A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver

by E.L. Konigsburg

Paperback, 2001



Local notes

PB Kon




Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2001), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 208 pages


While waiting in heaven for divine judgement to be passed on her second husband, Eleanor of Aquitaine and three of the people who knew her well recall the events of her life.


Original publication date


Physical description

208 p.; 7.68 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver tells the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, that striking queen who married two kings, ruled two countries, gave birth to three kings, was imprisoned by her husband for sixteen years, and who, in this tale, is now in Heaven recounting the events of her life to
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pass the time.

E. L. Konigsburg has long been celebrated as one of the more versatile and creative authors in young adult fiction, and this story is no exception to her skill. In her hands Eleanor emerges as an extravagant, intelligent, strong young woman, full of personality and passon, who had no hesitation about what she wanted and how to get it. Eleanor tells some of the story, but much is also told by her mother-in-law Matilda, the Abbot Suger, and William the Marshall.

I remember studying Chr├ętien de Troyes in college; well, Eleanor was his patroness. Everything is connected eventually for those of us who study English! Chr├ętien de Troyes wrote poems and romances based on Arthurian legends, and "cleaned up" the stories to make the knights bolder, the ladies more beautiful, the deeds more heroic. All of this was connected with Eleanor's famous "Court of Love," which gave shape and momentum to the chivalric tradition. Although historically there is some question as to the real weight and importance of the Court of Love, Konigsburg clearly takes Eleanor's side, writing that she is the reason that men open doors for women to this very day. It's funny that what many modern feminists regard as degrading began as the philosophy (quite opposite that of the rest of the world at the time) that man was entirely the property of woman.

Of course this is Eleanor's story written for young readers, and though certain inappropriate things can't be entirely ignored (like Henry's philandering, especially with Rosamund Clifford), Konigsburg glosses them as best she can. Nor can you get around the sixteen-year imprisonment... even for royalty, that's a rather unusual domestic arrangement. And sometimes life just wasn't pleasant back then; Eleanor's son Richard died of the infection from an arrow would in the shoulder, after his surgeons dug around unsuccessfully in his shoulder to remove the arrowhead. Ugh...

Of course the story is a dreadful theology of Heaven and Hell, a caricature of Roman Catholic beliefs (everyone spends some time in Hell before being admitted "Up", and being "Up" translates to boredom for the feisty Eleanor). But, taking it as a fictional frame only, I like it. It gathers all the main players in Eleanor's life and allows them to tell their part of her story.

All in all, this is an enjoyable introduction to one of history's most fascinating women. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member Meredy
Six-word review: Medieval royalty brought to vivid life.

Extended review:

It's hard for me to know how to rate this book. I almost never read young adult literature, and so I have little or no basis of comparison. On the one hand, it hardly seems fair to place it alongside major, large-scale works of
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serious adult fiction; on the other, it seems to me that within the YA genre I would be likely to find far more works that rank below it than above it.

So I'm giving it four stars, meaning, in this case, that I'm guessing it to be something very good within its class.

Told in a fictional style, and structured within a self-evidently fictitious frame, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, one-time queen of France and later of England through her marriage to Henry II in 1152. Eleanor is depicted as a strong-willed, intelligent, politically savvy woman who knows her own mind and understands her worth. Her title to the great lands of Aquitaine in France gives her great power in twelfth-century Europe. It is she who has the proud taste for luxuries, among them cloth of scarlet and the white fur called miniver, which, surprisingly, is never defined or described in the book.

Author Konigsburg, of whose other work I know nothing at all, has a knack for vivid characterizations of historical figures. She knows the art of depicting complex situations and relationships in simple terms. She deals with well-known, major episodes in history--the start of the Second Crusade, the murder of Thomas Becket, the rivalry between King Richard the Lion Heart and his brother Prince John, the turning of Henry's sons against him, the imprisonment of Eleanor for treason--in engaging, straightforward language without trivializing them. The style of delivery is entertaining and readily accessible without feeling condescending.

Although the history of this period and these royal figures is not unfamiliar to me, I learned some new things from reading this book--a quick, easy read of 200 short pages. A dry recital of facts it is not. It seems likely to me that the book might succeed in furthering and even awakening a young person's interest in the time, the places, and the people who populate this charming book.
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LibraryThing member bjappleg8
Eleanor of Aquitaine was a vivid, fascinating woman who lived and made a great deal of history. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver imagines her in Heaven, waiting impatiently for her second husband, Henry II, to arrive for his judgement and hopefully, admittance into Heaven.

While she waits, she
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visits with three other associates from her life on earth: her mother-in-law Matilda, Archbishop Suger, and William Marshall. They takes turns telling the parts of her life's story that each of them is most familiar with.

It's a wonderful introduction to Eleanor and all the famous people from history that her life intersected with, and does a particularly nice job of showing her accomplishments: an introduction to the ideals of chivalry at her Court of Love, her commssioning poets and authors to "improve" the stories of King Arthur, and her and Henry II's efforts to bring about the Rule of Law in England. I found it valuable for these things even as a mature reader. A young reader would find it a great story well told, without even having to be aware of how much they were learning.
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LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
For the most part, I've enjoyed reading my kid's history books, be they factual or historical fiction. It's really become quite a pleasant routine. But there's still room for surprises, as I found out reading this one. A Proud Taste is a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who is known for being the
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wife of King Henry II of England and mother to King Richard the Lion-heart. (At least I'm assuming that's her claim to fame--I really hadn't taken note of her before reading this book.) She's an interesting lady, but even more interesting is how Konigsburg tells her tale. Eleanor's life is told in flashback. The book starts out in heaven, or at least heaven according to Roman Catholic theology. Eleanor is waiting for the imminent release of King Henry from Purgatory. She's waiting with three friends, and to bide the time, they discuss her life. It's an enjoyable dramatization, one I'd advise checking out for the story as much as the historical information.
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LibraryThing member Clockwork82736
What if people really went to heaven when they die -- and we could snoop in on their conversation? Beautiful drawings and pleasant rendition of Eleanor's life history.
LibraryThing member BookshelfMonstrosity
Oh, E.L. Konigsburg, how could I ever expect anything less than delightful perfection from you? I don't know how I missed this one growing up, considering From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was a favorite in elementary school.

