Captive Queen by Alison Weir

  Author’s Note

  This novel is based on historical facts. However, Eleanor of Aquitaine lived in the twelfth century, and contemporary sources for her life are relatively sparse, as I found when I was researching my biography of her in the 1970s and 1990s. It was while I was writing that book that I first conceived the idea of writing historical novels. Essentially, the nature of medieval biography, particularly of women, is the piecing together of fragments of information and making sense of them. It can be a frustrating task, as there are often gaps that you know you can never fill. It came to me one day, as I realized I could go no further with one particular avenue of speculation, that the only way of filling those gaps would be to write a historical novel, because—as I then thought—a novelist does not have to work within the same constraints as a historian.

  But is that strictly true? What is the point of a historical novel (or film, for that matter) based on a real person if the author does not take pains to make it as authentic as possible? You can’t just make it up. I know, because my readers regularly—and forcefully—tell me so, that people care that what they are reading is close to the truth, given a little dramatic license and the novelist’s informed imagination. For lots of people—myself included—come to history through historical novels, and many will never make that leap from such novels to history books; they rely on the novelist to tell it as it was, and to set the story within an authentic background, with authentic detail. Of course, historical sources are subject to a wide variety of interpretations, but they are the only means we have of learning what happened centuries ago, and it is crucial that a historical novelist, just like a historian, uses them with integrity. Otherwise a novel must lack credibility.

  But what of the gaps? How should they be filled? Yes, it is liberating to be able to use one’s imagination, but you can’t simply indulge in flights of fancy, and what you invent must always be credible within the context of what is known. Making up wild, unsubstantiated stories will always fail to convince, and sells short both those who know nothing about the subject and those who know a great deal. There should always be a sound basis for writing anything that is controversial, and any significant departure from the historical record should be explained in an author’s note like this one.

  Hence, because this is a novel, I have taken some dramatic license. Eleanor’s sexual adventures, for example, have been the subject of much learned conjecture among historians, but I think there was some substance to the allegations, as I have shown in my biography. The Rosamund legends—the tales of the labyrinth at Woodstock and her murder by Eleanor—belong to much later periods, and are unfounded, yet I have made use of them here.

  Elsewhere, for dramatic purposes, or to add descriptive color to the story, I have taken a few liberties. The “Hall of Lost Footsteps” in Poitiers, where Eleanor receives Henry in Chapter 6, was not called that until four decades later, when she remodeled it. Although Eleanor was in fact Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou, in order to avoid confusion I have generally referred to her simply as Duchess of Aquitaine.

  We know that Eleanor could read, but there is no extant example of her handwriting, so it is not certain that she could write. In this novel, I have assumed—credibly, I think—that she could.

  Readers may find the descriptions of Henry II’s rages a little hard to believe, but the Plantagenet temper was notorious, and these scenes are just as they are described by contemporary chroniclers.

  Eleanor’s sister Petronilla is sometimes called Aelith in contemporary sources; I have opted to use the name by which she is more commonly known. There is no record of the date of Petronilla’s death, so I have made up my own tale about her fate, suggested by the regular payments in the Exchequer records for generous sums of wine for her.

  There is no evidence that Eleanor visited Woodstock in December 1166, when she was traveling in Oxfordshire, but I have made use of the conjectures of some biographers that she did indeed do so, and that she encountered Rosamund de Clifford there.

  Nor is there any historical evidence for any homosexual relationship between Henry II and Thomas Becket, although theirs was certainly an exceptionally close friendship. Accounts vary as to the exact words that Henry II used on the occasion when, in great anger and distress, he castigated his courtiers for allowing him to be mocked with contempt by Becket, and so inadvertently prompted four knights to go secretly to England and murder the Archbishop. Traditionally, he is said to have cried, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Although those words do not appear in any contemporary source, I have used them in this novel because of their dramatic effect.

