Now On My Kindle…

We’ve begun really nailing down plans for our visit to the Loire Valley in April. Along with researching accommodations, restaurants and transportation, I’ve picked one particular bit of the area’s history to delve into in preparation for our visit. Eleanor of Aquitaine remains a pivotal figure in history, though often a murky and maligned one. I started reading a series of essays on Eleanor of Aquitaine last week, but found that it was rather scholarly and dense (suspect a lot of these essays were post-graduate thesis papers). Maybe I’ll go back and finish it after I’ve read a more straightforward biography.

The Loire Valley (particularly Angers and Chinon) is full of Plantagenet history. Anjou was actually the family seat of Henry II who married Eleanor of Aquitaine (her second marriage…the first to Louis VII of France was annulled), and went on to become King of England along with his other titles. Henry II and Eleanor were parents of three kings of England, Young Henry (who died before assuming the throne), King Richard Lionheart and King John (the one who was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215). Henry II, Eleanor and Richard I are all buried in the Abbey of Fontevraud in Chinon. (I love me some French and English Middle Ages.) Eleanor herself (when not kept under house arrest by Henry II) was quite a player herself: going on crusades, starting wars, engaging in diplomacy, and ultimately holding down the fort and running things while Richard I was off on crusades himself.

Angevin Empire Map

Love me some maps too!

And yes, have on my To Do list to re-watch The Lion in Winter.

I’m also re-reading A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman, which while not specifically about the Loire Valley, does pick up some French history 200 years after the era of Henry II and Eleanor.

Of course, Wendy has you covered for all of your Eleanor-related jewelry needs. If you haven’t read some of Wendy’s book club blog posts, you’re missing out. Here’s the one on Empress Mathilda, mother of Henry II and quite a badass in her own right.

What are you reading right now?

Stay in touch.

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  1. Ellen
    January 19, 2014 / 7:13 am

    For Christmas, my husband received the book The Plantagenets which he is finding very good. I’m waiting in line to read it next (We are on a British Royalty binge around here). It might be a nice complement

    • une femme
      January 19, 2014 / 7:25 am

      Ellen, thanks for the recommendation! I’ll add that one to the queue.

  2. Julie
    January 19, 2014 / 7:19 am

    I am planning france travel as well. Finding it a little difficult. What is your approach? Would like to see Beaune and Provence. Family doesnt like driving.

    • une femme
      January 19, 2014 / 7:24 am

      Julie, what we’ve found works for us is to narrow in on one or two areas per trip, and then just research like crazy based on our interests (for us that tends to be history, gardens, architecture, wine and food). You can get to most areas in France by train, but this time we’re renting a car to get around Loire Valley itself, as many of the areas we want to visit aren’t accessible by train, and driving gives us more leeway with our schedule. We’ll drop the car before catching the train to Paris for that portion of our trip.

      Also, highly recommend for reviews on accommodations, restaurants and sights/attractions.

      • Julie
        January 19, 2014 / 1:54 pm

        Thank you. I think its easy to overbook because there is just so much to see.
        I have found Rick Steves books to be full of information.

  3. January 19, 2014 / 7:48 am

    I read several books by Alison Weir and especially enjoyed Eleanor. If you are looking for a great rental in the Loire Valley, look at We rented Pamela’s house but the smaller house Chez Adorée is now available for rent. We drove to all the châteaux and to Fontevraud and there is a walking path just out the back gate. Pamela had lots of books and music and it made an excellent home base for visiting the area.

  4. Linda
    January 19, 2014 / 8:32 am

    Eleanor is my all-time favourite royal! (And, apparently, a very very distant relative if I am to believe the family tree my father presented to me years ago. Not putting a lot of faith in that.) Marion Meade’s biography of Eleanor is wonderful also.

    I read somewhere that a great to prepare for a trip is to read a novel based in your destination area/city. This helped immeasurably when the hub and I traveled to Barcelona this fall. It increased my appreciation for the city tenfold. I love the idea of reading about the history and pivotal historical figures of the area as well.

    Your blog is a daily read and I am always inspired.

  5. Nicole
    January 19, 2014 / 8:42 am

    The book that I read about Eleanor was by Marion Meade, and it was an enjoyable, fascinating read. A trip through that area sounds enchanting. I stumbled upon a YouTube video by JudeMaris that shows an artist reconstruction of Eleanor to show what she might have looked like. It is quite beautiful.

