Eleanor of Aquitaine - a queen twice over
Books about Eleanor of Aquitaine
The life of Eleanor of Aquitaine certainly reads like a bestselling book. Eleanor was one of the most interesting, powerful and well known women of the Middle Ages.
During her long life she married two powerful kings, went on crusade, acted as a Queen Regent, became a rebel and was said to have had numerous affairs and relationships with some of the most powerful men of her age.
First some background about Eleanor of Aquitaine - note this may give away plotlines of some of the books described below. If you don't want to read this bit, then please scroll down to the next section.
Here are some basic facts about Eleanor's life.
At the age of just 15, she inherited the Duchy of Aquitaine in France. The lands were the equivalent of around half of modern day France and bought with them enormous wealth. On top of her wealth and youth, she was also regarded as one of the most elegant and beautiful women of her age. All of this made her the "most eligible bride in Europe." Hardly surprising then that the king of France wanted her to be his daughter in law and a marriage was arranged.
So soon after she became Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor married Louis VII, the son of King Louis VI of France. It was not long however, until her father in law passed away and Eleanor's husband ascended the throne. Thus Eleanor became queen.
Eleanor grew up having the best that her society could offer. She was well educated, sophisticated and developed a love of the arts. Louis VII was regarded as being deeply in love with Eleanor during the early years of their marriage.
From a political standpoint Eleanor's marriage may have been profitable. However, from Eleanor's personal point of view her marriage was not a successful one. Louis VII was extremely religious and according to a famous aside supposedly uttered by Eleanor, better suited to the priesthood than kingship. Eleanor is famously recorded as saying, she was married to a monk and not a king.
On the other hand, Eleanor's high spirited conduct was repeatedly criticised by church figures. These same church figures had great influence over the king who was very pious. Despite this, in their early phase of their marriage Louis adored Eleanor. But after several years of marriage the couple had produced only one daughter thus failing medieval expectations of the primary role of a queen - that of producing a male heir and a subsequent nursery of royal princes and princesses.
Eleanor accompanied her husband on the disastrous second Crusade. For various reasons during this time, the marriage became intolerable for Eleanor.
When Louis VII and Eleanor returned from the Crusade, Eleanor scandalised Europe by requesting a divorce. Particularly amazing that Eleanor even considered doing this in an age where women were considered the property of their husbands. Wives were supposed to do what their husbands told them to do.
However, the Pope encouraged the couple to reconcile and during this time Eleanor and Louis VII conceived another daughter.
Despite this marriage problems continued. Eventually the marriage was annulled on the grounds of consanguinity.
During this time, as throughout her life, Eleanor suppossedly had affairs with a range of powerful men. However, this is probably rumour and innuendo put about by her enemies. In the medieval world female promiscuity was one of the worst sins.
Shortly after the annulment Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet. The marriage allowed Eleanor to gain a powerful protector, which she desperately needed following her divorce. She had made a lot of enemies. Henry gained a wife with extremely wealthy and strategic land holdings.
The marriage also shocked much of Europe and scandalised the French court.
Henry was the Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and claimant to the English throne. Shortly after their marriage Henry led a succesful attempt to become King of England. During their long marriage, Henry and Eleanor had eight children together. This was in great contrast to her first marriage which was considered a failure because it did not produce any male heirs. Amongst Henry and Eleanor's children were the future King John and King Richard the Lionheart of Robin Hood fame.
Henry and Eleanor's marriage was both passionate and turbulent. They ruled an Empire that spanned parts of France, England, Wales and Scotland. They were very supportive of each other for many years. Their court celebrations were known to be luxurious and fun loving.
However, eventually the family became victims of their own success. Their sons grew up and demanded a share of Henry and Eleanor's empire.
In the later years of their marriage Eleanor supported their sons in a rebellion against their father.
Henry and Eleannor became estranged, and Henry imprisoned Eleanor, although it seems he could not bring himself to divorce her. On Henry's death their son Richard Lionheart inherited the throne. Eleanor acted as Queen Regent for him when Richard went on Crusade.
Eleanor outlived her son Richard and lived to see her son John take the throne. In her old age she retired from public life and became a nun.
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Books about Eleanor of Aquitaine
Captive Queen is written by Alison Weir, a well respected historian who has started to now write fiction. This book focuses on Eleanor's relationship with Henry, her second husband.