Sunday, June 16, 2013

THE SUMMER QUEEN: Behind the scenes 9: The Research Books.

I have a huge library of research books. You can see some of them here - it needs updating with more when I have an hour to spare! My Reference Books

On my Behind the Scenes post today though,  I want to post just a few of the research books I used in writing THE SUMMER QUEEN.  I hope you'll enjoy them!

REFERENCE BOOKS USED IN THE RESEARCHING THE SUMMER QUEEN - Not in any order of preference.  Marked with 3 stars are the most interesting and/or useful, then 2, then 1. Bools marked with a question mark are ones I would advise the reader to use with caution and check up on the facts via more reliable sources. The more question marks, the more caution required!

***  'Travel Diary of the 2nd Crusade as
far as Antioch.  Primary source







** *


















Wednesday, June 12, 2013

THE SUMMER QUEEN Behind the Scenes 7

A Scarlet Woman!

Today's THE SUMMER QUEEN behind the scenes snippet is a bit shorter and less ferocious on dates and times than yesterday's.  However, it's an example of how the background research continues to contribute to the overall picture of daily life and the imagery portrayed. 

Biographers tells us that Eleanor was married in a scarlet dress. But that doesn't necessarily mean she went to her wedding dressed in red, and in THE SUMMER QUEEN, her gown is soft gold as per the Akashics.

Scarlet was a cloth, not a colour. It was a heavy weight woollen cloth of exceptionally fine weave and was the European counterpart to oriental silks. Top notch. Although frequently dyed a rich red, it came in a wide variety of colours - including blue, brown, gold (the colour not the metal) green, murrey (sludgy purplish colour) and white.  

The word 'scarlet' may have come from the Arabic 'siklat' which is a word for silk textiles,  and you will find this explanation on Wikipedia, but it may also have come from the Germanic word 'scaerlaken' which is connected with shearing and may be a reference to the cloth's nap.  The latter sounds very plausible indeed.  Whatever the origin, everyone in Europe used their country's variation of the word to describe the same cloth.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

THE SUMMER QUEEN Behind the scenes part 6. Petronella


Nothing is ever simple when it comes to researching Eleanor of Aquitaine. her family and her affiliations. One of the secondary characters in THE SUMMER QUEEN, is Alienor’s sister Petronella (except sometimes she is not called Petronella but Ailith)  who has proven fascinating but frustrating to research.
If Alienor’s birth date of 1124 took some digging, then Petronella’s proved totally elusive. All that can be said is that if Alienor was born in 1124, then Petronella was a younger sibling.  We know their mother died in 1130 and that Petronella was old enough to be involved in a sexual relationship by 1141, and that she bore a child circa 1143/44.  It seems therefore likely that she was born fairly close to Eleanor, perhaps in 1125 or 1126. However, we have no birth date for their brother William Aigret, who died around the same time as their mother in 1130. Some biographers say he was first born, others that Eleanor was first born. (here we go again with the biographies not being reliable in their evidence) No one seems to know, and William’s birth order may have affected the dating of Petronella's birth. Still, in the great scheme of things, it’s a minor conundrum.

With regard to Petronella's alternative name, I do wonder if she was baptised Aelith but known as Petronella. Perhaps because her birth date was close to the feast of St. Petronella on the 31st of May, and perhaps because St. Petronella had associations with Charlemagne from whom she and Eleanor claimed descent.  It may also be telling that the cathedral in Poitiers is dedicated to St Peter, who seems to have loomed large in the lives of the Dukes of Aquitaine and Petronella is the feminine form of the name. Or of course, she could have been baptised  Petronella.and called Ailith.  Or Eleanor may have had two sisters – perhaps Aelith was illegitimate. The mention of Ailith comes from existing documentation concerned with the Abbey of St Mary of Saintes.  Perhaps Aelith was a nun?  I don’t know.  I feel probably not, but it is still there as a consideration when pondering all the possibilities. 

Here is a letter from 1140 naming the sister known as Aelith.  It’s also interesting to see ‘Eleanor’ rendered in Medieval Latin.  I have bolded Aelith’s name in the text.

