Saturday, August 11, 2007

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)

Sierra Club


Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1122 in Bordeaux, France - April 1, 1204 in Fontevrault, Anjou) was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Europe during the Middle Ages.

The eldest of three children, her father was William X, Duke of Aquitaine, and her mother was Aenor Aimery, the daughter of Aimeric I, Vicomte of Chatellerault and a woman named Dangerosa. William and Aenor's marriage had been arranged by his father and her mother, as Dangerosa was the long-time mistress of William IX of Aquitaine, the Troubador. Eleanor was named after her mother and called Alienor, which means "other Aenor", but it became "Eleanor" in English.

She was raised in one of Europe's most cultured courts, the birthplace of Courtly Love, which had been invented by her grandfather. She was highly educated for a woman of the time, and knew how to read, how to speak Latin, was well versed in music and literature, and enjoyed riding, hawking, and hunting. She became heiress to Aquitaine, the largest and richest of the provinces that would become modern France, when her brother, William Aigret, died as a baby.

Duke William X died on Good Friday in 1137, while on a pilgrimage to Spain. At 15 years old, Eleanor was Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right and officially the most eligible heiress in Europe. These were the days when kidnapping an heiress was seen as a viable option for attaining a title, so William wrote up a will on the very day he died instructing that his daughter marry Louis VII of France, the heir to the French throne. The marriage, on July 22, 1137, brought to France the area from the river Loire to the Pyrenees: most of what is today the southwest of France. However, there was a catch: the land would remain independent of France, and Eleanor's eldest son would be both King of France and Duke of Aquitaine. Thus, her holdings would not be merged with France until the next generation. She also gave him a wedding present that is still in existence, a rock crystal vase that is on display at the Louvre. Within a month of their marriage, Louis VI had died, and Eleanor became Queen of France.

Something of a free spirit, Eleanor was not much liked by the staid Northerners (particularly, according to contemporary sources, her mother-in-law), who thought her flighty and a bad influence, and her conduct was repeatedly criticized by Church elders (particularly Bernard of Clairvaux and Abbot Suger) as indecorous. The King himself, on the other hand, was madly in love with his beautiful and worldly wife and granted her every whim. She took part in the Crusades with some female contemporaries, as the feudal leader of the soldiers from her duchy. The story that she and her ladies dressed as Amazons is disputed by serious historians. However her testimonial launch of the Second Crusade from Vezelay, the rumored location of Mary Magdalene's internment, dramatically emphasized the role of women, with her, as the Queen of France, their leader, played in the campaign.

The crusade itself was something of a disaster, both from a military viewpoint and in terms of the personal relationship of the royal couple. From a military standpoint, Louis was a weak and ineffectual military leader with no concept of maintaining troop discipline or morale, or in making informed and logical tactical decisions. The French army was betrayed by Manuel I Comnenus, Emperor of Byzantium, who feared that their militaristic aims would jepordize the tenuous safety of his empire. A particularly poor decision was to camp one night, in hostile territory, in a lush valley surrounded by tall peaks. Predictably, the Turks attacked and slaughtered as many as seven thousand Crusaders. As this decision was made by Eleanor's servant, it was generally believed that it was really her directive. This did nothing for her popularity of Christendom.

Even before the Crusade, Eleanor and Louis were becoming estranged as vigor and piety clashed. While in the Holy Land, she sided with her flamboyant uncle, Raymond of Toulouse (who was rumored to be her lover), in his desire to re-capture the County of Edessa. Louis preferred to visit Jerusalem which eventually led to a debilitating campaign. When Eleanor declared her intention to stand with Raymond, Louis had her brought with him by force. Her imprisonment disheartened her Aquitaine knights and Magdalene followers and the divided Crusade armies could not overcome the Muslim forces. For reasons unknown, the Crusade leaders targeted Damascus, an ally until the attack. Failed, they retired to Jerusalem, and then home.

Perhaps some good came of this venture: while in the eastern Mediterranean, Eleanor learned about maritime conventions developing there that were the beginnings of what would become the field of admiralty law. She later introduced those conventions in her own lands, on the island of Oleron in 1160, and then into England.

