Friday, June 1, 2007

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine
Duchess of Aquitaine, Queen of France, Queen of England

Eleanor was born (c.1121/1122) at Bordeaux. She was the daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou (d.1137). She spent much of her youth in Aquitaine, becoming an educated young woman. It was here that she learned what became the beginnings of the "courtly love" through the songs and such from her troubadour father. After the death of her father, Eleanor became heiress to the vast Duchy of Aquitaine.

Eleanor also came to the attention of a great number of men eager to become her husband (and mostly likely attain her wealth). This problem was solved when she was married (her first of two) to King Louis VII of France(1137). By Louis Eleanor had two daughters, including Margaret of France.

Tiring quickly of Louis' rather over-pious lifestyle, she was greatly enthused when the Crusades were announced. She gathered about her her own army from Aquitaine, and with her numerous attendant ladies, Eleanor accompanied Louis on the Crusade (c.1147/1148). After a debacle on the battlefield in which she was involved with her part of the crusader army, she was rather glad to reach Antioch where her uncle Raymond of Poitiers was Prince. Eleanor met the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus, and was welcomed by Queen Melisende of Jerusalem.

The crusade was a failure (Louis of course blamed Eleanor) and she was sent home in disgrace. Eleanor and Louis were divorced soon after their arrival back in France. Eleanor met and fell in love with Henry FitzEmpress - Henry Plantagenet (12 years her junior). Her marriage to Louis, all over bar the shouting, was annulled - they were fourth cousins (1152). After two attempted abductions, one by Henry's younger brother Geoffrey and one by the brothers Lusignan, Eleanor married (2) Henry at Bordeaux, six weeks after her divorce was granted - she was already five months pregnant (18/5/1152). Marriage to Eleanor made Henry Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Lord of Aquitaine. After the devastating English civil war and the death of King Stephen, Henry was made King of England (1154). Eleanor's first son by Henry, William, was born in Normandy and brought to England. Eleanor was then crowned at Westminster Abbey.

Eleanor was never popular with the English as she considered a foreigner. Tragedy followed - her son William died (he was buried near his great-grandfather Henry I). More children followed: daughter Matilda, sons Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, daughters Eleanor, Joanna: Matilda to marry French prince, Richard to princess Alys of France, Joanna to King of Sicily, Geoffrey betrothed to Constance of Brittany, Eleanor to the King of Castile. Eleanor supervised the education of her children and saw to their advantageous marriages. Her son Henry was crowned the "Young King" in father's lifetime. Eleanor regarded Richard (her favourite and perhaps the most like her of all her children) as her heir in Aquitaine and he was made Duke.

Eleanor encouraged her sons to rebel against their father, as she was, by now, fed up with Henry's infidelities. Her conspiracy against Henry was discovered and she was confined to "house arrest" at Winchester (1173 - 1189) when aged 67. Following the death of Young King Henry (c.1183), and of King Henry II (1189), Richard became King of England. Eleanor was released from her imprisonment and became trusted advisor to Richard. It was Eleanor who negotiated with Navarre for marriage between Princess Berengaria and Richard. Eleanor conducted bride-to-be to Sicily, but was unable to follow Richard on Third Crusade, and so returned to England to govern in Richard absence - son John was behaving rather treacherously. When Richard was taken prisoner returning from the crusade, Eleanor organised the raising of his ransom, and saw Richard freed and recrowned.

Eleanor outlived Richard by five years. She took no part of the government of England under her son King John, but retired to Aquitaine. From her homeland, Eleanor arranged the marriage of granddaughter Blanche of Castile to the grandson of Louis VII (1200). Eleanor died (1/4/1204) at Fontervault Abbey, which she had continuously patronised, and was subsequently buried there.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening. I've always admired Eleanor.