Original letter:
1140, December 28
Ego Helienordis, Francorum regina, et Willelmi ducis Aquitanici filia, hoc donum, sicut rex vir meus concessit Beate Marie Xancton[ensi] ecclesie, sic concessi et hujus [sign of cross] impressione confirmavi, et in perpetuo habendum Sancte Marie et Agneti amite mee ejusdem loci abbatisse, et omnibus ejus successoribus in eadem die, non in eodem loco, confirmavi; videntibus Aienrico de Niela, Aelithsorore mea, Maengo de Bono Occulo, Arveo panetario, et pluribus aliis.

Translated letter:
I Eleanor, queen of the Franks, and daughter of William duke of Aquitaine, have granted and confirmed by this mark, the gift as the king my husband granted it to the church of Blessed Mary of Saintes, to be held in perpetuity by St. Mary and Agnes, my aunt, abbess of that place, and all her successors, I confirmed it on the same day not in the same place: with witnesses Aienric (Henry?) of Niela, Aelith my sister, Maengo of Bono Occulo, Arveo my steward, and many others.

We do know that in 1142, Petronella, then in her early or mid teens, began an affair with King Louis’ much older, war-scarred second cousin, Ralph of Vermandois.  He had lost an eye in a siege, when struck by an arrow, but as well as being a warrior, he was a valued and experienced courtier.  He also had a reputation for liking the ladies.  Chronicler John of Salisbury tells us that even when ordered to abstain from intercourse by his doctors, he paid them no heed because he was ‘very uxorius’.  He was married to one Leonora. Some biographers say she was the niece of Count Theobald of Blois (Ralph Turner, Douglas Boyd, Marion Meade, Desmond Seward, Marjorie Chibnall, Amy Kelly)  some say his sister (Alison Weir, Wikipedia) and some say first cousin (Ivan Goubry). You see what I’m up against when researching?  
Pertronella and Ralph were keen to wed and three bishops – including Ralph’s brother, Simon Bishop of Noyon, annulled Ralph’s marriage to Leonora. The Pope, on receiving a complaint from Theobald of Champagne on his disparaged sister’s/niece’s/cousin’s behalf, immediately reversed the annulment and put Ralph and Petronella under interdict.  Without going into masses of political detail, it caused tremendous political upheaval and was one of several reasons that war broke out between France and Champagne.

Ralph and Petronella weathered the storm and Petronella bore Ralph either two or (here we go again) 3 children. Sometime in the early 1150’s she died…. Or did she? 

Wikipedia says:
Raoul divorced in 1151, as he remarried the next year. Petronilla remained a member of the French royal court and a constant companion to her sister Eleanor while she was imprisoned by her husband King Henry II in England and Wales. After Henry's death, Eleanor was freed, and Petronilla planned on returning to France. Yet, records of Petronilla after 1189 are scarce. It is believed that she came down with a fever on her voyage from England back to France and died in early 1190 before her arrival at port.  
There are no sources given for this bit of information, although the entire article is quoted as sourced from a French work by Patrick van Kerrebrouck (2000). Les Capétiens 987–1328. Since I have no access to this work, I can’t check the veracity or whether Petronella’s death is mentioned in it.  Records of Petronella before 1189 are hardly leaping out of the woodwork, and I suspect that here ‘scarce’ is a euphemism for ‘non existent.’

 French Wikipedia says she died after 1151 and that Ralph was widowed. ‘devenu veuf’  In 1152 he married his 3rd wife Lauretta of Alsace.

Chronicler John of Salisbury writing circa 1164 says ‘She did not survive for long; and though she bore a son and two daughters  before her death.’…’ ‘As for Count Ralph, he married his 3rd wife, a daughter of Thierry count of Flanders called Laura.’This being from primary source it’s more promising.

