Women of Royalty
Eleanor of Aquitaine
     Eleanor was born into the ruling family of the duchy of Aquitaine, a large province that covered most of western France, its borders stretching from the shores of the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic to the Pyrenees Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea. Aquitaine was a cultured center, much ahead of its time compared to the other French duchies and cities, who still lived in a medieval world. Aquitaine was also the largest of the French duchies, the prize of Western Europe. Because of this, France was determined to add  Aquitaine to its empire. Eleanor's family had ruled Aquitaine since Ranulf I, Duke of Poitiers, first held the title from 841-867. The title was passed down hereditarily through the family, to Eleanor's father, William, in 1127. 
William was born in 1099 to Duke William IX of Aquitaine and his second wife, Philipa de Rouerque. William IX was famous across the continent for his scandalous behavior. He was what became known as a 'troubadour'. While France lived in a dark age, William turned Aquitaine into a land of culture and beauty. The court of his Aquitanian duchy became a center for artists, poets, musicians, singers, and writers. He also introduced a very sexual lifestyle to Aquitaine, reflecting his own ostentatious sex life. He married his first wife, Ermengarde, while still a young teenager, and had the marriage annulled, an action that shocked Europe. He took on William X's mother, Philipa de Rouerque, after her husband, the king of Aragon, died. Not soon after, he discarded Philipa and took on a mistress, a woman named called Dangereuse de Chatellerault in some sources. Dangereuse was already married, but William abducted her and brought her to live in Aquitaine. She had a daughter named Aenor (Provencal for Eleanor), who William decided to marry to his son, William X. However, William had a lover, a woman named Emma. The daughter of Viscount Aymar of Lymoges, Emma was abducted before she and William could marry, and was forced to wed the Duke of Angouleme. Although William refused, the marriage took place, probably around 1120, when Aenor was only 17. About a year or two later, the couple celebrated a healthy daughter, Alienor (Eleanor). However, this girl was not the heir Aquitaine needed. Three years, in 1125, Aenor gave birth to another child, a girl named Aelith, known more widely as Petronilla. Finally, in 1126, a male heir to be the next duke of Aquitaine was born, named William Aigret. William also had two illegitimate sons, William and Joscelin.
The next year, in 1127, Duke William IX of Aquitaine died, leaving his son, William X, as the next duke of Aquitaine. William and his family ruled the large duchy from their castle at Poitiers, although they vacationed at castles by the sea such as Talmont and in the lush valleys of Bordeaux.
Sadly, tragedy struck the family in 1130. Aenor of Chatellerault died at the age of 27, as did William Aigret, at the age of 4. The circumstances of their deaths are unknown, but they both probably suffered from tuberculosis. Widowed, William now had his two daughters, Eleanor and Petronilla. This brought up talk of a possible female succession, and William decided to name Eleanor as his heir, to become the Duchess of Aquitaine, the first and only woman to rule the duchy in her own right. Eleanor and Petronilla grew up together as both sisters and friends. They did not have female friends except for their ladies-in-waiting, who preferred gossip compared to the activities that Eleanor and Petronilla loved. The two loved to play and frollic, and also to take part in their father's festivities. Duke William X, like his infamous father, continued to lead Aquitaine in its age of literature, music, and art. Eleanor developed a love of the arts in her childhood, surrounded by them at court. Not only did Eleanor become an excellent poet and writer, but she also recieved a thorough education as preparation for her future role as the duchess of Aquitaine. She travelled the duchy with her father, visiting her future lands and forming a very close relationship with her father.
Duke William X, while leading a life of art and luxury, had dishonored the church in doing so, and in the early 1130's, the church broke off relations with William and Aquitaine. In 1137, William attempted to bring the church back to Aquitaine, and becoming a new man of humility, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a place of worship to Saint James the Greater. Eleanor had no idea that when she bid him farewell she would never see him again. 
Duchess of Aquitaine
     In the summer of 1137, Eleanor received news that her father was dead, having suffered from food poisoning, and that she was the Duchess of Aquitaine. Before he had died, William had declared King Louis VI of France Eleanor's protector should the event arise of William's death. A few of William's loyal knights set out to inform Louis VI of William's death. Louis, upon hearing of the unfortunate loss, hatched an excellent plan. Aquitaine had always been the prize of Europe, a fine cultured center. What better to with his protection of the young duchess than marry her to his son and add Aquitaine to the French kingdom?
Back in Aquitaine, Eleanor was being urged to marry, as the many lords of Aquitaine were greedy men and would attempt to rape Eleanor and marry her so that they could take control of Aquitaine. And so Eleanor agreed to marry King Louis' son, the dauphin, Louis, in the summer of 1137. The two were wed in Bordeaux by Geoffrey du Loroux, and upon the agreement, Eleanor was the sole ruler of Aquitaine, Louis as her consort, and in the course of her death, he would inherit it. The titles upon the wedding day they received were: Duchess and Duke of Aquitaine, Count and Countess of Poitou, and Eleanor was declared the Princess Royal of France. Upon their wedding day, Louis and Eleanor learned that her father's enemies planned to crash the wedding banquet and steal off with Eleanor. After their wedding, the couple escaped to Eleanor's father's faithful knight, Macabru's, castle at Taillebourg, while their wedding guests feasted in Bordeaux. A week after their marriage, on August 1, 1137, King Louis VI died of dysentery. Louis was now King Louis VII of France. Eleanor was now a queen. 
Queen Eleanor
     In four months, Eleanor had become both the duchess of Aquitaine and the queen of France. Upon hearing the news of his father's death, Louis set out to attend the funeral mass for his father and Eleanor set out for Paris, where he would catch up with her. Eleanor found Paris horrible. Used to the lush valleys of Bordeaux, the beautiful coastlines, and Poitiers, Eleanor found Paris bleak, gray, and in a horrible state. It was barely a city, with houses built upon houses. The university was an embarrassment, and although many praised the royal castle on the Ile de la Cite (Island of the City) stranded on the Seine, Eleanor found it as bad as the city. A dark stone building, it was dour and plain. Obviously she had work to do in Paris.
Upon Louis' arrival, Eleanor realized how different she was from her husband. Louis was a quiet man, who was easily controlled and very saint. Eleanor was no saint. She was high-spirited and raucous, and took on her role as queen seriously. She began by transforming Paris into the city it was always rumored to be, a city of art and beauty. She brought her Aquitanian heritage with her and introduced the Parisians to her beautiful culture. Meanwhile, as Eleanor draped the city in art and literature, Louis was being deeply affected by the words of one Thierry of Galeran, a Frenchman turned eunuch upon his capture in the East. Thierry deeply disapproved of Eleanor, calling her a whore for her un-saintly behavior and her work heresy. Nonetheless, Eleanor continued to turn the dark and meager city into a thriving art community. Louis on the other hand was very vulnerable, and Thierry convinced him that Eleanor had lovers and that her influence upon Paris would lead the people to her heretic ways. Louis had Eleanor spied on, but Eleanor could play Louis' game. She befriended the Abbot Suger, an aged man who was a good friend and adviser to Louis' father, King Louis VI. Abbot Suger had accompanied Louis VII to Bordeaux upon his marriage to Eleanor, and Suger was deeply in favor of the marriage. He and Eleanor became good friends, and Suger, an architect, consulted Eleanor often on his designs and plans, such as for new ideas for churches and the university. But Eleanor sensed what Suger really wanted to talk about, which was Eleanor producing an heir to the French throne. Eleanor and Louis' marriage had yet to be consummated, and although the couple was still young, an heir was needed. Besides Suger's urgings for an heir, Eleanor also was under the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, a saintly man and miracle worker. Eleanor had suffered a miscarriage and Bernard of Clairvaux convinced her that she had lost the child because her actions had offended God. Eleanor attempted to mend her ways and although Thierry deeply warned Louis of Eleanor's 'witchcraft' and her heresy, Louis and Eleanor consummated their marriage and Eleanor was with child in 1145. That same year she gave birth to a daughter, named Marie. Meanwhile, Eleanor's sister, Petronilla, was visiting the court in Paris. To Eleanor's surprise, Petronilla had taken a lover, a man thirty years older than her, a count, Ralph de Vermandois.
