Eleanor of Aquitaine: The first feminist


Re-publishing this birthday post from last year. We can all pretend I just turned 40 (again) 😉

June 14, 2016 – Alexandria, VA

For my 40th birthday post, few things give me more pleasure than to write about my all-time favorite historical personage, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Those of you who know me well know that I’ve studied Eleanor’s life since I was about 15 years old. She was an exceptional woman during a time period in which women rarely stood out.

I call her the first feminist because, although she was certainly not the first strong woman of historical record (think: Cleopatra, another of my favorite historical women), she embodies female empowerment, having exercised an incredible amount of authority in a male-dominated environment.

Eleanor was born around 1122, the oldest of two daughters of the Duke of Aquitaine. The evidence reflects that she was very close to her younger sister. Aquitaine was a large duchy in what is now southwestern France:


When it became clear that Eleanor’s father would have no more children, she was groomed to take over the duchy. Since it was pretty much unheard of during the time for a woman to rule in her own right, Eleanor’s father arranged for her to marry Louis, the son of the French king. Eleanor and Louis married in 1137; Eleanor was 15 years old. That year, they became king and queen of France.

Eleanor and Louis never got along. Eleanor was stubborn, strong-willed, and opinionated. Louis had never expected to inherit the French throne; he had been prepared for the monastery while his older brother had been prepared to rule. However, his brother died unexpectedly in a horse riding accident, leaving Louis heir. Louis would have preferred the quiet contemplation of the monastery to being the king of France.

Eleanor dominated her meek first husband. When Louis decided to go on the Second Crusade, Eleanor insisted on accompanying him and took an entourage of ladies with her. This was not a great idea, since the men were distracted with ensuring the safety of the ladies. Not to mention, this cost the French taxpayers more money. It was during this crusade that Eleanor’s and Louis’ marriage deteriorated to the point of irreparability. In fact, on the way home from the disastrous crusade, they stopped by Rome to see the Pope, and Eleanor asked for an annulment.

Eleanor and Louis had two daughters over the course of their fifteen-year marriage. The marriage was not working due to their conflicting personalities, and Eleanor badly wanted out. She persuaded Louis to ask the Pope to dissolve their marriage, which he did based on the fact that they were distantly related.

Little did Louis know that Eleanor had already strategized to marry a second time. As queen, at the French Court she had met Henry, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. The two planned to marry as soon as her marriage to Louis was dissolved. Eleanor shrewdly made sure that her territories of Poitou and Aquitaine were returned to her, in her name only, upon her marriage ending.

In her fascinating book on Eleanor, Alison Weir describes how Eleanor left Paris as soon as her marriage was terminated, and rushed to Aquitaine with an entourage of soldiers, pursued by several counts who wanted to force her into marriage, thereby acquiring her vast territory and wealth. In fact, Eleanor avoided an ambush set by Henry’s younger brother, who hoped to marry her to obtain her lands.

Alison Weir points out in her book that, during the short time between Eleanor’s annulment and her marriage to Henry, Eleanor took full advantage of her independence and issued several edicts and orders in her name as Duchess of Aquitaine. It must have angered her that she was unable to rule her territory by herself.

Eleanor and Henry married quickly in a simple ceremony mere weeks after her marriage to Louis was annulled. Eleanor was 30 years old; Henry was 19. They were truly a powerhouse team. Henry was count of Anjou and duke of Normandy, which occupied a large area of what is now northwestern France. Unlike Louis, Henry was fiery, ambitious, and an excellent leader. He was also a redhead, and the evidence suggests that Eleanor had red hair too, so you can imagine what that must have been like. Eleanor and Henry were both stubborn, which caused serious conflict later in their marriage.


Eleanor and Henry had ten children over the next fourteen years (two died young), strongly suggesting that they had significant physical chemistry. Eleanor had her last child, John (yes, the King John who signed the Magna Carta, the basis for the American constitutional government), when she was about 44 years old.

I also think that Eleanor really loved Henry, which would explain why she was so angry at his having several mistresses.

Eleanor’s and Henry’s lands spanned at least half of modern-day France. Further, their hasty marriage was an insult (and a shock!) to Louis. First, the marriage was between two of his feudal vassals; ergo, technically he would have had a say in it. Second, it threatened the inheritance of his daughters with Eleanor, since they had claims to Aquitaine and Poitou through their mother. But Eleanor was never much of a rule follower. To add further insult, in 1154 Eleanor and Henry became king and queen of England.