Then I came across this online
 [Petronille] d'Aquitaine ([1125]-after 24 Oct 1151, bur St Arnould in Crépy).  The Chronicle of Alberic de Trois-Fontaines specifies that "Alienor Guilielmi filia comits Pictavorum et Aquitanie ducis" had two sisters one of whom married "Radulfus…comes Perone et Veromandie", although he does not name them.  The Historiæ Tornacenses record the wife of "Radulfem comitem" as "germanam Alienore regine Francorum" but also do not name her.  Robert of Torigny refers to the mother of the infant children of "Radulfus de Perrona comes Viromandorum" as "iuniore filia Willelmi ducis Aquitanorum" but he does not name her either  The Chronique de Guillaume de Nangis names "Eléonore et Pétronille" as the two daughters of "Guillaume comte de Poitou et prince d'Aquitaine", recording in 1142 that Pétronille married "Raoul comte de Vermandois" after he repudiated his first wife. The above source has Petronella buried at the Priory of Saint Arnould de Crepy. Note the mention of two sisters in the above source details.  Which brings us back to Aelith and Petronella as separate individuals rather than the same person.

Now, to further muddy the waters, the English Pipe Rolls of 1155 to 1158 carry at least a hint that Petronella was still alive after Ralph’s remarriage to Laura of Flanders and hadn’t died as John of Salisbury says. There is a reference to a Petronille in close proximity to mention of the Queen with reference to payment of Danegeld in the Pipe Roll for Essex of  1155, and it might be her sister. Then again it could be Petronella Countess of Leicester, we don't know.    In the pipe roll of 1158, there is a reference to a payment for the passage of the Queen’s sister (it doesn’t name her and the wording might refer to the King’s sister – in which case it would be an illegitimate one).

Alison Weir states: ‘During the period 1154-58, there are regular payments of generous sums for wine for Petronilla.’
Having trawled these same pipe rolls, I can find only one such entry and it involves bread as well as wine and does not name Petronella herself and is therefore ambiguous. The entries are far more likely to refer to Henry II’s illegitimate sister Emma, above mentioned, later to marry Dafydd ap Owain Gwynedd, prince of North Wales. 

Conclusion. Until more evidence turns up, my personal belief, based on the seriously muddled and contradictory evidence is that Alienor definitely had a sister called Petronella and that she married Ralph of Vermandois. They divorced, and Petronella either died or disappeared from the scene in the early 1150's. I think it very safe to say that the Wikipedia statement about her still being alive in 1189 is not true. I suspect it has been taken from a novel rather than being a provable fact. As everyone knows, while Wikipedia is a good starting point, it’s never, ever to be trusted. My inner jury is also out on the Aelith business. Two sisters, or one with dual names? It’s not within the brief of THE SUMMER QUEEN, but still an interesting conundrum.

Monday, June 10, 2013

THE SUMMER QUEEN: Behind the Scenes part 5: Scandalous Ancestors


                Alienor has a reputation dwelt on by her biographers for coming from a family laden with dysfunctional characters whose lives were rife with shocking scandals. People will sometimes say ‘It’s no wonder she turned out as she did with ancestors like that.’  Actually I think she turned out rather well against the odds, and while everyone looks to her ‘interesting’ family relationships, no-one ever pauses to examine Louis’ ancestors in the same way.  I also wonder how out of the ordinary her family experiences were for everyday aristocratic experience in the 12th century.  When you begin looking, everyone has entire racks of skeletons rattling in their cupboards!

Alienor’s paternal grandfather had a lively past.  William IX Duke of Aquitaine, was a man with an aptitude for poetry, some of it crude and bawdy, (however, one has to remember that crude and bawdy poetry was a cultural norm of the time and would have been less shocking then, than it is now) and a huge  appetite for life in all its guises.  

His first wife was Ermengarde, daughter of Count Fulke IV of  Anjou, but that marriage was dissolved after four years and was without children.  William moved on to pastures new and in 1094  married Philippa, daughter and heir of count William IV of Toulouse by whom he had several children, including two boys – William and Raymond, and five daughters.   Four years into his marriage with Philippa, the couple seized Toulouse, which Philippa regarded as her birthright, and to which her grand daughter Alienor would continue to press a claim in her turn.   Threatened with excommunication for such an act, William went on crusade in expiation.  To do so, he had to mortgage Toulouse back to the son of the man he had taken it from – which proved an unwise move and led to him and Philippa once more losing Toulouse.
Duchess Philippa persuaded her husband to give some land in northern Poitou on which to found a religious community dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  This was to become the famous Fontevraud Abbey which would later be the resting place of Alienor of Aquitaine, her second husband Henry II and their son Richard I.

