In this novel we meet Eleanor of Aquitaine and it is clear from the beginning that she was no wilting wallflower. At age 15 Eleanor is longing for a marriage so she experience her first lover. Of course as a rich heiress her parents would seek to make the best marriage possible for her and they succeed by betrothing her to Louis, the Dauphin of France. Louis, destined for the church before his brother was tragically killed, is as different from Eleanor as can possibly be. He is docile while she is formidable and demanding. Still, initially they have a mutual attraction. Eleanor soon becomes bored and while on Crusade takes her own uncle as her lover and then the Saracen Saladin.
She grows increasingly bored of Louis and after giving him two daughters, demands a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity so that she can marry a "real man" and not be stuck with a weakling like Louis. She longs to return to her courts of love to be serenaded and lauded by her troubadours. After taking the visiting Geoffrey Plantagenet to her bed, his son Henry comes to the French court and Eleanor is soon enamored of him. She decides she must have her divorce from Louis and eventually wears him down and gets him to grant it. She immediately marries Henry who becomes King of England. At first they can't get enough of each other but soon Henry tires tires of Eleanor's demands and strays. Seeming to be in a perpetual state of pregnancy she gives him 5 boys and 3 girls.
They continue to grow further apart and the addition of one of Henry's bastards to the royal nursery does nothing to help this. Henry is soon spending all of his time with his Chancellor Thomas Becket, a man he greatly admires and has a deep friendship with and his mistress Rosamund Clifford. The friendship between Henry and Becket soon sours when Henry tries to control the church of England by naming Becket his Archbishop of Canterbury. He doesn't realize that in doing so Thomas' loyalties must shift from him to the church. The feud soon ends in tragedy as four knights eager to please the king mistake one of his vents of rage as a command and murder Beckett in his Cathedral. Henry soon realizes that he made a mistake in alienating Beckett and also in crowning his son Henry far too early.
I love Henry II and normally I love Eleanor of Aquitaine too but I just did not like her in this book. It seemed like a completely different character from the Eleanor I was introduced to in Plaidy's stand alone book about her- The Courts of Love. In this book it was nothing but Eleanor's unreasonable demands and her insatiable appetite for lovers. I did think the other characters were much better formed though. The conflict between Henry and Beckett was well written and I felt sorry for Eleanor's first husband Louis as he so obviously did not belong in the role of King.
Also while Plaidy is usually the gold standard for historical accuracy (which can make her writing read a bit too like a history book at times), in this book she has Eleanor taking Saladin as a lover. Saladin was born in 1138 and the Second Crusade was 1147-1149. Either our girl Eleanor likes them REALLY young or this just didn't happen.
It was a solid start to this 14 book series and I have a feeling the books will improve a great deal as the saga goes on. I am definitely looking forward to journeying further with the Plantagenet's.