how wondrously she had been awakened to the pleasures of love . . . No, don’t think of it! she admonished herself. That way lies the danger of exposure. She even began to wonder if that wondrous pleasure had been worth the risk . . . The trumpets were sounding. They were coming now. At any moment Geoffrey would walk through the great door. And there he was: tall, flame-haired, and intense, strength and purpose in his chiseled features, controlled vitality in his long stride. He had not changed. Hewas advancing toward the dais, his eyes fixed on Louis. He did not look her way. She forced herself to lift her chin and stare ahead. Virtuous ladies kept custody of their eyes, Grandmère Dangerosa had counseled her long ago; but Dangerosa herself had been no saint, and in her time used her eyes to very good effect, to snare Eleanor’s grandfather, the lusty troubadour Duke of Aquitaine. Eleanor had learned very early in life that women could wield a strange power over men, even as she did over Louis, although, God help them both, it had never been sufficient to stir his suppressed and shrinking little member to action very often. Eleanor tried not to think of her frustration, but that was difficult when the man who had shown her how different things could be was only feet away from her, and accompanied by his eighteen-year-old son. His son! Suddenly, her eyes were no longer in custody but running amok. Henry of Anjou was slightly shorter than his father, but he more than made up for that in presence. He was magnificent, a young, redheaded lion, with a face upon which one might gaze a thousand times yet still wish to look again and feast on the gray eyes, which outdid his father’s in intensity. His lips were blatantly sensual, his chest broad, his body muscular and toned from years in the saddle and the field of battle. Despite his rugged masculinity, Henry moved with a feline grace and suppressed energy that hinted at a deep and powerful sexuality. His youthful maleness was irresistible, glorious. Eleanor took one look at him—and saw Geoffrey no more. There was no doubt at all that her interest was returned, for, as Louis rose and embraced Geoffrey, Henry’s appreciative gaze never left Eleanor: his eyes were dark with desire, mischievous with intent. Lust knifed through her. She could barely control herself. Never had she reacted so violently to any man. With an effort, she dragged her eyes—those treacherous eyes—back to the homage that was being performed, then watched Henry, in the wake of his father, falling to his knees and placing his hands between those of the King. “By the Lord,” he said in a deep, gravelly voice, “I will to you be true and faithful, and love all that you love, and shun all that you shun. Nor  will I ever, by will or action, through word or deed, do anything which is unpleasing to you, on condition that you will hold to me as I shall deserve, so help me God.” Eleanor was captivated. She wanted this man. Watching him, she knew—she could not have said how—that he was destined to be hers, and that she could have him at the click of her fingers. Her resolve to end her marriage quickened. She caught Geoffrey looking at her, but found herself staring straight through him, barely noticing the faint frown that darkened his brows as he watched her. She was thinking of how she was bound by invisible ties to the three men standing before her, that each was unaware of that fact, and that two of those ties must now be loosed. Forgetting Geoffrey would be easy: she saw with sharp clarity that she had fed off that fantasy for too long, of necessity. It had been lust, no more, embellished in her mind with the fantasies born of frustration. And she had waited for years to be free of poor Louis. The only question now was how to accomplish it. “In the name of God, I formally invest you with the dukedom of Normandy,” Louis was intoning to Henry, then bent forward and kissed the young man on both cheeks. The young duke rose to his feet and stepped backward to join his father, and both men bowed. “We have much to thank Abbot Bernard for,” the King murmured to Eleanor, his handsome features relaxing into the sweet smile that he reserved only for his beautiful wife. “This peace with Count Geoffrey and his son was of his making.” More likely it was some wily strategy invented by Geoffrey, Eleanor thought, but she forbore to say anything. Even the unworldly Louis had accounted it odd that the crafty Count of Anjou had made this sudden about-turn after blaspheming in the face of the saintly Bernard, who had dared to castigate Geoffrey for backing his son, Henry FitzEmpress. Stubbornly, Henry FitzEmpress had for a long time refused to perform homage to his overlord, King Louis for the dukedom of Normandy. Even Eleanor had been shocked. “That boy is arrogant!” Louis had fumed. “I hear he has a temper on him that would make a saint quail. Someone needs to bridle him before he gets out of control, and his father cannot be trusted to do it, whatever fair words he speaks for my benefit. “I