Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)
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Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)

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Henry II's wife, Eleanor, brought a great portion and a great stomach with her; so that it is questionable whether her froward spirit more drove her husband away from her chaste, or Rosamond's fair face more drew him to her wanton embraces.
Thomas Fuller, Church History of Britain, 1655.

Additional Information on
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)

Eleanor was one of the most remarkable of England's queen consorts, dark haired and beautiful, she dominated her first husband and her sons and was a major influence in Europe during her lifetime. After her death, at the age of eighty two (an astonishing age for those times), her daughters, who were married to most of the important kings of the time, continued to hold sway. Eleanor was known as the 'royal grandmother of Europe'.

Eleanor was heiress to the vast region of Aquitaine and was thus a good match for the King of France, Louis VII whom she married in 1137. Her domains were actually larger than his. Unfortunately Louis was no match for her in any respect, and as she had only daughters to him the marriage was a failure. This was compounded by her urging Louis to take up the cudgels on behalf of her sister, who having run off with a married man, was being attacked by his wife's family. The result of Louis' action was that 1,000 people were burnt to death in a church after which, suitably mortified, he determined to go on a Crusade to re-capture Jerusalem.

There is no evidence that Eleanor felt the same but she decided to go along as well, treating the expedition like a medieval picnic. This had disastrous results militarily, and in addition, having been left in the care of her uncle, Eleanor had an affair with him and possibly also with a Saracen sheikh. After this the Crusaders returned home as soon as possible and although there was a brief reconciliation, following which she had another daughter, they determined on divorce. The problem was that Eleanor enjoyed being Queen of France, even though she disliked Louis, and until Prince Henry, about to be crowned Henry II of England appeared in 1152, there was no more favourable match in sight.

Although Eleanor was thirty years old by now and Henry was only nineteen, they were an extremely passionate couple; they had their first son only five months after her divorce from Louis (on scarcely believable grounds of consanguinity) and incredibly she had another seven children to him by the time she was forty five, of whom all but one reached maturity. Henry had numerous affairs not least with the 'Fair Rosamond', which Eleanor ignored, but a split occurred when he took up with the 'Fair Alice', who was the daughter of Eleanor's ex-husband Louis, by his third wife and was betrothed to their son Richard. Eleanor could not ignore this and incited Henry's sons to revolt against him in 1173, but they were no match for their father in battle and Eleanor was captured and imprisoned in Winchester Castle, where she was to remain for the next thirteen years, until Henry's death in 1189.

Having ascended the throne, Eleanor's son Richard (I) immediately gave orders for his mother's release and she had the 'Fair Alice' imprisoned at Winchester in her place. Eleanor always favoured her sons Richard and John, letting them marry who they liked, but was more ambitious for her daughters, who were married off to the King of Castile, the Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, and to the King of Sicily respectively. Although she was by now in her seventies, she virtually ruled England since Richard was away on the Crusade and later skirmishing in France.

Eleanor's astonishing drive was shown after the Crusade when Richard was captured by his enemy the Duke of Austria and handed to the Emperor of Germany. She managed to raise the huge ransom he demanded, (her letters seeking assistance were signed "Eleanor, by the wrath of God, Queen of England"). Although she knew she was badly needed in England, Eleanor determined that Richard would only get back if she rescued him herself, so she found out where he was imprisoned, went there with the gold, intimidated the Emperor into releasing him and raced back to England with Richard before they could be stopped.

Finally, after waging war with her grandson Arthur (by Geoffrey of Brittany) on John's behalf and after he had lost all of Normandy Eleanor died and was buried in the Abbey of Fontevrauld between her husband Henry and her son Richard.


She was the wife of that most pious King Louis, but she managed to secure an unlawful divorce and married Henry, and this in spite of the charge secretly made against her that she had shared Louis' bed with Henry's father Geoffrey.
- Walter Map, De Nugis Curialium.

I have lost the staff of my age, the light of my eyes.
- Comment on the death of her son, Richard I.

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