Wealthy & Powerful Women of the Western World - A Series: Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor's Early Years
Eleanor was born in 1122 (the exact date of her birth is unknown) the eldest of three children to William X, Duke of Aquitaine (1099-1137), and his wife Aénor of Châtellerault (c. 1103-1130). Thus, her mother died when she was just a child and her father when she was just in adolescence Three months after her father's death, this young duchess, the most marriageable and richest young woman married Prince Louis of France on July 25, 1137. In a week Louis's father Louis VI of France died, whereupon Louis became King Louis VI of France and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitane, became his consort queen.
The Marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France
Eleanor's Years as Queen of France
Several years into her reign as queen, Pope Eugene II announced the need for a holy Crusade to recapture lands won in the First Crusade which had been recaptured by the Ottomans. The leaders chosen for this Crusade were Conrad III of Germany and the young King Louis VII of France. The young Queen of France decided to accompany her husband. On March 31, 1146, Louis VII and Eleanor prostrated themselves before Bernard of Clairvaux, an abbot and later Doctor of the Church who had been chosen by Pope Eugene III to preach to those going forth on the Crusade, and received the pilgrims cross.
The Second Crusade was mainly unsuccessful and by the time of its conclusion it appeared that the marriage of Louis and Eleanor was an unhappy one. Eleanor appealed to Pope Eugene III for an annulment stating that their marriage should not have been permitted due to their blood line relationship. Eleanor's position in her appeal to the Pope was a weak one and it was refused. However, in 1152, after a fifteen year marriage to Louis which had resulted in the birth of two girls, but no male heir to the throne of France, Louis consented to the annulment and her marriage was terminated.
Eleanor's Wedding Gift to Her First Husband, King Louis VII of France
King Henry II of England
Marriage to Henry II
Her marriage to Louis VII was annulled on March 11, 1152 and very soon after on May 18th of she married Henry who at that time was Duke of Normandy.
Over the next thirteen years she would give birth to eight children, five boys and three girls. Her first child, William died when he was two years old. Henry, her second child was crowned King of England during his father's lifetime (a practice which had been carried out both in France and England) he however predeceased his father Henry. Matilda, her third child became Duchess of Saxony. Her fourth child went on to become King of England, the famous Richard the Lionheart (Richard I). Next was Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany. Followed by Eleanor, who became Queen of Castile and was one of the two children who survived her mother. Joan, who became Queen Consort of Sicily and when widowed, remarried and became Countess of Toulouse. Finally, her youngest and one who would remain close to throughout her life, King John I, who did survive her and is most famous for being force to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.
Her marriage to Henry has been reported to be somewhat argumentative and tumultuous. Both were strong willed people as history records. Henry was not always the faithful husband and sired a number of illegitimate children.Eleanor seems to have taken an ambivalent attitude towards these affairs. In fact one of Henry' s illegitimate children, Geoffrey, who was to become Archbishop of York, was raised in her care.
It was politics, and not their personal relationship which caused her undoing In 1173, the young King Henry took up a revolt against his father. Richard and Geoffrey (her son) were living with Eleanor and were perhaps influenced to join the revolt. When Henry II was successful in quelling it in
Sometime in late spring 1174, Eleanor left her capital city of Poitiers and was arrested and sent to Rouen where Henry II was based. The arrest was kept quiet and it was not widely know where she was. It was only after they had crossed the English Channel from Balfleur to Southampton that her arrest was made know. In that way Henry had avoided any opportunity to gain her freedom while still in France.
Years of Imprisonment (1174-1189)
Once in England, Eleanor would spend the next fifteen years imprisoned by Henry. The location where she was kept varied over the years. She was not permitted much access to her children except for holidays and state occasions when she was allowed to return to court. This isolation from her family and children made her grow distant.
Her release from imprisonment only came about due to Henry's death in July 1189. Her son Richard, the undisputed heir to the throne, in one of his initial acts as king sent authorities from his court to have her released, but Eleanor had already escaped.
Eleanor Becomes Regent of England
A month after Henry's death, August 1189, King Richard set sail to lead the Third Crusade. Eleanor now in her late sixties was left as regent in his absence. The Crusade ended in a truce in September 1192, but on the return trip to England, Richard was taken prisoner and held for ransom. Eleanor, herself was responsible for negotiating his ransom by making a trip to Germany to achieve the terms. It was however not until February of 1194 that Richard returned to England.
Eleanor's Work is Not Finished - Travel to Spain
Her regency had ended, but not her life's work. Rich died and was succeeded by her son John. In 1199, at seventy-seven years of age she was asked to travel to Castile to pick a suitable bride for one of John's nephews. This arranged marriage was part of the conditions for maintaining the peace between Spain and England.She was ambushed on route and held captive until she agreed to terms regarding a land dispute between England and a French nobleman, Hugh IX of Lusignan. She would not arrive in Castile until January 1200.
Departing the Spanish court in March 1200, the entourage with the intended bride traveled north. Eleanor was exhausted by here travels. Eleanor left the party and remained at Fontevraud Abbey. She would not later take the habit of a nun there.
Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England
King John I of England Signing the Magna Carta
Eleanor's Final Years
Eleanor in her final years was not well but her battles we not over. War broke out between her son John, now king of England Philip, Eleanor declared her support for John, and set out from Fontevraud where she had been living to her capital Poitiers to prevent her grandson Arthur from defeating John. Arthur sought her capture but she was rescued by John. She then returned to Fontevraud.
Eleanor died in 1204 and was entombed in Fontevraud Abbey, where she had taken the veil as a num, next to her husband Henry and her son Richard. My the time of her death, this mother of ten, had outlived all of her children John of England and Eleanor of Castile.
Location of Fontevraud Abbey near Saumur in Anjou, France
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