Around the same time that Eleanor gave birth to Marie, Petronilla gave birth to a son, named Raoul. However, the love between Eleanor and Ralph caused upset, especially since he was already married. A small war broke out in Vitry, and Louis, loyal to his wife, led troops against the forces who had sided with Ralph's first wife. His troops set fire to the small village, and the people sought refuge in the village church. Unfortunately, the fire reached the church, and when the fire had cleared, the church was burned to the ground and all the townsfolk were dead. Although Petronilla was then free to marry Count Ralph of Vermandois and became the Countess of Vermandois, Louis was deeply distressed and horrified at what he had done. Seeking refuge, he spent days in the church, praying and fasting, attempting to seek resolution from God. Eleanor tried to reconcile him but he then began to see her as a threat and a witch, as Thierry of Galeran had always warned him of.
The Second Crusade
     Around the time of his period of fasting and praying, the city of Edessa, a Christian city in the Asia Minor, was captured by Muslim forces. The citizens were massacred, sold into slavery, or severely punished. To prove his loyalty to God, Louis decided that the only way to redeem himself with God was to capture Edessa back from the Muslim forces and restore it to Christianity and its glory. Louis wrote to the German emperor, Conrad III, and convinced him to join the French troops on this expedition that became known as the Second Crusade.
Eleanor had no intention to sit home in Paris. Although reluctant, Eleanor convinced Louis to let her join him on the crusade. After signing over the safekeeping of France to Abbot Suger, Eleanor and Louis set out for the Holy Lands. But Eleanor had to travel in style of course. In addition to the soldiers and their many trains of supplies, Eleanor supplied her own train. In addition to her 300 ladies, Eleanor brought wagons upon wagons of all of her supplies. Clothes, mattresses, makeup kits, musicians, troubadours, countless pieces of art and luxury, and even animals accompanied Eleanor's retinue.
In 1147, Eleanor and Louis finally reached the Holy Land. The 2 and a half year voyage was stressful, and constant bickering took place between Eleanor and Louis, distancing them more. Thierry of Galeran had accompanied Louis, and of course he returned to his constant accusations against Eleanor, accusing her of keeping countless lovers in her tents and practicing sorcery. The French and German troops reached Constantinople to a royal greeting. Louis and Eleanor lodged at Blachernae Palace with Emperor Manuel I and his wife, Irene of Sulzbach. Eleanor and Irene had much in common besides their uncanny similiar physical appearances. Irene had the same air about her, and refused to sit around and let the men do all the work, just as Eleanor had displayed in Paris. After departing from Constantinople, Eleanor and Louis received another warm greeting in Antioch, where her uncle, Raymond, ruled as prince. While in Antioch, rumors began to surmount that Eleanor and her uncle were lovers. This is widely false, but Eleanor was indeed influenced by her learned uncle. When Raymond pleaded with Eleanor to aid him in defense of Antioch against the Muslim invaders, Eleanor brought the matter before Louis. Louis declined, and shockingly, Eleanor demanded that their marriage be annulled over that small incident. Louis, although not always trusting of Eleanor, loved her, and decided it was best to leave Antioch, for his sake and Eleanor's. He forced Eleanor to come with him though she resisted, and Prince Raymond was killed in 1149 while in combat, his severed head sent to the caliph of Baghdad. After Antioch, the French forces and the German forces continued to Edessa, but finally, both sides gave up. The trip was exhausting, the two sides rarely agreed, and the whole crusade was a mess. The French troops returned home, and Eleanor and Louis returned by ship, separate ships by Eleanor's demand. In hope to reconcile their marriage which was deeply hurt on the crusade, Louis and Eleanor stopped in Rome under Louis' wishes. There they visited with Pope Eugenius, who persuaded the two to sleep in the same bed once again. Eleanor agreed, and after she arrived home in Paris, she gave birth to another daughter, Alix, in 1150. 
 Although Louis pretended that everything was all right, Eleanor was not satisfied with her husband, and the rumors in Antioch of her affairs, which had since then spread to Paris, hurt both her and Louis. In 1152, Eleanor had had enough of Louis, and although he tried to persuade her to reconsider, Eleanor decided to have her marriage to Louis annulled. Louis was a weak man, controlled by Thierry of Galeran, who poisoned his mind with lies about Eleanor. Louis loved Eleanor, but he believed any rumor he heard and turned on Eleanor, and later tried to make up for it. Eleanor wanted real love, the kinds that had been written and sung about in Aquitaine and in the new and refined Paris.

