10 Facts About Eleanor of Aquitaine

10 Facts About Eleanor of Aquitaine

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Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. Queen Consort of both Louis VII of France and Henry II of England, she was also mother to Richard the Lionheart and John of England.

Frequently romanticised by historians fixated on her beauty, Eleanor demonstrated impressive political acumen and tenacity, influencing the politics, art, medieval literature and the perception of women in her age.

Here are 10 facts about the most remarkable woman in medieval history.

1. The exact circumstances of her birth are unknown

The year and location of Eleanor’s birth are not known precisely. She is believed to have been born around 1122 or 1124 in either Poitiers or Nieul-sur-l’Autise, in today’s south-western France.

Eleanor of Aquitaine as depicted on the window of Poitiers Cathedral (Credit: Danielclauzier / CC).

Eleanor was the daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitiers. The duchy of Aquitaine was one of the largest estates in Europe – larger than those held by the French king.

Her father ensured that she was well educated in mathematics and astronomy, fluent in Latin and adept at the sports of kings such as hunting and equestrianism.

2. She was the most eligible woman in Europe

William X died in 1137 while on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, leaving his teenage daughter the title of Duchess of Aquitaine and with it a vast inheritance.

Within hours of the news of her father’s death reaching France, her marriage to Louis VII, son of the king of France, was arranged. The union brought the powerful house of Aquitaine under the royal banner.

Not long after the wedding, the king fell ill and died of dysentery. On Christmas Day that year, Louis VII and Eleanor were crowned King and Queen of France.

Sara Cockerill and Dan Snow discuss Eleanor of Aquitaine's long and remarkable life. Punctuated by periods of foreign adventure, imprisonment and the wielding of hard power.

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3. She accompanied Louis VII to fight in the Second Crusade

When Louis VII answered the pope’s call to fight in the Second Crusade, Eleanor persuaded her husband to allow her to join him as feudal leader of Aquitaine’s regiment.

Between 1147 and 1149, she travelled to Constantinople and then to Jerusalem. Legend has it that she disguised herself as an Amazon to lead troops into battle.

Louis was a weak and ineffectual military leader, and his campaign ultimately failed.

4. Her first marriage was annulled

Relations between the couple were strained; the two were a mismatched pair from the very start.

Louis was quiet and submissive. He was never meant to be king, and had led a sheltered life in the clergy until his older brother Philip’s death in 1131. Eleanor, on the other hand, was worldly and outspoken.

Rumours of an incestuous infidelity between Eleanor and her uncle Raymond, the ruler of Antioch, aroused Louis’ jealousy. Tensions only increased as Eleanor gave birth to two daughters but no male heir.

Their marriage was annulled in 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity – the fact that they were technically related as third cousins.

5. She married again to avoid being kidnapped

Eleanor’s wealth and power made her a target for kidnapping, which at the time was seen as a viable option for obtaining a title.

In 1152 she was kidnapped by Geoffrey of Anjou, but she managed to escape. The story goes that she sent an envoy to Geoffrey’s brother Henry, demanding that he marry her instead.

And so just 8 weeks after the dissolution of her first marriage, Eleanor was married to Henry, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, in May 1152.

King Henry II of England and his children with Eleanor of Aquitaine (Credit: Public domain).

Two years later, they were crowned King and Queen of England. The couple had 5 sons and three daughters: William, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, Matilda, Eleanor and Joan.

6. She was a powerful queen of England

Once married and crowned queen, Eleanor refused to stay idle at home and instead travelled extensively to give the monarchy a presence across the kingdom.

While her husband was away, she played a key role in directing government and ecclesiastical affairs of the realm and particularly in managing her own domains.

7. She was a great patron of the arts

The obverse of Eleanor’s seal (Credit: Acoma).

Eleanor was a great patron of the two dominant poetic movements of the time – the courtly love tradition and the historical matière de Bretagne, or “legends of Brittany”.

She was instrumental in turning the court of Poitiers into a centre of poetry, inspiring the works of Bernard de Ventadour, Marie de France and other influential Provencal poets.

Her daughter Marie would later become patron to Andreas Cappellanus and Chretien de Troyes, one of the most influential poets of courtly love and the Arthurian Legend.

8. She was placed under house arrest

After years of Henry II’s frequent absences and countless open affairs, the couple separated in 1167 and Eleanor moved to her homeland in Poitiers.

The two Dans are back. And this time, they're talking all things crusades. Dan Jones provides his namesake host a thrilling background to the series of holy wars that have come to define Medieval Europe.

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After her sons tried unsuccessfully to revolt against Henry in 1173, Eleanor was captured while attempting to escape to France.

She spent between 15 and 16 years under house arrest in various castles. She was permitted to show her face at special occasions but was otherwise kept invisible and powerless.

Eleanor was only fully freed by her son Richard after Henry’s death in 1189.

9. She played a key role in Richard the Lionheart’s reign

Even before her son’s coronation as King of England, Eleanor travelled all over the kingdom to forge alliances and foster goodwill.

Funeral effigy of Richard I in Rouen Cathedral (Credit: Giogo / CC).

When Richard set out on the Third Crusade, she was left in the charge of the country as regent – even taking charge in negotiations for his release after he was taken prisoner in Germany on his way home.

After Richard’s death in 1199, John became King of England. Although her official role in English affairs ceased, she continued to wield considerable influence.

10. She outlived all her husbands and most of her children

Eleanor spent her last years as a nun at Fontevraud Abbey in France, and died in her eighties on 31 March 1204.

She outlived all but two of her 11 children: King John of England (1166-1216) and Queen Eleanor of Castile (c. 1161-1214).

Effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Fontevraud Abbey (Credit: Adam Bishop / CC).

Her bones were interred in the abbey’s crypt, however they were later exhumed and dispersed when the abbey was desecrated during the French Revolution.

Upon her death, the nuns of Fontevrault wrote:

She was beautiful and just, imposing and modest, humble and elegant

And they described her as a queen

who surpassed almost all the queens of the world.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

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Eleanor of Aquitaine, also called Eleanor of Guyenne, French Éléonore or Aliénor, d’Aquitaine or de Guyenne, (born c. 1122—died April 1, 1204, Fontevrault, Anjou, France), queen consort of both Louis VII of France (1137–52) and Henry II of England (1152–1204) and mother of Richard I (the Lionheart) and John of England. She was perhaps the most powerful woman in 12th-century Europe.

Why is Eleanor of Aquitaine important?

Eleanor of Aquitaine was perhaps the most powerful woman in 12th-century Europe, extremely active in politics as wife and mother of various kings. Eleanor was queen consort to Louis VII (1137–52) of France and Henry II of England (1152–1204). Her numerous children included Richard I and John, both of whom assumed the British throne.

What was Eleanor of Aquitaine’s childhood like?

Eleanor of Aquitaine was born about 1122, the daughter and heiress of William X, duke of Aquitaine and count of Poitiers. He possessed one of the largest domains in France, and upon his death in 1137 she inherited the duchy of Aquitaine. Later that year she married and soon became queen of France.

What was Eleanor of Aquitaine like?