  6. Sherry
    January 19, 2014 / 9:12 am

    Tete a Tete, the biography of Sartre and de Beauvoir. Much more to the story than I realized. Great reading

    • Kris
      January 19, 2014 / 11:41 am

      I just read a long review of that book. Whoa! They had a really bizarre relationship. That’s definitely going on my reading list.

  7. Hostess
    January 19, 2014 / 9:25 am

    I admire your thorough research before your trip. I like Trip Advisor too and found it a reliable source for accommodation and some gems that are off the beaten path.
    I am reading The Secret History by Donna Tarttt.

  8. January 19, 2014 / 10:34 am

    I was obsessed with the Plantagenets when I was in college and this makes me want to dip my toe back in to visit with my old friends! On a lighter note, yesterday I started Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah. I suspect I may finish it before the weekend is over!

  9. January 19, 2014 / 10:45 am

    You will love the beautiful tapestries in Angers–both the old ones in the castle and the newer ones in the museum.

    Believe it or not, I am reading Proust–my first two tries ended with just the first volume. I am in the middle of the fourth right now. I really wasn’t ready for it before.

  10. January 19, 2014 / 11:06 am

    Researching for a trip like this would be so much fun! Though I am not going on the trip, I want to add Lion In the Winter to my re-watch list….have not seen it in years. Thanks for the reminder!!

  11. Joan
    January 19, 2014 / 11:31 am

    Have you read the novel “Five Quarters of the Orange,” which is set in the Loire during WWII? My husband is re-reading it right now.

  12. January 19, 2014 / 11:55 am

    Thanks for the link! I really need to get back to my history posts. They just take so much out of me. You know how much I love The Distant Mirror! Always glad to see that shouted out.

  13. Jan
    January 19, 2014 / 12:37 pm

    Your trip sounds wonderful! The Lion in Winter has long been one of my favorites! I, too, must add it to my re-watch list.

  14. January 19, 2014 / 3:06 pm

    Medieval history is a little hobby of mine. Eleanor was certainly a fascinating figure in history. I found Tuchmann’s “A Distant Mirror” just wonderful. There’s nothing like immersing oneself in the history of a place before visiting. Enjoy the reads. I’ll be exploring some of the recommendations.

  15. Rebecca L
    January 19, 2014 / 6:59 pm

    Hi Tish, I have just finished reading your fabulous book, Forever Chic. So Pleased to have found your wonderful website, too. I adore France and Italy, and a book I always enjoy reading, and re-reading, is The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, by CW Gortner. One of my favourite places to visit in the Loire is the glorious Chateau de Chenonceau – although the book by CW Gortner is fiction, it does go into the history of Chenonceau during the de Medici / de Poitiers era.

    • une femme
      January 20, 2014 / 9:44 am

      Hi Rebecca,
      Actually I’m not Tish, though she is a friend of mine and I’m very flattered. 🙂 You can find her blog here.

  16. January 19, 2014 / 7:12 pm

    Eleanor sounds interesting, as does Matilda, but I know what you mean about texts that are too scholarly. I prefer novels.

    Right now I’m reading The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant,sent to me by Jan of Fort Smith Stylista. I may need to dip into my next novel, though – The Red House by Mark Haddon.

  17. January 19, 2014 / 7:13 pm

    The first book that came to my mind with your mention of Eleanor was “The Road from the Past
    Traveling through History in France” by Ina Caro, in which one of my favorite sections was the one about Eleanor. The book may have been updated and released with a different title. Have you read it. I recommend it highly!

  18. Sam
    January 20, 2014 / 7:02 am

    Have you read anything by Sharon Penman? She writes historical fiction–not fact–but her books are fun and seem steeped in research. She wrote a trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine that you might have fun exploring. If those interest you, I think she also wrote about Richard I and John. It’s been a very long time since I read anything by her, but I remember finding her work engaging…perhaps you will, too!

    • January 20, 2014 / 1:34 pm

      I second this recommendation – very well written historical fiction. The trilogy starts with ‘When Christ and His Saints Slept’.

