The Secret Eleanor

The Secret Eleanor

by Cecelia Holland

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101188996
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/03/2010
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 379,493
File size: 430 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Cecelia Holland is the author of more than 30 novels, including The Secret Eleanor and The King's Watch. She lives in northern California, where she teaches creative writing.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Cecelia Holland moves through history like a sorceress with a time machine." – Richmond Times–Dispatch

"Holland remains in the front rank of the genre." – Chicago Sun–Times

"Miss Holland exhibits sure command of her material, a rich imagination, and a precision of tone that is equaled by few writers." – The New York Times

"[An] intelligently and lushly developed saga…moves with great energy but without neglecting rich detail; the dim past springs to buoyant and believable life." – Booklist

Reading Group Guide

As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor grew up knowing what it was to be regarded for herself and not for her husband's title. Now, as wife to Louis VII and Queen of France, she has found herself unsatisfied with reflected glory—and feeling constantly under threat, even though she outranks every woman in Paris.

Then, standing beside her much older husband in the course of court ceremony, Eleanor locks eyes with a man—hardly more than a boy, really—across the throne room, and knows that her world has changed irrevocably…

He is Henry D'Anjou, eldest son of the Duke of Anjou, and he is in line, somewhat tenuously, for the British throne. She meets him in secret. She has a gift for secrecy. Eleanor is watched like a prisoner by spies even among her own women, and it sometimes seems that her one flight of freedom will be her last. She is determined that Louis must set her free, and time is against her. Employing deception and disguise, seduction and manipulation, Eleanor is determined to find her way to power—and make her mark on history…