In her youth, Eleanor was widely regarded as beautiful and was considered capricious and frivolous. As she matured, she became known for her tenacity and political wisdom. The nuns of the monastery where she lived her final years wrote in their necrology a queen “who surpassed almost all the queens of the world.”

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Interesting Facts and Stories

Living eighty years, she was the wife of the King of France when she was thirteen, then at twenty-eight wife of the King of England, and mother of three English kings. She lived from 1124 to 1204, eighty years.

She oversaw a powerful and wealthy duchy of Aquitaine and the prosperous county of Poitou. “She fought for the freedom to make her own choices in life” (Turner 3).

However, it was only when she was a widow after her husband Henry II of England died that she could be liberated from “castle arrest” and gain political power.

Eleanor at rest in Fontevrault (Fontevraud) Abbey, near Chinon, in Anjou, France. The book, either a Bible or Prayer Book, shows her piety and learning.

Henry II and Eleanor, Fontevrault (Fontevraud) Abbey, Anjou, near Chinon, France:


Robert the Pious is Robert II, son of Hugh Capet (see above), founder of the Capetians. The Capetians descend from Charlemagne by different route than the counts and dukes of Aquitaine. For the evidence, click on the post about Herbert I, Count of Vermandois, the main link in the chain, and scroll down to the Addendum:

Therefore, Eleanor descends from Charlemagne by two routes, just as Henry II does.

Henry’s and Eleanor’s family:


That last table shows that Henry and Eleanor founded the Plantagenets.

Rock crystal vase, gift from her grandfather, William IX, which he brought back from Spain. She gave to her first husband Louis VII, King of France. Historian Turner says Louis donated it to Abbot Suger of St. Denis, who put on the jeweled metalwork.


First let’s sketch out the basics Eleanor’s life. She was born about 1124 (aged 13 in 1137). As to her date of birth, modern historian Turner in his biography of her says no one can be sure of her year of birth, let alone her day and month. He places the year in 1124. She married Louis VII at thirteen on 25 July 1137. They had two daughters Marie and Alice (or Alix). They divorced on 4 May or 21 Mar 1152. Henry and Eleanor married on 18 May 1152 at Bordeaux, France. Henry died testate at Chinon Chateau, Normandy, 6 July 1189 during a rebellion by his sons. She died at Poitiers, France, 31 Mar 1204. They were both buried in the church of the Abbey of Fontevrault / Fontevraud (Maine-et-Loire).

Henry has his own post at this website, here:

1.. William: He was born in Normandy, France on 17 Aug 1153. He died at Wallingford Castle, Berkshire about 25 Dec 1156 and was buried at Reading Abbey, Berkshire

2.. Henry: He was styled the “Young King” and was born at Bermondsey, Surrey, 28 Feb 1155, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine. He was crowned king of England on 14 June 1170. He married Margaret or Marguerite of France, first daughter of Louis VII the Pious, King of France. They had one son, William, who was born about 19 June and died 22 June 1177. He was crowned again with his queen in 1172, He rebelled 1173-74 and again in 1183. He died at the Chateau Martel in Touraine on 11 June 1183 and was buried in Rouen Cathedral. She remarried soon afterwards.

3.. Maud: She married at Minden 1 Feb 1168 Heinrich or Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria. They had four sons: Heinrich, Lothar, Otto (IV) and Wilhelm and two daughters: Maud and Richza. Their descendants have been traced.

4.. Richard: He was born at Oxford on 8 Sep 1157. He was nicknamed Lionheart because of his bravery during one of the Crusades. He rebelled against his father, and on his brother Henry’s death he became the heir apparent. He was betrothed to Alice, daughter of Louis VI, for many years, but that was canceled. Instead, he married at Limassol, Cyprus, Berengaria of Navarre on 12 May 1191. They had no issue. He had an illegitimate son by an unknown mistress, named Philip Fitzroy or Philip de Cognac. Philip married Amelie de Cognac. On 6 Apr 1199, Richard was fatally injured by a crossbow bolt and was buried in Fontevrault abbey. Berengaria died 23 Dec 1230 and was buried at L’Epau abbey.

Richard has his own post at this website (scroll down to the section “Plantagenet”)

5.. Geoffrey: He was born 23 Sep 1158 and by right of his wife became the Duke of Brittany and he also became the Earl of Richmond. He married Constance of Brittany about July 1181, daughter of Conan IV, Duke of Brittany. He was killed in a tournament at Paris 19 Aug 1186 and was buried in the quire of Notre Dame Cathedral. His widow remarried. Geoffrey and Constance had these children: Eleanor, who was captured by her uncle King John. A rescue attempted was foiled, and she remained in prison under her nephew King Henry III. She died testate 10 Oct 1241, probably at Bristol and was buried at St. James convent and then her body was transferred to the convent of Amesbury, Wiltshire One key son by Constance was Arthur, who was probably murdered by his uncle, King John or at his command, on 3 Apr 1203.

6.. Eleanor: She married Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, Toledo, and Extremadura. They had three children: Berenguela (married Conrad II, Duke of Swabia and Rothenburg, son of Friedrich I Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor) Urraca (married Alphonse II, King of Portugal and the Algarve) and Blanche (married Louis VIII, the Lion, King of France. These children’s descendants have been traced, since they married so high in society. .

7.. Joan: She was born .at Angers Oct 1165. She married, first, at Palermo 13 Feb 1177 William II, the Good, king of Sicily, Duke of Apulia, Prince of Capua. They had one son, Bohemond. William died at Palermo 18 Nov 1189. Joan married, second, at Rouen, Normandy, in Oct 1196 Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, duke of Narbonne, Marquis of Provence. His mother Constance was Countess of St. Gilles, daughter of Louis VI, King of France. They had one son, Raymond VII, and his descendants have been traced. Joan died testate at Rouen 24 Sep 1199 and was buried at Fontrevault Abbey. Raymond VI died testate 2 Aug 1222.

8.. John: He was born to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, their last child, in Dec 1167. At six years old, his father arranged a marriage for him and bestowed on him the wedding gift of three castles: Chinon, Loudon, and Mirebeau. These castles were strategically important, for they lay between Anjou and Maine, France, part of Henry II’s vast empire. Despite these gifts, John was known in France as Jean sans Terre (“John without Land”) or John Lackland. John married Isabel of Angoulême at Bordeaux 24 Aug 1200. John had divorced his first wife Isabel of Gloucester in 1199 on the grounds of consanguinity or too closely related, before they had children. Isabel of Angoulême was crowned queen on 8 Oct 1200, while Isabel of Gloucester was kept a state prisoner. King John died testate at the Bishop of Lincoln’s castle at Newark 19 Oct 1216.


They divorced 4 May 1152 (one researcher says the divorce was on 21 Mar 1152), but not before having two daughters.

1.. Mary or Marie: She was born in 1145. She married Henri the Generous, Count Palatine of Troyes, Count of Champagne and Brie. He was born about 1126. They married in 1164. She was the regent of Champagne. They had two sons: Henri II, Count of Palatine Troyes, Count of Cahmpagne, and Brie, King of Jerusalem and Theobald III, Count of Blois, Chartres, Sancerre, and Chamnpagne and two daughters: Marie and Scholastique (wife of William IV, Count of Vienne and Macon). Henri died at Troyes 17 Mar 1181 and was buried there in the church of Saint-Etienne (remains later removed to Troyes Cathedral). Mary or Marie died 11 Mar 1198. Their descendants have been traced through their children Henry II, Theobald III, and Mary of Champagne.