Henry had a claim to the English throne through his mother, Matilda, to whom he was very close. Indeed, it was Matilda who taught Henry most of what he knew about statesmanship and governing. Matilda was direct in line to inherit the English throne, but was passed over largely because she had grown up in the German court, and was considered a foreigner (Matilda had eventually married the German emperor and, after he died, married Henry’s father, Geoffrey of Anjou). When Matilda’s father (Henry I of England) died, he had planned for her to become queen of England. However, the English barons were against it, instead accepting Stephen, her cousin, as king.

Henry had always sought to reclaim his familial birthright. After skirmishing with Stephen, they agreed that Henry would be his heir. When Stephen died unexpectedly in 1154, Henry became king at 21 years old. Eleanor’s and Henry’s empire was therefore significantly extended.

I have absolutely no doubt that Eleanor played a role in advising Henry throughout his tenure as king. After all, he was accustomed to seeking advice from his mother, Matilda, another strong-minded woman, and it was only natural that he now sought it from his wife. Eleanor and Henry seemed to have had a strong relationship for several years, acting as a team. Henry delegated the rule of Aquitaine and Poitou to her, which was a smart move, seeing as how the locals trusted her more than a stranger from Normandy. However, Henry’s philandering and domineering personality largely led to the deterioration of the relationship. I often wonder how things would have turned out if events had been different.

Subsequent events were far too complex to describe in detail here. For now, suffice it to say that Henry favored his oldest son, also named Henry, who was the heir to the English throne. Eleanor’s favorite son was Richard (also known as Richard Lionheart), who she groomed to take over Aquitaine. Eleanor had a close relationships with her sons, including Geoffrey (who was younger than Richard).

Eleanor’s and Henry’s relationship grew increasingly estranged. Henry’s infidelities, as well as personality conflicts between the two, invariably played a role. Eleanor was fiercely independent, and some scholars have suggested that perhaps she expected to rule Aquitaine independently with Richard. But as the sons grew older, Henry could see that they were heavily influenced by their mother, and he put down his iron fist, which Eleanor certainly would have resented. In the end, Eleanor ended up supporting her sons in a rebellion against their father, which was obviously an anomaly for a woman during the time (well, during any time, really).

As a result, Henry imprisoned Eleanor in Salisbury Castle, where she remained for several years until his death.


She apparently was given all the comforts of home there, and was allowed to go out for special occasions like Christmas. Alison Weir notes in her book that records reflect that it was very windy and cold there, and the monks of Salisbury complained of respiratory symptoms; however, Eleanor’s health seems not to have been affected. This woman had a will of steel, and she was apparently determined to outlive Henry, which she did.

Unfortunately, Eleanor’s and Henry’s older son Henry died young, leaving Richard heir to the English throne. Henry died in 1189, at the age of 56. The very first thing Richard did upon assuming power was to release his mother from Salisbury Castle, and the two made an excellent team.


Eleanor was around 67 years old in 1189 and, incredibly, it was her actions during RIchard’s reign for which she is best known today. Richard’s reign was largely overshadowed by his leading the Third Crusade. He never had much affinity for England, having been mostly raised by his mother in her native Aquitaine, and he preferred to reside there. Over his 10-year reign, he spent a total of around six months in England.

Eleanor was in charge of the administration of England, Aquitaine, Normandy, and Richard’s other lands, while he was crusading. The fact that she was able to keep those governments intact is a testament to her energy, skill, and political savvy in my mind. On his way home from the crusade, Richard was captured by the duke of Austria and held for ransom. Eleanor raised the ransom, not an easy task since Richard’s lands had already been bled dry in taxes in preparation for the crusade, and herself went to escort him back to England.

Richard died unexpectedly in 1199 from gangrene after being shot in the shoulder by a single arrow during the siege of Chinon in France. He left no heir. The youngest of Eleanor’s and Henry’s children, John, then became king.


Eleanor feared that the Plantagenet empire would disintegrate under John, who had much less political savvy and military skill than his father and brother.

