Tuesday, March 24, 2015


It's come round to my turn on THE HISTORY GIRLS blog and this month I've blogged about the vice of dice in the 12th and 13th centuries.   The more things change, the more they remain the same!  You can read the piece by clicking on the link below.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Henry II - A birthday anniversary:

Thought to be Henry II. A mural in the chapel of St Radegonde in Chinon dating to the late 12thc
Today, March 5th,  marks the anniversary of the birth of Henry II, one of England's greatest and most charismatic kings.  I'm not exactly a Henry II fan, but at the same time, I acknowledge his talent, his qualities and his drive. Every person has many facets to their character, and who knew in March 1133 what this red-haired newborn infant was going to become.
In LADY OF THE ENGLISH, I wrote several scenes from Henry's childhood and I thought I'd post a few to my blog today in tribute.
Henry as a toddler with his father Geoffrey le Bel:
His expression bright with pride, Geoffrey squatted to be at eye level with his son.  He was used to very small children -  Aelis’s two were in the nursery and there was not so great an age difference, but even so, this was his heir, the future Count of Anjou, and there was something about Henry that sent a pang of uncharacteristic tenderness through Geoffrey.   Matilda had carried him in her womb, but he had set the life spark inside her body and against the odds, some of them stacked by her. He lifted Henry in his arms.  Holding an infant was not a suitable role for a grown man of great estate, but in this instance, it showed the world that here was his acknowledged flesh and blood, destined to rule.
            Henry laughed, showing his pearly milk teeth, and pointed to the design on his father’s blue tunic.  ‘Lion,’ he said loudly. ‘My lion.’
            Geoffrey looked quizzically at Matilda. ‘“My lion”’? Who has been teaching him that?’
            Matilda flushed. ‘I tell him he is my little lion.  He has a wooden one for a toy and a cushion with a big golden one embroidered on it.  One day he will be a king.  Why should he not acknowledge the symbols of kingship?’
            ‘Oh, I agree,’ Geoffrey said, ‘We must foster that in him.  Next to teach him ‘crown’.
            ‘He already knows that one.’  
            ‘Crown,’ Henry said in validation of her remark, and pointed at Geoffrey’s cap with its band of gold braid.  ‘Lion.  Crown. Mama.’
            Geoffrey chuckled and shook his head. ‘Indeed, I can see you have been teaching him well, but I must needs train him further.  I suppose you have not taught him to say ‘Papa’ in any of this.’
            ‘I am sure he will learn swiftly enough,’ she replied, concealing a pang of jealousy, because Geoffrey was so at ease holding their son.
            ‘Papa.’ Henry bounced in Geoffrey’s arms, and stared round with alert, bright eyes.
            Geoffrey laughed. ‘You are right again,’ he said to her.  ‘Usually I would hold being right against you, but not today.’

As  A Five Year Old.
'Mama look - look at me!’
            Matilda turned from talking to the saddler, and watched Henry sit upright in the saddle of a small bay pony.  He struck a pose and lifted his chin.  The September breeze ruffled his red-gold hair and turned his irises the hue of sea-coloured glass. He had begun riding lessons two weeks ago and was enjoying every moment.  For now, the tuition consisted of having one of the grooms lead him round the courtyard at a sedate walk.  A saddle had been especially made to fit his size so that he would not slop about between pommel and cantle. He would not be allowed to take the reins on his own for a while to come, nor would he have the strength and stature, but he was already confident around horses, and was developing balance, knowledge and maturity. 
            ‘Indeed you look very fine,’ she replied proudly. ‘Every inch a king.’
            ‘I want to gallop!’
            ‘And so you shall, but not quite yet.  You have to learn a few more things first and grow a little more.’
            ‘But I’m a big boy now!’
            Her lips twitched at the indignation in his voice.  ‘Indeed, but you need to grow bigger yet.’
            The groom led the pony off at a sedate walk.  ‘Faster,’ Henry cried.  ‘I want to go faster.’ 