2.. Alice or Alix: She was born in about 1151. They had three sons: Louis (Count of Blois and Clermont-en-Beauvais) Theobald (Thibaut) and Philip and three daughters: Marguerite Isabella or Elizabeth (Countess of Chartres and wife of Sulpice III, seigneur of Amboise and John de Montmirial, seigneur of Montmirail, Oisy, and Crevecoer, Chatelain of Cambrai) and Alice (Abbess of Fontevrault. Theobald died at the siege of Acre in Palestine on 16 Jan 1191 and was buried at Pontigny. Alice died 10 or 11 Sep after 1214.

  1. Eleanor’s lineage comes from the Carolingians (i.e. Charlemagne), but the royal Capetians who were based in Paris to the north claimed a direct link, while the dukes of Aquitaine could only claim collateral descent. But that didn’t stop her ducal ancestors from seeing themselves equal to the northern kings, who were perhaps the first among equals.
  2. Her grandfather, Duke William IX, was known as the Troubadour Duke who composed verses half of his surviving poems are ribald. He lived a carefree, secular life, pursuing sexual pleasure. He was even anti-clerical at times. He flouted the church’s moral teaching.
  3. Courtly love flourished in the ducal court of Poitiers, penetrating chivalry, which is the traditional values of the warrior class, such as knights. This love celebrated the dalliances between a married noble lady and a knightly lover or admirer.
  4. Eleanor grew up in this environment, while ladies attached to the Kings of France in the north and the Kings of England in the north were compelled to submit to male dominance.
  5. Women of the South of France were gaining power, while women of the North were losing it or never had it. This difference resulted in a north-south prejudice.
  6. The women of the South were not as submissive to church moral teaching, as were the northern women.
  7. Also, the south spoke langue d’oc (now called Occitan) which extended as far north as Limousin, about 100 kilometers from Poitiers, while the north spoke langue d’oïl the two languages were virtually incomprehensible, intensifying the regional factionalism.
  8. Eleanor probably spoke both because she grew up in Poitiers.
  9. The whole region in the southwest of France was prosperous because of trade and bountiful agriculture.
  10. Her father, William X, also quarreled with the church. Bernard of Clairvauz (d. 1153) traveled to Poitiers twice and confronted him with holy and emotional anger. The duke submitted and vowed to do penance by making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago de Compostella in northwest Spain. The relics of St. James the Apostle were discovered there.
  11. Eleanor’s mother was Aénor and Eleanor’s name is rendered in French Aliénor, which is tweaked Latin for “Another Aénor.” So in that way she was named for her mother.
  12. Eleanor’s mother had three children before dying young: Eleanor was six when her mother died Aélith (a.k.a. Petronilla) (d. 1152) and a brother Aigret, who died in the same year as his mother (c. 1130).
  13. Specialist scholars generally agree that Eleanor was born in 1124.
  14. She was solidly educated, probably learning Latin. Troubadour poetry authored by female troubadours, called Trobairitz, shows that aristocratic women learned the poetry of courtly love and manners.
  15. Eleanor probably attended daily Mass in the palace chapel or a nearby church.
  16. Her father died at the young age of thirty-eight on Good Friday, April 9, 1137, short of reaching his goal of the shrine of St. James at Compostella. He was buried at the Cathedral of Galicia, at the high altar.
  17. Eleanor and Aélith were the only heirs, since their brother had died. The duke’s duchy in Aquitaine was insecure.
  18. But sister Aélith was not to receive any part of the inheritance. Would she find an upper-level aristocratic husband when she had no wealthy dowry to bring to a match?
  19. The character of her grandfather, the Troubadour Duke, left her unprepared for the austerity of the northern court in Paris. She was a carefree and robust and even argumentative southerner.
  20. Her father, before his departure on his pilgrimage, left her in the care of Louis VI, King of France. William X could not choose one of the lords of nearby counties. Too rapacious and unfriendly.
  21. Louis VI was now charged with finding a match for her. He chose his son, the already crowned King Louis the Younger. After all, she brought with her a considerable estate, the greatest duchy in Christendom, certainly in France.
  22. Her girlhood ended when she married Louis at thirteen on July 25, 1137 in the Cathedral of Bordeaux. He was only a couple of years older. Louis went south for the wedding with five hundred powerful knights, the best in his realm, as a show of strength to his future unruly subjects.
  23. Louis VI died less than a month after the wedding, which he didn’t attend due to ill health. Louis the Younger became Louis VII and Eleanor Queen of France.
  24. Since Eleanor and Louis VII were close in age, So she engendered rivalry at the new court, as she sought to make herself the king’s chief adviser. She tried to maintain control over her prosperous duchy of Aquitaine, though the marriage meant that the king could control it.
  25. She also competed with her mother-in-law, Adelaide of Maurienne.
  26. Louis allowed her influence. At the time and for years into the marriage people observed he loved Eleanor as an anxious, lovesick child.
  27. In 1145, their first daughter Marie was born, named after the Virgin Mary.
  28. The marriage will eventually fail probably because she failed to give him a male heir, so important in France. But there’s another reason for the annulment / divorce.
  29. Eleanor’s sister, Petronilla, was so taken with Parisian courtly life that she eloped with a married man, Louis’s brother, who was married to the Count of Champagne’s sister.
  30. The Count protested, but Eleanor talked the lovesick, inexperienced king into supporting the couple. It came to war, and the King’s mercenaries got out of hand and torched the cathedral at Vitry, where several hundred women and children were sheltering. They perished.
  31. This led Louis to take the more religious path, and prompted him to go on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land, as penance.
  32. The trip overland was difficult and treacherous. She probably rode in a covered litter between two horses. Or she rode on a horse.
  33. Arriving in Constantinople, she saw a free city, culturally and morally speaking. This surely prompted her memories of her looser upbringing in contrast to austere Paris.
  34. The caravan was attacked by Muslims in Anatolia. She saw Louis’s deficient leadership on the Crusade.
  35. Louis refused to help Raymond to conquer Edessa before he went down to Jerusalem to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
  36. Another reason for the divorce: The Black Legend or the Antioch affair. Eleanor was accused, of a misconduct with her paternal uncle, Raymond, only nine years older, while she and Louis VII were on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land. A free-spirited woman, she probably did break down some rules of propriety, by Capetian standards.
  37. No matter that the Black Legend was exaggerated or fabricated. She was a hot-blooded southerner, so rumors circulated until many believed she had committed adultery with her uncle.
  38. After Louis and Eleanor departed, Raymond died in a suicide battle with the Muslims, who are reported to have cut off his head and right arm.
  39. On the way back home from the Holy Land, Eleanor and Louis voyaged back on separate ships. A storm … a naval battle with Greeks .. and Eleanor was temporarily captured, but soon released. But the experience was harrowing for her. She braved it, though.
  40. On their stay with the pope, Eleanor got pregnant and nine months later in 1150 bore the king a daughter, Adelicia or Aélith, after her sister, or in English Alice. So a temporary reconciliation took place. But it was short-lived.
  41. His loss during the Crusades greatly lowered his prestige back home at Paris, but not so much with the church leaders who liked his piety.
  42. Eleanor had had enough. She informed him that she would initiate annulment, on the grounds of consanguinity or too closely related. Her great-great-great grandfather was Robert the Pious, King of France (r. 996-1031), and he was Louis’s great-great grandfather. Canon (or church) law said no before the seventh degree. Consanguinity was really just an excuse for annulment when an aristocratic couple was incompatible or childless or especially sonless.
  43. Eleanor and Henry, duke of Normandy, son of the Count of Anjou, met in summer 1151 the Count and King Louis had to settle a border dispute. He was nine years his junior, but he was robust and dashing, more than her monkish and meek husband.
  44. Historian Ralph V. Turner writes: “It is not impossible that Eleanor had gone so far as to try to provoking Louis’s jealousy by flirting with Henry. Perhaps she hoped by such means to incite her husband to divorce her. In such private conversations as those that had inspired the king’s suspicions at Antioch, it is not improbable that she and Henry gave hints to one another of a future together” (104).
