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Aug 3, 2010


Eleanor of Aquitaine has been an intriguing historical figure as she was a Queen of France, and later a Queen of England who was famous for helping to maneuver her sons against her husband King Henry II. One of her famous sons was Richard the Lionheart, who is touted as her favorite. This year has been a fabulous year for novels on Eleanor and her famous family, and today, August 3rd, brings us the newest one titled The Secret Eleanor:
Please welcome to The Burton Review Cecelia Holland, the author of the new release The Secret Eleanor.
Eleanor of Aquitaine seized hold of life in the 12th century in a way any modern woman would envy!

1151: As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor grew up knowing what it was to be regarded for herself and not for her husband's title. Now, as wife to Louis VII and Queen of France, she has found herself unsatisfied with reflected glory-and feeling constantly under threat, even though she outranks every woman in Paris.

Then, standing beside her much older husband in the course of a court ceremony, Eleanor locks eyes with a man-hardly more than a boy, really- across the throne room, and knows that her world has changed irrevocably...

He is Henry D'Anjou, eldest son of the Duke of Anjou, and he is in line, somewhat tenuously, for the British throne. She meets him in secret. She has a gift for secrecy, for she is watched like a prisoner by spies even among her own women. She is determined that Louis must set her free. Employing deception and disguise, seduction and manipulation, Eleanor is determined to find her way to power-and make her mark on history.
See the end of this interview for giveaway details of the book!

Q: You have written over twenty historicals based on very intriguing characters. Was there one book that was more difficult to research than others?

The hardest book to research was THE BELT OF GOLD, for which all the primary data was in Greek, and most of the better commentary in German or Russian. It's not my favorite book. The California books were fabulous to research, everything right here, in English and very close in time. JERUSALEM, which is my favorite book, covers a time period (1180's in the Holy Land) with lots of available primary material, which I prefer (the sources written closest to the actual event are primary sources), and a lot of controversy; I like to twinge an event, try to see it from a whole different slant than the usual, question the pre-assumptions. These days when so few readers actually have much background in history this has its own issues; it's hard to play off the note when nobody knows the song.

Q: Your newest novel, The Secret Eleanor, features a time period that has been recently been written of Eleanor's life. What was the inspiration for you to write about the relationship of Eleanor and Henry?

This nine-ten months' time, from her first meeting with Henry of Anjou until she married him, is the turning point of Eleanor's life. What I find missing in most accounts is the awareness that she was the mastermind: it had to be all her decision. Nobody else was in a position to see what she could make of the marriage with Henry, or that she would be able to make the marriage at all. I wanted to develop the idea of this passionate and willful woman seizing control of her life in the face of all the entrenched powers of male privilege and female submission. I don't think anybody else has done this.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you about Eleanor or Henry that you came across in your research?

Not in the research (contrary to popular belief, the real data--the primary material--on both these major figures is pretty piecemeal, as you would expect, given the 900 years between us and them) but in the writing, when Eleanor became a fully-functioning character in a story that was leaping away out of my hands, she really did and thought and felt things I hadn't expected. She scared me sometimes.

Q: Eleanor is typically portrayed as a domineering, strong willed woman who was able to defy both the King of France and the King of England. How do you think women thought of Eleanor at that time in history? What do you think was Eleanor's greatest trait?

The prevailing opinion of Eleanor at the time, and for centuries afterward, was dominated by what Ralph Turner calls her Black Legend, the image of an adulterous headstrong evil queen whose husband was probably right to lock her up to keep her out of trouble. Shakespeare doesn't help with his portrait of her in KING JOHN. I think a lot of women probably agreed with this assessment at the time--it was in the interests of many women to buy into the male view that women should be firmly subordinated to their husbands. Certainly the Empress Matilde, Henry's mother, disapproved of Eleanor immensely. (Matilde however was a pretty aggressive woman in her own right .) But I imagine some women saw Eleanor as showing the way to a new respect and power--her daughters were active and independent minded, and the whole popular attribution to Eleanor of the Courts of Love (which seems a later amendment to her story) indicates people at the time saw her as presiding over a kind of revolution in women's lives. Whether they appreciated this or disapproved depended a lot on their own circumstances.

Q: With three daughters and a menagerie of animals, how do you find the time to write so much? Does writing seem like work to you, or is it still something that you enjoy doing?

I love to write. Writing gets me through the bad times. On the other hand the girls ground me in real life. They're all grown up now with families of their own but I am deeply grateful to have had them and to have them now. When they were little, finding time to write was hard, and I learned to break the work up into little pieces that I could think about while doing dishes, or hanging up diapers--bits of dialog, starting sentences, the like. I got a major flash on the end of FLOATING WORLDS for instance while I was hanging up diapers--maybe the white sheet before my face worked like blank film, on which I could project something.

Q: Have you been able to travel abroad to conduct your research? If so, what have been some of your favorite historical places to visit?

I've gone around a lot, the more now that my children are grown. I like Constantinople. I know it's called Istanbul now but if you go with some information and maps and look, you can still find bits of what was for close on to 1000 years the greatest city in the Western World. I'm trying to get to North Africa now, and to Central Asia and the Silk Road, but there are political problems.

Q: Do you have any current writing projects that you can tell us about?

I'm finishing a novel about Richard the Lionheart's Crusade. Richard of course was Eleanor's son so this continues some of the research and ideas I did for THE SECRET ELEANOR.
I am looking forward to that new work in progress, also! Thanks SO much to the author for visiting The Burton Review and answering my questions!! And another treat for my followers, the publisher is offering one copy of The Secret Eleanor to you!

To enter, please comment on the interview or tell me something about Eleanor that intrigues you. What books have you read regarding Eleanor or her family?

Some sort of response regarding the above is mandatory, and you must leave your email address so I can contact the winner.

For extra entries, leave me a link to your advertisement of this post:
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Good Luck!!
Giveaway ends August 14th, open to USA only courtesy of the publisher.