The Autumn Throne is the third and final instalment of a trilogy centring on the life of one of medieval Europe’s most influential queens, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of two kings and the mother of three.
Due to the plot against her husband in The Winter Crown, Alienor is imprisoned and deprived of seeing her children. Although Alienor vows to remain strong, she is at her husband’s mercy and can only watch as Henry’s actions set his sons against each other.
After more than fifteen years as Henry’s prisoner, Alienor is finally set free after his death and she returns to a position of power as her favourite son, Richard, becomes king, and makes Alienor his regent. Keen to see Richard produce an heir to secure the throne, Alienor escorts his bride-to-be, Berenguela, on a dangerous journey across the Alps in winter but Richard is more interested in pursuing his military career which puts him in grave danger. When Richard is held hostage, it is up to Alienor to raise the money for his ransom as her younger son, John, waits in the wings for his opportunity to claim the throne of England.
The Autumn Throne should have been a thrilling conclusion to Alienor’s story considering it is set in one of the most exciting eras in history, however it falls completely flat because everything happens “off screen”. As a prisoner, Alienor is reliant on visitors bringing her news and since Chadwick persists on the book being mainly from the queen’s point-of-view, the reader only knows what Alienor knows which makes for tedious reading. Most of the first half of the book is centred around Alienor moving from one prison to another, complaining about her treatment, as history swiftly passes her by. While I appreciate this makes it all the more real, Chadwick’s insistence on staying with Alienor means we never really get a feel for the other characters and they don’t seem fleshed out as a result.
The annoying thing is Chadwick isn’t adverse to changing the point-of-view when it suits her, mainly as a plot device to underline someone’s bad behaviour or exploit a particular situation but it only results in making the narrative disjointed. I also found myself getting increasingly annoyed by the inclusion of William Marshal who has a far bigger role than any of Alienor’s children and seems to be the only noble character. While I appreciate Chadwick has written a whole series on Marshal’s exploits and obviously loves him, his scenes with Alienor were a little too fangirl for me and I found myself rolling my eyes at the purple prose.
Although the story plays out over a thirty year period, the plot moves so swiftly it is hard to keep track of Alienor’s age and many of the more important events are just brushed aside if they don’t fit into the plot line. In fact, when Alienor’s children start to die, I’d forgotten who half of them were since so much of the story is focused on her sons rather than her daughters who made important marriages in their own right. I know it would be impossible to cover absolutely everything in Alienor’s life but she had so much time on her hands during her imprisonment, a brief mention of her married daughters wouldn’t have gone amiss.
While I’m glad I stuck with this trilogy, I’m not convinced Chadwick is for me so I’m not sure if I will be reading any more of her books.