King and Queen of England 


     Barely two months after Eleanor and Louis annulled their marriage, Eleanor had remarried. This time she had married the duke of Anjou, Henry, a member of the honorable Plantagenet family. Henry's grandfather was the king of England, Henry I. His mother was the famous Matilda, the former empress of Germany and the duchess of Normandy. The marriage shocked the people of France. Eleanor was 11 years older than Henry, at the age of 30 and he at 19, and it was said that Eleanor had been the lover of Geoffrey of Angers, Henry's father. Also, Henry was warned not to sleep with the wife of his lord, in reference to King Louis VII. Nonetheless, Eleanor had found a man she loved more than Louis, but no more than 5 months after her marriage to Henry, she bore a child in 1153, named William. This brought up talk of Eleanor's rumored lovers, but William died in 1156 and the subject died out. The year after William's birth, 1154, another son was born, Eleanor and Henry's son Henry. That same year, King Louis VII remarried, to Constance of Castile, who bore him two children, once again two daughters: Marguerite and Anas. After Eleanor and Louis separated, Eleanor's two daughters, Marie and Alix, fell to Louis' care. 1154 also marked another great event in Eleanor's life. Her husband became King Henry II of England, following the disastrous reign of King Stephan of England. Eleanor was now the queen of England.


When she and Henry left France for England, Eleanor found her new land in the same shape as that of Paris when she first entered the French city at the age of 15. As Eleanor set out to culture her new kingdom, Henry celebrated his good fortune. Before his marriage to Eleanor, Henry had controlled Anjou and Normandy, and now he controlled in addition not only England but Gascony, Touraine, and Aquitaine. Although Eleanor was the legal owner and ruler of Aquitaine, Henry claimed the duchy as part of his land holdings. His lands were now larger than the king of France's.


Henry and Eleanor both had their work cut out for them. Under King Stephan's reign, the English barons had taken control of the weak king. They built castles without Stephan's authorization and set up forms that held the vassals responsible for military duty. King Henry II tore these castles down and set up instead military duty a form of taxation. Henry set up courts and gave magistrates the power to render local decisions. The first textbook of legal laws was written and trial by jury was set up, the first time since the Norman Conquest. These changes helped form the social history of England. The church did not share Henry's enthusiasm and opposed his changes. In order to keep the church happy, Henry appointed Thomas Becket, his friend and chancellor, to the archbishop of Canterbury. 


Tensions between the church and the English government began to form. Henry wanted the clergies to take oaths so that if a clergy committed a secular crime they would be judged by secular courts. The clergies were to swear an oath but who wrote the oaths became a controversy and the church was reluctant to submit. In 1164, Thomas Becket left England for the continent where he hoped to achieve the support of the pope and King Louis VII. Henry and Thomas eventually reconciled in 1170. However, Thomas took Henry and Eleanor's son, Henry, under his protection and basically turned Henry against his father and mother. When Henry was crowned king of England at the age of 15, although his father was still the ruler, and Henry was deeply offended. At one point, Henry said: "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four of his knights took him seriously, and they traveled to Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170, and assassinated Thomas Becket as he was giving mass at the altar. 


Eleanor's Reign


     As Henry's actions caused upheaval across Europe, Eleanor began to turn primitive England into an illustrious and fashionable court. Eleanor introduced court fashions, countless forms of art, makeup, poetry, and the legends of France to England. Perhaps most importantly, she brought Aquitanian music to England. Her courts of love were infamous as she educated the people in the scandalous sexual ways that made Aquitaine infamous.


In 1168, as Henry and Thomas Becket's feud began, Eleanor returned home to Aquitaine to control her restless subjects. The barons of her father's reign were at war with one another once again and Eleanor sought to return her duchy to its grandeur. She set up the cultured court at Poitiers and even met Petronilla and her two daughters, Marie and Alix, while in her land. However, as much as Eleanor was devoted to beauty and culture, Eleanor also had other things on her mind. 


Family Life


Eleanor produced eight children, seven surviving, for Henry II:


1. William, 1153

2. Henry, 1154

3. Matilda, 1156

4. Richard, 1157

5. Geoffrey, 1158

6. Eleanor, 1162

7. Joan, 1165

8. John, 1166


     William died in infancy at age 3, in 1156. Henry married his step-sister, Louis VII's daughter by Constance of Castile, Marguerite, four years younger than he. Matilda married the duke of Saxony and Bavaria, Henry V, who was over 30 years older than her. Richard married Berengaria of Navarre, although he is said to have been widely homosexual. Eleanor married King Alfonso VIII of Castile. Joan and John both married twice. Joan married first King William of Sicily and then Count Raymond VI of Toulouse. John married Isabelle of Glouchester and Isabelle of Angouleme. Eleanor and her son Henry's relationship was very rough, due in part to his influence by Thomas Becket. Geoffrey was said to be not easy to like but not necessarily hated. Eleanor's favorite was her son Richard. 