  Some of the dialogue in the book comes from original sources, although I have modified it in parts to make it compatible with a twenty-first-century text. My inspiration, in writing the dialogue, comes from the film The Lion in Winter (1968 version) and Jean Anouilh’s Becket, in both of which pithily modern idioms combine with more archaic forms. This kind of language chimes well with translations of contemporary sources from Latin or Norman French. Such translations can sound surprisingly modern when compared with (for example) Tudor sources in old English.

  Writers familiar with my Tudor books may have noticed that I have “borrowed” from that period with my paraphrasing of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s verse. “If all the world were mine,” the song sung by the German minnesinger, was one of a collection of medieval goliardic songs adapted by Carl Orff for Carmina Burana, his collection of secular songs for orchestra, soloists, and chorus, which was first performed in 1937.

  Those with an eye for detail might wonder why the jacket illustration for a book about Eleanor’s years as Queen of England shows her wearing a blue gown patterned with fleurs-de-lis, the French royal arms. Although the fleur-de-lis symbol was used by her first husband, Louis VII, and had been associated with Frankish kings back to the Dark Ages, it was not used exclusively in France, and does not appear there as a royal heraldic symbol until 1211. In fact, it may not even represent a lily; there has been some debate as to whether it is meant to be a broom flower, the planta genista that gave Henry II’s dynasty its name. As heraldry was in its infancy in the twelfth century, and the fleur-de-lis was a popular symbol with several European dynasties at that time, it is credible that Eleanor of Aquitaine might have worn such a gown.

  Readers may also notice that I have incorporated descriptions of the reinterpreted rooms at the Great Tower in Dover Castle where the jacket photographs were taken.

  When I was researching my biography of Eleanor, and first conceived the idea of writing a novel, it was Eleanor whom I really wanted to write about. For obvious reasons I couldn’t do so at that time, and therefore I opted to write about Lady Jane Grey instead. That was in 1998, more than a decade ago, and I am delighted that I have at last been able to fulfill my original ambition. The wheel has come full circle!

  It was a deliberate decision not to write a fictional account of the whole of Eleanor’s life. Again, one of my chief inspirations was that incomparable film The Lion in Winter, and what I really wanted to explore in this novel was the marriage between Eleanor and Henry II—not just their dynamic interaction over one explosive Christmas, but the whole course of their relationship over a period of thirty-seven years. In doing so, I feel I have been able to achieve insights into what might have gone wrong between them, and to explain what drove them to act as they did. That has been the real challenge.

  I should like to extend my warm thanks and deep appreciation to my brilliant editors, Anthony Whittome, Kate Elton, and Caroline Gascoigne at Hutchinson and Arrow, and to Susanna Porter at Ballantine in New York, for the tremendous support they have all given me during the preparation of this book; to my agent, Julian Alexander, who is always marvelously kind and encouraging; to Sarah Eastall and Garry Newing for permitting us to shoot the jacket photograph in the Great Tower of Dover Castle, and for making us so welcome; and to all my family and friends, for putting up with a frantic maniac who is seemingly on
an endless mission to meet deadlines! Lastly, thank you, Rankin, my dear husband. I’ve said it many times, but it’s the plain truth: I couldn’t do it without you!


  ALISON WEIR is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including The Lady in the Tower, Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and The Six Lives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England, with her husband and two children.

  Captive Queen is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2010 by Alison Weir

  All rights reserved.

  Map by Reginald Piggott

  Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  Originally published by Hutchinson, a division of Random House Group Limited, London.

  BALLANTINE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.


  Weir, Allison.

  Captive queen : a novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine / Alison Weir.

  p. cm.

  eISBN: 978-0-345-52195-8

  1. Eleanor, of Aquitaine, Queen, consort of Henry II, King of England, 1122?–1204—Fiction. 2. Great Britain—History—Henry II, 1154–1189—Fiction. 3. France—History—Louis VII, 1137–1180—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6123.E36C37 2010

  823′.92—dc22 2010014855




  Alison Weir, Captive Queen



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