Another moment:
Matilda sat down on the bed in her chamber at Carrouges.  Her crown was making her head ache.  It might look a delicate thing, but she been wearing it for most of the day amid formal ceremonies and celebrations; the weight was beginning to tell on her neck and the band was squeezing her temples.  Even so, she had no intention of taking it off, because while she wore it, she was a queen and an Empress and she had authority.
            Fetching his small stool, Henry wandered over to the sideboard and stood on it so that he could look at the two engraved silver cups standing there.  They had been presented to him and his brother by the people of Saumur in exchange for a charter. ‘When can I drink wine out of mine?’ he asked looking round. 
            ‘When you are a man,’ Matilda replied. ‘They are no ordinary drinking cups, but tokens of an agreement between our family and the people of Saumur.’  Her voice held a warning note.  If she knew Henry, he’d be having his dogs drinking out of them or worse.  ‘And you are not to touch William’s either,’ she added as she watched his hand stray towards his youngest brother’s cup.  The reason there were only two, not three, cups was that Geoffrey, her middle son was being raised in the household of her husband’s vassal Goscelin de Rotonard.  It did not do to keep all of one’s eggs in a single basket.  William would go for fostering too when he was older but for now, at not quite two years old, he was still kept close in the women’s chambers. Henry ignored him because he was only a baby and Henry knew he was the heir and the most important.

Empress Matilda bidding Farwell to Henry, aged 6.
‘You can’t go there, you’re trapped!’ piped a child’s voice.
Matilda turned and fixed her gaze on her eldest son. He was sitting in the window seat, playing a board game of fox and geese with his half-brother Hamelin and his focus was deeply engaged as he concentrated on defeating his opponent. She felt a surge of fierce maternal pride as she watched him. He was fully focussed but not in a narrow way.  He was observing all the peripherals even while he concentrated on the main task, seeing both dangers and advantages. It was a formidable trait in a child just six years old, and what it would be like when nurtured to manhood gave her cause for optimism.  He was tenacious too, because Hamelin was a bright boy, older, and determined not to give ground.  She had to swallow as her throat tightened.  She might never see him again after this morning because who knew what was going to happen if and when she reached England. She had put everything possible in place to support him and her other sons in her absence.  The best women to care for them; the best pages and squires as companions.  Excellent priests and scholars to nurture their education and teach them to walk a true path with God. She could do no more, and still she was anxious.  She was going to miss them so much, especially Henry. She had even considered staying in Normandy and seeing it conquered first, but knew she had to make her challenge in England before it was too late, not just for herself, but for Henry and Henry’s children.  
            Geoffrey entered the chamber and looked round, hands on hips.   He had ridden to Domfront to see her on her way and to take charge of their sons, something Matilda did not want to think about. She could not deny that Geoffrey was a good father, but she had had the greater hand in raising their boys,  and it was a wrench to hand them over to her husband. 
            ‘Everything is ready for you,’ he said, stepping aside to let the servants carry out the box containing the last items.
She waited impatiently while her maids draped a thick cloak around her shoulders, and when the clasp had been fastened, she turned towards the light streaming through the open shutters.  ‘Henry,’ she said. ‘Henry, come here.  It is time for me to go.’
  He left his game and crossed the room to her, following the path of the light, and then stood in front of her, looking up solemnly. His eyes were grey, but flashed with green in their depths like Geoffrey’s.  ‘Attend to your lessons and do as your father tells you,’ she said.  ‘I need you to be big and brave and grown up.’ 
            Henry gave a stout nod. ‘Can I come to England soon too?’
            ‘As soon as you are old enough.  One day you will be king there, and it will be very important for you to know the place and the people.’ She crouched to his level and smoothed his vibrant hair. ‘Look after your brothers.  I will write to you often and you father will tell me of your progress.’  She kissed him on both cheeks and stood up, her pride swelling to almost unbearable proportions because Henry was not crying or making a fuss. Even in the small boy, she could see the king he might one day become – but only if she gave him that chance.

