Gilded Cages: The Trials of Eleanor of Aquitaine – by Ellen Jones – independent book review – Historical Fiction (England, Britain, France)

It’s been some years since I last read a historical novel by Ellen Jones. I’d forgotten how good she is at her craft. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.

This is the final book in her widely-known, three-volume series (The Queens of Love and War) about England during the reigns of Henry I and Henry II. And yes, I’ve read all three:

#1 – THE FATAL CROWN – the story of Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I and mother of Henry II, and her battle with cousin Stephen for the throne.

#2 – BELOVED ENEMY: THE PASSIONS OF ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE – tells about Eleanor’s childhood, her first marriage to King Louis VII of France and her introduction to Henry of Anjou, later Henry II.

Jones is particularly adept at exploring what it must have been like to be a women with power in a man’s world.

NOTE: Amazon is currently offering all three novels on Kindle for a combined price of $2.99. A GREAT deal for lovers of historical fiction!

I think what Jones has done best is to make believable the complex relationship between King Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. In all its nuances. Not just their initial passion. But the special bond that can exist in a marriage of equals — at a time when women were traditionally considered second-class. Henry and Eleanor are true soul mates — sharing a love of power, political acumen, and burning desire to expand England’s influence. Coupled with intense physical attraction. Jones depicts them both as multi-dimensional human beings with exceptional gifts and significant flaws. Even after their falling out (I don’t consider this a spoiler since their history is so well-known), Jones captures the intense connection that remained between the two monarchs — one based on respect, shared history, and even residual love. I found this completely believable and VERY satisfying. Especially since Eleanor is, for me, the fascinating woman in the Middle Ages.

This novel covers the years 1162 – 1189. It begins just 10 years into Henry and Eleanor’s marriage — when they are still a happy couple with a young and growing family — just as Archbishop Thomas Becket is returning the seal of the Chancellor’s office to Henry. And the novel ends just after Henry’s death.

Eleanor and Henry II effigies at Fontevraud Abbey in France.

The drama that unfolds in between these two bookends centers on two threads. The first is Henry’s philandering and its impact on his relationship with Eleanor. The second, which comes later, is the continual discord between Henry and his grown sons. This is NOT a family you’d want to be part of. There’s an overabundance of ambition, anger management issues, and self-absorption.

Ellen Jones
Photo from

This is a long book (969 pgs.) but it held my interest throughout. My only criticism is that I found some of the detail surrounding battles a bit too much. But I recommend this highly, especially for those who are fascinated with this Middle Ages power couple.

More about the author, Ellen Jones.