Friday, February 15, 2008

Review - The Lost Letters of Aquitaine

This novel by Judith Koll Healey is known in the US as "The Canterbury Papers" - and is a rolicking good "girl's own adventure" starring the much maligned Princess Alice or Alais of France.

When I first read this book (this was my second reading) I was a bit iffy on the whole premise of a Princess of the Royal House of France being sent on some secretive quest to retrieve some incriminating letters written by the redoubtable Eleanor of Aquitaine. But it works!

Setting the Scene:
Year 1200 - Princess Alais, former betrothed of Richard Plantagenet and former lover of his father, King Henry II of England, is sent on a mission by Eleanor, wife to Henry and mother to Richard, to retrieve some letters written long ago, and secreted in Becket's altar at Canterbury Cathedral.

What ensues is a tale of adventure, which sees our Princess crossing the Channel to England, and back again to France; she is abducted, rescued and ultimately pursued by ruthless King John who believes that she holds the key to some long lost secret that could threaten his position as King of England.

Enter Stage Left the mysterious Knights Templar - what secrets do they hold and what pressure can they bring to bear against King John.

The Reality:
Could Alais have undertaken such a mission - it is indeed possible as much of Alais' life after the death of Henry II is sparsely documented.

What we do know is that Alais (to continue with the spelling of her name as per the novel) was indeed betrothed to Richard and became the mistress of his father Henry II whilst Eleanor was a prisoner.

Did Alais have any children by Henry II - it depends on what documents you read - yes there is the possibility that a fertile young girl would ultimately give birth to a child or number of children in a situation where the King was "exercising his masculine prowess" - he was apparently no slouch in the sack. Four children are ascribed to Alais and Henry II - no names or the genders are given and they are presumed to have died young.

Alais was ultimately sent back to France (1195) and was married, at age 35yo, to William Tavlas, Count of Ponthieu. She was mother to three daughters, one - Eleanor - would be the grandmother of Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I.

There are many twists and turns - careful reading is required - but highly absorbing!

No comments: