Just to throw you off, I’ll start the book posts not with queens, but with two “star-cross’d lovers,” as Shakespeare would later write about Romeo and Juliet. In the 12th century, Peter Abelard was considered one of the greatest philosophers in all of Europe. Heloise was his star student. He was supposed to be celibate and she was supposed to remain a virgin. One thing led to another, though: they fell in love, she got pregnant, they secretly married, she denied the marriage to protect his career, her angry uncle castrated Abelard…you know, the usual story. Abelard and Heloise left behind a series of letters, including Heloise’s beautiful and impassioned notes to Abelard (and Abelard’s whiny account of all his misfortunes). I read about the tragic couple in a rather backwards way, starting with a novel, proceeding to a biography and finally reading the original letters. But it often happens that I read a novel and then want to know the real story. So here are my book recommendations in the order I read them:
1) Stealing Heaven by Marion Meade
2) Heloise and Abelard by James Burge (including recently discovered lost love letters)
3) The Letters of Abelard and Heloise
Heloise named their son Astrolabe, further evidence of her scientific mind and willingness to buck convention. Interestingly, there is a historical mystery coming out that features Astrolabe. You can pre-order on Amazon.
A book wasn’t my introduction to Heloise and Abelard. My first knowledge of them came from seeing their beautiful tomb at Pere-Lachaise Cemetary in Paris (the eternal home of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Frederic Chopin and many other notables). I highly recommend a trip there.