The Outlandish Lioness: Eleanor of Aquitaine in Literature
Medieval Feminist Forum, 37, no. 1 (2004)
The image the viewer gets of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Anthony Harvey’s The Lion in Winter is that she was a woman of many talents and moods who was both dangerous and fascinating. This image is like the one a reader gets of Eleanor in literature-and for good reason: the lack of detailed records of Eleanor’s life has enabled writers of annals, chronicle histories, and poems to create varied and fantastic tales about the woman who managed to be Queen of France and then England.’ Because generic distinctions in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries among annal, chronicle, and literature are fuzzy at best, one striking pattern that emerges as a reader compares the historical and literary sources about Eleanor is that she is a figure at the mercy of continual literary reconstruction. Even in literary works such as Wace’s Brut and Lawman’s Roman de Brut where her reputation is invoked indirectly through the character of Guenevere, Eleanor of Aquitaine becomes an Everywoman whom each male historian or poet uses to praise or critique the women of his own culture and time. I would argue, then, that every version of Eleanor a reader or viewer encounters is, at least to some extent, literary-a product of the imagination of a writer using her as an emblem of womankind.