Anne Gilmour-Bryson

title.none: Labande, Pour une image veridique (Anne Gilmour-Bryson )

identifier.other: baj9928.0609.012 06.09.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Anne Gilmour-Bryson , University of Melbourne (Australia) and Trinity Western University (Canada),

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Labande, Edmond-René. Pour une image véridique d'Aliénor d'Aquitaine. La Crèche: Geste Editions/ Société des Antiquaries de l'Ouest, 2005. Pp. 164. ISBN: $29.95 2-84561-224-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.09.12

Labande, Edmond-René. Pour une image véridique d'Aliénor d'Aquitaine. La Crèche: Geste Editions/ Société des Antiquaries de l'Ouest, 2005. Pp. 164. ISBN: $29.95 2-84561-224-9.

Reviewed by:

Anne Gilmour-Bryson
University of Melbourne (Australia) and Trinity Western University (Canada)

This reprint of Labande's 1952 biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, 1124-1204, (in French) is preceded by a long and very useful preface by Martin Aurell, professor at the university of Poitiers, as was Labande himself, author of six recent books or articles on the queen or the Plantagenets. It would be much more useful for students were it to be translated into English. Labande's French is, nevertheless, extremely clear and simple to read, devoid of any of the complexities of attempting Foucault or Barthes in the original.

Labande's text is remarkably short: a 29-page introduction, followed by only 82 pages of text. When first published, the text took up only 60 pages. The original journal, the Société des Antiquaires de l'Ouest, in which Labande published this work, is rarely available. The thirty-page chronography by Marie-Aline de Mascureau which follows was originally published in 2004. The production of this beautifully printed version adds considerable enjoyment to its consultation.

As Aurell stated (pp.5-6) there are several reasons to reprint Labande: first, it is full of excellent detail and facts, which are almost all correct; its long history of use by scholars and students, and its longevity, demonstrate its usefulness. Second, the sheer elegance of the writing pleases the reader, despite its rhetorical flourishes, evoking Eleanor and her era. Aurell admits that the recent book on the same subject by Jean Flori, Aliénor d'Aquitaine: la reine insoumise , Paris, 2004, is the most "erudite and the most complete of the books written about the queen" (6). (All translations in this review are my own.) Labande's text remains the best introduction to "Eleanor and her political role" (6).

Labande's sensitive and illuminating biography of Eleanor demonstrates both his strong Christian belief as a Franciscan tertiary and his love of medieval romance (15). Aurell explains that in 1950, when Labande was writing this text, French scholars had not yet come to despise historical biography as they came to do later (16), driven by ideas taken from sociology, Marxism, or later, post-modernism. Labande displays what Aurell considers a highly dated attempt at psychological analysis of his subject (17). While this text is the history of a woman, it is in no way a feminist history, a history of women (17). Aurell finds it necessary to point out, however, that Labande falls too often into the trap of making moral judgments about his subjects: the concupiscence of Richard Coeur de Lion, for example (17). Labande's choice of "véridique" in his title stems from his positivist view that the "truth" could be found from a close study of the documentary sources, an idea now largely abandoned (19-20, 27-29, text, 51). Labande confidently wrote, as we might not now, that John of Salisbury's writing "breathes truth" (51). He, not surprisingly, appears to have believed many of the racial or national stereotypes common at the time (18-19), while rejecting the portrayal of England as "perfidious Albion" (20). It is Philip Augustus whom he describes as "perfide" and whom he accuses of Nazi-like use of propaganda (20-21). Aurell gently criticizes Labande for his slavish repetition of the opinions of his contemporaries, particularly his hostility to Philip Augustus (24). The conclusion to the preface points out the high quality of Labande's erudition and his refreshingly sympathetic, and unusual, portrait of Eleanor (34). He strongly disagreed with William of Tyre, who wrote of the queen as "one of the number of crazy women" (52). He differed with Dreux du Radier who considered that Eleanor's insistence on a divorce from Louis VII exhibited "an unpardonable lack of wisdom" (62). Labande's insistence on Eleanor's desire to dominate her husband appears possible though not "véridique" (71).

This biography allows us to follow Eleanor during the fifteen years of her first marriage, relatively uneventful in comparison with her later life, and after her second marriage in her incredible, almost constant, travels: almost always pregnant, accompanied by infants and young children, rarely knowing just where her husband was or when he would return, apparently worried about her marriage, wondering whether Henry II loved her at all or merely wanted her territories and wealth (75). Labande noted that "all her life, on one throne or another, the daughter of William X was led by circumstances to fight against men of the church: first Suger or the abbot of Clairvaux, later the chancellor Thomas [Becket] and pope Celestin III" (77). Yet the author himself discussed several occasions when Bernard of Clairvaux appears to have assisted, rather than opposed, Eleanor.

Labande's view of Eleanor's influence on the literary court of Poitiers may seem dated to some, but it is described with great charm and affection (80-84). Rightly, the author notes that the "courts of love" complete with judgments rendered by the noble ladies never existed "except in the heads of romantic writers" (81).

His racial or national views are frequently present. For example, Labande noted approvingly that Reto Bezzola commented on "the detestable morals of Aquitaine" (43). He also shows anti-Byzantine bias, referring to Manuel Comnenus as "obsequious" (47). He agrees with Amy Kelly, whose book on Eleanor, her husband, and sons, described Byzantium as a "world of Greek or Italian political or lecherous intrigue" (47). It was in the "Orient" that Eleanor encountered "distrust of moral law" and a liking for "ostentatious but refined luxury" (48). We must not forget that "Orientalism" was still current at the time.

Labande appears genuinely concerned about Eleanor's life, stating: "During these years...knowing well that she would never more be loved Henry, maybe she never had been" (82). He blames Henry's many lovers for the failure of this marriage, characterizing him as "debauched" and an "indigne mari" (82-83, 85, 88). Labande, however, did not agree with Michelet who had said, "Eleanor was passionate and vindictive like a woman from the Midi" (83).

Eleanor's amazing strength is evident in this biography in which Labande claims that it was not king Richard but she who: "[A]t sixty-seven years of age, governed England" (94). And later, "She triumphed ...over adversaries as perfidious as the emperor and king well as the inertia of the Roman curia" (100). Primarily through her efforts at raising the ransom, king Richard was released from captivity (102-3). Labande recounts, with great sympathy, the tragic state of Eleanor at the end of her life, at which time only one son, king John, and one daughter, queen Eleanor of Castile, remained alive of the eleven children she had delivered.

Whether one accepts the "truth" of every word of Labande's biography, it remains an incredibly rich portrayal of perhaps the most intriguing woman of the Middle Ages. Eleanor of Aquitaine, whether one admires or despises her, comes to life in this text in a fashion rarely seen anywhere. No one could fail to learn from this work. I can recommend it to anyone of any level able to read simple French. I also recommend its translation so that it might reach a wider audience.

Elizabeth Brown's review of this work in The English Historical Review (CXXI, 491, 584-5) welcomes the new edition and the corrections made by Aurell. She mentions several errors in translation from Old French or Latin appearing in this edition.

The updated bibliography adds greatly to the use of this work but omits several recent works in English and French including, as Brown pointed out, important articles by Labande himself written in 1977 and 1986. It also omits some scholarly works in English such as the collection edited by Bonnie Wheeler and John Carmi Parsons, Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady , England, 2002, and several popular works such as Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine , 1978.