When they passed through Rome on the way to Paris, Pope Eugene III tried to reconcile Eleanor and Louis. Eleanor conceived their second daughter, Alix Capet (their first was Marie de Champagne), but there was no saving the marriage. In 1152 it was annulled on the grounds of consanguinity. Her estates reverted to her and were no longer part of the French royal properties.

On May 18, 1152, six weeks after her annullment, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Anjou, by whom she was pregnant with their son, William. She was eleven years older than he, and related to him in the same degree as she had been to Louis. One of Eleanor's rumored lovers was Henry's own father, Geoffrey of Anjou, whom, not surprisingly, advised him not to get involved with her. Over the next 13 years, she bore Henry four more sons and three daughters: Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, Matilda, Eleanor, and Joan.

Despite her reputation (which all the historical evidence shows was probably deserved), Eleanor was incensed by Henry's philandering; their son, William, and Henry's bastard son, Geoffrey, were born months apart. In 1173, he took up with his great love, Rosamund Clifford, and supposedly contemplated divorcing Eleanor. When Rosamund died in 1176, rumours flew that Eleanor poisoned her, but there is no evidence to support this.

Eleanor was also annoyed by Henry's attempts to control her patrimony of Aquitaine and her court at Poitiers. Some time between 1168 and 1173, she instigated a separation, deciding that, from that point on, she would remain in her own territory of Poitou, where she developed the Court of Love, while Henry concentrated on controlling his increasingly large empire. A small fragment of her codes and practices were written by Andreas Capellanus.

In 1173, aggrieved at his lack of power and egged on by his father's enemies, the younger Henry launched the Revolt of 1173-1174, joined by Richard and Geoffrey, and supported by several powerful English barons as well as Louis VII and William I of Scotland. When Eleanor tried to join them, she was intercepted and Henry, who put down the rebellion, imprisoned her for the next 15 years. A considerable amount of her imprisonment was in various locations in England. About four miles from Shrewsbury and close by Haughmond Abbey is "Queen Eleanor's Bower", the remains of a triangular castle which is believed may have been one of her prisons.

In 1183, Henry the Young tried again. In debt, refused control of Normandy, he tried to ambush his father at Limoges, joined by troops sent by Geoffrey and Philip II of France. Henry's troops besiege the town, forcing his son to flee. Henry the Young wandered aimlessly through Aquitaine until he caught dysentery and died. The rebellion petered out.

Upon Henry's death in 1189, she helped Richard inherit the throne and he released his mother from prison. She ruled England as Regent while Richard went off to the Crusades. She survived him and lived long enough to see her youngest son John on the throne.

Eleanor died in 1204 and was entombed in Fontevraud Abbey near her husband Henry and Richard. Her tomb effigy shows her reading a Bible. She was the patroness of such literary figures as Wace, Benoit de Sainte-More, and Cretien de Troyes.


Eleanor of Aquitaine, Duchess of Aquitaine. Eleanor was born in 1122, at Chateau de Belin, Guinne, France. She acceded on 19 Dec, 1154. She died on 1 April 1204. She is interred at Fontevraud Abbey, Maine-et-Loire, France. Other sources say she died 26 Jun 1202 and she was born Chateau de Belin. Her father was William X the Toulousan of Aquitaine, Duke of Aquitaine, b. 1099. Her mother was de Rochefoucauld, Eleanor Chatellerault, b. 1103. She married Capet, Louis VII the Younger of France, King of France on 22 Jul 1137, at Bordeaux Cathedral, Bordeaux, France. That marriage was annuled in 1152. She bore two children from that marriage: Capet, Mary of France, b. 1145; and Capet, Alisa, b. 1150.

She remarried on 18 May 1152 to FitzEmpress, Henry II Curtmantle, King of England at Bordeaux Cathedral, Bordeaux, France. They had eight children: William, Count of Poitiers, b. 17 Aug 1152; Henry the Young King, King of England, b. 28 Feb 1155; Matilda (Maud), b. Jun 1156; Richard I Coeur de Lion, King of England, b. 8 Sep 1157; Plantagenet, Geoffrey II of Bretagne, Duke of Brittany, b. 23 Sep 1158; Plantagenet, Eleanor, b. 13 Oct 1162; Plantagenet, Joan, b. Oct 1165; and John I Lackland, King of England, b. 24 Dec 1167. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Eleanor of Aquitaine and Royal Genealogy at Univ. of Hull]


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