OK, I’m not a psychologist, but sometimes I play one on my blog. It appears that John had serious psychological issues. Around the time that Eleanor was pregnant with him, she and Henry had a falling out largely over Henry’s long-term mistress, and possibly over other political and strategic issues, and their relationship had significantly deteriorated. Eleanor possibly had much less affection for John than for her other children (I’m speculating here), and John was often referred to as John Lackland since his three older brothers were set to inherit various of their parents’ territories, leaving nothing for him. Due to all this, John possibly suffered from attachment issues, self-esteem-related issues, etc. He certainly had a mean streak, but I’m not sure how much of that was due to his own personality (“nature”) or how he was brought up, as the youngest and more or less an afterthought (“nurture”).

John also let himself be distracted by other things, such as “stealing” a woman, Isabella of Angouleme, who was engaged to one of his vassals. Don’t piss off your vassals, because they can make life exceedingly difficult for you (as the case ended up being here, but that is another story for another day).

In any case, John became king of England in 1199. While he did have some military/strategic skill, his military successes were largely due to his seventy-eight-year-old mother.

In 1200 Eleanor assisted In defending Anjou and Aquitaine against her grandson Arthur of Brittany (Arthur was the son of her late son Geoffrey), thereby securing John’s French territories. In 1202 Eleanor successfully held the castle of Mirebeau against Arthur, until John could come to her relief, subsequently taking Arthur prisoner. John also smashed his opponents’s army, able to take them by surprise. John’s only military victories were therefore due to his elderly mother. I find this incredible. Let no one ever tell you that you are too “old” to accomplish something, if a 78-year-old woman could successfully lead armies in the early thirteenth century.

Also in 1200, Eleanor herself crossed the Pyrenees to make the trip to Castile (modern-day Spain) to pick up her granddaughter Blanca, so that she could marry the French king’s son. Eleanor had negotiated the marriage on John’s behalf, and hoped that it would ensure peace between the Plantagenet kings of England and the Capetian kings of France. In fact, the evidence suggests that Eleanor was the only person whom John trusted with such an important mission.

After the successful Battle of Mirebeau, Eleanor retired to the Abbey of Fontevrault, where she died in 1204 at the age of 82, before she had to see John sign the Magna Carta in 1215. I always wonder what would have happened had events been different. What if Eleanor and Henry had gotten along in the second half of their marriage? What if they had not treated John as an afterthought? What if Richard had lived longer? What if Richard had had an heir and John never would have become king? What if Eleanor had lived a few more years to provide John with the voice of reason he so desperately needed? Would she have been able to give John diplomatic advice and possibly rein in his behavior?

In my opinion, John was closer to his mother than to anyone else, even to his own wife. So one wonders, had she lived longer, if Eleanor would have been able to temper John’s behavior, such that the English barons would not have had to force him to sign the Magna Carta. And how would that have affected the limited government that the United States has today?

The fact that Eleanor was able to live such a full life, and a long one, was more or less unheard of for a woman during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Her journey from a frivolous, young girl to a ruler/military leader who demanded respect from vassals, troops, heads of government, you name it, who fought for her children’s interests and who (pardon me) “took no shit from anyone,” is truly remarkable for the period in which she lived. As such, she will always be my hero.

There have been plenty of books written about Eleanor, but my favorite one I’ve read recently is Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, by Alison Weir. Weir’s book reads almost like a novel, and she delves into the source material to come to interesting conclusions about Eleanor’s life. Enjoy.


Baptism by Fire: Self-publishing checklist


***Disclaimer: Nothing in this blog post, or on this blog, constitutes legal advice***

June 5, 2017 – Alexandria, VA

For the first novel I self-published, I learned the self-publishing process as I went along. It was truly baptism by fire.

Picture it: You have completed a draft manuscript, finished rewrites, and proofread for grammar. What’s next? This goes without saying, but make sure that you have someone copy edit and proofread your work. EVERYONE needs editing. No matter how impeccable your grammar is, no matter how anal retentive you are about structure, after you’ve read your manuscript ten, 50, or 200 times, your mind will automatically gloss over some mistakes. It is worth paying a professional copy editor and proofreader, in addition to doing your own proofing.

Thus, you have already copy edited, proofread, finished rewrites, and edited and proofed again. You are ready to self-publish. What do you do next?

