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Eleanor of Aquitaine

Post Authors: Jamie Tang and Pay Hee Ruey

This restless queen swept across the 12th century, changing the face of Europe.
— Bailey (2006)

            The legendary woman of Aquitaine was simply yet strongly codified in a few words. The unconventional biography of the Eleanor of Aquitaine captured the attention with her success in reign and enthralling life story, that of a parentless yet composed girl who grew magnificently as a disputable leader that confronted time-honored interpretations of faith, love, justice and power.



            Eleanor matured into a woman who determined the Western customs of courtly manner, chivalry, family empire, and a systematized concept of love. Notably, her legend of the court of love was widely perceived as breaking the norms during a period when men were recognized and acknowledged much more than women. Eleanor, eldest daughter of William X, was one of the most affluent and impressive woman of medieval Europe, while her influential positive during her reign had shaken the hearts of many. She prominently became the Queen of France at the age of thirteen, and Queen of England at the age of thirty.

            Eleanor of Aquitaine, also called Eleanor of Guyenne (born c. 1122—died April 1, 1204, Fontevrault, Anjou, France) inherited the title and extensive lands of her father when she turned fifteen, thereby becoming the duchess of Aquitaine and the most sought after single lady in Europe. She was the queen consort of both Louis VII of France (1137—1152) for fifteen years and Henry II of England (1152—1204) from around thirty years old, as well as the mother of Richard I (the Lion-Heart) and John of England.



            Almost immediately after being put under the care of the King of France, she was engaged to his son and heir, Louis VII. Less than a week after the wedding in 1137, she quickly rose to the position of the Queen of France upon the death of Louis VII's father, the late king Louis VI. Although Louis VII seemed to love his wife, Eleanor had a dull impression on him and found him a total contrast to her expectations. However, Eleanor put in her best effort to accommodate in the situation and even gave birth to the first daughter, Marie, in 1145 by her devoutly religious husband.

            During the Second Crusade in the Holy Land, Louis VII failed to prove to his wife otherwise when Eleanor had to lead the armies to save the incompetent and tentative man upon incoming rumors. Louis VII ultimately deserted the crusade when little could be accomplished. Eleanor initially failed to save the work of Louis VII, who was then too young and hot-blooded for the role, and called upon an annulment of marriage to end the ordeal. Finally on 21 March 1152, the marriage of Louis VII of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine was nullified on grounds of consanguinity.

            The annulment returned Aquitaine and Poitou to Eleanor. Within two months, in 1152 she married the nineteen years old Henry II, who was the Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, despite the rumor of having an affair with his father. The marriage was unanticipated and startled most people. Warned just in time prior to that, she evaded ambush set by Geoffrey, the younger brother of Henry II who desired to promote his ambitions by marrying her himself, and safely entered her own capital of Poitiers (Cavendish, 2002).

            Within two years, they were crowned king and queen of England upon the death of king Stephen on October 25, 1154. She played a significant role in government and the position of a patron in the development of both troubadour poetry and the Arthurian legends. Not surprisingly, her life with Henry II was stormy (Cavendish, 2002). She was believed to have supported her sons to overthrow their father, Henry II in 1173, which landed herself in the imprisonment by Henry II in England until he passed on in 1189.

            Both her marriages did not end well after much drama and discord. Her first relationship with Louis VII eventually turned sour from the already dubious marriage when she failed to conceive an heir for the king after giving birth to two daughters, Marie and Alix. Her second marriage with Henry II ended in alienation, particularly the hostility between the two due to her influence in her sons' revolts against Henry II.



            After leaving Henry II in 1167, Eleanor of Aquitaine sought to elevate the status of women by putting forward a court of love to educate men on the nature and burgeoning art of love, chivalry and romance.

            Eleanor and her gracious ladies were very bored with raunchy and impetuous men who strutted in from violent settings fighting for their attention, hence the idea of spiritually stimulating men to write poetry, play music, and be romantic. In this fashion, women, who were citizens supposedly inferior to men in medieval society, became teachers and facilitators at the castle of Aquitaine.

            Eleanor’s establishment of the Court of Love had not been able to survive her later capture and imprisonment, which stroke her down all positions of power and influence for the next sixteen years. The early period of her life was significant to history by the name of an atypical character. Her free pursuit of a desirable life was uncommon during those centuries as much was to be considered before going into lighthearted transitions, especially when men held more power than women then.