  • Early in the novel, Eleanor doesn't pray at church about her complicated situation with Henry because "God was a man, anyway, and would not understand" (p 46 in ms). In the context of the book, Eleanor seemed to defy this mentality and behaved contrary to the typical male–centric way of thinking in the 12th century. Discuss whether or not Eleanor would have spoken this same phrase by the end of the book.
  • Although Eleanor lived a life of luxury and power, she seemed to want more freedom and less complication, as when she first acted as Petronilla, riding her mare and "in her heart she laughed and danced for her freedom like a bacchant" (p 56 in ms). Do you think Eleanor did ever yearn for a simpler life, especially later on in the course of the novel?
  • Do you think most women in the 12th century desired more opportunity and freedom to choose their own lives?
  • When Eleanor and Louis are discussing her lack of bearing a son, Eleanor states "I know this is God's judgment. I will never come to you again as a wife." Do you think this is simply an easy excuse to get out of her marriage, or does she really believe this?
  • Do you think Eleanor was a dishonest woman? Discuss why or why not. Would any woman of her stature during this time period have acted similarly, or was it her idiosyncratic personality?
  • Eleanor's ladies–in–waiting are involved in every aspect of her life. Do you think this bond helped or hurt women during this time? Do you think women of lesser stature had similar bonds with other women? Cite examples when social standing is ignored and real friendship is shown amongst the women.
  • When Henry's father dies suddenly, the three remaining sons battle each other for his throne. Discuss the lack of loyalty among these brothers, and how it affected the shifts of power during the Middle Ages.
  • At one point, Eleanor claims Henry "had what was better than love: as he had proven again now he had the gift of power" (p 212 in ms). Is this really what's most important to her in regards to him? Did your opinion shift by the end of the book?
  • Claire disbelieved Petronilla after meeting Thomas the Luter for the first time, when Petronilla tells her men only care about one thing. Why do you think Claire doesn't believe her at first? Was Claire right to resist him initially?
  • When Petronilla finally takes over as the Queen on their progress, it's enlightening to her. Discuss how the opportunity to "play Queen" changed Petronilla for better or worse.
  • Petronilla grapples with the "sin of lying" but Eleanor seems to have no qualm in this respect. Do you think it's because Eleanor is trying to get ahead in a man's world? Petronilla also believes that the intention to help her sister was no sin, even if the deed itself was. Discuss whether or not you agree with her, and how this might pose a different problem in modern society.
  • After Eleanor almost loses the baby, Petronilla says "It is a sign. God favors us," but Eleanor retorts with "Whatever that means" (p 338 in ms). Discuss the sisters' differing viewpoints at this moment and what it might mean for their faith and the future of Aquitaine.
  • No one in a position of power is to be trusted in the book—they are all plotting one way or another. Cite examples in the book when jealousy gets the best of the characters, especially Henry, Eleanor, and Claire.
  • Do you believe that Henry's love was for Eleanor or the Crown, and vice versa?
  • After Petronilla learns of Eleanor's plot to kill her, she feels she has "no true home" (p 411 in ms). Discuss this within the context of the book-is home a castle, a family, a homeland? With shifting loyalties and borders, is this ever really possible?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Secret Eleanor 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Nothing could be further from the truth, but Louis VII was not an elderly King to Eleanor since only 4 years separated them. Louis' virility was a match for the lustful Eleanor except for the fact he was a little more pious than his English peer.
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    The Secret Eleanor Cecelia Holland Berkley, Aug 2010, $15.00 ISBN: 9780425234501 By 1151, the Duchess of Aquitaine is perhaps the most powerful female on the continent even before she marries elderly French King Louis VII. However, being the Queen of France fails to live up to the title as expected by Eleanor. In fact she is treated with scorn and feels she has lost some of influence rather than see it expand as she anticipated. When he son of the Duke of Anjou Henry visits the royal court, Eleanor feels the younger man is her male counterpart especially since he has a strong chance of becoming the King of England. Although her husband has her constantly watched, Eleanor and Henry secretly meet and plot for her to dissolve her marriage to Louis and wed Henry. Although Eleanor has been the star of biographical fiction (see The Captive Queen by Alison Weir, The Courts of Love by Jean Plaidy, and Eleanor The Queen by Nora Lofts) numerous times, Cecilia Holland provides a strong tale that focuses on her motivations. Although the key historical events are not new to sub-genre fans, readers will enjoy the latest Eleanor of Aquitaine fictionalized account as Ms. Holland affirms the two-time Queen set the stage for powerful females who follow her lead over the centuries Harriet Klausner
    BookAddictDiary on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    This has been the year of Eleanor of Aquitane novels. No less than three novels have been published this year about the famous queen, so I was hoping that Cecelia Holland's The Secret Eleanor would stand out from the crowd. Eleanor is such a fascinating woman, but all of this year's Eleanor novels I've read so far have turned out to be boring. I had high hopes for The Secret Eleanor. I thought it could stand out from the pack, but it didn't. It just stayed flat.In fact, I didn't even finish the book. Yeah, I pretty much never leave books unfinished, so that's pretty bad. First, The Secret Eleanor focuses on the events within just one year of the eventful Queen's life. Eleanor is struggling since she cannot bear King Louis of France a male heir, and Eleanor and Louis are considering getting an annulment. But Eleanor has a secret, she has a burning desire for the young Henry, son of the Count d'Anjou with a strong claim to the British throne. After an unfortunate decision, Eleanor becomes pregnant with Henry's child, putting the pending annulment and her possible marriage to Henry in jeopardy.That's basically the entire book. While there is some discussion of French, British and Aquitane politics, much of the book is spent hiding Eleanor's pregnancy and waiting for her to have the baby. That's it. There are a few subplots that Holland tried to weave into the story, such as the musicians Claire and Thomas and Henry's struggle against his brother Geoffrey, but they either didn't go anywhere or didn't seem to have much of an impact on the overall plot. Not only was it confusing and jarring to suddenly swap between first-person viewpoints, but there was so much that could have and should have been cut out. Perhaps Holland could have talked about more events in Eleanor's life?While I wouldn't discourage readers from picking this book up, just be warned that it's very simple, linear and not much happens -oh, and there's a quite a bit of romance too.
    LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    Subtitled "a novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine" the book covers the period from August 1151 when Eleanor first met her future husband, Henry III of England, and May of 1152 when she married him. This book just never gripped me, even if it was good enough to keep me reading to the end. Some things I did appreciate in it--particularly with how Holland took as she put it in her afterward "the scraps" of what we know of Eleanor and from it fashions a plot surrounding a secret pregnancy--and history gives her just the window to do it, although I found aspects of the plot about how she hid the pregnancy ludicrous. I also was taken with how Holland depicts the intrigue of the French court. Eleanor is never free--not simply because as the queen she's guarded every minute, but because of spies within her own household and courtiers and clergy plotting against her. The prose, if spare, is mostly decent, and with good sensory detail. The biggest style problem I had was whenever we get a love scene we get graceless romance aisle. Within the first 50 pages I noted these euphemisms used for a certain part of Henry's anatomy: lance, manly stalk, prod, manhood, sword. I empathize with the dilemma of a novelist trying to negotiate the dangers of too clinical on one side or too pornographic on the other--but if you're then going to use euphemism, I'd rather the author pick just one (and stay away from anything so risible as "manly stalk.") Nor was that the only problem with Holland's love scenes. I also had a problem with sympathizing with Holland's characters. In this novel Eleanor and Henry start a physical relationship within days of meeting each other even though she's still married to King Louis of France. Louis is depicted as weak, pathetic, but it's not as if he's cruel to Eleanor, and she has two daughters by him. Eleanor and Henry seem motivated by lust--for each other, but mostly fueled by the possibility of carving up Louis' France and creating out of their lands an Angevin empire. Besides this couple, the narrative is shared with Petronilla, Eleanor's younger sister, who is sympathetic but none too interesting, and lady-in-waiting Claire, a young girl of doubtful loyalty who gets involved with a troubadour. Finally, when I think of the historical novels that have stuck with me, they've either illuminated for me the alien mindset of past centuries or made me feel vividly what it was like to live then or follow a specific pursuit, or made me laugh out loud or feel for their characters. Holland did none of those things. So in short, this is a fairly well-written, well-researched historical novel, but not a standout. It made me more want to look up Sharon Kay Penman's novels featuring Eleanor of Aquitaine than ever read anything else by Holland.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Eleanor of Aquitaine was 15 when she married Louie and he was just 17! Why would this writer say he was "much older" than she? I would never read an historical novel with that kind of error.
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