Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine, (also called Eleanor of Guyenne, French Éléonore or Aliénor, d’Aquitaine or de Guyenne) Duchess of Aquitaine, Queen of France and later Queen of England and Queen Regent, she was just a bit of a powerful woman, was born about 1124 in Poitiers, France to William X and Aenor de Châtellerault. When Eleanor was about six her mother and brother died leaving her heir to the Duchy of Aquitaine and Poitou, combined they equaled about a third of modern France. She was very well educated, she learned arithmetic, the constellations, and history as well as household skills such as spinning, needlepoint, singing, music, embroidery, sewing and weaving. She was a good conversationalist and played backgammon, chess and and checkers, she learned to dance and play the harp. She could read and write in her native Poitevin and Latin. She was skilled in riding horses, hunting and hawking. Definitely a medieval catch.
Her father, William, knew that leaving a young female heir could be dangerous to her health sited in his will that upon his death she and her sister, Aelith, should fall under the guardianship of Louise VI of France. While on a pilgrimage to Shrine of Saint James of Compostela in 1137 he died on Good Friday (April 9th). By this time Louise VI was deathly ill as well but he did have a son who a marriage match hadn’t been made for, Prince Louise who had become heir apparent after his brother had been killed in a riding accident. So what is a dying king to do with a wealthy, orphaned ward and an unbethrothed son? Oh yeah, get them hitched. Within hours of him hearing of William’s death Louise had then betrothed, and started wedding arrangements.
“On 25 July 1137 Louis VII of France and Eleanor were married in the Cathedral of Saint-André in Bordeaux by the Archbishop of Bordeaux.” 1 But within days of the marriage they went from Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine to King and Queen of the Franks with a coronation on Christmas Day of that year. Louise adored his wife and did everything possible to make her comfortable even though his mother and many nobles and clergy disliked her. “Eleanor of Aquitaine is said to be responsible for the introduction of built-in fireplaces, first used when she renovated the palace of her first husband Louis in Paris. Shocked by the frigid north after her upbringing in southern France, Eleanor’s innovation spread quickly, transforming the domestic arrangements of the time.”2
In 1141 Louis managed to vex Pope Innocent II by not accepting Pierre de la Chatre as Archbishopric of Bourges. Since William had similarly refused to acknowledge bishops during his time Innocent blamed Eleanor for this behavior and called Louis a child, which of course, did not go over well with the King. De la Chatre was given refuge by Theobald II, Count of Champagne (another of my ancestors). This started a war between them. Louise permitted Raoul I, Count of Vermandois, the seneschal of France to deny his wife, Eléonore of Blois who was Theobald’s sister and marry Aelith instead. This got Raoul and Aelith excommunicated. The war ended after Louis was personally responsible for killing thousands in a church during the burning of Vitry. They also made peace with the Archbishop and to attune for his sins Louis pledge to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. On Christmas Day 1145 he declared he was going on a crusade. Eleanor, her ladies in waiting and 300 non-noble vassals joined him. When the head of the vanguard chose not to listen to Louis’ order on where to the Turks many blamed Eleanor because he was her vassal and because much of the baggage was hers and her ladies’ attacked stop and them. This was not a good time for the couple and the crusade itself if considered a failure. It is also when Eleanor first brought up divorce, she said that they were too closely related, which was the only cause for divorce in this era.
They two sailed for home on separate ships and due to storms they lost each other. When Eleanor arrived back in Europe she learned that they were presumed dead. She went to the pope to plead for an annulment but he would not allow it and forced them to try for a son on a bed he personally made. She conceived, another daughter. On March 11, 1152 the annulment was allowed. The daughters were left with Louis.
On her way back to her own lands Theobald V, Count of Blois, and Geoffrey, Count of Nantes tried to kidnap her to marry her to gain her lands. She sent for help to their brother Henry, Duke of Normandy (he became King October 25, 1154) by requesting that he marry her. He did, on May 18, 1152 even though the pair were even more closely related than she was to Louis. They were not a happy couple, but happy enough to have eight children. In 1168 she went back to her home in Poitiers.
In 1173 when Henry III rose up against his father and ran to France with two of his younger brothers, Eleanor was accused of being the cause. Sometime that spring Henry had Eleanor arrested but did not publicize it until July 8, 1174 when she was imprisoned in either to Winchester Castle or Sarum Castle. She spent the next 16 years confined to various castles with limited access to her children. When Henry III died there was dispute as to who inherited his property in Normandy, Eleanor or his widow, Marguerite, sister to King Philip of France (yes, we did meet him earlier through his daughter). Henry II sent Eleanor to Normandy where she stayed for several months. After this time they seemed to reconcile though she still had a keeper. When Henry died on July 6, 1189, their son Richard sent for her. While he was in the Third Crusade she acted as Regent for him and when he was captured she personally went to Germany to have him ransomed. (Yes, Robin Hood fans Richard was captured during a crusade and yes, John ruled after him but not in his place.)
When Richard died and John became king. In 1199, at 77 years old, she was sent to pick one of John’s neices (her granddaughters by her daughter Eleanor of Castile) to marry Phillip II’s son, Louis. While on the trip she was kidnapped by Hugh IX of Lusignan, who wanted lands back that were sold to Henry II, which she agreed to to gain her freedom. She picked her granddaughter Blanche and on the way home they were attacked and her escort was murdered. It was too much for the Queen and once they reached Loire, she handed her granddaughter over to Archbishop of Bordeaux. Eleanor stayed Fontevraud.
When war broke out in 1201 between John and Queen Eleanor’s (his sister) grandson, Arthur I, Duke of Brittany, Eleanor declared her support for her son leading her grandson to beseige her castle at Mirebeau. John rescued her and arrested his nephew. At this point Eleanor became a nun.
She died in 1204 and is buried next to her husband and Richard at Fontevraud Abbey, she outlived all of her children but John and Eleanor.