1. Decide the format(s) in which you want to publish. Many new indie authors publish exclusively in mobi format for Amazon Kindle. Personally, I recommend that you also make your book available in print. You can use Amazon Createspace or other print-on-demand services. With print-on-demand, you do not need to store copies (of course, it is always a good idea to have 30 or so copies at home to give away on the spot to those who may be interested).

Here are three important reasons to publish in print:

  • You need a print copy to do a Goodreads giveaway, which is one of the most valuable marketing tools for new authors (more detail on that another time).
  • Several bookstores around the country carry indie books (see, for example, http://www.pipeandthimble.com, which carries my books). This is great exposure for new authors.
  • Many people of all ages still prefer to read in print.

2. Obtain an ISBN for each format in which you want to publish. A print book will have a different ISBN than an electronic book. You can obtain ISBNs here.

3. Create a barcode for the back cover.

4. Decide what you want on the book jacket. You should have already done at least the front cover a looooong time ago (have the front cover ready as early as possible for promotion purposes). Now, you need to decide what other text and/or photos you want on the front and back cover. E.g. do you want your author bio or reviews to appear?

5. If you haven’t done it already, and you plan to publish in print as well as e-book, create the back cover and binding. You will need to know the exact page count of the print book before completing the binding (see below re: print format).

6. Decide whether you want to include other text within the body of the manuscript, the “front matter.” Do you want to include a dedication to someone? Do you want to indicate that this is the first book in a series (otherwise, readers may not know)? You’ll also need to include the title page, copyright page, table of contents; and possibly a testimonial page and acknowledgement page, etc.

7. Formatting: You’ll need to format the book for print, if applicable, and mobi. If you are making your book available via Nookpress, you will also need to format as an epub file. Now, a word of caution. You can download formatting tools for a low cost (or even for free), and do the formatting yourself, but the work is painstaking and tedious. I have read several self-published books where margins and indentations are inconsistent/erroneous, and it’s a turn-off for the reader. So be careful if you do the formatting yourself. Alternatively, you can hire someone to do the formatting for you, either via places like Elance or Fiveer (which put you in contact with freelance contractors), or with, e.g., a small publishing group that provides self-publishing services. I pay for someone to do the print and ebook formatting for me, because I have a day job and don’t have the time or patience to do it myself. It’s your call based on your budget and drive.

8. Proof the print and ebook layout. This step is essential. I know, you’re sick and tired of reading the same manuscript, and you just want to start the next project. But you must do this.

9. Choose a print manufacturer. I use Amazon Createspace.

10. Upload your file to Amazon Kindle, Amazon Createspace, Nookpress, or whatever other platform you’re using.

11. I would recommend that you register your book with the Copyright Office. First, whenever you create a copyrightable work (such as a book), you have a protectable copyright, without needing to do anything (including register with the Copyright Office). However, the advantage of registering your copyrightable works with the Copyright Office is that registration permits you to have the option of getting statutory damages should someone infringe your copyright. Thus, statutory damages are not available if you don’t register your works.  Having statutory damages available can be advantageous, especially for works that are not commercially successful or have not been released to the market because, for these works, it would be difficult to show what the actual damages were, or the actual damages might not justify a lawsuit to stop the infringing action. Bottom line: once you publish your book, register it with the Copyright Office.

12. Pin down your book launch date, and plan your book launch party!

13. PROMOTE. More detail on promotion another time. Remember: no promotional strategy is better than PUBLISHING ANOTHER BOOK. So spend around 90% of your time working on completing your next book, and about 10% of your time promoting your already published books.

Do other authors have anything to add here? Please leave your comments!



Book Review: Patricia Cornwell Investigates Jack the Ripper

April 19, 2017

(Note: this review originally appeared on http://www.bookclubbabble.com.)

I had never read any of Cornwell’s novels when I picked up a copy of Portrait of a Killer, her 2002 nonfiction investigative work on the Jack the Ripper murders. In Cornwell’s own words (as indicated in Sickert), she felt that she was called upon to investigate the Ripper murders, notwithstanding the fact that she was disturbed by what her research revealed. Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert is a follow-up to 2002’s Portrait, and discusses additional evidence and new insights on the life of Walter Sickert.