can’t believe that Geoffrey was lackwitted enough to cede his duchy to that cocky young stripling,” Louis muttered now, the smile fixed on his face. Eleanor was finding it difficult to say anything in reply, so smitten was she with Henry. “Even now, I do not trust either of them, and neither does Abbot Bernard. Whatever anyone says, I was right to refuse initially to recognize Henry as duke. Why God in His wisdom struck me down with illness just as I was about to march on them I will never understand.” Louis was working himself up into one of his rare but deadly furies, and Eleanor, despite herself, knew that she had to make him calm down. People were looking . . . Louis was gripping the painted arms of his throne with white knuckles. She laid a cool hand on his. “We must thank God for Abbot Bernard’s intervention,” she murmured soothingly, recalling how Bernard had stepped in and, ignoring Geoffrey’s customary swearing and bluster—God, the man had a temper on him—had in the end performed little less than a miracle in averting war. “Aye, it was a fair bargain,” Louis conceded, his irritation subsiding. “No one else could have extracted such terms from the Angevins.” Eleanor could only agree that Henry’s offer of the Vexin, that much-disputed Norman borderland, in return for the King’s acknowledgment of him as Duke of Normandy, was a masterful solution to the dispute. “Come, my lord,” she said, “they are all waiting. Let us entertain our visitors.”  As wine and sweetmeats were brought and served, the King and Queen and their important guests mingled with the courtiers in that vast, dismal hall. Searching for Duke Henry in the throng, hoping for the thrill of even a few words with him, just to hear once more the sound of his voice, Eleanor unwillingly found herself face-to-face with the saintly Abbot Bernard, who seemed equally dismayed by the encounter. He did not like women, it was well known, and she was convinced he was terrified of the effect they might have on him. Heavens, he even disapproved of his sister, simply because she enjoyed being married to a rich man. Eleanor had always hated Bernard, that disapproving old misery—the antipathy was mutual, of course—but now courtesy demanded that she force herself to acknowledge him. The odor of sanctity that clung to him—Odor indeed! she thought—was not conducive to social conversation. Bernard’s stern, ascetic face gazed down at her. His features were emaciated, his skin stretched thin over his skull. All the world knew how greatly he fasted through love of Our Lord. There was barely anything of him. “My lady,” he said, bowing slightly, and was about to make his escape and move on when it suddenly struck Eleanor that he might be of use to her in her present turmoil. “Father Abbot,” she detained him, putting on her most beseeching look, “I am in need of your counsel.” He stood looking silently at her, never a man to waste words. She could sense his antipathy and mistrust; he had never liked her, and had made no secret of his opinion that she was interfering and overworldly. “It is a matter on which I have spoken to you before,” she said in a low voice. “It is about my marriage to the King. You know how empty and bitter my life has been, and that during all my fourteen years of living with Louis, I have borne him but two daughters. I despair of ever bearing him a son and heir, although I have prayed many times to the Virgin to grant my wish, yet I fear that God has turned His face from me.” Her voice broke in a well-timed sob as she went on, “You yourself have questioned the validity of the marriage, and I have long doubted it too. We are too close in blood, Louis and I. We had no dispensation. Tell me, Father Abbot, what can I do to avert God’s displeasure?” “Many share your concerns, my daughter,” Bernard replied, his voice pained, as if it hurt him to have to agree with her for once. “The barons themselves have urged the King to seek an annulment, but he is loath to lose your great domains. And, God help him, he loves you.” His lip curled. “Love?” Eleanor retorted. “Louis is like a child! He is an innocent, and afraid of love. He rarely comes to my bed. In faith, I married a monk, not a king!” “That is of less consequence than your unlawful wedlock,” Bernard flared. “Must you always be thinking of fleshly things?” “It is fleshly things that lead to the begetting of heirs!” Eleanor snapped. “My daughters are prevented by their sex from inheriting the crown, and if the King dies without an heir, France would be plunged into war. He should be free to remarry and father sons.” “I will speak to him again,” Bernard said, visibly controlling his irritation. “There are indeed many good reasons why this marriage should be dissolved.” Eleanor bit her lip, determined not to acknowledge the implied insult. Then she espied Henry of Anjou through a gap in the crowd, quaffing wine as he conversed with his father, Geoffrey, and her heart missed a beat. Bernard saw him too, and sniffed. “I distrust those Angevins,” he said darkly. “From