Book Corner: The Two Eleanors of Henry III by Darren Baker

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.

Having just reviewed one of the best fiction books of 2019 in Angus Donald’s Blood’s Campaign, it is a pleasure to review one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read this year. Darren Baker’s The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is a truly engaging book, delving into the lives of two very different women, friends who were on opposing sides during the Second Baron’s War and the rebellion of Simon de Montfort.

Told chronologically, with their lives running in parallel, Darren Baker recreates the experiences of Eleanor of Provence, queen of Henry III, and Eleanor de Montfort, sister of Henry III and wife of his bitter enemy, Simon de Montfort. Sympathetic but not overly sentimental, Darren Baker recreates the political and personal lives of his two protagonists, both on the national and international stage.

The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is a wonderful analysis of the years between the issuing of Magna Carta and the death of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham, clearly demonstrating the roles played by the wives of the two main protagonists in the ongoing battle between crown and barons. Darren Baker examines the conflict, and motivations behind it, from a new and innovative angle.

It cannot have been easy to write a dual biography about two women who shared a Christian name, but Darren Baker has a remarkable skill in always clearly identifying which Eleanor he is talking about at any particular time, negating any possible confusion for the reader.

As the banquet commences, Eleanor [of Provence] notices a man standing in close proximity to them, holding a basin of water for the king to clean his hands in before, during and after the meal. But e is clearly no servant. Besides wearing stately robes, he walks with Henry with a familiarity that suggests they are friends. More intriguing, his accent is very close to hers. Someone in the party whispers that it is Simon de Montfort, the son of the crusader who set most of their region ablaze three decades earlier. Simon too grew up in the south of France until his father was felled in the conflict. When the crusade was over, he ventured to England to claim the earldom of Leicester through his grandmother’s noble lineage. The earldom came with the office of steward, which is what this tall and handsome knight, then in his late twenties, is doing in attending the king at the feast.

Simon looks at the party from Provence with equal suspicion. He survived a purge of foreign courtiers only a few years before and is worried this new crowd from abroad might re-ignite that peculiar English obsession with aliens. His position seems safe because he is one of Henry’s most trusted confidants. He has recently shown his loyalty to him by proposing marriage to two widowed countesses on the Continent, presumably at the king’s urging. Henry has grand ideas about creating alliances across the Channel as a means of recovering the lands seized by the French from his father. ‘Do that,’ he intimated, ‘and I’ll find you a suitable bride if it doesn’t work out.’ Simon returned empty-handed.

Widows abound in this feudal society and the king gets to decide who marries the rich and powerful ones. None is more desirable than his own sister, who is also named Eleanor. She was younger than her new sister-in-law when she was betrothed to William Marshal II, son of her brother’s first regent. Because of her extreme youth at the time, it was years before she and William began cohabiting. Their marriage waas successfull but childless.

Don’t be fooled by the flowing narrative, The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is an in-depth analysis, not only of the lives of the two women, but of the events which shaped their world and threatened the very stability of England and the monarchy. Darren Baker delves into the motivations of both women, their loyalty to their husbands and family and examines the lengths that each went to in order to protect their own interests.

The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is a pleasure to read. It provides great insight into the lives of Eleanor of Provence, Eleanor de Montfort, their husbands and children and the impact that their family feuding had, not only on England, but also on the European stage. The author does not run to judgement and provides a balanced analysis of both sides of the conflict of the Second Barons’ War. He clearly points out the character strengths and flaws of both Eleanors, using chronicles and letters to build clear images of their characters and personalities.

The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort firmly places Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort within the thirteenth century world in which they lived. Darren Baker brings their stories to life, with his passion for his subjects clearly visible in the elegant narrative. This book is a must for anyone interested in medieval women or in the conflict between Henry III and Simon de Montfort. Placing the focus on the two women who saw their husbands and sons drawn into the Second Barons’ War shines a whole new light on the period.

It is an enjoyable and fascinating read!

To buy the Book:

The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort is now available from Amazon UK and is available for pre-order from Amazon US and direct from Pen & Sword.

About the author:

Darren Baker is a translator and historian who took his degree at the University of Connecticut. He currently lives in the Czech Republic.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Blood’s Campaign by Angus Donald

ONE OF THE MOST TURBULENT REIGNS IN HISTORY PAVED THE WAY FOR THE FIRST MODERN REVOLUTION.

AFTER THE TUDORS CAME THE STUARTS . . .

If you enjoy S. J. Parris and Andrew Taylor, then this is the series you need to read next.

August 25, 1689

The English Army is besieging Carrickfergus in Ireland. Brilliant but unusual gunner Holcroft Blood of the Royal Train of Artillery is ready to unleash his cannons on the rebellious forces of deposed Catholic monarch James II. But this is more than war for Captain Blood, a lust for private vengeance burns within him.

French intelligence agent Henri d’Erloncourt has come across the seas to foment rebellion against William of Orange, the newly installed Dutch ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland. But Henri’s true mission is not to aid the suffering of the Irish but to serve the interests of his master, Louis le Grand.