Henry and Eleanor were a loving couple, but both had lovers. Henry is rumored to have fancied his son Richard's first betrothed, a French princess. However, his most famous lover was his mistress, Rosamond Clifford. A village girl, and not very smart, Henry publicly flaunted his fair maiden. Eleanor was deeply jealous, and at one point threatened Rosamond with death by poison and a dagger. Rosamond died in 1177. Rumors surmounted that Rosamond was killed by Eleanor, that she was thrown down a stairwell. However, Rosamond is believed to have died of natural causes. Eleanor's affairs were not as public or known. A man who had accompanied Eleanor to Angers named Bernart of Ventadorn is said to have been her lover, although it was never proven though widely speculated by their scandalous behavior.




     In 1173, rebellion exploded in England. Eleanor and her three older sons: Henry, Richard, and Geoffrey rebelled against Henry II. Eleanor was captured, though she had donned the clothes of a man, and Henry had her locked up for 16 years in a tower in England. While Eleanor stayed imprisoned, war raged. Soon John, Henry's only loyal son, turned against him also. In the 16 years that Eleanor was imprisoned, Henry had been killed in battle in 1183 and Geoffrey had died due to injuries in Paris in 1186, where he and his step-brother, King Philip II, Louis VII's son by his third wife, Adele of Champagne, had been lovers. 1189 brought about great changes. Eleanor was released from prison and Henry II died. Richard, Eleanor's favorite son, became King Richard I. While on crusade in the east, he left Eleanor as regent over his kingdoms. He gave Eleanor full control over England and the French provinces, stating that Eleanor's word should be law. Eleanor turned out to be a ruthless and cunning ruler. She brought order to England in Richard's absence and when Richard was captured in the Holy Roman Empire, she raised his ransom and had him freed. Before Richard's return, his brother John attempted to usurp the throne from their mother. Eleanor beat off John back reconciled with him and even had Richard and John reconcile upon Richard's return.


Richard died in 1199, as did his sister Joan. John was now proclaimed king of England and being wise, he consulted his mother often on matters of state. He respected her and she supported him against his enemies. Although Eleanor was now 77, she led a very active and healthy lifestyle. She traveled Europe arranging the marriages of her many grandchildren. In her travels, she was captured by King Philip II of France in 1202 and placed under arrest in a French castle. John, an enemy of Philip II, aided Eleanor and had her freed.

Two years later, on April 1, 1204, Eleanor died at the age of 82 at the Abbey of Fontevrault. She was buried there, between Henry II and her son Richard, who is today remembered as Richard le Couer de Lion, Richard the Lion-Heart.




     Before her birth, Eleanor's life had been prophesized: 'The eagle of the broken bond shall rejoice in the third nestling.' Eleanor was the eagle, spreading her wings across France and Europe; the broken bond was the annulment of her marriage to Louis and her remarriage to Henry. The third nestling was Eleanor's favorite son, Richard.


Eleanor had outlived five of her seven children. The only two who outlived her were Eleanor, who died in 1214, and John, who died in 1216. At the time of her death she had over 30 grandchildren from her two marriages (Under Louis: 4 by Marie; Under Henry II: 1 by Henry, 10 by Matilda, 12 by Eleanor, and 4 by Joan).


Eleanor is considered one of the most fascinating and accomplished rulers in world history. In just 15 years she became the duchess of Aquitaine, one of the most cultured provinces in Europe, the queen of France, which she heavily cultured, and the queen of England, which she changed from a primitive outpost to a cultured center of northern Europe. Under Eleanor's reign she brought about a great change in Europe. She introduced art and culture to the continent that had lived in the dark shadow of the church for centuries. Eleanor was a remarkable child. In her time, girls were rarely educated. They learned to embroider and play checkers an backgammon. Eleanor was educated in diplomacy, art, history, and languages. She learned to read and write in French, Latin, and langue d'oc, or Provencal, the language of her mother. It is also thought that she spoke the language of the Loire River Valley, langue d'oeil. She could identify the constellations and knew the basics of mathematics. Her knowledge inspired other women to learn the same. One of the fears of educating a woman was that she could outsmart her husband or that she would write love stories and letters, an adulterous and sinful pastime. In Eleanor's time, she became a patron for the legends of Camelot and King Arthur. Many of the stories she had written down are retold today. Also her era gave birth to many French foods. Bouillabaisse, coq au vin, and omelettes are just some of the few that are still eaten today. During her reign the construction of the Notre Dame cathedral took place, and the population of Paris soared to 200,000. Students from around the world flocked to the universities and schools founded by this magnificent queen.

Today Eleanor's descendants hold thrones across Europe and she is remembered as a very important figure of the Crusades. Her cultures that she introduced to the great kingdoms almost a millennia ago still live on today and Eleanor lives on as one of the most ruthless yet beloved rulers ever.