This month we have been given the challenge of writing about a person or event that has rarely been discussed on this blog. I have decided to do some research into Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Eleanor of Aquitaine is an interesting woman to read about. The Queen of both France and England and mother to one of the most memorable medieval kings, Richard I. Eleanor, also known as Eleanora, was born in 1122 and died at the age of 82 in 1204 towards the end of the Fourth Crusade. Eleanor became Duchess at the age of 14 after her father gave his life to defend the Holy Land and her grandfather, Duke William, announced his decision to abdicate on her birthday.
Although the exact details concerning her rise to power aren’t clear it is known that she married the heir to the French throne, Louis-the-Younger, while she was still considered a child. It was not long after they were crowned Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine Louis’ father Louis-the-Elder was dying. Some sources suggest they arrived in Paris just in time to hear his dying words. These last words seemed to encourage Louis to become a pious king. After Louis VI’s death the new King and Queen entered the capital and immediately came across trouble when Eleanor allegedly tried to force kinsmen to pledge fealty to her.
The marriage between Eleanor and Louis VII didn’t last, after the disastrous Second Crusade their marriage was ended, on account of them being fourth cousins. The reason behind the divorce tends to change from source to source, some say that Louis asked for it as Eleanor hadn’t given him an heir while others state that Eleanor asked for the divorce because Louis began to distrust her and tried to control her actions.
Not long after the divorce Eleanor left for Aquitaine, but before she arrived she was offered marriage proposals from two different men, one of which believed he could force Eleanor into accepting. Eleanor managed to escape these men and returned to the safety of her own dominion. Within two months of the divorce Eleanor married Prince Henry of England, without the consent of Louis who was Eleanor’s feudal suzerain. Both Louis and Stephen of England were furious, but Eleanor and Henry now controlled half of France and could not be forced to answer to Stephen or Louis.
Eleanor soon gave birth to their first son, William, in Normandy and Henry was equipped to attempt to take control of England. Henry succeeded and after Stephen’s death they were crowned King and Queen of England. Henry was often abroad fighting wars, leaving Eleanor behind as Queen Regent. Eleanor was able to form close bonds with their children; William, who died in childbirth, Henry, Matilda, Richard, Geoffrey, Johanna and John. These bonds became important to Henry later on, who began to believe that Eleanor was working with his sons to overthrow him.
Henry planned out futures for his children, arranging various and powerful marriages. However, these plans didn’t come to fruition as he became paranoid and refused to give his children the power that accompanied their various position. This led to several plots to overthrow him, leading Henry to rightly believe that Eleanor was helping them. After several years, when Richard was older he took up arms against his father, supported by his mother, Eleanor. Eventually Henry II died, and Richard became king, his older brothers having previously died. However with the attack on Christendom in the Holy Lands Richard I left England in the control of his mother, who was now 70 years old.
Eleanor ruled England for some time, keeping the peace somewhat, but decided to spend the end of her days in a convent. She lived to be 82 years old, describing herself as ‘Eleanora, by the wrath of God Queen of England’.
If you would like to read some more into Eleanor of Aquitaine I would suggest E. Thornton Cook’s Her Majesty: The Romance of the Queens of England and C.A. Bloss’s Heroines of the Crusades.