I have no illusions about Henry II's and Eleanor of Aquitaine's ruthlessness. They were both brilliant and ruthless politicians. What I can't imagine was that either one of them was petty. Sure, they'd stab you (or each other) in the back, but for grander reasons than Alison Weir presents in Captive Queen. Weir begins this, her third novel at the ceremony where Eleanor's husband Louis VII of France recognizes Henry's father Geoffrey as Duke of Normandy. Their attraction is overpowering and Eleanor soon convinces Louis to ask for an annulment. Eleanor and Henry marry and initial form a strong political partnership, but that disintegrates as he forms a close friendship with Thomas Becket. As their marriage disintegrates, Eleanor and Henry both manipulate their children (who need little prompting) to view the other parent as an enemy. Eventually, Henry imprisons Eleanor for her role in their sons' revolt and spends sixteen years as a prisoner.
We all know the story, through both fact and fiction, so it's the presentation that counts. The Lion in Winter portrays the two as brilliant sparring partners enduring a family Christmas. Sharon Kay Penman's Plantagent books use 1300 pages and shifting narrators (including all four of their surviving sons, one daughter-in-law, and several advisors both real and fictional) to paint a more nuanced picture of Henry and Eleanor than Alison Weir has managed here. Alison Weir is one of my favorite non-mystery writers, and I enjoyed Captive Queen, just not as much as the author's prior work and other books on the subject, Maybe it's because Eleanor and Henry are too grand for a single 400-page novel. Cramming their entire lives into a single volume turns grand gestures petty.