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Jan 14, 2014

The Courts of Love by Jean Plaidy

Not quite so loving, but a saga of a woman's search for it.
The Courts of Love by Jean Plaidy (Queens of England #5)
Published December 30th 1989 by Fawcett (first published 1987)
Personal reading copy
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars
'When I look back over my long and tempestuous life, I can see that much of what happened to me—my triumphs and most of my misfortunes—was due to my passionate relationships with men. I was a woman who considered herself their equal—and in many ways their superior—but it seemed that I depended on them, while seeking to be the dominant partner—an attitude which could hardly be expected to bring about a harmonious existence.'

Eleanor of Aquitaine was revered for her superior intellect, extraordinary courage, and fierce loyalty. She was equally famous for her turbulent relationships, which included marriages to the kings of both France and England.

As a child, Eleanor reveled in her beloved grandfather’s Courts of Love, where troubadours sang of romantic devotion and passion filled the air. In 1137, at the age of fifteen, Eleanor became Duchess of Aquitaine, the richest province in Europe. A union with Louis VII allowed her to ascend the French throne, yet he was a tepid and possessive man and no match for a young woman raised in the Courts of Love. When Eleanor met the magnetic Henry II, the first Plantagenet King of England, their stormy pairing set great change in motion—and produced many sons and daughters, two of whom would one day reign in their own right.

In this majestic and sweeping story, set against a backdrop of medieval politics, intrigue, and strife, Jean Plaidy weaves a tapestry of love, passion, betrayal, and heartbreak—and reveals the life of a most remarkable woman whose iron will and political savvy enabled her to hold her own against the most powerful men of her time.
Historical fiction lovers recognize this prolific author of Jean Plaidy who goes by several different pseudonyms as each evoke a different style of writing.  After reading some of Plaidy's, some of Holt's, and one of Carr's I can safely make the assertion that Plaidy's work under that name is historically based but yet she still seems to impart a bit of "liberty" into her fiction, though she doesn't do it in an over the top kind of way. By using this tactic with her slightly dry/to-the-point prose, readers are often left wondering of what was factual and what was not.

With The Courts of Love, Plaidy also imparts a few nuances of liberties, but I felt like she portrays Eleanor of Aquitaine very well, as I've come to believe of her. A passionate woman, a ruler by her own right and by her husband's right, she was at the heart of many events during England's and France's history. The novel opens up with Eleanor and her sister Petronilla, with a bit of an awkward relationship with her father, and then transitions to Queen of France and finally to Queen of England. I have always deplored the whole sad relationship Eleanor had with the pious Louis, and it was there that the story stalled, especially since we know the fun stuff doesn't really happen till she meets the young-soon-to-be King Henry. There was a lot of "Oh, how I wish Louis were more like Uncle Raymond" and it wasn't until we get to having kids with King Henry that the story began to take off.

This novel is one that is the same to those of us who have read a few Eleanor novels, so if you are like me in that regard (my Eleanor reviews) there is a high chance you could be bored with more than just the France part. It glazes through everything of Eleanor's life swiftly, as if to fit it all in, which leaves us wondering if she left all the meaty historical bits for her Plantagenet series. I did feel several times that I wanted to pick up a Penman novel after this (Lionheart has been neglected for quite awhile already). I did not appreciate how Petronilla was a big part of her life up to the point she met  Henry, and how she then dropped off the face of the earth.

As it was so character-oriented with Eleanor, it also served as a spotlight of Eleanor's and Henry's relationship. I felt like slapping Henry several times, and hoped that Eleanor wasn't so detached from her children as she seemed to be. From the way Plaidy tells it, Eleanor did not have a very happy life, though she had several triumphant moments. It does speak to the fact that men ruled everything, which really grates my nerves. And while the title is The Courts of Love, the novel instead is representative of The Courts of Betrayal. There was not a surfeit of love going on in this one, and one of my pet peeves is the fact my husband believes I am reading some smutty romance because of some of the titles of books I read. This is one example of that injustice.

Eleanor was constantly reaching for those courts of love that her childhood represented, but as she got older it became more and more elusive to her. She never does find it, especially as she finds that her husband has strayed from her. Her heart is broken, and we can't help but feel for this queenly woman who fought for everything she owned, though it was never enough.

I would recommend this novel for those who haven't read more than five Eleanor-related titles, but it would be a perfect read for those who are just starting to get to know her. The fact that Plaidy DOES manage to fit a ton of small baiting type of historical tidbits into this story is why I felt compelled to give it an extra half star. Her storytelling is exact and to the point though sometimes repetitive, but in the end you're still glad you finally read that Plaidy novel that's been beckoning for so long. Jean Plaidy is a pioneer in the historical fiction field especially with how prolific she was, and I feel she helped to pave the way for more contemporary favorites such as Sharon Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick.