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The Two Eleanors of Henry III (Hardback)

The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort

Medieval History P&S History Social History Women of History Medieval Royal History

By Darren Baker
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 248
Illustrations: 20
ISBN: 9781526747518
Published: 2nd October 2019

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Eleanor of Provence was born in the province of her name in 1223. She has come to England at the age of twelve to marry the king, Henry III. He’s sixteen years older, but was a boy when he ascended the throne. He’s a kind, sensitive sort whose only personal attachments to women so far have been to his three sisters.

The youngest of them is called Eleanor too. She was only nine when, for political reasons, her first marriage took place, but she’s already a chaste twenty-year old widow when the new queen arrives in 1236. In a short time, this Eleanor will marry the rising star of her brother’s court, a French parvenu named Simon de Montfort, thus wedding the fates of these four people together in an England about to undergo some of the most profound changes in its history.

It’s a tale that covers three decades at its heart, with loyalty to family and principles at stake, in a land where foreigners are subject to intense scrutiny and jealousy. The relationship between these two sisters-in-law, close but ultimately doomed, will reflect not just the turbulence and tragedy of their times, but also the brilliance and splendour.

For better or worse, women were often defined by their roles in life: daughter, wife, mother. And with a lack of sources available or detailed even recorded contemporaneously, it is often how they are then written about. This, however, shouldn't negate towards an author's attempts to introduce an historical figure to a new audience - not just an academic one. Baker's book does this - it brings to the fore two women at one of the most important periods in English history.

What the average reader will find in this is a decent story - it is not pretentious or dry - and not filled with useless information that should be relegated to the appendices. There is a decent chronology and plenty of notes because if you are reading this, you will be wanting to go off and read more. For me, I especially liked the wrap of of Simon's family after his death at Evesham.

NetGalley, Melisende d'Outremer

This is why I enjoy history so. Well written and documented story of Henry III's wife and sister, both Eleanor's, both highly educated and well aware of their rights. Both were drug through the drama of a country struggling to define what their monarchy would look like. Both would be defined by the lengths they would go to get what they wanted, money, power, a dynasty. Both would" live long and prosper" in spite of the side of the conflict they were on.

NetGalley, Donna Pingry

Overall, an interesting read about two women (and their families/associates) that I didn’t previously know about.

NetGalley, Lucy Faulds

An enjoyable and recommendable read to anyone who enjoys learning more about Henry III and the women in his life.

NetGalley, Christine Cazeneuve

The story covers the relationship between the two Eleanors, and their relationship with Henry. The whole book is referenced throughout and provides fascinating detail in to the relationship of these two couples and how they went from very close to being on opposite sides of the war field. Both had successes and failures which ultimately led to Simon dying in battle and one of the Eleanors leaving England for voluntary exile.

I haven't looked into this era much before now but it was a wonderful insight. The lives of these two couples was truly incredible.

A wide variety of evidence including account books belonging to Eleanor de Monfort which survive today have been used to determine the costs of their livelihood, who they entertained and what was served to who. The costs are also converted into equivalent of today's money to give an idea how much these couples earned and spent and how extravagant they could be.

I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in the two Eleanors, the reign of Henry III and the beginning of his sons reign.

NetGalley, Amy McElroy

About Darren Baker

Born in California in 1961, Darren Baker took his degree in modern and classical languages at the University of Connecticut. He lives today with his wife and children in in the Czech Republic, where he writes and translates. His biographies include With All For All: The Life of Simon de Montfort (Amberley, 2015) and Henry III: The Great King England Never Knew It Had (The History Press, 2017).

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