The Autumn Throne – Elizabeth Chadwick

CHADWICK’S ambitious trilogy, chronicling the entire life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, comes to an end with this story of her later years.

The novel begins with Eleanor – here referred to by her more authentic name of Alienor – still imprisoned at the command of her estranged husband, King Henry II.

The pair have been at loggerheads for years, the strong-willed Alienor clearly despising the autocratic, pig-headed, womanising Moloch and preferring to side with their sons.

In the previous novel, The Winter Crown, Alienor backed her beloved sons’ failed rebellion against their father and spent several years under house arrest.

Alienor spends the first half of The Autumn Throne in that same position, until her husband’s death sees her become a valued adviser to her sons, even running the country when one of them, the famous Richard the Lionheart, heads off on crusade.

There is still adventure for Alienor, even though she is in her 70s, leading dangerous missions across Europe, whether negotiating Richard’s release from imprisonment or escorting his bride-to-be across the Alps.

By then Alienor’s children and grandchildren were scattered across the royal dynasties of Europe.

The first part of The Autumn Throne is hard going – I’d read enough about Alienor’s imprisonment, this was just treading ground, and I and couldn’t wait for the king to pop his clogs and something new to happen.

The second half sees Chadwick at her best, proper good old-fashioned storytelling, encompassing both the wide sweep of history and an intimate eye for royal family life.

There’s a poignancy to these later chapters as she sees sons and daughters die, and knowing she is seeing other family members for the last time as she contemplates her own fading years.

Chadwick is one of my favourite historical authors, combining historical accuracy with romance and adventure, and easily comparable to Philippa Gregory even though she’s not so well-known.

But I’m glad she’s finally finished this trilogy and can return to lesser-known historical figures, where she’s not so hide-bound by historical events and can once again tell a ripping yarn.

David Knights.