  45. Turner also speculates: “Perhaps Eleanor had heard the legend of the Angevin line’s descent from a demon-wife of an early count who always slipped out of church before the elevation of the host, and when forced to remain during the sacred moment, mysteriously vanished into thin air” (103).
  46. Louis warmed to the idea of annulment because of the Black Legend because he had come to believe God frowned on his marriage since he had no male heir (much as Henry VIII of England believed, 400 years later).
  47. Also, Medieval medical faculties, following Greek science, taught that women got pregnant if they experienced sexual pleasure. If Eleanor no longer loved him, how could she have a son or even a child?
  48. During the meeting with bishops and other church leaders for the divorce proceedings, it is possible that Louis wanted to include stories about Eleanor’s flirtations—and adultery—to warn other would-be husbands off of her. The archbishop of Bordeaux, her ally, intervened.
  49. Annulment was granted, but Louis’s and Eleanor’s two daughters remained legitimate because their parents had married in good faith.
  50. Eleanor didn’t like Louis’s monkish habits, so she was glad to be rid of him. She is reported to have said that she had “married a monk, not a king.”
  51. She escaped back to Poitou. But in those days she needed male protection because an aristocrat looking for land might kidnap her.
  52. She had two narrow escapes: first from the count of Blois and Chartres, Theobald V (later to become Eleanor’s daughter’s husband), who tried to take her as she traveled past Blois and second she had to avoid abduction by Geoffrey Plantagenet, Henry’s sixteen-year-old younger brother. But Eleanor was “warned by her angel” at Tours, so she took a different route.
  53. She wrote to Henry that she was available for marriage. The message arrived on April 6, 1152. He was at Lisieux in Normandy, preparing to sail off on another expedition to take the English throne. He hurried to her, instead.
  54. Eight weeks after her divorce, on May 18, 1152, at the Cathedral of Poitiers, Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine, in a quiet ceremony, swift and discreet. It was a love match, though modern historian Turner doubts it was a love match.
  55. This was a political disaster for Louis VII, since Henry now controlled Aquitaine. In the near future he would prove to be a great monarch over a vast territory that stretched from Scotland to the Pyrenees in southern France. Eleanor became regent of England during her husband’s absence and when she was no in her duchy, Aquitaine.
  56. Domestic life: while Henry went off to claim the English throne, he left Eleanor with his mother, Matilda, widow of Emperor Henry V. He was close to his mother. He called himself Henry fitzEmpress (Henry, son of Empress). Daughter-in-law and mother-in-law were very much alike—both independent and political. Did they get along? Probably not.
  57. People were tired of fighting for the English crown, and Stephen’s firstborn son Eustace died unexpectedly in summer 1153. On November 6, 1153, Henry was made Stephen’s adoptive son and lawful heir Stephen’s surviving son, William, received a generous settlement.
  58. In August 1153, fifteen months after their marriage, she birthed a boy while Henry was away. During his absence, she had the right to name him, and she chose William, after her long line of dukes of Aquitaine.
  59. Henry was crowned king in Westminster Abbey onDecember 19, 1154, while Queen Eleanor was heavily pregnant with their second child. He was twenty-one years young, while she was thirty.
  60. She was now the queen-duchess.
  61. Let’s not overlook the fact that Eleanor had a spiritual, devotional side: In her charter to Fontevraud, which expresses her independence, she writes as a pious and spiritual woman: “A countess of the Poitevins by the grace of God.” And “after separating from my lord Louis, the very illustrious king of the Franks, because we were related, and having been united in marriage to my lord Henry, they were the noble consul of the Angevins.”
  62. Then the charter takes a personal turn, revealing her spiritual, devotional side: “Impelled by divine inspiration, I wished to visit the assembly of holy virgins in Fontevraud, and what was in my mind I have been able to accomplish with the help of God’s grace. Therefore guided by God, I have come to Fontevraud and crossed the threshold of these virgins’ chapter house” (Turner 114)
  63. Her firstborn son died in 1156 and was entombed at the feet of his great-grandfather, King Henry I, in Reading.
  64. On February 28, 1155, Eleanor had their second son, while Henry was in Northampton. He was named Henry, after Henry I, the model ruler of Henry II. He would become “co-king.”
  65. For much of 1156 Henry and Eleanor were away from each other, but not before she gave birth to a second child in June, their daughter named Matilda, named after Henry’s mother, a named that linked her to her Anglo-Norman ancestors.
  66. Henry was on a visit to his continental lands in France, and in autumn she joined him with their children, and they toured her duchy. They celebrated Christmas in Bordeaux, and she returned in early 1157, pregnant once more.
  67. On September 8, 1157, she gave birth to Richard, future king, while she was at Oxford.
  68. In September 23, 1158, she birthed Geoffrey. His named honored his grandfather Count Geoffrey of Anjou.
  69. The birth of all Eleanor’s sons must have irked or enraged Louis VII. But in 1165, Louis had his first son, Philip, with his third wife. The future King Philip II was promised to Eleanor’s daughter, ignoring the consanguinity problem. But this was the grounds for challenging the betrothal later. Eleanor must have appreciated the irony.
  70. In mid-August 1158 Henry left for a long absence of four years, until January 1163. She crossed over to join him for Christmas at Cherbourg, after which she returned to England.
  71. Eleanor may have encouraged her husband to attack Toulouse, when its over-mighty counts denied her the city’s rights. She believed it belonged to her ancestors.
  72. But Henry called off the attack and settled matters with the count of Toulouse and Louis VII who had joined the count to repel Henry. No doubt Louis VII appreciated the irony.
  73. In September 1160 Eleanor crossed the Channel for Normandy, taking her two oldest children Young Henry and Matilda. He was to do homage to Louis VII, a perfunctory act, so Henry could take the duchy, and Louis could give away his daughter Margaret to him (never mind the consanguinity problem). But he insisted that his daughter remain in Normandy away from Eleanor and England.
  74. Young Eleanor was born in 1161 or 1162. She will marry King Alphonse VIII of Castile.
  75. In May 1165, Eleanor sailed to the Continent to join Henry and remained there for a year to serve as regent in Anjou and Maine shortly after her arrival, he went back to England to subdue the Welsh (if he could).
  76. In October 1165, after three years of no pregnancy, she gave birth to Joanne or Joan, born at Angers, France (if the chronology is right, she must have been born prematurely, but lived).
  77. In 1166 Henry returned to Brittany to assert his rule over it, for the nobles of Maine and Brittany refused to submit to Eleanor. Henry defeated them and compelled the count of Brittany, Conan, to affiance his daughter Constance to Geoffrey. Constance brought the earldom of Richmond, as part of her inheritance.
  78. Sometime around Christmas Day, in 1166, she gave birth to John, her youngest son and last child, the future king. He was so named because he was born about the time of the feast of St. John the Evangelist, December 27.
  79. Eleanor spent several months at Winchester preparing for her (young) daughter’s marriage to Henry the Lion, the Duke of Saxony, the greatest family in Germany, after the Imperial family.
  80. In September the girl’s paternal grandmother died, Matilda (Henry II’s mother), who lived a semi-monastic life in Normandy. It is not known whether Eleanor crossed the Channel to attend the burial service. Henry II went up to pay his respects.
  81. Perhaps Eleanor didn’t attend the funeral because she had misgivings about sending her daughter Matilda to marry the Duke of Saxony. He was a widower and mature man, while she was eleven.
  82. From 1155-1168 Eleanor became the regent in England for the absentee king. This was not merely formal or empty. She promoted literature and a thriving court of entertainers. This is her carefree upbringing down south on the Continent. Henry II patronized literature as well.
  83. Andrew the Chaplain’s On Love collects twenty-one opinions supposedly passed by Eleanor about affairs of the heart and love.
  84. Back to politics. The problem for Henry: Eleanor was born in western-southern France and ruled by laws of heredity, while Henry took over her territories by marriage. Would the powerful counts and dukes welcome his authority? When they didn’t and revolted, he brought in an army. Resentment grew. They didn’t like his encroachment on their “traditional liberties.”
  85. Eventually Henry installed Eleanor as regent over Poitiers, France, in early 1168. Her child-bearing years were over.