the Devil they came, and to the Devil they will return. They are a cursed race. Count Geoffrey is as slippery as an eel, and I have never liked him. By his blasphemy, to my very face, he has revealed his true self. But the vengeance will be God’s alone. Mark you, my lady, Count Geoffrey will be dead within the month!” Eleanor was struck by a fleeting chill at the abbot’s words, but she told herself that they had been born only of outrage. Then she realized that Bernard was now frowning at Henry. “When I first saw the son, I knew a moment of terrible foreboding,” he said. “May I ask why?” Eleanor inquired, startled. “He is the true descendant of that diabolical woman, Melusine, the wife of the first Count of Anjou. I will tell you the story. The foolish man married her, being seduced by her beauty, and she bore him children, but she would never attend mass. One day, he forced her to, having his knights hold fast to her cloak, but when it came to the elevation of the Host, she broke free with supernatural strength and flew shrieking out of a window and was never seen again. There can be no doubt that she was the Devil’s own daughter, who could not bear to look upon the Body of Christ.” Eleanor smiled wryly. She had heard the tale before. “That’s just an old legend, Father Abbot. Surely you don’t believe it?” “Count Geoffrey and his son believe it,” Bernard retorted. “They mention it often. It seems they are even proud of it.” He winced in disgust.  “I think they might have been having a joke at your expense,” she told him, remembering Geoffrey’s wicked sense of humor. God only knew, he’d needed it, married to that harridan, Matilda the Empress, who never ceased reminding him that her father had been King of England and her first husband the Holy Roman Emperor himself! And that she was wasted on a mere count! “One should never joke about such things,” Bernard said stiffly. “And now, my lady, I must speak with the King.” He backed away, nodding his obeisance, evidently relieved to be quitting her company. She shrugged. Kings and princes might quail before him, but to her, Bernard of Clairvaux was just a pathetic, meddlesome, obsessive old man. And why should she waste her thoughts on him when Henry FitzEmpress was coming purposefully toward her. What was it about a certain arrangement of features and expression that gave one person such appeal for another, she wondered, unable to tear her eyes from the young duke’s face. “Madame the Queen, I see that the many reports of your beauty do not lie,” Henry addressed her, sketching a quick bow. Eleanor felt the lust rising again in her. God, he was beddable! What she wouldn’t give for one night between the sheets with him! “Welcome to Paris, my Lord Duke,” she said lightly. “I am glad you have reached an accord with the King.” “It will save a lot of bloodshed,” Henry said. She was to learn that he spoke candidly and to the point. His eyes, however, were raking up and down her body, taking in every luscious curve beneath the clinging silk gown, with its fitted corsage and double belt, which emphasized the slenderness of her waist and the swell of her hips. “I trust you had a good journey?” Eleanor inquired, feeling a little faint with desire. “Why don’t we forget the pleasantries?” Henry said abruptly. It was rude of him, but his words excited her. His gaze bore into hers. “We both know what this is all about, so why waste time, when we could be getting better acquainted?” Eleanor was about to ask him what he could possibly mean, or reprimand him for his unforgivable familiarity to the Queen of France, but what was the point? She wanted him as much as he clearly wanted her. Why deny it? “I should like to get to know you too,” she murmured, smiling at him boldly, and forgetting all that nonsense about custody of the eyes. “You must forgive me if I do not know how to respond.” “From what I’ve heard, you’ve not had much chance,” Henry said. “King Louis is known for his, shall we say, saintliness. Apart, of course, from when he is leading armies or burning towns. It is odd that such a pious man should be capable of such violence.” Eleanor shuddered. All these years later, she could not bear to think of what happened at Vitry. It had changed Louis forever. “My marriage has not been easy,” she admitted, glad to do so. Let Henry not think she was in love with her husband. Once she had been, in a girlish, romantic way, but that was long years ago. “You need a real man in your bed,” Henry told her bluntly, his eyes never leaving hers, his lips curling in a suggestive smile. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell Abbot Bernard,” Eleanor said mischievously. “Him? The watchdog of Christendom? He’d never understand.” Henry laughed. “Do you know that when he was young, and got his first erection from looking at a pretty girl, he jumped into an icy pond to cure himself !” Eleanor felt herself flush with excitement at his words. So soon had they progressed to speaking of such intimate matters, it was unreal—and extremely stimulating. “You are very self-assured for such a boy,” she said provocatively. “Are you really only eighteen?” “I am a man in all things that count,” Henry assured her meaningfully, slightly offended at her words. “Are you going to prove it to me?” she invited. “When?” he asked, his expression intent. “I will send a message to you by one of my women,” she told him without hesitation. “I will let you know when and where it is safe for us to be alone together.” “Is Louis a jealous husband?” Henry inquired. “No, he never comes to me these days,” Eleanor revealed, her tone bitter, “and he rarely ever did in the past. He should have entered a monastery, for he has no use for women.” “I have heard it said that he truly loves you,” Henry probed. “Oh, yes, I have no doubt that he does, but only in a spiritual way. He feels no need to possess me physically.” “Then he is a fool,” Henry muttered. “I cannot wait.” “I’m afraid you might have to,” Eleanor said lightly. “I have enemies at this court. The French have always hated me. Everything I do is wrong. I feel I am in a prison, there are so many restrictions on what I do, and they watch me, constantly. So I must be careful, or my reputation will be dragged further in the dust.” Henry raised his eyebrows. “Further?” “Maybe you have heard the tales they tell of me,” Eleanor said lightly. “I have heard one or two things that made me sit up and take notice.” He grinned. “Or stand up and take notice, if you want the bare truth! But I have been no angel myself. We are two of a kind, my queen.” “I only know that I have never felt like this,” Eleanor whispered, catching her breath. “Hush, madame,” Henry warned. “People are looking. We have talked too long together. I will wait to hear from you.” He raised her hand and kissed it. The touch of his lips, his flesh, was like a jolt to her system.  Later that night, Eleanor sat before her mirror, gazing into its burnished silver surface. Her image stared back at her, and she looked upon her oval face with its alabaster-white skin, cherry-red rosebud lips, sensuous, heavy-lidded eyes, and well-defined cheekbones, the whole framed with a cascade of coppery tresses. She marveled that she had as yet no lines or wrinkles, but even so, wondered if Henry would desire her as much when he realized that, at twenty-nine, she was eleven years older than he was. But of course he must know that. The whole world knew of her great marriage to Louis; there was no secret about her age. Setting aside her fears, she stood up and regarded her naked body in the mirror. Surely Henry would be pleased when he saw her firm, high breasts, narrow waist, flat belly, and curving hips. The very thought of that steely, knowing gaze upon her nudity made her melt with need, and her fingers crept greedily down to that secret place between her legs, the place that people like Bernard regarded as forbidden to the devout: the place where, five years before, she had learned to feel rushes and crescendos of unutterable pleasure. It was Marcabru the troubadour who had shown her how, the incomparable Marcabru, whom she herself had invited from her native Aquitaine to the court of Paris—where his talents, such as they were, had not been appreciated. Dark and almost satanic in aspect, he had excited and awakened her with his suggestive—and very bad—poems in honor of her loveliness, and then done what Louis never had to bring her to a climax, one glorious July day in a secluded arbor in the palace gardens. But Louis’s suspicions and jealousy had been aroused by Marcabru’s overfamiliarity in the verses he dedicated to the Queen, and he had banished him back to the South without ever realizing just how far Marcabru had abused his hospitality. It had been Eleanor’s hunger to know that sweet fulfilment once more that had driven her into the arms of Geoffrey the following autumn. Since then she had learned to pleasure herself, and she did so now, hungrily, her body alive in anticipation of the joys she would share with Henry of Anjou when they could be together. And, gasping as the shudders of her release convulsed her, she promised herself that it would be soon. After all, Henry and Geoffrey would not be staying long in Paris.  “I watched you talking to the Queen,” Geoffrey said. “We exchanged a few pleasantries,” Henry said guardedly, filling his goblet. He never discussed his dealings with women with his father. “It looked like a lot more than that,” Geoffrey accused him. “I know you, Henry. Remember, boy, she is the Queen of France, not some trollop you’d screw in a haystack. And we’ve only just made peace with her husband the King.” “I know all that,” Henry replied mulishly. “I’m not an idiot.” “Convince me of that,” his father retorted. “I saw you looking at her lustfully. And I saw her casting her unchaste eyes on you. You know, Henry, she has a reputation.” “So rumor has it,” Henry said. “But there is no proof. Her husband has not cast her off for infidelity. Maybe the rumors have wronged her.” “Her husband,” Geoffrey said carefully, “does