Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

France & England, circa1200


The Canterbury Papers

by Judith Koll Healey

There is a full complement of famous and colorful 12th century personalities mentioned in this story: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry, King of England, Thomas a Becket, Richard the Lion Heart, John “Lackland”, Philippe of France, Master Averroes, among others. At the heart of the tale is Alais, who was a daughter of King Louis of France. She was raised at Eleanor and Henry’s court in England and engaged to Richard when she was young. The promised alliance was ended when Alais became Henry’s mistress at the time of his imprisonment of Eleanor in the Old Sarum keep.

Healey bases her plot on rumors about a possible child born to Henry and Alais who, if alive, is now a grown man with the potential to threaten the crown of the last living Plantagenet son, King John. Alais’ adventures begin when a now elderly Eleanor sends her to England to retrieve a cache of letters hidden in Canterbury Cathedral - letters which could bring her son, King John, down. Enmeshed in plots and mysterious occurrences, including threats to her life, Alais becomes the resourceful, witty figure whom author Healey says, she may in fact have been, making her a woman “cut of the cloth of other powerful women of her time.”

There are generous details about famous sites and events - Canterbury monastery and cathedral, the French court housed in the Conciergerie in Paris, and Eleanor’s ducal palace in Poitiers, place where the troubadours and the concept of “courtly love” blossomed. While there are some questionable references, such as the use of a fork which was not introduced into France from Italy until a much later date, or having a French princess travel about with no female attendants, the author is careful in her Afterword to let us know which of her characters were true historical figures, and where she took liberties with the historic record. A map of the dominions of the Plantagenets at their fullest extent, and basic facts about 12th century political history are in the introductory Notes.



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