  86. Young Henry was crowned regent in June 1170 and could replace his mother as regent over England, but realistically the Justiciar was taking over as second-in-command, so Eleanor was losing her power in England, whether by her son or the Justiciar.
  87. As time wore on, Henry II spent a lot of time away from his growing sons. Did this absence contribute to the rebellions?
  88. Henry II’s son Henry rebelled against his father, for the eighteen-year-old had prestige, even anointed again as king by the bishop of Rouen, but hardly anything else.
  89. Fifteen-year-old Richard and fourteen-year-old Geoffrey joined in another rebellion, led by their mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. Why did she rebel? Her authority over her duchy was being undermined by the king. She needed the territory, however, for her favorite son, Richard. Young Henry would take over from his father, while the law back then allowed the second son to take over from his mother.
  90. And some say Eleanor was jealous of his mistress Rosamund Clifford, daughter of a Welsh lord, but specialist historians are doubtful of this because of misaligned chronology. Also, Henry had lots of affairs, so maybe it wasn’t a broken heart but bruised pride that contributed to Eleanor’s rebellion.
  91. Another explanation for her rebellion: She seemed to be sidelined in the king’s court she wielded no substantial power, even though she was a duchess and queen in her own right and former queen of France. Henry II had a domineering personality, and so did she, but he eclipsed her. She would express her need for power through her sons.
  92. In August 1172 King Louis VII of France insisted on young Henry’s second coronation in Winchester Cathedral, with his wife Marguerite. It happened, but he was not anointed by Becket, for he was dead.
  93. Civil war began in summer 1173, called the Great Revolt.
  94. The three rebellious sons took refuge in the French king’s arms, while Eleanor at the end of February left the duchy of Aquitaine to join her sons, fleeing to her ex-husband Louis VII. The irony!
  95. At nearly fifty she set out on horseback cross-country. She was in mortal danger. She dressed in male clothes, though modern historian Ralph Turner says maybe this is a metaphor for her ferocious male attitude. Then Turner acknowledges that she may have put on trousers so she could ride astride, not sidesaddle.
  96. In any case, she was recognized and put in prison at Chinon Castle.
  97. Many believed that God rained down rebellion on his household because of Becket’s death, so in July 1174 Henry II stood dressed as a pilgrim before Canterbury church, groaning and crying and signing. He prostrated himself before Becket’s tomb and prayed a long time. He swore he did not intend the archbishop’s death, but acknowledged his rash words caused it.
  98. Henry II’s show of penance scored a propaganda coup. Upshot is that he won victories in England and in August he was back in France, and the French king sued for peace. Henry II granted his three rebellious sons lands and castles as sources of income, but no political power.
  99. Eleanor was placed under courteous “castle arrest” in Chinon Castle, France and then soon to Salisbury Castle, England. Henry II never forgave her of her incitement of her sons, so she was never released from castle arrest while he was alive, though towards the end she did attend some court celebrations like Christmas or great occasions.
  100. Her two youngest children Joanne and John, her daughter-in-law Margaret (wife of Young Henry), and likely Alix of France (daughter of Louis VII, intended from Richard) and Constance of Brittany (intended for Geoffrey).
  101. It should be pointed out the Alix used to be under Henry II’s care, and he seduced her. There’s no way Richard would now marry her, especially since he believed she had a child by his father. Great scandal!
  102. Henry sought an annulment because the papal legate showed up in 1175 he wanted to marry Rosamnd Clifford, but she died in late 1176 or in 1177. He probably wouldn’t have gotten the dissolution anyway, since the murder of Thomas Becket.
  103. Younger Henry died from dysentery in June 1183. Henry wanted a death-bed reconciliation, but Henry II feared a trap, so he sent a ring instead. It was not a trap. This indicates how strife-filled these two Plantagenet generations were.
  104. Eleanor had a dream that young Henry appeared to her wearing two crowns, the lower duller (earthly power) and the upper one brighter (his salvation).
  105. Maybe young Henry’s death relaxed Henry II’s grip on his wife, so she visited her dower lands in 1183.
  106. But not for long. She was moved from Salisbury Castle to Windsor Castle, and payments for her upkeep increased.
  107. Her daughter Matilda arrived in England in 1184, with her husband, Henry, duke of Saxony, her eldest son (also Henry), a second son, Otto (a palindrome), daughter Richenza, and a large company of knights and other attendants.
  108. Eleanor was much pleased to see her grown daughter and grandchildren.
  109. Henry II wanted to give Richard’s land to Henry’s now favorite son John, so Richard rebelled.
  110. Eleanor lived in Normandy (northern France) for nearly a year, then she spent time at the royal palace at Winchester, in 1186.
  111. Geoffrey, their son, died supposedly form a horse trampling him in a tournament (knights held violent tournaments) while living with King Philip II (Louis VII’s son).
  112. Maybe John would be the successor, after all, and not Richard, the elder brother. The outrage!
  113. Richard rebelled, but Henry was growing weaker from too many conflicts and suppressions of revolts. He may have finally succumbed when he heard John, his beloved son, went over to King Philip II’s side. Henry died soon after, on July 6, 1189, Thursday.
  114. Eleanor was free. She would get involved in the Plantagenet succession through her second son Richard and take over her scattered domains.
  115. She was now queen-mother.
  116. In summary, she protected the realm from threats from her son John (count of Mortain) and from the Capetian king Philip II. She enforced royal directives, prohibited a papal legate from entering the kingdom, attested royal charters and attended gatherings of the king’s great council.
  117. When her son Richard went on a crusade, she tried to protect the realm, while Philip II (king of France) and John threatened it.
  118. She arranged form Richard’s marriage to Berengaria of Navarre (Pyrenees) and led her down to Cyprus, where Richard married her on May 12, 1191.
  119. Her daughter Joanne’s marriage to King William of Sicily was childless. When William died, a bastard tried to take over Sicily, but Richard and Eleanor rode to the rescue.
  120. During Richard’s return from the Holy Land, he was captured. Eleanor wrote three letters to the pope and others, and these letters survive (though some skeptics say their fictions). They reveal her anger and concerns to get her son released.
  121. On her return to England, she may have traveled through Champagne, France, and met her daughter Marie, by her first husband Louis VII.
  122. Richard and Berengaria were childless. Supposedly he was a homosexual, but also they were apart for extended lengths of time.
  123. Richard died on April 6, 1199.
  124. She didn’t favor her dead son Geoffrey’s son Arthur of Brittany, because the Bretons despised the Plantagenets. She moved to secure John’s succession.
  125. She bought the support of numerous towns in her territories by acknowledging their communes and associations.
  126. During this time her daughter Joanne, now wife of Raymond VI, count of Toulouse, joined her mother up in France. She begged to receive the veil because she sensed she would die in giving birth. She had to use caesarian birth, and she did die in September 1199, her son living long enough to receive baptism. He too died.
  127. Now only her son John and daughter Eleanor were left.
  128. Eleanor returned to Fontevrault to retire with other noble ladies, but soon events compelled her to help her son.
  129. She went down to Spain to escort the daughter of her daughter Eleanor (known in Spain as Leanor), a long journey for a woman in her late seventies. Maybe she went down there to see her daughter one last time, whom she hadn’t seen for thirty years.
  130. John dropped his betrothed Isabelle of Gloucester and took another bride, Isabelle of Angouleme. This offended powerful lords in France, and this sudden move provided Philip II (king of France) and Arthur of Brittany with a reason to revolt.
  131. They besieged Eleanor in a castle, but John rescued her in a sneak attack when his enemies were eating breakfast. He captured several of his enemies, including Arthur of Brittany.
  132. John murdered him in a drunken rage (or had him murdered).
  133. John was now cursed throughout Christendom. He lost lots of territories in France and went back to England.
  134. Eleanor retired to Fontevraud. She oversaw the construction of tomb-sculptures or a Plantagenet mausoleum for her son Richard and husband Henry II.
  135. She died on April 1, 1204, eighty years old.
  136. For centuries afterwards, she was a victim of legends and lies about her: she was an adulteress, a murderess (supposedly Rosamund Clifford), and a descendant of Melusine, a fairy-mistress whom later legend turned into a demon-like figure.

Here is a better summary of her life from a modern French biographer:

It is the constant political activity and her role at court … that makes Eleanor an exceptional woman to the point of astonishing the historians of our time and of shocking the misogynistic chroniclers of her own (qtd. in Turner 129).

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Interesting Facts and Stories (married to Henry II)

1. At 15, she was the owner of the richest part of France

Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in modern day south-western France, around the area of Poitiers. It is not certain what her birth year was, either 1122 or 1124.

Eleanor was the eldest daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, and Aenor de Chatellerault, daughter of the Viscount of Chatellerault. She was entitled to inherit all of her father’s domains and did so at the young age of 15, being heir to the largest and richest province of France, an interesting fact about Eleanor of Aquitaine.

2. Eleanor of Aquitaine was married as soon as her father died

King Louis VI of France was designated as Eleanor’s guardian before her father died, as Duke William was concerned for her safety, being fully aware that she would be a highly sought-after single woman. King Louis VI was gravely ill in 1137 when William died, but he was quick to ensure that his son – Prince Louis – would marry Eleanor in the same year. Louis was 17 at the time, and Eleanor 15, and they got married at the Cathedral of Saint-André in Bordeaux.

Not long afterwards, King Louis VI died and his son followed him on the throne of France within the same year.

3. Her wedding gift to Louis is her only remaining artifact

At her wedding, Eleanor gave Prince Louis a rock crystal vase as a gift. Today, this is the only known object to belong to her which remains. It can be seen at the Louvre in Paris.

4. There is no proof of her celebrated beauty

Many accounts exist of Eleanor’s beauty, but we have no way to know what she actually looked like today. Even though many declared her to be beautiful, none of these accounts actually record her features so nobody knows even the basics such as her hair or eye colour. The poet Bernard de Ventadour said she was “gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm”, while Matthew Paris mentioned she had “admirable beauty.”

There is also no painting of her, which is quite unusual given the propensity of royal portraits throughout history, an interesting Eleanor of Aquitaine fact.

5. She was involved in the Second Crusade

Eleanor had a lot of influence on her husband, who absolutely adored and respected her. When he went to Jerusalem in 1147-1149 to fight in the Second Crusade, she wanted to come with him and so she did, along with her ladies-in-waiting.

The Crusade, unfortunately, ended in defeat, with the Siege of Damascus of 1148 culminating in a Muslim victory.

6. There are rumours of an affair with her own uncle

During the Second Crusade, the young King and Queen stopped at the court of her uncle Raymond of Poitiers, at Antioch. The luxurious court apparently appealed very much to Eleanor and she requested to stay there with her uncle at one point. This led to rumours of an affair between her and Raymond – and to Louis taking her from the court against her will.

7. She succeeded in getting her marriage to Louis VII annulled

Eleanor’s marriage to Louis VII became strained when their first child was a daughter, and even more so after the awkward period when there were rumours of her affair with Raymond, her uncle. She wanted to get her marriage annulled based on consanguinity, i.e. because she and Louis were too closely related as cousins of the fourth degree. However, Pope Eugene refused to grant the annulment and they stayed married, having a second daughter in 1150.

By 1152, Eleanor managed to obtain the annulment on grounds of consanguinity, but her two daughters were declared legitimate and Louis VII was granted their custody.

8. She was Queen of England through her second marriage

After a near miss when two men tried to kidnap her on her way to Poitiers, Eleanor sent a message to Henry, Duke of Normandy, to marry her as soon as possible. This unusual marriage request was honoured and, in the same year as the annulment of her marriage to the King of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine became Duchess of Normandy. Two years later, Henry became King Henry II of England and Eleanor was crowned as his Queen. She had 8 children with Henry in the next years of their marriage, a fun fact about Eleanor of Aquitaine.

