Henry is King --- the Lion in Winter, a ruler of great reputation, majestic and virile --- and Eleanor is his Queen. Although she professes grand love and continuous affection for Henry, her heart remains in Aquitaine. Her subjects adore her and take Henry’s claim of power over them to be an abomination. They are both bigger than life, and their story is legend.
We meet Henry and Eleanor when they are first introduced to each other. The attraction is strong, and their destiny is formed from the moment they meet. Opinionated, headstrong and intelligent, Henry and Eleanor change history in the High Middle Ages: “Her own future was mapped out by destiny, and there was no escaping it, even if she wanted to. She had only to contain herself in patience for some while longer, and in the meantime she would be returning to Aquitaine, to reclaim her great inheritance.”
Thomas Beckett becomes good friends and allies with Henry VIII, and eventually with Eleanor. She’s suspicious of Henry’s friendship with Beckett at first, as the two spend most of their time together, to the exclusion of her. Henry is consistently unfaithful to Eleanor, and there are even rumors that he and Beckett are overly familiar with each other. When the Archbishop of Canterbury dies, Henry chooses Beckett to succeed him: “I want an archbishop who is on my side, and prepared to work with me, not against me, Henry declared.” This decision is arrived at quickly --- perhaps too quickly and without fully understanding the consequences. Henry will come to regret his choice, and it will break his heart.
We travel with Henry and Eleanor throughout their vast kingdom and follow the palace intrigue. From Anjou to Aquitaine, Rouen to Northampton, and the Welsh border, we see the changes in their relationship as their family grows larger. Henry forbids Eleanor to join him on a trip to Aquitaine, which angers her greatly: “It had been that adamant refusal, and what followed, far more than the matter of Canterbury, that drove a wedge between them.” Aquitaine is Eleanor’s, and her subjects adore and worship her. They never believe Henry is half the leader, as he withdraws rights and liberties. This is a turning point in their relationship, which will haunt them both for the rest of their lives.
Of course, part of the magic of CAPTIVE QUEEN is Henry and Eleanor. They jump from the pages like modern-day operatives, with all the intrigue and political savvy of present-day politicians. But there’s more. Alison Weir has the innate ability to write the story with dialogue that supports the characters, adding to the richness of the history and culture, customs and characters, which makes you want to read further. Just one more chapter before I stop for the night! This is historical fiction at its very best.
Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on December 26, 2010