One caveat: Sickert is not for the faint of heart. If you drink up documentary forensic and investigative shows like I do, and you enjoy analyzing evidence, then you will be intrigued by this book. But be warned that it contains graphic photos of crime scenes and corpses, as well as descriptions of the modus operandi of different psychopaths, as illustrative of how Walter Sickert may have fit the profile.

The result of Cornwell’s research is a highly engaging investigative tour de force that leaves little doubt in my mind that Jack the Ripper was indeed famous British artist Walter Sickert. To be fair, Cornwell is not the only author who implicates Sickert in the Ripper murders, but she has certainly presented the most compelling evidence. Sickert reads like a novel, and I could not put it down. Cornwell recounts her team’s painstaking investigative work in great detail. The reader learns about mitochondrial DNA, stationery analysis, and many other investigative techniques.

Walter Sickert was a well-known and respected artist during the late 19th century. Indeed, he was an apprentice of American artist James McNeill Whistler, with whom he ended up having a tumultuous working relationship. Interestingly, Sickert also frequented the Whitechapel area of London, the scene of the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper.

Cornwell delves into Sickert’s life, using all available source material to determine whether Sickert would have fit the psychological profile of a psychopath. Interestingly, Cornwell was able to find out a good deal about Sickert’s early life. Sickert’s younger sister Helena Swanwick was a famous suffragette who wrote her autobiography, which includes memories of a young Sickert.

Cornwell describes occurrences that may have had something to do with the development of Sickert’s psyche. Sickert was brought up in Germany and, when he was five years old, his parents sent him to London to have surgery. Imagine the trauma of a five-year-old having surgery in a foreign country, without his parents, in the 19th century, with no anesthesia. Cornwell researched the hospital where young Sickert’s surgery was performed, the hospital employees, and sanitary conditions. She applies the same investigative detail to every facet of Sickert’s life.

Likewise, Cornwell analyzes Sickert’s behavior as an adult, and his relationships with friends and his three wives. For example, he did not spend much time with his first wife, Ellen. Consistent with the evidence presented by Cornwell, Sickert appeared to marry for money rather than love. Further, Sickert appears to always have been on the move, traveling between England and France and around England. In fact, Cornwell notes that his whereabouts for much of his adult life are difficult to pin down.

Cornwell points out that Sickert’s strange behavior was mostly written off by his contemporaries as the eccentricities of a genius artist. For example, Sickert was interested throughout his life in all things military, and “it was his habit to ask the Red Cross for the uniforms of soldiers who were disabled or dying.” It strikes me as odd, and illustrative of a lack of empathy, to ask for the clothes of someone who was dying but not dead yet. He apparently “thought nothing of appearing at the Red Cross hospital to sketch soldiers suffering and dying,” then asking them for their clothing.

Sickert contains additional, and even more troubling, examples of the artist’s strange behavior. Indeed, Cornwell indicates that, according to many of Sickert’s contemporaries, the artist appeared to have a dual nature. His friend, artist Marjorie Lilly, with whom he once shared a dwelling and a studio, described Sickert’s behavior as Dr. Jekyll assuming the “mantle of Mr. Hyde.”

Cornwell’s discussion of the forensic evidence, including traditional police work such as tracking the suspect’s whereabouts during the crimes, is fascinating. Her team tested the Ripper letters, i.e. those letters sent to Scotland Yard during the time the crimes were committed, for fingerprints and DNA. She examined an old guest book from a bed and breakfast in a place Sickert was known to frequent, and compared the book’s cartoon drawings with drawings in the Ripper letters. Her team examined the watermarks of stationery used by Walter Sickert and compared them to those used by the writer of the Ripper letters. The stationery comparison is, in my mind, the most compelling physical evidence in this case.

Cornwell discusses other crimes in and around London that were not officially attributed to the Ripper, but which were consistent with the Ripper murders. She notes that the Ripper may have been more prolific than originally thought.

Cornwell does an excellent job providing contemporary evidence in determining that Sickert appears to have had the motive and opportunity to commit these crimes. Further, as Cornwell concludes, Sickert’s behavior appears to have been consistent with the profile of someone who could commit these murders, especially regarding his apparent lack of empathy. The physical evidence (which I haven’t detailed here to avoid spoilers!) also strongly suggests Sickert’s involvement.