9. Her marriage to Henry II ended in prison

Three of Eleanor and Henry’s sons revolted against their father in 1173-1174, started off by the fact that one of them, Henry the Young, felt that his father hadn’t granted him enough power. When Eleanor sided with her sons, she was arrested and sent to prison, where she remained for 16 years! She was allowed to come out at special occasions, but couldn’t see her children very often, and stayed in prison until 1189 when King Henry II died. Henry the Young had also died in 1183, so the successor to the throne was Eleanor’s third son, Richard I of England. Luckily for her, he released her as soon as he ascended to the throne.

10. She was Richard the Lionheart’s mother

King Richard I of England is the legendary Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor’s third son with King Henry II. Eleanor was a powerful influence during his reign, forging alliances for him and taking charge of the country as regent during the time that Richard was gone on the Third Crusade.


Eleanor of Aquitaine was extremely influential in her time, and a true example of female empowerment. She never retired and left a very interesting legacy, which permeates through to pop culture and art nowadays.

I hope that this article on Eleanor of Aquitaine facts was helpful! If you are interested, visit the Historical People Page!


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Owing to the importance of the wine trade, capitalist agriculture coexisted with subsistence production throughout most of the nineteenth century. Today, virtually all segments of French agriculture have been thoroughly integrated into capitalist markets and social relations. The most important commercial activity continues to be wine making, which divides the southwest into areas of quality and ordinary production. Most areas of the southwest are regions of polyculture where the cultivation of cereals, fruits, vegetables, truffles, and tobacco and the raising of livestock are among the most Important activities. There is also some light industry. Many rural households earn a living through a combination of agricultural production and nonagricultural pursuits such as work in a local factory or domestic labor. The smallest farms are made viable through the numerous agricultural cooperatives that are prevalent in the southwest.

Industrial Arts. The southwest is home to many artists and to those who orient their production to the tourist trade.

Trade. The southwest has since the early Middle Ages been tied into international markets. Today, it is France's membership in the European Community (EC) that is most important for the Aquitaine. Membership in the EC has both highlighted aspects of development in the southwest and created problems with neighboring states, for example the importation of inexpensive Spanish and Italian wines. Membership in the EC has also revitalized regional consciousness and made it more difficult for the French government to intervene, as prices and guidelines for the circulation of agricultural goods and workers are often set at the international level.

Division of Labor. While a division of labor based on Gender has long existed in the countryside, the modernization of agriculture has established an almost exclusively domestic role for women. Although urban areas avowedly offer more opportunities for women, numerous inequalities in pay and opportunities for advancement reflect the sexual division of labor. The division of labor in manufacture and service industries is specialized and hierarchical.

Land Tenure. Although France is known for its preservation of the small family tenure, the average is actually larger than many other countries in the EC. The southwest has witnessed a consolidation of tenures as a result both of government planning and of the failure of small family farms. Nevertheless, it is still quite common to find small- and medium-sized farms whose tenures are divided into small units spread over a wide area. Private property is jealously guarded even by those farmers who are members of cooperatives.

History of Aquitaine

Few destinations can lay claim to documenting more than 400,000 years of human history, yet Aquitaine enjoys the prestige of just such heritage. From prehistoric remains to the influence of antiquity’s greatest civilisations, this is a region that is blessed with a history packed with intrigue, whose significance holds the key to uncovering the ways of ancient mankind.

Palaeolithic remains

The Palaeolithic remains of Perigord represent one of the earliest traces of humankind anywhere around the globe, with the cave paintings of the Vezere Valley highly prized and protected by their status on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Given the moniker, the ‘Valley of Mankind’, these early traces of human settlement acted as a precursor to prolonged civilisation in the Aquitaine region, with the arrival of modern man taking the form of the ancient Aquitani.

With the conquest of Gaul in 56BC, control of ancient Aquitania fell to the Roman Empire. At the time of Caesar’s arrival, the region encompassed an area bound by the ocean, the Pyrenees, and the Garonne River, but by 27BC and the rule of Augustus, this had quickly stretched to the River Loire and incorporated a host of tribes under one region.

Through the Middle Ages

As the Roman Empire crumbled, the Visigoths and the Franks took their turn in seizing control of Aquitania. In 781, Charlemagne afforded his son Louis the title of King of Aquitaine, a move that saw further expansion of the territory, this time spreading across the Pyrenees into Pamplona, but clashes with the Duchy of Vasconia would continue to blight control over the region. Only with the signing of the Treaty of Verdun would conflict be quelled, with William VIII ultimately adopting the title Duke of Aquitaine.

Passing to the English

The ascension of Eleanor of Aquitaine in the early 12 th century saw a shift in power to the French nobility a move usurped by English rule on the marriage of Eleanor to the future King Henry II of England in 1154. With its strategic location on the Atlantic coast, Aquitaine would remain a key part of the Angevin Empire, with only the tumultuous events of the Hundred Years’ War enabling the French to finally reclaim the land.

Recent history

Since the events of the War of Religions – when Aquitaine would shelter many Protestant Huegenots from persecution – the region has experienced continual growth in terms of population and commerce. Known as Guyenne until the French Revolution, Aquitaine has been a key destination for those embarking on the famed pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain for centuries, while the flourishing wine trade brought prosperity to the region.

Bordeaux, in particular, would experience substantial development, with the 18 th century an era of great wealth, with many of the ornate, majestic structures built during the period sustaining until this day. Even the Second World War couldn’t dent the wonders of the region: Aquitaine retains its allure to this day.

The real Eleanor of Aquitaine: 5 myths about the medieval queen

The CV of Eleanor of Aquitaine (c1122–1204) is one you wouldn’t dare to make up. An heiress to half of France at 13, who became queen, first of France (as wife of Louis VII) and then of England (thanks to her marriage to Henry II). A survivor of battles on crusade, and in France of at least four abduction attempts. A wife divorced by Louis for barrenness, who bore at least 10 children. A mother of three kings (Henry the Young King, Richard I and John) and two queens, not to mention the great-grandmother of two saints. A reputed rebel against Henry, and his prisoner for 15 years, who ruled his lands for her sons. A woman who, at 80, commanded the defence of a castle against the attacks of her own grandson, Arthur of Brittany.

Eleanor was truly one of the most remarkable women in medieval history. But she was also one of the most inaccurately portrayed, as the following examples demonstrate…

Why tales of Eleanor’s serial infidelity are wide of the mark

The image of Eleanor as a serially unfaithful sensualist underpins many portrayals of her. The two major accusations are that Eleanor was not just unfaithful to her first husband, Louis VII, but incestuously so. It’s claimed that she had an affair with her uncle Raymond of Antioch while on the Second Crusade and/or that she had slept with her second husband Henry II’s father, Geoffrey ‘the Handsome’ of Anjou – either on crusade or at court. Other later suggestions for the victims of Eleanor’s lusts are William Marshal (the knight and statesman who famously served five English kings), and the formidable Muslim warrior-king – and scourge of the crusaders – Saladin.

The accusation that comes nearest to having any foundation at all in the sources is the one relating to Raymond. But it is actually not until more than 30 years later that the allegation of infidelity was levelled at Eleanor – and then by chroniclers of questionable reliability working for Henry, who by this stage had imprisoned Eleanor and had an axe to grind.