            Speaking of the ambassador of the courtly love, Eleanor put on a fierce front to fight off the mistress of her husband, though historical facts eventually contradicted the myth. Rosamund Clifford, believed to be the mistress of King Henry II, was forced to choose between the dagger and the bowl of poison by Eleanor who heard the rumors. She chose the latter and died. However, Rosamund died in a nunnery during the period while Eleanor was under imprisonment in Winchester, eventually refuting the myth of Eleanor putting Rosamund to death.



            Queen Eleanor's substantial association in the reigning of King Henry II's prodigious kingdom in France and England was long-lived. Encountering estranged ties with her husband, she stumbled upon captivity and imprisonment by Henry II in 1173. The release of Eleanor after sixteen years was merely begged upon by the dying Young Henry. She reclaimed full freedom from her son Richard I after his ascend to throne upon the death of Henry II.

            Eleanor had since become the dowager queen of England. The period when she struggled with freedom and reclaimed it had proven her success in raising her own children who fought to save their mother, despite her demonstration of minimal regard towards them until they were competent of playing certain political roles.

            When Richard I and Prince John ascended the English throne, Eleanor expressed the most intense passion for them, trying her best to fortify and safeguard their supremacy. They reciprocated in affection towards her by bestowing her higher status at their courts than their consorts had. Her efforts were thus not only seen in political reign or romantic relationships, but also the family ties which was deemed fragile during the period when power was evidently greater than any other ideals.



            By her life’s end, Eleanor of Aquitaine reinforced her children in securing the thrones of every nation in Europe: France, England, Spain, Italy, and Germany — a fairly victorious ending to a highly turbulent life.

            In 1189, Eleanor was stroked by serendipity again upon the accession of Richard I to kingship in England. She constantly interfered in the defense of his lands while he was battling in the Holy Land, and even against her son John. She utilized her significant authority to acquire the ransom for the release of king Richard I, the Lion Heart, upon his imprisonment on the way back to England from Palestine. Her perpetual effort on behalf of her favorite son heightened her prestige as an outstandingly competent legislator.

            Eleanor of Aquitaine granted the sovereignty she wielded to only one of her daughters, Eleanor Plantaganet, who later became Queen Eleanor of Castile and Toledo. Eleanor Plantaganet was granted immediate command over multiple lands, towns, and castles throughout the kingdom. With the power bestowed by her mother, Eleanor Plataganet was almost dominantly on par with Alfonso VIII. Her influence eventually led to Alfonso VIII's order, in his will in 1204, for Eleanor Plantaganet's rule alongside their son after his death.



            Eleanor lived till her eighties and saw the death of three of her sons. The numerous crusades that Eleanor had embarked on made it apparent that crusades were held fairly often at the time. The numerous writings of her incest scandal seemed to imply that incest was common at the time and viewed as a norm.

            Her significance in history was seen through her strong and capable character in providing support for her children to throne as well as effectively maintaining her own land. Not only that, her daring pursuit of courtly love rose to fame as it was unusual in that era but she dignified it in her own way. Before her death, she was a legendary heroine who possessed both political sapience and determination.

         Despite her magnificent history as a legend, the perceptions of historians held biases towards the story of Eleanor. In the years immediately since her death, historians judged Eleanor harshly and emphasized her youth of imprudence while neglecting the political sapience and determination that identified the years of her maturity.

A queen who surpassed almost all the queens of the world.
— Nuns of Fontevrault

            The nuns of Fontevrault, nevertheless, wrote in their necrology, “She was beautiful and just, imposing and modest, humble and elegant.” (Bailey, 2006). On top of that, Bernart de Ventadour, a famous troubadour said to be in love with Eleanor sung the verse, “you have been the first among my joys and you shall be the last, so long as there is life in me.” This verse could represent the extent of Eleanor’s beauty and how much she is being loved by the people in spite of the negative criticism towards her.

            Although Eleanor was adored and admired by her Aquitainian subjects, she did not escape the scrutiny of Northern French as "flamboyant and immoral" during her early years. Regardless of which, she was certainly a legend as "the woman of 12th century Europe".

            In 1204 after she passed on, Eleanor was laid to rest in her favorite religious house "Fontevrault Abbey" near her husband Henry II and son Richard I, while her tomb effigy portrayed her reading a bible and embellished with spectacular jewelry.

 Graves of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England in Fontevraud-l'Abbaye

Graves of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England in Fontevraud-l'Abbaye



*Note for image citations: Click on the images for their respective sources.*

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