  19. Morning Waters
    January 20, 2014 / 8:26 am

    Please do not miss the mideaval town of Chartre, its wonderful cathedral with its labyrinth in the nave. If you are there on Fridays (I believe) the chairs are moved and you can walk the path of the labyrinth. An amazing experience. There is also the mosaic house in town, that should not be missed.

  20. January 20, 2014 / 10:50 am

    I’m reading some trashy noir mysteries-thrillers with women protagonists. It’s that time of year for me.
    But this looks like one I need to add to my Kindle list. I’ve read quite a lot of biography about royal women from later periods, but a little about Eleanor as well. She was a serious troublemaker, wasn’t she? In the best way for modern women to consider… a man of her period would not have suffered the harridan reputation for the same behaviors. I see why Henry tried to keep her in check.
    Thanks for mentioning this one.

  21. Westendall
    January 20, 2014 / 1:52 pm

    Don’t discount an enduring young person’s book, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, by E.L. Konigsberg. It is still in print:

    One of my favorites from way, way back, and sparked my interest in medieval history as a child.

    It’s a fabulous classic, and covers so much of Eleanor’s life as she converses in Heaven with Matilda, Abbot Suger, and William the Marshal. (Eleanor is waiting for Henry to arrive.)

    And it has the virtue of going very fast!

    • Carol Wayne
      January 22, 2014 / 6:18 pm

      One of my favorites….As a school librarian I love putting that book in kids…especially girls hands.
      Fonteverault…you must see where she is buried.

  22. Denise
    January 20, 2014 / 2:23 pm

    I love the medieval history of Europe, too, though am by no means an expert. I took a couple of continuing ed classes on medieval cathedrals in France and the Bayeux Tapestry through my local university a few years back. Unfortunately, I could only afford the class on the medieval cathedrals and not the associated tour, ha! Better than nothing, I suppose…

    Can’t wait to hear about your trip.

  23. January 21, 2014 / 12:35 am

    We visited the Loire region about 5 years ago — beautiful. I would read Catherine de Medici by Leonie Frieda. She had strong ties to Blois, Amboise (died there), and, of course, Chenonceau.

    In Amboise, you may want to see the modern Royal Gardens, designed by Giles Clement. If you drive near Gien, the faiencerie boutique has sales and sells seconds.

  24. Jill
    January 22, 2014 / 1:47 pm

    I just finished a book on Ava Gardner, my she was a firecracker. I love the Middle Ages too, especially through the royal scope of England and France so your post makes me want to get myself, pronto, to the Cloisters in Manhattan to soak up all that medieval art! I haven’t been there in years (and I bet it’s gorgeous in all the snow we got yesterday). I can’t wait for your trip because I hope you show pictures of medieval castles! Please! I can’t get enough of them. Maybe I will stop reading about saucy Hollywood legends and move onto medieval monarchy. I do remember reading some juicy historicals about Eleanor back when I was 19 or so. Sounds like she was a firecracker too, not unlike Ava Gardner. Ha. Great post. XO, Jill

  25. Jeni
    January 23, 2014 / 1:55 pm

    A Distant Mirror is one of the best books I have read…it’s brilliant. So is Montaillou by Roy le Ladurie….check it out! Bon voyage a la Loire!

  26. Liana Hanson (2nd cousin)
    February 15, 2014 / 8:32 pm

    I’ll also be in Paris and the Loire valley in April. We will be on a river cruise. Am trying to nail down packing ideas and read about the area as well.

  27. Alan Altimont
    February 19, 2014 / 7:23 pm

    For some later Angevin history I would suggest Nancy Goldstone’s “The Queen and the Maid: The Secret History of Joan of Arc,” the queen being Yolande of Aragon, mother of Rene, duke of Anjou and King of Naples. Very accessible. I taught in Angers during the Spring of 2012 and loved every minute of it. Other Plantagenet must-sees: Fontevrault Abbey, where their sarcophagi are displayed; Chinon; and Eleanor’s city, Poitier–its great hall, where she held her semi-mythical “Court of Love” is still there, as are the great Romanesque churches where she worshiped and saw her son Richard invested as Duke of Aquitaine. But don’t turn your nose up at Nantes and its fantastical Jules-Verne inspired Iles de Machines. Where else can a 30 foot tall mechanical elephant take you on a ride to a 5-story tall carousel where you ride steam-punk submarines and sea serpents?

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