Sunday, 23 June 2013

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Married at the age of fifteen to a man ten year her senior, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful and fascinating women in medieval Europe. Married to the twenty five year old son of Louis VI of France, Eleanor was an independent ruler in her own right since she had inherited the huge Duchy of Aquitaine and Poitiers from her father. She became Queen Consort on Christmas Day 1137. An intelligent and feisty woman, Eleanor is said to have to have arrived at the cathedral town of Vezelay dressed like an Amazon galloping through the crowds on a white horse, urging men to join the crusades. She also had every intention to go herself, accompanied by three hundred of her ladies dressed in armor and carrying lances. 

Eleanor and Louis VII on Crusade  

During her marriage to Louis VII of France, she gave birth to two daughters but by 1152 Eleanor's marriage to Louis had come to an end, their marriage was annulled and her vast estates, from River Loire to the Pyrenees came under her control. A year later, Eleanor married Henry, son of Matilda of England and Geoffrey of Anjou. Two years later Henry became King and Eleanor once again became a queen. For Eleanor, history seemed to repeat itself, within a few years Eleanor was having problems with Henry who was an philanderer and constantly unfaithful. Even though Eleanor was said to have been vocal and argumentative and their relationship somewhat ‘fiery’ Eleanor did manage to give Henry eight children. It seems that she was not too perturbed by Henry's womanising but Henry's affair with Rosamund Clifford was the final straw for Eleanor and their marriage was becoming  ‘terminally strained’.  By 1173, after twenty years of marriage to Henry, Eleanor had had enough and in a very unusual act for a woman she lead her three of her sons in a rebellion against Henry which surprised even him, but by the end of the same year Henry had regained control and Eleanor was imprisoned. This confinement last fifteen years. Out of her five sons, Richard, was her favourite and when Henry II died in 1189 Richard became king. Whilst the ‘Lionheart’ abandoned his country for his preference of fighting, Eleanor supported him. When he was captured on his way home from the Crusades Eleanor used her influence to raise a ransom.

 These two carvings are said to be of Eleanor and Henry II in the porch of of Candes St Martin.

Not only was Eleanor was a clever and extremely able politician, she was also said to have been beautiful. Her court in France was said to have been known as the Court of Love and Eleanor was a patron of, and encouraged the art of the troubadour which was somewhat strange considering the the act of chivalry stated that women be passive and silent, Eleanor was certainly neither. One story talks of a troubadour named Bernart de Ventadour who was in love with Eleanor. The following line from a song was said to have been about her:

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

Eleanor became unwell for the second time in 1201 but the support of her son John, now king, against King Phillip of France took its toll, and on her return to Fontevraud she became a nun. Eleanor spent the last three years of her life at Fontevraud and it was there she died on the first day of April 1204 she was buried alongside her husband and son Richard.

  The Tomb of Eleanor and Henry II

We have seen that Eleanor was a strong, intelligent and creative woman, she played an important role which is impressive considering medieval women were considered lesser beings

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