The Revolt by Clara Dupont-Monod – EXTRACT
Today I’m sharing an extract from the recently-released historical fiction book The Revolt, written by Clara Dupont-Monod and translated by Ruth Diver.
I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher but this in no way affects my opinion.
About the Book:
It is with a soft voice, full of menace, that our mother commands us to overthrow our father . . .
Richard Lionheart tells the story of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1173, she and three of her sons instigate a rebellion to overthrow the English king, her husband Henry Plantagenet. What prompts this revolt? How does a great queen persuade her children to rise up against their father? And how does a son cope with this crushing conflict of loyalties?
Replete with poetry and cruelty, this story takes us to the heart of the relationship between a mother and her favourite son – two individuals sustained by literature, unspoken love, honour and terrible violence.
Narrated by Eleanor’s son, Richard the Lionheart:
On May 18, 1152, Eleanor marries the Plantagenet. She doesn’t care about the rumours.
She is said to be a witch, a whore, the lover of her father-in-law, so what? Her freedom shines in the world’s face. It has only been two months since she separated from Louis. She didn’t ask for his permission, obviously. They say he has locked himself in his palace chapel and spends his days in prayer. In Poitiers, all the bells are pealing. My parents stand on the church steps, sparkling in the sunshine. They have just joined hands under the veil, pronounced their consent. With a swift movement, the Plantagenet holds my mother back, and takes a step forward. Now the duke of Aquitaine by marriage, he wishes to present himself alone. The townsfolk observe his squat, thick body, his orange beard. For once, my father is not wearing armour but an embroidered silk tunic with the effigy of a roaring lion with open claws, and this image seems out of place in the heavy silence. My father’s eyes roam over the square. Then he bows his head, unaware that Aquitanians are never tamed by a mere greeting. Nothing moves.
Eleanor, never a woman to be left behind, steps towards the crowd. A vision: her eyes look even bigger with makeup, and her mouth is as red as her dress. The gleam of her crown blends with the gold threads twisted into her hair. A deafening cheer bursts out. The people lift up their arms like an animal raising its quills. The banners unfurl: another lion, but a red one, with a twisted tail, close to a dragon – Eleanor’s blazon. The men raise their glasses, the musicians their instruments. Huge puppets with grey eyes and straw hair are lifted above the sea of heads, while cascades of flowers flow down from the windows. My mother puts her hand on her heart and bows. Then she throws her bouquet of broom flowers into the crowd. This time the country compares her to Gwynevere, the woman saved from darkness by a prince. My mother often sang this legend to me when I was a boy. She had heard it at court when she was a child herself. I came to understand the meaning of Gwynevere, the “white shadow”. And I also understood why she loved the story so much: she knew that it could never happen. She knew that princesses are not saved, but spend their whole lives at the mercy of others’ decisions. My mother wanted only one thing from her poets, that they should offer her an alternative. All of them praised her beauty, her courage, and ambition. She knew that the first withers, the second must be paid for, and the third, when it rots on the vine, is called wisdom. How many times, during long evenings, did I hear her encourage the troubadours by saying: “Sing to me of what does not exist”? For only literature can overcome fate, for the time of a poem.
“Rich lady of a rich king
Without evil, ire or sadness”
sing the troubadours, knowing full well that Eleanor is nothing but ire and sadness. And they celebrated her as “more than a lady” precisely because my father stopped her from being one. But in this month of May, on the cathedral steps, she is happy – my mother, light-hearted! What do my mother’s eyes look like, what does her voice sound like? At that moment, did she love my father? For the first time in her life, she is not suspicious. She puts her trust in this new husband, and in the blazing future she knows they have ahead of them – she had an inkling that it would turn out this way when they first met. He will be king, she is sure of it. And a good father too. And he will respect his promise to let her retain her suzerainty over Aquitaine.
The man who slips his arm around her waist, on these church steps, is educated, indefatigable, a strategist, an excellent fighter, and most importantly, a man of his word. Eleanor has no doubt about that. She never had a sense of him as a bully or a thief. Essentially, because she is older than he is, Eleanor believes that she will lead the dance. This will prove her great mistake, but she is unaware of it for now. She doesn’t know that this man will be her equal, and that this is the very point where their drama will be played out. My father shares the same naïvety. On these steps stand two lions, each of them sure of their ascendancy over the other. In reality, because they are too much alike, because they are equals, they will become mortal enemies. For the time being, as she stands and faces the city, my mother smiles, with that smile that I find so hard to imagine – the one reserved for my father, who cannot, even for an instant, measure its price.