The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick
With Summer in the title, and this gorgeous lush cover, was it any wonder that this book was high on my summer to-read list this year? I've read other historical fiction by Elizabeth Chadwick and was excited to see that she brought Eleanor of Aquitaine to life in this book. I'd heard Eleanor's name before, but didn't know much about her story, and this book was a gorgeous representation of her life, her accomplishments, her struggles, and her heart.
With lush descriptions, Chadwick portrays a strong, level-headed, courageous young Eleanor. Before his untimely death, Eleanor's father, the duke of Aquitane, arranged for her to marry the crown prince of France. At first, the union is a happy one, and although they are young teenagers, it seems that they will find real happiness in each other. After only a few short months of marriage, though, the king of France suddenly dies as well, and Eleanor and Louis are thrust into the roles of king and queen. Over the next couple of years things go well for them and it seems that they have filled the roles thrust upon them so young, but then cracks start to appear. Louis grows every more obsessed with religion and Eleanor suffers multiple miscarriages and stillbirths, which strain their marriage as no heir is in sight.
Eleanor begins looking for a way to annul the marriage as Louis descends into religious fanaticism, and falls in love with one of her countrymen. They begin an affair, and Louis demands they both accompany him on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The journey is brought with peril, and before it is over, Eleanor's love is forced to return to Aquitaine in fear of his life. When the annulment finally comes through, years later, and Eleanor returns to Aquitaine, her love has fallen ill and soon passes away. As the novel ends, Eleanor enters into a marriage with the exiled heir to the English throne, nine years her junior, but a happy partner in their marriage nonetheless, and they are set as a couple to take the English throne together.
Exciting and engaging, this historical fiction novel will find fans in lovers of Phillipa Gregory's work, and is a pleasure to read. You can't help but admire Eleanor and her courage as she faced difficulty after difficulty, chafing against the limitations society held for women at the time. I am so glad that Chadwick chose to portray this story. I loved learning about Eleanor and her life story. It is a great summer read if you're looking for another book to squeeze in before fall comes at us in a few weeks.