Finally as an eight year old with his father, learning of his mother's success
Henry FitzEmpress, almost eight years old, was testing the paces of his new mount.  The dam’s Spanish breeding had given the little chestnut fire in his feet. Henry loved the feel of the wind streaming past his face, even though it was cold enough to sting his eyes because it gave him a feeling of speed. On a swift horse, he was invincible. 
His father had started taking him hunting, and Henry had also begun his military training, fighting with a shield made to suit his size, and a wooden sword. He loved every minute.  Indeed, the only thing he ever found difficult, was staying still.  It was always a trial when he was in church and expected not to fidget in the presence of God. By contrast, flying on a horse was easy.
His father was waiting in the stable yard to greet him when he returned from his ride, his groom following several paces behind. Henry showed off by drawing rein in a dramatic slide of hooves, and leaped from the saddle almost before the pony had stopped.  He flashed his father a broad smile, exposing gaps at the front where new teeth were growing in.
Geoffrey’s lips twitched. ‘That was fine riding my son.’ He plucked a burr out of Henry’s cloak.
Henry flushed with pleasure.  ‘Yes, sire.’  Much as he was enthralled by the swiftness and grace of Denier, what he really wanted to ride was a destrier like his father.  His new pony was just another point on the road towards that accomplishment.  ‘I could have made him go faster, but Alain wouldn’t let me.’  He scowled over his shoulder at the groom.
‘Alain was wise, you should listen to him,’ Geoffrey said. ‘And to your horse.  Always be bold; never be heedless.’
Henry pursed his lips and said nothing. 
His father folded his arms.  ‘I have been waiting for you because I have received some great news from England, from your mother.  Stephen the usurper has been defeated in battle and captured by your uncle Robert and others of your mother’s kin and allies.  Your mother is to become Queen.’
Henry stared at his father while his stomach gave the same kind of swoop that it had done while he was galloping Denier.  He had not seen his mother in almost a year and a half and memory of her features had blurred at the edges, but she wrote to him often and sent him things from England – a writing tablet with an interlaced design on the ivory cover, and a fine pen knife.  Things she had sewn, which held her scent.  Bells for his harness.  Numerous books.  And always the promise that one day he would be a King because England was his. 
‘Can we go there?’ He was suddenly consumed with eager impatience. Had a ship been present in the courtyard, he would have boarded it there and then. 
‘No, no, no,’ his father laughed. ‘Rein back your horse a little.  It is early days yet.  Your mother will send for you when it is time.’
‘But when will that be?’
‘Soon,’ his father said. ‘But not quite yet.’  He ruffled Henry’s hair. ‘One battle does not a victory make, even when the enemy has been captured.  Once your mother has been crowned, she will send for you.’
Henry frowned and wondered how close ‘soon’ actually was.  When adults said such things, it was usually by way of platitude and it was always a long time.  He did not see why he could not go immediately because he knew he could help and it was his destiny.  
His father said, ‘My first task now your mother has succeeded is to go into Normandy and secure that.  Many barons will want to pay homage to the winning side.’ He looked at Henry. ‘And no, you cannot come there either for the time being.  Your task is to stay safe and learn and become a man.’
Henry grimaced, but knew better than to protest.  As far as he was concerned, he was a man, and years were only numbers. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


For my February turn on The History Girls I have reviewed this marvellous book by historians Martha Carlin and David Crouch.  Well worth reading.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY? Perhaps and perhaps not: A reply to Catherine Armstrong's essay on the Marshal Effigies.

Photo Elizabeth Chadwick
Some time ago I read a post on the Castle Wales site by Historian Catherine Armstrong where she laid out her case for the purported Marshal effigies in the Temple Church, London, being of debatable identity and perhaps not the Marshals at all. While I agree with her that precise evidence doesn't exist and the effigies could indeed have been mis-identified because after all, none of them have inscriptions, I do disagree with her assessment of the arms and armour of the effigies. I believe that at least one of them can be circumstantially identified as Gilbert Marshal.
I wrote to Catherine setting out my case for disagreeing with her on the issue of the arms and armour some years ago, and received a thank you note, but nothing more.   I've been intending to write out my refutation argument and put it in the public arena for several years now, and I have finally got around to it.

Here is Catherine's highly detailed article. Catherine Armstrong on the Marshal Effigies  I must emphasise I don't disagree with her on the point that these effigies cannot be identified with absolute conviction and I applaud her diligent research into the life of the effigies before the 21st century. That in itself is a fascinating, wonderful and sometimes horrifying story!

