Eleanor of Aquitaine After The Crusades

 

Eleanor of Aquitaine  lived until her eighties, becoming one  of the greatest political powers and most wealthy land owners of medieval Europe. Eleanor was wealthy because she was heiress of the duchy of Aquitaine, one of the largest and richest fiefs in Europe. Aquitaine was like a separate nation with lands extending in south-western France from the river Loire to the Pyrenees. Here Eleanor's court was a trend setter in the medieval world, known for its sophistication and luxury. 

 

During Eleanor's  adventures on the Second Crusade, it became apparent that her marriage with dour, King Louis VII of France was ill matched. The marriage was annulled on a technicality, and Eleanor left her two daughters by him to be raised in the French court. Within a short time Eleanor threw herself into a new marriage (a stormy one),  to Henry of Anjou. Henry was an up and coming prince, eleven years younger than Eleanor. Their temperaments as well as their wealth in land were well matched; her new husband became Henry II king of England in 1154.

For the next thirteen years Eleanor had constantly bore children, eventually having five sons and three daughters. (William, Henry, Richard I "the Lionheart", Geoffrey, John "Lackland", Mathilda, Eleanor, and Joan).  Richard and John became, in turn, kings of England. Henry was given the title "the young king" by his father, although father Henry still ruled. Through tough fighting and some clever alliances, and with a large family of  children, Henry and Eleanor created an impressive empire.  As well, Eleanor was an independent ruler in her own right since she had inherited the huge Duchy of Aquitaine and Poitiers from her father when she was 15.

However all was not well between Henry and Eleanor. When her older sons were of age, her estrangement. from her husband grew. In 1173 she led her three of her sons in a rebellion against Henry, surprising him with this act of aggression. In the medieval period especially, this was very unusual for a woman. In Eleanor's eyes it was justified. After two decades of child bearing, putting up with Henry's infidelities, strongly disagreeing with some of his decisions, and, worst of all, having to share her independence and power, Eleanor may have hoped that the prize of her rebellion would have been the right to rule Aquitaine with her beloved third son Richard, and without Henry. The rebellion was put down, however, and fifty-year-old Eleanor was imprisoned by Henry in various fortified buildings for the next fifteen years.

In 1189, Henry died. On the accession of her son Richard I to kingship, Eleanor's fortunes rose again. She ruled England from 1190 to 1194 when Richard was fighting in the Holy Land, and when on his way home he was captured and held for ransom - which she raised for his release. In Richard's absence she repeatedly had to defend his possessions. Her fame as an extremely able politician with a real thirst for power grew.

Eleanor travelled constantly, even in her old age. Running from one end of Europe to another, she often risked her life in her efforts to maintain the loyalty of the English subjects, cement marriage alliances, and manage her army and estates. By this time she had many grandchildren, earning Eleanor the title of "Grandmother of Europe." 

One of her acts was to travel to Spain to chose and collect her thirteen year old grand daughter Blanche of Castile to become the bride of Louis VIII of France, the grandson of her first husband Louis VII! Blanche eventually proved a rival to Eleanor in political influence and success as queen of France. Eleanor also, when almost seventy, rode over the Pyrenees to collect her candidate to be Richard's wife, (Berengaria, the daughter of King Sancho the Wise of Navarre). She then traversed the Alps, travelling all the way down the Italian peninsula, to bring Berengaria to Richard in Sicily.

Eleanor died in 1204 at her favourite religious house, the abbey of Fontevrault, where she had retreated to find peace during various moments of the life.

Fontevrault

A religious community where older aristocratic women and ill-used wives came to recover their self-respect and find sympathy and spiritual comfort.

"You have been the first among my joys and you shall be the last, so long as there is life in me."

Verse sung by Bernart de Ventadour, a famous
troubadour said to be in love with Eleanor.

 

estrangement  distance, souring of relations, loss of friendship Back

alliances  relations and agreements Back

 Fiefs feudal lands; this is the same name as given to the persons who worked it ( the fiefs) who were also considered to be owned Back

Dour:  grumpy, severe, sad Back

Temperaments personality, attitudes, typical ways of reacting Back

Infidelities sex outside of marriage agreement  Back

Accession rise to, taking up of Back

 

Bibliography:

Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen, Dorsett Press, 1978.

Andrea Hopkins, Most Wise & Valliant Ladies, Collins & Brown, 1997.

Marion Mead, Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography, Penguin, 1992.

Tim Newark, Women Warlords, Blandford Press, UK, 1989.

Dominion & Domination

Women in World History

Adapted with kind permission from Lynn Reese

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