Wednesday, June 05, 2013

THE SUMMER QUEEN Behind the scenes 3. ON ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE'S APPEARANCE





THE SUMMER QUEEN research snippets.
Behind The Scenes part 3.


 So what did Alienor look like?

Let’s see what those historians and biographers have to say on that score: 

W.L. Warren in his biography of Henry II calls Eleanor a ‘black-eyed beauty.’

Frank McLynn in Lionheart and Lackland: ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine had a dark complexion, black eyes, black hair, and a curvaceous figure that never ran to fat even in old age.’

Desmond Seward in Eleanor of Aquitaine the Mother Queen: ‘She was a beauty – tall, with a superb figure that she kept into old age, lustrous eyes and fine features. (it is likely that her hair was yellow and her eyes blue).’

Douglas Boyd in Eleanor April Queen of Aquitaine. ‘Her face was humorous and alert, framed by long auburn hair flowing freely from beneath the coronet. Her eyes according to legend were green and fearless.’

Alison Weir in Eleanor of Aquitaine, By the wrath of God Queen of England: ‘It is more likely that she had red or auburn hair since a mural in the church of Sainte Radegonde in Chinon which almost certainly depicts Eleanor and was painted during her lifetime in a region in which she was well known, shows a woman with reddish-brown hair.’ 



Marion Meade in Eleanor of Aquitaine: A biography: ‘Eleanor, exceptionally beautiful at fifteen, had matured into a saucy, hot-blooded damsel, and perhaps he (her father) feared that, unproperly chaperoned, she might grant excessive courtesies to some ardent knight.’…’If she conformed to 12th century Europe’s ideal standards of feminine beauty…she must have been blond with grey or blue eyes set wide apart. Her nose would have been straight, her skin white, and she would certainly have had a long, slender neck, firm breasts, and perfect teeth…’

The above are all interesting and show what a variation in opinion there is, most of it based either on fantasy or wrong information it has to be said, even though the authors are writing ‘factual’ works. Meade’s comment about a ‘saucy, hot-blooded damsel’ is astonishing. It’s a defamatory statement without any kind of proof, but par for the course throughout the various biographies of Alienor through which I’ve ploughed over the last 18 months.


There is not one single physical description of Eleanor out there as to her hair and eye colour.  Not one single. The chapel mural at St. Radegone is more likely NOT to be Alienor rather than Weir’s ‘almost certainly.’ Far more probable, given the dateline of the mural and the composition, is that Henry is leading out his four sons on a hunting expedition with his eldest son the Young King, the crowned figure. The dark one riding at his side, will be John, whom Henry requested to be cared for by the Young King, should Henry himself die untimely. The John figure also, along with the Young King, is nearest to his father, and John was known to be Henry's favourite son.  It’s pretty obvious that the crowned figure isn’t Alienor. The figures of the other riders are of an age to suggest that when this was painted, she was in prison and out of the picture – literally. However, that particular detail seems to have passed certain biographers by!


The black hair, black eyes, and the various droolings over the curvaceous figure would appear to be some sort of modern male wish fulfilment. I haven’t noticed her being particularly buxom on her tomb effigy! 



I have portrayed her with deep blond hair and blue eyes in THE SUMMER QUEEN. My own reasons?
1. My alternative psychic research showed her like this. However, if your opinions don’t encompass such things, then let the matter rest in the same realm of the imagination as the above descriptions by the historians.
2. There is circumstantial evidence in the historical record. If you look back through the Dukes of Aquitaine, you find an ancestor in the 10th century called William the Towhead – i.e. hair the colour of straw. So the blond gene ran in the family – which is more than we actually know about the other colours at this stage!

photo of the Radegonde mural courtesy of John Phillips

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are tomb effigies generally accurate depictions of the dead person? They certainly don't all look alike but maybe there were 'templates' that were used?

zornhau said...

I remember seeing the effigy and being surprised because I expected somebody more wafty and Pre-Raphaelite. Eleanor is primarily attractive because she was clever and strong. Physically - well if the effigy reflects what she looked like - I see her as one of those strong boned statuesque posh women one generally finds running things somewhere.

zornhau said...

I remember seeing the effigy and being surprised because I expected somebody more wafty and Pre-Raphaelite. Eleanor is primarily attractive because she was clever and strong. Physically - well if the effigy reflects what she looked like - I see her as one of those strong boned statuesque posh women one generally finds running things somewhere.

Suzanne said...

John was dark, right? And since we know Henry was red-haired, the dark hair had to come from somewhere. Hair color is not a simple Mendelian trait, but dark hair tends to be dominant, so I think it's more likely she was dark than blonde.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

No Suzanne, John wasn't dark. There is nowhere in a cotemporary document that says he was. The dark hair comes from fiction in the form of novel and TV and just goes to show how a myth repeated often enough becomes the truth. John is far more likely to have had light hair. Might not sound right, but that's where the evidence stacks.