Moonday’s Heroic Hunkette: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Part 2

     Eleanor of Aquitaine’s (1122-1204) story is so rich that it can only be told in two weeks. She was queen to two kings and mother of two others. She was powerful in a period when women wielded little power.  She was reported to be very beautiful.  Her tomb effigy shows a tall and large-boned woman. A contemporaneous mural pictures her with reddish-brown hair and brown eyes. Bernard de Ventadour, a noted troubadour, called her “gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm,” extolling her “lovely eyes and noble countenance” and declaring that she was “one meet to crown the state of any king.” Gervase of Canterbury (not a friend) described her in later life as “an exceedingly shrewd and clever woman, born of noble stock, but unstable and flighty.”
     Eleanor’s grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine (1070-1127), was one of the first and most famous troubadours.  He bragged of his sexual prowess in his songs and was a renowned womanizer who deserted his super-religious wife to marry the Countess of Chatellerault. He married her daughter by her previous marriage, Anor, to his own son and heir, William X. Anor and William X were the parents of Eleanor, her sister Petronilla and a brother, Agret.
     When Eleanor’s father died (her mother and brother had died earlier) her guardian, King Louis the Fat of France, married her to his son Louis to secure her vast possessions for the French crown. Louis who, until the death of his older brother, had been brought up for a position in the church  was attracted to the passionate Eleanor but he was a weak, dull, grave and pious man. They were able to manage one child—a daughter—in eight years.
     When they took up the Cross to go on the Second Crusade together, Eleanor and her ladies rode across the countryside dressed as Amazons calling the knights to fight. Dressed in armor and carrying lances, the women never fought in the Crusades but they did enjoy the shopping and luxuries of Antioch and Jerusalem. The treasures they brought home changed life in Europe.
     When Louis and Eleanor fought over supporting her uncle (Raymond, Prince of Antioch) who was rumored to be her lover, Eleanor announced that their marriage was not valid in the eyes of God due to consanguinity. Louis and Eleanor visited the pope to plead for a divorce. Instead, the pope tried to reconcile them and induced them to sleep in the same bed again. Eleanor gave birth to another daughter but was devastated when her uncle Raymond was killed in battle and beheaded. The marriage was over.
    In 1152 their marriage was annulled and her estates reverted to Eleanor’s control.  After two attempts by avaricious nobles to kidnap and marry her by force, she sent for Henry, another of her lovers. They were married six weeks after her annullent against his father’s (who was also rumored to be her lover) advice. By 1154, they had added England to their vast holdings. In fact, they ruled more of France than her ex-husband, King Louis.
     The marriage of Eleanor and Henry was as stormy as her first. They had five sons and three daughters. When the last (John Lackland) was born (1167), Eleanor discovered the existence of “Fair” Rosamund Clifford, the most famous of Henry’s mistresses. Henry was flaunting his affair, reported to be a love match, with a much younger woman in her face.  Rumor had it that Eleanor had Rosamund poisoned in revenge. Eleanor returned to Aquitaine and began a new phase of her life. More next week.

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4 Responses

  1. I’m thinking Gervase named her unstable and flighty because she didn’t stay put and “mind” her man as was expected during that time.

    Eleanor must have been an impressive woman with a charasmatic presence. Truly makes me wish she’d kept a personal journal, because I’d have stayed up nights reading it!

    Can’t wait to see how you conclude this. Ther truth of this woman’s life journey is wilder, and more full of intrigue and royal machinations than any fiction.

  2. I *love* Eleanor! What a totally independent woman she was – a few years later and she’d probably have been executed for witchcraft. Like Runere said, not staying home and obeying the DH could get you a lot of criticism.
    She’s always been one of my “fantasy dinner party” guests – talking to her would be fascinating!

  3. OH I love Eeanor… GO WOMEN RIGHTS.. I can’t wait to read more of her, and I wonder what she would be like in today’s world.

  4. great post. I see Runere as a reincarnation of Eleanor. Seems like they’d be kindred souls.

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