The Queen’s Daughter is the first book that I have read about Joan, the daughter of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of the Aquitaine. It is the world where England, France and Toulouse battle each other for lands that are taken and retaken from each over the course of centuries. If you have seen the mini series, The Tudors or Reign, or have read C.J. Sansom’s historical fiction series set during the reign of Henry VIII, then you are familiar with the court politics and intrigue that engulfed England and France from the time of King William I in 1066 forward. Each generation was taught to fight to expand the reach of their empires, trust no one, and lust after all. Brothers fought brothers, fathers fought brothers, mothers fought husbands. Joan, along with her brothers, Richard (the Lionheart), John (the I) and Henry (young King Henry), saw their family torn apart, divided against each other because of this. Their mother, Queen Eleanor of the Aquitaine was imprisoned by her husband, King Henry II for conspiring against him only to be released after the king’s death by her son Richard the Lionheart. Then, there was France and Toulouse, two irascible enemies of England, whose rulers would make peace with each other and England and then turn around and march an army on them. King Henry II was not any better, at least not when two, sometimes three of his sons were vassals of King Philip and at times threatened to put the men and arms under their control to France’s use against England and their father. It was the question of who could gain the upper hand while the other was not looking and King Philip even after his death through his son kept trying to gain territory for during this time England possessed half of what is today France. Feudal lords would start battles, droughts and famine would cause neighbors to become quarrelsome. It was tinderbox, always on the verge of exploding.
Daughters were for making alliances through marriage and this is the world that Queen Eleanor and Joan finds themselves.Joan is taught from an early age, (the story starts out when she is 7) to never love or trust any man she marries, be aware of the undercurrents of the court, be knowledgeable about the realm’s friends and foes alike, and be able to marshal resources within the court in support of her husband, give her husband heirs (a son first above all) to keep the line of succession strong, and above all keep the loyalty of her husband. Joan is like a ship adrift. She wants love and security and in the end she finds it with Count Raymond, but it is only after an early marriage to King William (in Sicily), who by all accounts had the roving eye typical of monarchs of that time, but who also likely was unable to father children. After King William dies of some disease in his late thirties, Joan fights off her brother, King Richard the Lionheart’s attempt to use her as a pawn during the Crusades through marriage to a Sacrean prince. The plan was for England to rule through the Sacrean prince and secure Jerusalem for the Christian world. She ultimately is reconciled with King Richard though she never regains his trust instead remaining her pawn. It is during this time that she is married to Count Raymond of Toulouse. At last she finds happiness, security, and love, all while showing up all that have had cause to doubt her.
The Queen’s Daughter is her story and it is compellingly written by Susan Coventry, though as the author explains later, little is known of Joan’s life. It is a fragmentary record. Like all good historical fiction, Susan Coventry weaves all of the pieces together into a coherent narrative that sheds light on Joan’s life from the age of seven to the birth of her first child. Some of it is fiction; some of it is historical record though changed time-wise to fit the narrative. What can be confusing is the extent and complexity of alliances and the politics behind these alliances, particularly during Joan’s time in Sicily and Toulouse. I was somewhat familiar with England-France relations but adding Toulouse, Cyprus, and the Holy Roman Empire into the mix and keeping track of who’s in who’s pocket and who’s sowing discord with who was akin to playing multiple games of chess at the same time.