not know the least of it, I am sure.” “It ill becomes you to impugn her honor, Father!” Henry snapped. “Oh, so you are hot for her,” Geoffrey observed dryly. Then his tone hardened. “Listen, my son. I say this for a very good reason. I absolutely forbid you to touch her. Not only is she married and the wife of your overlord, and therefore doubly prohibited to you, but”—and here the count hesitated and looked away—“I have known her myself.” “I don’t believe you, Father,” Henry retorted. “You’re just saying that to warn me off.” “It’s true, God help me,” Geoffrey insisted, his voice sounding wistful. “Five years ago I had a secret affair with her, when I was seneschal of Poitou. She was there raising support for the crusade. It was just a brief thing, nothing serious, and fortunately nothing came of it. We were never discovered.” Henry snorted. “So what of it? What difference does it make to me having her now? You clearly don’t want her anymore.” “You don’t understand, boy,” Geoffrey hissed, grasping Henry firmly by the shoulders. “If you bed her, you commit incest. Such a relationship is forbidden by the Church.” Henry glared at him and wrenched himself free. “By the eyes of God, I care not a fig what the Church says!” he snapped. “A lot of things are forbidden by the Church, but they go on, and neither you, my lord, nor anyone else can stop me having my will of her—and not only my will, but a whole lot more besides. In case you’ve forgotten, she is the greatest heiress in Christendom.” Geoffrey’s handsome face registered shock. He shot to his feet, sending his empty goblet clattering to the floor. “She is married to the King of France,” he hissed. “She can be unmarried!” Henry answered. “I keep my eyes and ears open. Have you not heard what is being said at this court? That the marriage is invalid and should be dissolved? The barons believe it, the Queen is said to have urged it, even our friend Bernard, God damn him, is of that opinion. Only the King is obdurate.” “He will not relinquish her domains,” Geoffrey said. “It is too rich an inheritance to give up, so you can forget it.” “No,” Henry defied him. “Louis can’t keep hold of Aquitaine. His authority counts for little there. They’re an unruly lot, Eleanor’s vassal lords. Even her father couldn’t control them.” “And you think you could!” Geoffrey taunted. “I’d stand a better chance than they,” Henry assured him. “Louis hasn’t the resources. But when England is mine, along with Normandy, I will be ready and able to enforce my rule.” “You run ahead of yourself, boy,” Geoffrey said wearily. “There is no guarantee that England ever will be yours. God knows your mother and King Stephen fought bitterly over it for years, but Stephen is still enthroned there, despite what people say about God and His saints having slept through all the terrible years of his reign; and he has an heir, Eustace, to succeed him. Against that, the claim of your mother, a woman, however rightful, is tenuous indeed. She lost all hope of success years ago when she upset the English by her haughty ways.” His tone made it clear that he too had been alienated by them. “That’s unfair! You never loved my mother,” Henry flung at him. “We’ve always cordially hated each other, you know that,” Geoffrey replied sanguinely. “But that’s beside the point. Those whom God hath joined must learn to put up with each other, or live apart, as we have. As for you, my son, just forget this harebrained scheme to snatch Queen Eleanor from her husband. You will live to regret it, I promise you.” “There would be no snatching involved. I know, as sure as God is God, that she would come to me quite willingly.” “Then you’re more of a fool than I’d realized,” Geoffrey spat, retrieving his goblet and striding toward the lion-shaped aquamanile jug on the table. He poured a full measure of wine, then downed it in one gulp. “You hardly know her.” “Enough to know that I want her, and not just for her domains.” The young duke’s excited brain was racing ahead of him. “Yet think on it, Father: were I to marry Eleanor, I’d become master of all the land from the River Loire to the Pyrenees, a mighty inheritance, perhaps the mightiest in history. I could found an empire—an Angevin empire. I would advance our house and make you proud of me. Louis would be pissing himself at the prospect!” “Which is precisely why he won’t let Eleanor go,” Geoffrey reminded him. “Why should he effectively hand those rich domains to a vassal? If he divorces her, there’ll be a stampede for her hand, which is why he’s stalling. God, Henry, you can be stubborn. Just leave it alone. No good can come of it.” “I don’t call gaining half of France no good,” his son riposted. “Then think of your immortal soul, you young fool.” “Oh, I do think of it always, I assure you, Father,” Henry lied.  