 I do, however, vigorously disagree with her on the issue of the dating of the arms and armour for which I can make a strong case.  I also believe I can make a good case for identifying the effigy of Gilbert Marshal despite lack of written evidence. 

Catherine Armstrong uses engravings of the Marshals by Edward Richardson to state her case. The work was published in 1843. So it's good to look back to a historical context a hundred and seventy years closer to the construction of the effigies, but at the same time we are relying on engravings, and also with the knowledge that Victorian antiquarians were extremely inquisitive but not always on the ball with their historical accuracy. You can read the book here for free. Edward Richardson Temple Church Effigies
Catherine's argument is that the effigy of William Marshal I cannot be him since it is older in the style of armour than the ones purporting to be his sons.

Catherine says of the  effigy below, now thought (erronously or not) to be William Marshal Junior (died 1231)  "The effigy was described by Richardson as wearing a chain mail coif and a hauberk of chain mail to his knees. However he is wearing what appears to be chausses of leather or some reinforced material from his waist to just below his knees.  Lankester describes this covering as possibly gamboised cuisses which were quilted tube-like padded armour worn to protect the thighs, but they are show without covering of full chain mail which would have been the usual practice."
Richardson's effigy engraving of  the effigy now known as
William Marshal's son William II
 The thing is that the without covering of full chain mail was the usual practise in the military styling of the mid thirteenth century.  The leather covering from the knee upwards seems to have arrived in the thirteenth century. It overlapped with the mode of wearing full mail chausses, the latter being in evidence throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. It wasn't a case of one or the other. Military historian David Nicolle in his Medieval Warfare Source book tells us that mail chausses date from the mid 12th century and covered the leg from 'mid thigh to foot.' He tells us that cuisses appeared in the late 13th century (p 138). Mail chausses from foot to thigh were the norm in the 12th and early 13th, not the cuissed style.   Robert Curthose, son of the Conqueror is kitted out in cuisses - dateline mid or late 13th century, so the same period as the purported effigies of William Marshal II and Gilbert Marshal.
Before anyone protests that Robert Curthose died in the early 12th century, let me say this is an effigy created in the 13th century and not at the time of Robert's death, so it's in the style of that later time.

photo credit Nilfanion  Wikipedia
Tomb of Robert Curthose, Gloucester Cathedral. Mid 13thC. Same legs as on the Marshal effigy.

This guy prefers his cuisses. He dates to 1250

This one's in chausses. Before 1225. British Library.

And here's Thomas Becket being murdered from a manuscript dating to circa 1200. British Library. Mail chausses again on the far left knight.

photo Elizabeth Chadwick
 And then William Longespee earl of Salisbury - died 1226 and the first effigy to be buried in Salisbury Cathedral. We have a dateline for him. He's opted for chausses too a la William Marshal I. No cuisses for him.
Apocalypse. British Library 1270's

Above we have an apocalypse scene from the British library and the knight on the horse is sporting cuisses.  Dateline 1270's.

Westminster Psalter circa 1250
Another knight wearing Cuisses - drawn by Matthew Paris.

Above we have an interesting one dating to 1230, 11 years after the Marshal's death and one year before the death of his eldest son.  Here you can see the transition kite versus the shorter shield and the knight with the transition is wearing a mail glove. Both men are wearing mail chausses without visible cuisses and are a prime example of the ongoing changing interface of military styles taking place in the early to mid 13th century.
Knight from Wells Cathedral circa 1230. Mail chausses, no cuisses
By kind permission of Paul F. Walker, author of The History of Armour 1100-1700.
Cuisses dated to c1300.  An Innocent being massacred from The Ruskin Hours
France. Los Angeles. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Ms. Ludwig IX 3 fol. 85v

The above illustrations state my case.  You can see that cuisses often appear later than mail chausses although there is an overlap nevertheless.  This chap below from the Temple Church - purported early 13th likes to wear his with suspenders!
photo  Elizabeth Chadwick
Onto the next point.
Catherine Armstrong tells us that on the William II effigy the guard on the sword is relatively small and not as wide and visible as on the other effigies.

Yes. That would be because the ends have broken off... - see further down for evidence of it happening to Gilbert's effigy.