As Cornwell notes, Walter Sickert, if he was indeed the killer, was ahead of his time. Most disturbing is the fact that Sickert was apparently able to live a double life as a well-known Londoner hiding in plain sight, while surreptitiously perpetrating some of the most shocking murders in recent history.

If Patricia Cornwell had not felt compelled to investigate these horrible crimes, we may still be totally in the dark as to Jack the Ripper’s identity.


Brain to Books Cyber Convention Blog Hop!


April 7, 2017 —


Hi! I’m Maria Riegger, and welcome to my Brain to Books Cyber Convention Post! I’m a banking/corporate attorney in Washington, DC by day (please don’t hold that against me), and a fiction author by night.

I’m a Gemini whose head has always been in the clouds. From a young age, my mother scolded me for not paying attention; when I was bored, I would make up stories in my head.

I’m an irreverent Gen X’er, who has been caught air-guitaring in public on multiple occasions, and who always laughs at lame jokes. I write gritty contemporary romance, with plenty of sarcasm. Thanks so much for visiting!

Subscribe to my update list to get info on new releases and free goodies!

Where to find me at B2B Cycon

I’ll be participating in the Romance section, and will be doing a giveaway of the first two novels in the Law School Heretic series here.

You can browse through all your favorite genres at the Book Expo, and discover new authors at the Author Showcase, which is also accessible on Goodreads. Stop by my Goodreads Author Showcase booth here.



Book 1 available now on Amazon (Kindle and print) and Nook.

Description: Outspoken and abrasive, law student Isabel enjoys arguing with just about everyone, including her friends. It’s 2010, and her strained relationship with her mother, less-than-stellar job prospects and frustrations with the conformist political culture of Washington, DC have left her resentful and unfulfilled. Only her sisters and a few good friends are able to keep her semi-grounded. When she meets a new fellow student who dares to challenge her, she is intrigued but skeptical. While Isabel is risk-averse where her feelings are concerned, she is also becoming increasingly curious. She’s afraid to get close, because being vulnerable always lead to being hurt, doesn’t it?

Read an excerpt from Miscalculated Risks here!


Book 2 available now on Amazon (Kindle and print) and Nook.

Description: Antagonistic Washington DC law student Isabel must face her unsettled past and navigate the final weeks of the semester while figuring out fellow student Tarek’s feelings for her before he slips away.



Available in late 2017.

Description: Monica, a Republican congressional candidate, who had a past affair with her Democratic opponent, Brian, must now deal with the fallout from a public scandal while navigating a razor-thin election and resolving her recurring emotional attachment to her opponent. As oversized egos and the desire to win an election at all costs threaten the bond slowly forming between these two political opponents, they end up discovering that they may have more in common than they originally thought.

While you’re here, feel free to subscribe to my update list to get info on new releases and free goodies!

Enjoy and Happy Reading!

Please visit the next site in the blog hop, hosted by N.D. Jackson 🙂

You can also go back to the B2B Cycon blog hop page here> http://b2bcycon.com/blog-hop/

Brain to Books Cyber Convention!


March 29, 2017 —

The Brain to Books Cyber Convention and Book Expo (check it out) will take place April 7-9, highlighting tons of books from multiple genres. It’s a great way to discover new authors from the comfort of your own home 😉 So kick back in your pajamas with a cup of coffee, and join us on April 7, 8, and 9!

Here are a few highlights, in which Yours Truly will be participating:

First, you can subscribe to the Convention’s Save the Date and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card 🙂

Giveaways: Win free books! You can find everything from romance to memoirs to thriller here.

Book Expo: Browse through all your favorite genres here.

Author Showcase: Discover new authors. The Showcase is also on Goodreads here. My Goodreads Author Showcase is here 🙂

Blog Hop: Check out author blogs.

While you’re here, you can subscribe to my update list to get info on new releases and free goodies!

Enjoy and Happy Reading 🙂

Acceptable Misconduct: Pre-order for Kindle is live!


Letting you know that Acceptable Misconduct, Book 2 of the Law School Heretic series, is now available for pre-order for Amazon Kindle here. On December 15, it will be available for Kindle and Nook; and will be available in print from Amazon Createspace shortly after that.

In a few days, I’ll also be updating my blog, with information on forthcoming books.

As always, thank you for your support!