I am a huge fan of unruly women. Or perhaps I should say, women who refuse to be ruled. In my two historical novels, THE QUEEN’S PAWN and TO BE QUEEN, Eleanor of Aquitaine, medieval queen of France, and later of England, wages a constant battle to hold onto her own power.
During her first marriage to Louis VII of France, a young Eleanor spends years of her life trying to entice her monkish husband to her bed so that she can conceive an heir, not just for the kingdom of France, but for her own duchy of Aquitaine. At the age of twenty-seven, Eleanor embarks on the Second Crusade, and sees that the world is a much larger place than she had realized, and that her life is too large to stay the queen consort of a man she does not love or respect. She bides her time, and works for an annulment to her marriage, something unheard of in the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, a woman simply did not walk up to the Church, or to her husband, and ask for a divorce. But Eleanor did. And finally, in 1152, both her husband and the pope agreed to give her one.
That is another trait I value in unruly women: they never give up.
In THE QUEEN’S PAWN, we find an Eleanor who has been married to Henry II of England for almost twenty years. She no longer has the ear of the king, and she decides to reach for power herself. She arranges a rebellion against the king, drawing all of her sons as well as her ex-husband and son-in-law into the war. The rebellion fails, not because it is not well planned, but because Henry recognizes immediately who is behind it. He does not move to defend his own territories first, but goes straight to Eleanor in Aquitaine and takes her prisoner. She remains his prisoner for the rest of their marriage, until Henry II dies in 1189.
But like all unruly women, Eleanor does not give up even when she is under house arrest. She bides her time, and after Henry II’s death, she becomes Regent in England while her favorite son, Richard the Lionhearted, goes on Crusade.
In my romance novel, HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE, I explore a new take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. In the play, an unruly woman’s obedience is won through sleep deprivation and starvation. Overcome by these tactics, Katherine gives in to any demand her husband makes. When Petrucchio calls the sun in the sky, the moon, Katherine says, “And be it moon or sun or what you please, An if you call it a rush candle, Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.”
Let’s just say that I find Shakespeare’s conclusion unsatisfying, and in my own novel, I made a few changes.
In HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE, the heroine Caroline is far from the picture of demure modesty that her fiancé, Anthony, is hoping to find. Their marriage is arranged to save her father from debt, a caveat they both agree upon. Problems arise only when Anthony frowns on her knife-throwing, horseback riding tendencies. He spends the rest of the book trying to tame her, and she spends the first months of their marriage working around him until he learns that to accept her for who she is, knives and all.
Eleanor of Aquitaine is a larger than life character, a woman that it can be hard to relate to. And it is safe to say that few women in the Regency period were adept at knife throwing as Caroline is. But these women, for all their over the top unruliness, have something to teach us today. Though women have come far in the Western world, especially compared to the 12th century or even the 19th, we owe it to ourselves, and to society at large, to go farther still. Equal pay for equal work, full reproductive rights, and citizenship under the law, are goals we can reach in this century. Goals that will free not just our daughters, but our sons as well.
Just think of how proud Eleanor and Caroline, the unruly women of the past, would be if they could see us now, if they could see where we are headed. The more control each individual has over her life, the better the world. Here’s to making the world a better place, one step at a time.
Christy English writes about unruly women in many different time periods. Please join her on her website http://www.ChristyEnglish.com