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Eleanor of Aquitaine, as It Was Said

Truth and Tales about the Medieval Queen

A reparative reading of stories about medieval queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Much of what we know about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and then Queen of England, we know from recorded rumor—gossip often qualified by the curious phrase “it was said,” or the love songs, ballads, and romances that gossip inspired. While we can mine these stories for evidence about the historical Eleanor, Karen Sullivan invites us to consider, instead, what even the most fantastical of these tales reveals about this queen and life as a twelfth-century noblewoman. She reads the Middle Ages, not to impose our current conceptual categories on its culture, but to expose the conceptual categories medieval women used to make sense of their lives. Along the way, Sullivan paints a fresh portrait of this singular medieval queen and the women who shared her world.


“A fascinating must-read for all enthusiasts of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Sullivan conducts a survey of Eleanor’s life via a detailed focus on the main historical controversies. The author does not ‘pick a side,’ but instead asks all of us to revisit our preconceptions of this most inspiring medieval queen. The book manages the neat trick of providing much food for thought while being a highly enjoyable read. I look forward to rereading it already!"

Sara Cockerill, author of 'Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires'

“This evocative book, both solidly documented and full of original ideas, renews studies on Eleanor of Aquitaine. Reading medieval and modern texts on the queen with finesse and respect, Sullivan takes us into the mentality of their authors, whose interests, sensibilities, and values are at once so close to and yet so far from ours. Piercing the silence that surrounds women of the twelfth century, this book opens the door to a culture of gender so often forgotten.”

Martin Aurell, University of Poitiers

“A remarkable portrait of Eleanor as the subject of a thousand conversations, this book gives us the queen who haunted the listeners of troubadour songs, shone in the biographies of famous knights, and burned from the acid pens of her enemies. As she weaves these disparate strands together, Sullivan blazes a new trail in the study of celebrated figures in the medieval past, challenging us to rethink assumptions about what is useful about the forces that shaped medieval narratives and how we might read them.”

Nicholas Paul, Fordham University

Table of Contents

I. The Heiress: Consent in Marriage
         The King of France
         The Demon Wife
         The King of England
II. The Crusader: Infidelity, Marital and Religious
         The Prince of Antioch
         The Sultan of Babylon
         A Knight of Poitou
III. The Courtly Lady: Love and Patronage
         The Troubadour
         The Courts of Love
         The Knight Errant
IV. The Queen Mother: Authority, Maternal and Seigneurial
         The Young King
         Richard the Lionheart
         King John
V. The Old Woman of Fontevraud: The Cloister and the World
         Outside the Walls
         Living at the Abbey
         Dying ad Succurrendum
         The Tomb Sculpture
VI. The Lioness in Winter: Poetry, Theater, Cinema
         Fair Rosamund
         Alys of France
Selected Bibliography

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