Henry closed the door and stood regarding Eleanor in the flickering light of the candles. He was wearing the same plain hunting clothes he had worn for the investiture. In contrast, she had donned a thin loose robe of finest white samite, pinned on earrings of precious stones, and had her maids brush her long hair until it shone like bright molten fire. She found herself reveling in the power she could wield over Henry with her beauty and her body. She was headily aware of the diaphanous quality of her robe, the prominence of her erect nipples, and his obvious pleasure at what he was avidly devouring with his eyes. He moved quickly toward her, throwing his belt aside and ripping off his tunic as he strode across the floor. His chest was broad, lightly covered with brown hair, darker than that on his head, and his arms and shoulders rippled with muscle. Eleanor could not stop herself. With a muted cry she went to him, herself pulling down his braies to reveal his engorged penis. She was cherishing it in both hands when Henry’s strong arms folded around her, crushing her against him as he pressed urgent lips to her forehead and then sought her mouth. His fingers, rough with calluses from riding, were tugging at the embroidered neckline of her robe, pulling it down around her hips, then grasping her upper arms to hold her away from him as he stared at her full breasts. Then he bent and released the robe, which fluttered to the floor around her ankles, leaving her standing there naked before him. Lifting her up, he carried her to the waiting bed and lay down with her on the silk sheets and bolsters, his hands everywhere, caressing her until she thought she would die of the pleasure. She gave like-for-like in return, teasing and exciting him with her fingers and tongue until he could bear it no more and swiftly mounted her, thrusting deeper inside her than any lover before him, and flooding her with his desire, shouting his triumph. Afterward, Eleanor eagerly took his hand and guided his fingers to her clitoris, not needing to show him what to do next, for he clearly knew. Her climax, when it came, was shattering, for Henry, hard again, entered her once more at the moment of culmination. She had not believed such ecstasy possible.  It was hours before they slept. Eleanor had never before had such a vigorous and enthusiastic lover, and she quickly discovered in herself an undreamed of capacity for pleasure in places she had barely known existed. Then came sleep, quiet and restful, and in the dawn, when she awakened, Henry’s arms about her once more and his manhood insistent against her thigh. Later, lying close to him in the afterglow of lovemaking, getting to know each other better, she knew she could never relinquish him. Henry’s gray eyes, heavy-lidded with fulfillment, were gazing into hers. His full lips twitched into a smile. “I think,” he murmured, “that I have never felt like this with a woman before.” His fingers, surprisingly gentle, traced her cheek. His dynamism, even after his passion had been spent, excited her. “I feel wonderful,” she told him, her eyes holding his. “Tell me this is more than just lust.” “I cannot deny it.” He grinned. “In truth, you are magnificent.” He stretched out his hand and smoothed it slowly along the length of her body. “But I want you for more than this. I want to know you, all of you. I want your mind as well as your body. I want your soul.” “From the moment I saw you, I felt—nay, I knew—that we were destined for each other,” Eleanor ventured. “Does that sound extravagant?” “No,” Henry replied. “I feel the same, and it is a delight to me that we are equal in our passion.” It had to be destiny, Eleanor was certain. She was filled with a sense of it, and of elation. God had led this man to cross her path, this man who had the power to satisfy not only her body but also her ambition. She had known, in the moment they had joined as one, that their coming together would have far-reaching consequences, and with a sudden flash of perfect clarity, she could see what those consequences would be. She would leave Louis and break their marriage. She would go back south to Aquitaine and reclaim it as her own. Then she would give it, with herself, as a gift to Henry. Together, with her lands joined to his coming inheritance, they could build an empire such as Christendom had never seen, and Aquitaine would become a great power in the world. And with Henry’s backing, she would quell her turbulent lords and rule it wisely and well. “Henry FitzEmpress,” she said, looking into those fathomless eyes, “I want to be your wife.” “And I, my lady, want to be your husband,” he replied ardently, kissing her again. “I know, for many speak of it, that you have doubts about your marriage, doubts shared even by the saintly Bernard. But what of Louis? Will he let you go?” “I will talk to him,” Eleanor whispered, nuzzling his ear. “This time he must listen.” “You’re not going to tell him about us?” Henry asked, alarmed. “Of course not,” she said. “I am not a fool, my heart. Do you think he would relinquish me, knowing I wanted to marry you?” “No, I am the fool! My father often says it.” Eleanor giggled and began lightly stroking his hairy thigh. “It makes sense, us marrying,” she