William managed to fall foul of the church on a couple of occasions, the first time for tax evasion, the second time for abducting the wife of his vassal the count of Chatelleraut. The lady  went by the name of Amaberge or something similar, but came to be known as Dangereuse – for reasons that history does not disclose.   William brought her to Poitiers and installed her in an apartment built for her that came to be known as the Maubergeonne Tower.   Philippa  protested at his behaviour and complained to the church. When a bishop demanded that William give up his mistress, William replied that hair would grow on the priest’s bald pate before he gave up Dangereuse.

Philippa retired to Fontevraud, there to fulminate with Ermengarde, William’s first wife, about William’s scurrilous behaviour. (Ermengarde was then lodging at Fontevraud).
  Dangereuse had a daughter, Aenor, from her union with her cuckolded husband, Aimery of Rochefoucaud.   A marriage was arranged between Aenor and Duke William’s heir and namesake, William.  What the children thought of their parents’ liaison isn’t known.  Did William side with his mother?  Did Aenor feel for her father?  We’ll never know how this dynamic worked out, or how William X and Aenor felt about each other, although they did their duty and produced three children,  Alienor, Petronella, and William Aigret,  
Alienor, born in 1124, was only about two years old when her notorious, poetry-writing  grandfather died.  How much influence he had on his little granddaughter we don’t know. Also there is no indication as to when Dangereuse died and we don’t know how much contact she had with her.

Whatever the unknown details, the ones we do know – adulterous grandparents, one of whom was excommunicated twice and was in the habit of writing sexually and scatalogically explicit verse – have served to colour Alienor’s own reputation down the years.  She must have had the potential for being flighty and up to no good with grandparents like that, some would say.

But wait a minute.  What of her first husband’s background?  What of the relatives of Louis VII, nick-named in later years Louis the Pious.  Let’s have a look:

It all starts out well with his grandfather Philip, who married one Bertha, daughter of the count of Holland.  With Bertha he had 5 children, including Louis’ father, the future Louis VI.  However, then the cracks begin to open up.  Philip cast his eye upon a lady called Bertrade de Montfort, who unfortunately happened at the time  to be married Count Fulk IV of Anjou (who had already been married several times himself, and was working his way through  an assortment of wives).  The chronicler John of Marmoutier said of the match and Bertrade  The lecherous Fulk then fell passionately in love with the sister of Amaury de Montfort, whom no good man ever praised save for her beauty.”  Right.

Claiming that Bertha his first wife was too fat, Philip dumped her and abducted and bigamously married Bertrade instead, for which he was excommunicated, first by the Archbishop of Lyon, and then by Pope Urban.  The ban was lifted on several occasions when Philip promised that he would put Bertrade aside, but it was all empty sincerity.  Rather like William IX’s comment that hair would grow on a bald prelate’s head before he gave up Dangereuse de Chatelleraut,  so Philip was too attached to the woman he had snatched from the Count of Anjou, to let excommunication get in the way of the relationship. Eventually the church gave up.

Orderic Vitalis says of Bertrade that she was keen for one of the two sons she had born Philip to succeed him and sent a letter to Henry I asking him to arrest her stepson Louis.  Why Henry I should be involved in this isn’t explained.  Orderic claimed too that Bertrade tried to kill her stepson Louis first through the arts of sorcery, and then through poison.  Her attempts, if there is any truth in them, didn’t work because Louis succeeded his father in 1108 and Bertrade did not die until 1117. William of Malmsbury tells us that  "Bertrade, still young and beautiful, took the veil at Fontevraud Abbey, always charming to men, pleasing to God, and like an angel."   If she did go to Fontevraud, then she must have known the self-exiled wives of William IX of Aquitaine too – what an enclave that must have been!   Bertrade’s son from her first marriage was Fulke V, father of Geoffrey le Bel, and grandfather of Henry II.  