Catherine comments that smaller guards appear on the seals of Robert FitzWalter and Richard the Lionheart but swords had long lives and forty years isn't a hill of beans anyway in terms of that particular style.  It's  only a minor point though. The chausses/cuisses question immediately tells us we are probably dealing with mid 13thc,  especially when combined with other details. The shield for example. If you look at the effigy purporting to be William Marshal I, his shield is of an older style that had gone out by the mid 13th. It's a shield in the process of transitioning from the old style kite shield into the smaller triangular shield but not there yet and a massively telling detail.  The William II and Gilbert Marshal effigies both have the new style of smaller shield. Indeed the Gilbert effigy has them in decoration on his baldric strap.  You can see the older transition kite in the 1200 illustration above of Becket's murder.  Add the shield style to the leg fitments and the more raised style of the William Junior and Gilbert effigies and it's as clear as daylight that the William I effigy is older.
photo Carole Blake
Here I am paying my respects to the William I effigy, lying beside his son. Note the length of his transition shield. It comes down to his knee. Check too the Becket drawing above and you'll see it in use. Now look at the William II effigy. His shield only comes to his hip. It's what the transition kite becomes in the mid to late 13th century. Even if William II's shield is a little higher on his shoulder, it's still quite a bit shorter an a different shape to the William I effigy.

Photo Elizabeth Chadwick
Note the new style smaller shields on the strap on Gilbert Marshal's effigy.

Now to the matter of Gilbert Marshal's scallop shell sword. This is one of the identifiers that tell me this is likely to be Gilbert.
Photo Elizabeth Chadwick
This is the sword hilt in question. Looks a bit like a scallop shell doesn't it?
Catherine Armstrong  observes that she has 'found no record that states that Gilbert Marshal made a pilgrimage to St James de Compostella  (scallop shell was a symbol of such a pilgrimage) or that a scallop shell was any part of his coat of arms,  She says it's an unusual design and basically we should be looking for someone other than Gilbert Marshal to be wielding it.

However, sword expert Ewart Oakeshott tells us that it's a common design in the North of England in the mid 13thc and there has actually been a find of one at Cartmel - and who were the patrons of Cartmel Priory? Yep, the Marshals.  It's nothing to do with Compostella.   And note that the sword guard has broken off re the comment on short guards.

Now then.
Here's Gilbert Marshal suffering his fatal accident at a tournament when his reins were cut by his enemies and his foot caught in his stirrup and he was dragged to his death.  Note the sword hilt. Not exactly the same, but a darned good approximation for a chronicler. So we have circumstantial ID that this effigy IS Gilbert Marshal. On this illustration he's wearing full mail on his legs, demonstrating the overlap of armour styles. One size doesn't fit all.

What further nails the identity of this particular effigy as Gilbert Marshal is that the serpent he is trampling, the symbol of evil, is actually chewing on his spur strap. I was told by a guide at the Temple Church that this was a comment on the way he had died. Add in the sword hilt and the style of the armour and circumstantially we have our man. It is highly likely that the effigy of William II was carved by the same hand, so for my money it's very possible that we are looking at the two Marshal brothers William II and Gilbert.

Richardson - Google Books

Richardson's engraving of Gilbert Marshal. As you can see the sword had more of its guard when this was made in the mid 19th century compared to now (see my photo above of the scallop shell hilt). The same has happened to William II's guard.  They're not shorter, they're just broken off.

Spur strap munching serpent.  Photo Elizabeth Chadwick

Catherine Armstrong makes the point that the William Marshal I effigy is wearing mailed gloves which are of a later date than mail mittens.  However, mail mittens continue well into the 14th century. Nicolle opines that gloves are late 13th, but that they were being used in Byzantium much earlier. So it's not beyond the scope of reason that if William adopted crusader designs when remodelling his castles, he also may have returned from the Holy Land with mail gloves too. The illustration of the fighting knights above shows what looks like a mail glove dating to 1230. Or it could just be a stylistic conceit on the tomb and illustration aimed at showing the shape of his hand around the sword grip.

Conclusion:  While it is impossible to say whether these are the effigies of William Marshal and his sons William and Gilbert  it becomes very clear that we can say:
1. The effigy claimed as that of William Marshal I is older than the other two in terms of armour style and of overall effigy type (it's not as raised, it doesn't have the vigour that came in later or the finesse. It has an older style shield and tried and tested mail chausses that had been around for most of the 12th century as opposed to the cuisses which didn't arrive until later).  Historian H.A. Tummers considers that the 'lively martial attitude' of effigies (such as Robert Curthose and the Marshal sons) was a 'limited late development.' i.e. well into the 13thc. So the William I effigy is of the right dateline to have been created circa the time of William Marshal's death.

2. Of the two effigies purported to be the sons, there is at least circumstantial evidence that the one with the scallop shaped sword hilt and the serpent attacking his spur strap is, in fact Gilbert Marshal.

I do hope that Catherine Armstrong will reconsider  her essay in the light of this information.

Thank you
Elizabeth Chadwick.
Close up of the face of 'the effigy known as William Marshal II
Photo Elizabeth Chadwick

Close up of the face of the effigy known as William Marshal. Note the
detail is not as fine as on the son's effigy, suggesting a less developed
sculpting style in keeping with earlier tomb sculptures.
Photo Elizabeth Chadwick

You can see more effigies for comparison on these sites:

Books for further reading:
Medieval Warfare Source Book vol 1 by David Nicolle 1995
The Sword in the Age of Chivalry by Ewart Oakeshott - Boydell revised 1994

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MAGNA CARTA by Dan Jones. My review for The History Girls.

I've just reviewed Dan Jones' book MAGNA CARTA  for The History Girls.  Here's the url.  I thought the book was excellent and would recommend it for anyone's bookshelf. My review of Magna Carta by Dan Jones

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

IF IT'S CHRISTMAS IT'S CHINON: The festive itinerary of Henry II.

I post over at THE HISTORY GIRLS  blog on the 24th of every month.  I thought I'd give you all a link to a blog post I wrote for them last Christmas eve about King Henry II and his whereabouts on every Christmas of his reign. IF IT'S CHRISTMAS IT MUST BE CHINON

Monday, October 06, 2014

INVENTING ELEANOR By Michael R. Evans: My thoughts.

Inventing Eleanor: the mediaeval and post-mediaeval image Eleanor of Aquitaine by Michael R. Evans.  Bloomsbury Academic ISBN 978 1 4411 6900 6

While browsing the Internet for research, I came across a reference to this book and feeling it would be a really useful addition to my shelves, I went ahead and bought it.
 During my research into Eleanor of Aquitaine, I constantly come across misconceptions and false information in secondary sources including biographies. I also come across comments about Eleanor being a great feminist icon and a woman way ahead of her time, and then I want to bang my head on the desk (metaphorically speaking).  So it was great to come across a work that aims to set the record straight and that tells us just where these odd notions about Eleanor originate.

From the back of the book:
‘Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124- 1204) Queen of France and England and mother of two Kings has often been described as one of the most remarkable women of the Middle Ages. Yet her real achievements have been embellished - and even obscured - by myths that have grown up over eight centuries. This process began in her own lifetime, as chroniclers reported rumours of  scandalous conduct on crusade, and has continued ever since. She has been variously viewed as an adulterous queen, a monstrous mother and jealous murderess, but also was a patron of literature, champion of courtly love and proto-feminist defender of women’s rights. Inventing Eleanor interrogates the myths that have grown up around the figure of Eleanor of Aquitaine and investigates how and why historians and artists have invented an Eleanor who is very different from the 12th century queen. The book first considers the mediaeval primary sources  and then proceeds to trace the post-mediaeval development of the image of Eleanor, from demonic Queen to feminist icon, in historiography and the broader culture.’

This is exactly what the book does in a very readable form that still remains scholarly and detailed in its sources.   The contents include an introduction where the author sets out his reasons for writing the book and argues that she was ‘far from unique amongst 12th century royal and noble women.’ Professor Evans seeks to unravel how she acquired her reputation for exceptionalism. He remarks on the opening page  that Eleanor’s biographers must take some of the blame for this. ‘In the absence of hard evidence (these) biographies have often been fleshed out by speculation and the creation or perpetuation of myths.’