said. “I have long wanted my freedom, but how long would I keep it? I would be beset by fortune hunters. I could not wed just any man. But you would be my powerful protector, and I know without doubt that you would safeguard my inheritance, and help me to rule it well.” Henry looked long and hard at her. “It did occur to me you would think I had pursued you only for your inheritance. I think you know now that there is a little more to it than that.” He stretched luxuriously, toying with her nipples. “Even if you were dowerless, I would want you for my wife. I mean that, Eleanor. By the eyes of God!” “I believe you,” she answered teasingly, “although I should hope that God has averted His eyes for the moment! Yet it has not escaped my notice that the men, money, and resources that my domains could offer you would be of enormous help in gaining you England!” Henry laughed. “So you know about my ambitions in that direction. Of course, it is no secret.” “And,” Eleanor went on, “I am aware too that marrying me would make you the greatest and richest prince in the whole world.” “Now, why didn’t I think of that?” Henry countered. “Suddenly, you are infinitely more desirable!” He began kissing her, playfully at first, then with a more serious purpose. “Wait,” Eleanor said, holding him off. “Shall we make a promise to marry?” He became still and regarded her solemnly. “We shall. I, Henry FitzEmpress, take thee, Eleanor of Aquitaine, as my future wedded wife.” Eleanor sat up in the bed, her long hair tumbling over her breasts. “And I, Eleanor, do promise myself to thee, Henry, forever and ever, Amen.” She beamed at him with such radiance that he caught his breath. “Now it is decided. We will make it come about. You can leave Louis to me.” “I shall have to. We depart for Anjou tomorrow. You will not fail me, my Eleanor, I know that.” Henry took her hand and kissed it. She had intuitively guessed that, plain man as he was, he made such courtly gestures but rarely, and she prized it all the more for that. “I have made up my mind,” she declared. “Nothing shall stand in our way. But there must be the strictest secrecy. We must give Louis no clue that we intend to wed until the deed is accomplished.” “You speak sense, for he would be bound to forbid it,” Henry commended her. “He distrusts me as it is, for my fiefs encircle his royal demesne on most sides. I could be his greatest enemy. The prospect of my acquiring rich Aquitaine too would give him apoplexy!” He paused, frowning. “You do realize that our marrying without his permission, as our overlord, could mean war?” “I do,” Eleanor said calmly. “Yet which side would have the greater chance of victory? There would be no contest. The kingdom of France is small and weak compared with the might of Aquitaine, Poitou, and Normandy.” “Might is one thing, right another,” Henry reminded her. “Many will support Louis out of a sense of moral duty. They will argue that we acted with the greatest provocation, not to mention discourtesy. Yet if you are willing to take the risk, my lady, how could I gainsay you?” His eyes were twinkling in anticipation of a fight with Louis. “Some things are worth fighting for,” Eleanor declared. “I am not afraid.” “God, I love you,” Henry breathed, and crushed her beneath him once more.  “Go with God,” Eleanor said as, wrapping a cloak over her nudity, she kissed Henry farewell at the door of her chamber in the lightening of the sky before the dawn. “I will send for you as soon as I am free, then I will ride south to my capital at Poitiers. Join me there as soon as you can, if you would be married to me.” “I will not fail you,” Henry promised. “You may count on me. I live for the day.” Again he raised her hand to his lips. “I do not know how I shall bear being apart from you,” Eleanor told him. “It is only for a short time. Think on our three nights of love, and know that I will be thinking of them too, and longing for more.” After Henry had departed, slipping into the early morning mist in search of his tethered horse, Eleanor huddled her cloak close around her and prayed fervently for a happy outcome. “Home,” she breathed. “I want to go home. I want this exile to end, to be among my own people, where I am loved. And with Henry FitzEmpress by my side, as Aquitaine’s duke. Together, we will usher in a new golden age. It would be joy beyond what I could ever have wished for. Dear God, hear my prayer! Oh, hear my prayer!”From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

"Weir turns the heat up right from the start." --The Globe and Mail"Fascinating--a tale of queens and kings, political intrigue and a warring family, tied around a passionate central character linked to them all." --Winnipeg Free Press"Many writers attempt the kind of heart-stopping historical fiction Weir has mastered. Few come close to her winning combination of brisk pacing, solid scene-stealing and the vivid descriptions a novel set in such a far-away time absolutely demands . . . . Sublime."--The Kansas City StarFrom the Hardcover edition.