I love historical fiction, but I sometimes struggle to
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find books in the genre that I know kids will truly enjoy. Proud Taste is one of those books. Konigsburg sets up a clever premise in which impatient Eleanor is waiting in heaven for her husband, Henry II, to move 'up'. While waiting, the readers are told the story of Eleanor's life by three people who knew Eleanor while she was queen: Henry's mother, Abbot Suger (my favorite), and William the Marshal. Each person takes turns relating the life of Eleanor in such a way that the reader doesn't get bogged down while learning about Middle Ages France and England, which is indeed exactly what is going on! Rather than focusing on dates and events, the story is told with a focus on Eleanor's personality, which is quite different than that of most other women of the 12th century. Included in the book are ink drawings separating each of the narratives, along with a map.
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LibraryThing member keywestnan
I read this book as a kid and absolutely loved it -- and have been a fan of Eleanor of Acquitaine ever since. It's still my favorite portrayal of her, over Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter and definitely over Alison Weir's new and disappointing "Captive Queen." The book's conceit is that
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Eleanor is in heaven, it's set in the present day (the book was published in 1973) and she's waiting to see if her husband Henry II of England will be allowed Up after centuries in purgatory. She reviews the events of her life with three others who lived parts of it with her -- Abbot Suger of France (she was queen of France before she divorced Louis and married Henry Plantagent -- who was 12 years younger), Henry's mother, the Empress Matilda, and William Marshal, a loyal English knight. It's a great way to convey the events of her life and a fantastic introduction to medieval European history for any kid with an interest in that sort of thing. And it turns out, as an adult, it's still a fun read.
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LibraryThing member bearette24
Really enjoyed this look at the lives of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 12th and 13th centuries. I had read about them in high school history class, but Konigsburg really brought them to life. I am looking forward to reading more of her historical fiction.
LibraryThing member jessicaschmidt917
As vivacious Eleanor of Aquitaine, a real-life queen of 12th-century England and France, awaits the arrival of her husband Henry into Heaven, she and three acquaintances recall her remarkable life on earth. After a brief but slowly-paced beginning that sets up the Heaven framework for the story,
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each section of Eleanor's life gallops along as it's recalled by one of her friends in a Chaucer-esque tale. Historical fact and believable fiction blend as Eleanor weds and divorces Louis of France, and then weds Henry of England, creating rebellions, setting standards of culture, and proving that women can rule kingdoms along the way. Per the end matter, all characters in the story were real people. Occasional black and white drawings accompanied by calligraphy add to the medieval feel. The royal courts were known for foul play and much dalliance, but Konigsburg adeptly navigates the scandal while keeping the intrigue. As a sort of "literary biography," this would be an excellent short novel to pair with a more formal biography for a project aligned to Common Core standards. Recommended for grades 4-8.
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LibraryThing member Murphy-Jacobs
Another childhood favorite. I remember checking this book out of my local branch library multiple times. Eleanor of Aquitaine waits in Heaven to see if her much beloved -- and much warred with -- husband Henry will be released from Purgatory. While she waits, she reflects on her life.

My first look
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at European history came with this book. Although I've read more about Eleanor and Henry since then (and who could forget Lion in Winter?), and this version is tailored for a young audience, I still recall this version of her. It contains the conflict, the difficulties, and the wonders of that period in history, and of this very unique woman.
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LibraryThing member Kate_Schulte078
This book would be good to use when talking about 12th century England or the royals around that time. I think students would like this book because it is told in an interesting perspective that is not seen very often.
LibraryThing member joeydag
A conversation in heaven among several figures in Eleanor of Aquitaine's life awaiting King Henry's judgement after suffering hundreds of years in the afterlife. Lively dialog keeps the history interesting and light. A good overview for the young or those unfamiliar with this important figure in
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LibraryThing member katieloucks
A really good way to get younger people in 5th/6th-high school, even beyond, to understand history.
LibraryThing member csoki637
My friend Dongyi recommended this book to me in seventh grade. I never really got into it, and then I lost it and had to pay a fine, so I don't have particularly fond memories of it.
LibraryThing member raschneid
Got it in my head that I wanted to read E.L. Konigsburg's backlist. This fictionalized biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine is dated and missable, but no doubt inspired some kid in the 70s to grow up and become a medieval historian. Konigsburg's passion for the source material is obvious, and I did
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enjoy her sweet illustrations.

The upshot is that I do know quite a bit more about Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Plantagenets than I did before. (Turns out that The Lion in Winter is ENTIRELY FICTIONAL, I am very offended and would like a refund please.)

Would I recommend this for a kiddo interested in medieval history? Sure, why not, but for goodness' sake supplement it with some newer books, preferably ones that center the experience of ordinary people living under the rule of these messy megalomaniacs.
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½ (157 ratings; 3.9)
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