Eleanor of Aquitaine rules as a modern heroine in the twelfth century, in this beloved classic of royal fiction from renowned author Norah Lofts.
At a time when a woman’s value was measured solely by her wealth and the number of sons she bore, Eleanor was the high-spirited, stubborn, and intelligent heiress to the vast duchy of Aquitaine.
Her leadership inspired the loyalty of her people, but she was continually doubted and silenced by the men who ruled beside her—the less wise but far more powerful men of the church and court who were unwilling to lose power to a woman, regardless of her rank or ability.
Through marriages to two kings, two Crusades, and the births of ten children— including the future King Richard the Lionhearted—Eleanor solidified her place in history. In Eleanor the Queen, Norah Lofts brings to life a brave and complex woman who was centuries ahead of her time.
This reading group guide forEleanor the Queenby Norah Lofts includes suggested discussion questions intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
1. Eleanor the Queen opens on a scene where Eleanor is telling her young lover Richard that she has “no choice” but to marry Louis, the King of France. Why does she say this? What has she already learned about politics and her role as Duchess of Aquitaine?
2. Louis’s advisor, Abbé Bernard of Clairvaux, reminds the King that “no man can serve two masters” (page 27). What is he referring to and how does he make sure that Louis doesn’t do this?
3. Just before the King is about to set out on the crusade, the Abbé has a very symbolic dream involving Saint Peter and a bundle holding a rose and a spider (page 44). How does the Abbé interpret this dream and how does Eleanor thwart his plans?
4. Louis makes several critical mistakes during his crusade to the Holy Land. Every time, Eleanor serves as a voice of wisdom, which he ignores. What are some of the things Louis does wrong on his crusade? Does Eleanor deserve the blame for the massacre at Phrygia?
5. When Eleanor first meets Henry Plantagenet, on page 110, he quotes to her a Norman saying “Good enemy, good lover.” What does this mean and how does it influence the way Henry proposes marriage to Eleanor?
6. Henry is a very different husband from Louis. “I am no monk,” he tells Eleanor. How do Eleanor’s early years of marriage to Henry differ from those of her union with Louis? Is she able to be more herself with Henry?
7. On page 119, Eleanor first discusses Thomas Becket with Henry. Becket is about to be made Lord Chancellor and Eleanor has some misgivings. What is her argument to Henry? Does he listen to her, and are her fears realized when she again speaks to her husband about it on page 136?
8. Eleanor bears Henry four sons: Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John. How do their personalities differ? What are Henry and Eleanor’s feelings about their children? How does Henry deal with the problem of inheritance for each son, and what does Eleanor have to say about it (page 146)?
9. Eleanor’s youngest son, John, comes to visit her in prison, telling her to trust him and he will free her (page 191). Despite what he says, she implicitly does not trust her son. Why does she feel that way?
10. On page 201, Eleanor is back at the royal court, finally free from imprisonment. She is reunited with many of her ladies-in-waiting, including Alys, who is the presumed future wife of Richard. Eleanor and Alys discuss the roles of women in their time and their purpose in world politics. What does this conversation reveal about women’s place in that society?
11. When Eleanor is imprisoned for the second time, she is denied her usual companion, Amaria, and instead has to make do with the disagreeable Kate, a common woman who lost all her teeth traveling with the army on the last crusade. How does Eleanor eventually win over Kate, and what comfort does Kate provide for Eleanor?
12. When her son Richard, now King of England, finally sets her free, Eleanor looks back on her long life and thinks, “One should never despair” (page 288). How did she keep true to that maxim? What are some of the ways she kept her spirits up in the darkest hours?
13. The book ends as Eleanor prepares to become Regent of England, as Richard travels to the Holy Land on another crusade. How is Eleanor well-suited to this role and what challenges stand in her way?
14. Eleanor’s fate in the novel is often determined by the marriages she makes. What role does marriage play for a woman of certain birth and social standing during the twelfth century? Does it have anything to do with love?
15. Compare Eleanor to some of the more modern female politicians in history. Do you think she would make a good leader in modern times? What are her strengths and weaknesses?
Norah Lofts was one of the best known and best loved of all historical novelists, renowned for her authentic use of period detail. Born in 1904 in Norfolk, England, Lofts wrote more than fifty books of fiction, nonfiction, and short stories over the course of her half-century-long writing career, including The King's Pleasure and Here Was a Man, and was a bestselling author on both sides of the Atlantic.