Michael ‘Galloping’ Hogan, brigand, boozer and despoiler of Protestant farms, strives to defend his native land – and make a little profit on the side. But when he takes the Frenchman’s gold, he suspects deep in his freedom-loving heart, that he has merely swapped one foreign overlord for another.

July 1, 1690

On the banks of the River Boyne, on a fateful, scorching hot day, two armies clash in bloody battle – Protestant against Catholic – in an epic struggle for mastery of Ireland. And, when the slaughter is over and the smoke finally clears, for these three men, nothing will ever be the same again . . .

The sign of a really good book is always that you find yourself absorbed in it, desperate to finish it but bereft when you do. Blood’s Campaign is a really, really, really good book!

I was extremely excited to be offered this book to review by NetGalley. The first 2 books in the series, Blood’s Game and Blood’s Revolution, were both fantastic and refreshingly unique stories, introducing a hero who was sympathetic and quirky in a very distinct way.

Blood’s Campaign, the third in the series following the exploits of Holcroft Blood, it takes us to Ireland and the campaign that led to the Battle of the Boyne and the end of James VII and II’s hopes to regain the throne from his daughter and her husband, the joint monarchs, William III and Mary II. Angus Donald combines the story of the campaign with Blood’s own personal mission to find and destroy the French spy, codenamed Narrey – Holcroft’s one-time friend, Henri d’Erloncourt.

In today’s society, Holcroft Blood would be on the Autistic Spectrum. In the 17th Century, there was no such diagnosis. He was simply seen as a peculiar character. Holcroft is well aware of his failings, of his inability to understand jokes and to read some people; this, and his black-and-white outlook on life can lead to distractions which in themselves could lead him into trouble, especially with women. He feels more comfortable when order is enforced, which makes the army the ideal home for Holcroft.

He clambered up the pile of rubble by the corner of the farmhouse and pulled out his telescope. ‘You take over, Enoch,’ he said over his shoulder. ‘Nothing fancy, go for the highest rate of fire. I’ll spot for you from here.’

He trained the telescope on the roof of Joymount House. The twenty-four-pounders were being moved again. No need to aim at the breach any more. Then to his joy he caught a glimpse of Narrey standing alone by the easel, tapping his chin with the wooden end of the paintbrush, on the right-hand roof before he moved out of sight towards the rear.

Please, God, let him stay where he is, please, God, let him remain up there.

He looked behind him to see what stage the reloading process had reached. Nearly there.

‘Tend the match,’ Jackson was saying to the matrosse now holding the linstock. ‘Have a care. Give fire! May the Lord guide our efforts.’

It was a beautiful shot. The mortar coughed, spitting the missile in a high, elegant arc, a parabola, far over the burnt-out farmhouse, soaring over the town walls and dropping down, down until the hollow iron sphere exploded with a colossal bang exactly over the centre of the battery atop Joymount House.

‘Dead on, Enoch,’ shouted Holcroft. ‘Full on target. More of that, please.’At that moment, a musket cracked and a ball pinged from a piece of broken rubble beside his cheek, spattering him painfully with grains of brick dust. The Irish musketeers on the walls had, at last, taken notice of the mortar’s position.

Holcroft Blood’s penchant for mathematics makes him the perfect gunner and he feels at home calculating angles and distances and the flight of a cannonball – the science of gunnery offers him a home in a world that he often finds hard to understand. However, his mathematical mind also means he has a knack for codes – a skill which has drawn him into the world of espionage before, and which he uses again in an attempt to corner his implacable enemy, Narrey.

Holcroft not only has to negotiate the machinations of his enemies, but the enmity of his commanding officer, and his own feelings, in order to track down his enemy and fulfill his duties within the army. The story of the campaign which led to the Battle of the Boyne and beyond is laid out beautifully by Angus Donald – as is the gorgeous Irish landscape.

The author’s research is impeccable and thorough, not only with the battle itself, but also with his knowledge of provisions, troop movements, training and 17th century society in both Ireland and England. His knowledge of the campaign, gunnery and the minutiae of army life help to bring to life the Stuart world in vivid and colourful detail.

Blood’s Campaign is exciting from the first page to the last. A totally absorbing story, it will keep you reading ‘just another chapter’ long into the night. You don’t just read this book – you devour it.

Blood’s Campaign is definitely in my 10 best books of 2019. It takes you on a wonderful adventure and leaves you wanting more!

To buy the Book:

Blood’s Campaign is available from Amazon.

About the author:

Angus Donald was educated at Marlborough College and Edinburgh University. He has worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For many years he was a journalist in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London. He is married to Mary, with whom he has two children, and he now writes full time from a medieval farmhouse in Kent.

He is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of eight books set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood and his loyal lieutenant Sir Alan Dale. His new Holcroft Blood series stars a mildly autistic artillery officer who was the son of notorious 17th-century Crown Jewel thief Colonel Thomas Blood. The series begins with Blood’s Game, followed by Blood’s Revolution and Blood’s Campaign (out November 2019). The author has also written an epic Asian fantasy novel Gates of Stone under the pseudonym Angus Macallan. He is always happy to chat to readers on Facebook, Twitter and via his website http://www.angusdonaldbooks.com

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly