It is with a soft voice, full of menace, that our mother commands us to overthrow our father . . .
Richard Lionheart tells the story of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1173, she and three of her sons instigate a rebellion to overthrow the English king, her husband Henry Plantagenet. What prompts this revolt? How does a great queen persuade her children to rise up against their father? And how does a son cope with this crushing conflict of loyalties?
Replete with poetry and cruelty, this story takes us to the heart of the relationship between a mother and her favourite son – two individuals sustained by literature, unspoken love, honour and terrible violence.
The Revolt was a gem of a book, not overly long, but full of historical detail both factual and of course some dramatic licence.
It was the story of a remarkably powerful woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine, husband of Louis VII of France before leaving and divorcing for Henry II of England. Mother to eight children DuPont-Monod chose Richard to tell her story.
Not her favoured son, but the son who appeared to be more balanced and more importantly a son who remained fiercely loyal to his mother, almost hanging off her skirt tails as she steered the course of his life.
DuPont-Monod showed a man desperate for his mother’s love, for acknowledgement, admiration which always seemed lacking. Was he just a puppet, a tool which she could steer to gain control and power, to retain her beloved Aquitaine, to overthrow her husband?
Whatever her ambitions, her desires she was a woman ahead of her time. The depths with which she found the strength to carry on despite prolonged imprisonment, were impressive. Her prowess as a political strategist and tactician were remarkable and in a modern world you knew she would go far. DuPont-Monod didn’t forget to show us her vulnerabilities, the grief and loss of her beloved son, William, the fleeting moments of despair, of not being able to carry on, of letting it all go away and to just give in.
They were however, momentary and as Eleanor plotted and steered Richard onwards, we began to see Richard the man, emerge. DuPont-Monod showed a man at odds with himself, desperate for his mother’s love, yet unable to show love for others, battle hardy, seemingly no soft centre. He was cruel, barbaric in the battle field, quick and impulsive to destroy anyone even innocent people who stood in his way. You watched as DuPont-Monod skilfully burrowed into his mindset, as in the latter stages he began to question his mother’s actions, why he felt unable to rebel, when at times all he wanted was the normal genteel mother so many others around him had.
When Richard finally became King, you felt it wasn’t enough, knew that it was his mother who would rule, dictate his every move and decision. As he embarked on his crusades to the east, DuPont-Morond superbly examined the parallels between religion, faith, Muslim versus Christian that could so easily be seen in the modern world of today.
You realised we haven’t really changed that much, the conflict, the terrorism still prevalent, the same issues argued and debated, the weapons of war the only difference.
We were given intermittent flashes of an outsiders viewpoint, Richards father Henry, the sorrow he felt as his sons rose against him. Alys, his betrothed who saw a man that could not love, that pulled up the barricades, pushed anyone who dared to enter away.
Richard, however, was Richard The Lionheart, mighty knight, master of tactical warfare, admired by many, yet never the King he was supposed to be.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, was the mighty, all powerful Queen, who pulled Richards strings, was strong and fierce. Together they were the ultimate team, one that DuPont-Monod portrayed with a narrative that was sparse, economical, its short punchy sentences mirrored the power and brutality of the actions and events. The historical detail was superb, the imagery of court, of the battles, brilliant, the subterfuge and intrigue immensely compelling and mind bending.
It is not a period in time I would have liked to have experienced but I am so glad that I had DuPont-Monod to give me a brief but brilliant insight.
I would like to thank Quercus for a copy of The Revolt to read and review and to Corinna Zifko for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the Social Media Tour.
About the author
Clara Dupont-Monod studied ancient French at the Sorbonne, and began her career in journalism writing for Cosmopolitan and Marianne. Her novels often draw on medieval myths and history, and have been nominated for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Femina, two of France’s most prestigious literary awards. She lives in Paris, and has been haunted by the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine for many years.