Meanwhile, another scandal bubbling under in French royal and allied circles, involved the sister of Louis VI, Constance, who was Louis VII’s aunt.   She was married to Hugh, Count of Troyes, and bore him a son baptised Eudes.  However, Hugh believed himself impotent and contested the paternity of the child, declared him illegitmate, and instead made his nephew Theobald of Blois his heir.  Hugh and Constance’s marriage was dissolved and she went on to marry Bohemond of Antioch and departed for a life in the Middle East.  Deluded husband?  Unfaithful wife?  Who knows?

Which all goes to show that Alienor was not the only one with skeletons in her family cupboard and her husband Louis’ background was every bit as colourful as her own.  Not that you find biographers making much mention or calling Louis out on his ancestors!

Sunday, June 09, 2013

THE SUMMER QUEEN Behind The Scenes 4. Alienor's age:

In THE SUMMER QUEEN, Alienor of Aquitaine begins the novel as a bride of 13 years old to the future Louis VII who is 17. 

Alienor’s birth date had long been thought to be 1122, making her 15 at her marriage, but research - now more than ten years old suggests that she was actually born in 1124 and thus only 13.  The 1124 date is the one that historians now prefer.  It's used on the Palais de Justice in Poitiers, which incorporates Alienor's great hall, built after circa 1168. 

An early 14th century manuscript, copied from earlier sources says: “In 1136 on the fifth ides of April, which in that year was Good Friday, William count palatine of Poitou and the last duke of Aquitaine, died at Saint James in Galicia, leaving his only daughter named Alienor, aged thirteen years.’

In terms of earlier sources, the text is a pastiche of excerpts from the chronicles of Geoffrey de Vigeois which were composed in Alienor’s own lifetime. Some of the information is accurate, some is not, but Alienor’s birth date is reckoned correct. The errors come when the information stated has been acquired from further afield than Aquitaine. 

The scholar who has unravelled the tangle of Eleanor's birth year is Andrew W. Lewis, Prof of history at Southwest Missouri State University. He says:

"For Eleanor of Aquitaine's age, most recent scholars have relied on Alfred Richard, the great modern specialist on the counts of Poitou. But details of this sort were not among Richard's strengths as a scholar. Moreover, he vacillated in his statements on the subject, and his argument is circular. Thus, when speaking of Eleanor's birth, he wrote that it was only from knowing that she was 82 years old when she died, in 1204, that one could place her birthday 1122. Yet when speaking of the death he gave her age as 'about 82 years', while citing no source to that effect." 

How did Richards know she was 82 when she died in 1204? There is a primary resource that speaks of her death and which is cited on other occasions - the Chronicae Sancti Albini Andegavensis. When examined by professor Lewis, however, he found that the manuscript did not give any date for her death at all and stated that she died in Poitiers, not at Fontevraud.

Professor Lewis goes on to say that greater confidence can be placed in the genealogical text composed at Limoges because the record contains an early tradition that she was thirteen at the time of her father’s death in April 1137. Lewis is of the opinion that not only would more people at that time, before the passing of generations, have known the facts, but that by canon law women had to be at least 12 years old in order to marry, and the information would have been of practical relevance. It was a deliberate statement that she had attained her majority and important. Most biographers have accepted the Richards’ statement without checking the Chronicae Sancti Albini Andegavensis. chronicle, and therefore calculate the birth date as 1122, based on false secondary sources and that non-existent ‘she died age 82 in 1204' statement.

At the outset of her marriage, then, Alienor was a thirteen year old girl, cast adrift on a sea of uncertainty and facing a future very different to the life she had led thus far. It makes for a fascinating premise to explore in a novel, and one, that as far as I know, has not been used before, other fictions having taken her age at marriage as fifteen.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


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

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


THE SUMMER QUEEN: Behind the Scenes part 2.

So what land did Alienor of Aquitaine own? In theory all the salmon pink area on the map at the foot of this post, although the nuances and practicalities were somewhat different

Alienor inherited the title of Duchess of Aquitaine in the spring of 1137 when her father died on a pilgrimage to Compostela. Her ancestors had started out as Counts of Poitou and then extended their rule. The heartlands surrounding Poitiers provided the bulk of their resources for enforcing ducal authority and the young Alienor would have viewed herself as more Poitevan than Aquitanian. 

The land surrounding Poitiers was rich and fertile with fruitful vineyards and an expanding wine trade, with the Atlantic port of La Rochelle a growing centre. There were abundant forests for hunting and for the cultivation of timber. Alienor's family had a hunting lodge at Talmont with a mews for their hawks, including white gyrfalcons, the reserved to royalty. Salt, essential for an expanding fishing industry, was panned from the salt marshes along the Poitevan coast and was a lucrative part of the region’s economy. It was also produced at Bayonne in Gascony.

‘Aquitaine’ was a catch-all description for over a dozen counties stretching from a northern border just below the River Loire as far as the Pyrenees. In width it extended eastwards from the Atlantic coast and far into the Massif Central. The regions included among others Gascony, Perigord, the Limousin and Auvergne. The Northern French and the English tended to lump all these separate regions into one and just think of its denizens as belonging to South of France and the culture of the ‘Languedoc’. The latter name comes from the language spoken in some but by no means all parts of those southern regions. Known in the Middle Ages as the Lenga Romana and today as Occitan, it is a descendant of Roman Latin and has a great deal in common with Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. However, in Poitou, the language spoken was the French of the North, albeit with a southern dialect, and not Occitan - which would have been Alienor’s second language, not her first. She would have understood her new French husband perfectly well, and he her. 

Tradition says that Alienor was born at Belin which is near Occitan speaking Bordeaux, but she would have spent most of her girlhood in the region of Poitiers and she did not visit Gascony south of the Bordelais. As far as Gascony was concerned, the ducal control more or less stopped at Bordeaux. The Dukes would make occasional spear-rattling forays deeper into the territory to demand allegiance, but they didn’t stop to party! Allegiance was loosely knit and sporadic rebellion and warfare were endemic, but at the same time, culture and trade were flourishing. Edgy and dynamic, that was Aquitaine!

You can see from the map that the area ruled by the Counts of Anjou/Dukes of Aquitaine, dwarfed the darker green French heartland and was indeed a prize to be cherished by the French Crown - and also by the Counts of Anjou who were keen to get their hands on it if they could...

Monday, June 03, 2013


Tomorrow I'll be starting a series of short blog posts themed around the background research to The Summer Queen.  Look out nearer the 20th June for news of a giveaway.

Today here's an introduction:

Behind the scenes Day 1.

It was that time again when contracts come round for renewal and myself, agent and editor went to lunch to discuss what might be in the offing following Lady of the English. 

I had one or two ideas, which readers may well see coming to fruition further along the line, but what stood out for me was that I had been wanting to write about Eleanor of Aquitaine for a while. It wasn’t something that burst over me like a firework. It was born more from an enduring curiosity in her, fed by the fact that she kept cropping up as a peripheral character in my novels. I had read information about her in the standard biographies, although the detail I required didn’t go deep at that stage. I had heard all about The Lion In Winter from the various groups to which I belong online, but I had never seen it – thankfully I think because it has not coloured my view of Eleanor. I HAD watched the BBC’s The Devil’s Crown as a teenager and been blown away by the performance of Jane Lapotaire as Eleanor. If anything, it was Lapotaire’s image I carried at the back of my mind.

I was aware when I sat down with my editor that there were several novels already out there about Eleanor, but the concern proved not to be an issue. After all, everyone’s take is different, and we both felt there were many facets of her story that hadn’t been explored, or that bore looking at with a fresh eye. For example, the current opinion by historians that she was only thirteen when she married. Or the matter of the incident at Antioch where the tabloid press of her day intimated that she committed adultery with her uncle. What really happened there? And what happened in Paris when the young future Henry II and his father came calling? Who brokered that match? How much was passion and how much cold political necessity? And that was only the first novel. Eleanor of Aquitaine crammed so much into her long life that it was going to take a trilogy to work through the various dramas and scandals.

My editor was confident enough to offer me a three book contract to write Eleanor’s story and I returned form London with a brief to get to work. It seems to have been a long time coming, and paradoxically no time at all since that moment. My version of Eleanor has become Alienor, which was the name by which she was known in her own time, and already what a journey it has been.
You can read the first chapter here:
And listen to the soundtrack here and the modern music that inspired my writing.