Following a detailed introduction, Professor Evans traces Eleanor’s reputation, through the blackening of her name during her own lifetime and the time soon after her death.  He explores too the legends surrounding Rosamond de Clifford and how both women’s reputations have suffered at the hands of myth and legend.
Chapter 2 looks at Eleanor in historiography and how realistically she is portrayed. He observes that ‘historians may have striven to create (in the words of Edmond-RenĂ© Labande) ‘a realistic image of Eleanor of Aquitaine’, but that image has struggled to replace that of the more colourful meta-Eleanor in the public consciousness. Hence an online author in 2013 is still able to write of Eleanor in stereotypical terms that would have been familiar to a mid-19th-century readership of popular history.’  He goes on to explore the way in which Eleanor’s reputation has been distorted to suit the ideologies of particular historical periods and historians with axes to grind. So ‘In the late 20th century, second wave feminist movement gave birth to a new interest in Eleanor of Aquitaine as a female hero, but often at the expense of exaggerating her deeds and influence, and reinforcing the myth of her exceptionalism.’  He also explores Eleanor’s depiction as a new-age neopagan type!  He comes the conclusion that ‘historians of Eleanor have created an image of her, and mediaeval women as a whole, that is misleading.  My thoughts exactly.
The third chapter deals with Eleanor the woman of the South and very quickly puts paid to the notion of the original Eleanor as propitiating a great Southern cause.  He says that Eleanor is ‘arguably a northern as much as a  southern figure…It was Poitou, not the south-west that was the heartland of Eleanor’s realm and where the Dukes of Aquitaine held the greatest concentration of demesne lands.’  …. He also explores a suggestion from a recent set of essays about Eleanor that claims she  didn’t actually speak Occitan at all.  The courts of love and literary patronage are shown to be relatively insignificant in Eleanor’s life. He comes to the conclusion that Eleanor of Aquitaine ‘can in no way be considered a southern figure in an alien and hostile northern world. Her native duchy straddled the divide between the North and the South, and its main power centres were closer to Paris than to the Mediterranean.’  Bam, another dearly held myth bites the dust.
The next chapter deals with Eleanor’s portrayal in drama before 1900 and goes into great detail via Shakespeare, operas and sundry plays and dramas. From there it’s onto Eleanor in drama post-1900, and of course the iconic Lion in Winter. TV series such as Robin of Sherwood also receive a mention for how Eleanor is portrayed in cameo roles.
  Professor Evans  then takes an overview of how Eleanor is portrayed in fiction and there is a fine accolade for author Sharon Kay Penman. Jean Plaidy’s take on Eleanor is discussed too and there are some ‘interesting’ quotes from Alison Weir’s the captive Queen.  There’s also a section on Eleanor in young adult fiction.
Then it’s onto Eleanor in the visual arts including mediaeval images. This was particularly interesting for me because Professor Evans discusses the mural at Chinon that is often said to portray Eleanor and Henry. Indeed many novels and biographies feature this portrait on the cover with the middle crown figure depicted as Eleanor. However, it ain’t necessarily so, and it seems,according to art historian Ursula Nielgen who has examined the work in detail and dated it to the late 12th century that the figures are all male and more likely to represent Henry II and his four sons. I was also pleased in this section to find that Evans had picked up my research on various biographer’s beliefs on Eleanor’s appearance and I receive a mention at the beginning of the chapter.

Having thoroughly explored Eleanor in the visual arts, right up to modern ‘headless’ covers in historical fiction, Professor Evans goes on to make his conclusion, which is basically that finding the real Eleanor remains an uphill struggle because of all the myths perpetuated. However, with continuing scholarship that doesn’t pander to these myths and stereotypes we may gradually begin to see a more nuanced Eleanor than of yore.
 During his summary he remarked that while historians may shake their heads at the likes of certain recent works of historical fiction about Eleanor, ‘historical novelists such as Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick are seeking to apply modern scholarship to their fiction, and consequently avoid the most egregious of the legends surround Eleanor.’  That’s nice!

Highly recommended for those who want to take a look under the surface and who are prepared with an open mind to have their perceptions and preconceptions challenged.

I would add that it is rather expensive - which seems to be the case with most academic books these days.