What seems to have happened is that Eleanor and Raymond spent rather too much time in family and political discussion, to the intense displeasure of Louis, who is known to have been jealous of his wife. Eleanor sided with her uncle over the crusade’s itinerary and fell out badly with Louis on that, his failures as a war leader – and possibly also as a husband.

Eleanor ultimately demanded an annulment of their marriage, to which she was technically entitled on the grounds of their close familial links. Louis flatly refused and constrained her to leave Antioch – in essence he kidnapped her. Unsurprisingly this could not be kept quiet and gave rise to much gossip, in which Eleanor’s name was inevitably – and without foundation – linked with that of Raymond in scandalous terms.

The Geoffrey of Anjou story surfaces at just the time when Henry II was unsuccessfully seeking to divorce Eleanor – in the fall-out from her siding with their sons during the revolt of 1173–74 (see box 3) – and can be traced straight back to him. In short, it just doesn’t add up: Geoffrey was not on the crusade and no source at the time gives any whiff of such a scandal.

The other candidates are delightful inventions of the later ‘Black Legend’, which surrounded Eleanor from early in the 13th century. The first, it seems, didn’t emerge until Elizabethan times, and ignores the limited time that Marshal was actually in the same location as Eleanor. As for Saladin, he was 10 years old when Eleanor was on crusade, and living in Damascus – which Eleanor never visited.

Did Eleanor put personal gain before her children?

Eleanor was a bad mother – that appears to be a universally acknowledged ‘truth’. She abandoned her daughters by Louis first to go on crusade and then because she was determined to secure an annulment from her first husband. She dumped her youngest two children by Henry in Fontevraud Abbey. Her sons’ rebellion against Henry was a consequence of her poor care. In fact, about the best thing that historians are prepared to say about Eleanor’s maternal qualities is that being a distant mother was a norm for her time and station.

But unpick the evidence and what do we see? The law as it stood dictated that Eleanor had no right to her own children after the annulment. Yet Marie and Alice, her daughters, both show some signs of retaining fond memories of Eleanor. Marie later befriended her half-siblings, while a work written by her chaplain features Eleanor. Alice’s daughter became one of the intimates of Eleanor’s old age.

As for Eleanor’s children by Henry, the financial records demonstrate that she usually kept them with her, even as she travelled. The ‘abandonment’ of John and Joanna at Fontevraud is debatable. If it occurred at all, it is explained by security considerations – Eleanor’s rule in Poitou (in western France) came at a time when her vassals were up in arms and her military adviser there was murdered in front of her.

There’s no denying that the relationship between Eleanor’s sons was dysfunctional. Yet all of them provided clear evidence of their affection for their mother: her oldest surviving son, Young Henry, interceded for her on his deathbed Richard I left her in charge of his empire while he was on crusade, and summoned her more than 100 miles to his deathbed Geoffrey named a daughter for her – as did King John, whose most successful military venture was rescuing Eleanor from a siege.

There’s little evidence that Eleanor incited her sons’ revolt

The portrayal of Eleanor as a determined rebel against Henry II is a tenacious one, and dates from shortly after her sons’ ‘Great Revolt’ against their father in 1173–74. For 10 or so years after the failure of that rebellion, chroniclers suggested that Eleanor had supported or even incited it. In later years, writers, including Shakespeare, widely blamed Eleanor for leading her three rebellious sons – Henry the Young King the future Richard I and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany – astray.

Yet a raft of evidence suggests that Eleanor was far from central to the revolt. In the first place, the timeline of the rebellion does not fit this theory. It started with ‘the Young King’ and his associates, far from Eleanor’s powerbase in Poitou. Secondly those rebels who did hail from Poitou/Aquitaine were predominantly the same people who had seized every opportunity to make life difficult for Eleanor’s ‘foreign’ husbands in the past.

Finally, nowhere is there any clear account of Eleanor’s involvement in the rebellion – despite the fact that Henry had many authors in his pay, and a strong motivation to bolster his case for a divorce. There is no hint that – like the formidable Petronilla, Countess of Leicester – she rode into battle. In fact, the most reliable chroniclers’ careful wording suggests that they doubt tales of her active participation: they speak cagily in ‘it is said’ and ‘one hears’ terms.

Even Henry’s own ‘pen for hire’, Peter of Blois, never accuses Eleanor of rebellion – or even of encouraging the uprising. His only complaint was that Eleanor remained in Poitou and didn’t rush to her husband’s aid. At most, the evidence suggests that, after the rebellion had started, Eleanor assisted her younger sons to escape Henry’s lands and then refused to deliver herself up to her husband.

The tales that Eleanor waged a lifelong war on the clergy seem decidedly shaky

For centuries, biographers have revelled in portraying Eleanor as a woman at odds with the patriarchy, particularly when that patriarchy took the form of the church. We’re told that she loathed Thomas Becket, berated Pope Celestine III, and drew criticism from prominent clergymen such as Bernard of Clairvaux.

Yet, in reality, Eleanor enjoyed close ties to distinguished churchmen throughout her life. Among them was Geoffrey de Loroux, archbishop of Bordeaux, who became Eleanor’s guardian on her father’s death, arranged her first marriage (and later annulment), and remained a key supporter until his own death. Meanwhile, contemporary records show that Eleanor corresponded with Bernard of Clairvaux amicably – he speaks of her “most famous generosity and kindness”.

There’s little reason to believe that Eleanor hated Becket. In fact, what evidence we do have suggests that she supported him to a limited extent – and certainly didn’t encourage her husband Henry in his dispute with the archbishop. She was also a correspondent of Cardinal Hyacinth Bobone, Becket’s most reliable supporter on the continent. On one occasion, Eleanor and her mother-in-law, Empress Matilda, jointly interceded with Henry on behalf of Becket’s allies.

And what of claims of disagreements between Eleanor and Pope Celestine III? These rest on the so-called “Eleanor, by the wrath of God” letters, in which she apparently rebuked the pontiff. However, it has long been known that these letters are absent from the papal records. They were written, in fact, by Peter of Blois, probably as show pieces. Add to this the fact that Pope Celestine III was actually Eleanor’s friend, the aforementioned Hyacinth Bobone, and the case for this clash disappears in a puff of smoke.

In reality, Eleanor enjoyed good relations with the church, often describing herself in her correspondence with churchmen as “humble Queen of England”. When Henry sought a divorce from her, he had every reason to expect that the ecclesiastical authorities would mandate it. Yet instead, they set their face against him.

Eleanor’s life was remarkable – but far from unique

Eleanor of Aquitaine is often described as a woman beyond compare, a feminist heroine – to one scholar, the first heroine of the feminist movement. The popular consensus is that the power she exercised was unique, in an era when women’s roles were marginal, powerless – even servile.

Over the past 50 years or so, however, this theory has been debunked thoroughly. Evidence has been building steadily that Eleanor was far less of an outlier than previous generations of historians have had us believe. If she is exceptional, it’s only in the amount of publicity that her story has generated over the past eight centuries.

Firstly, it wasn’t unusual for women to inherit vast tracts of land in the southern counties of France. And she was far from the only 12th-century queen to wield power in Europe and the Holy Land: her hostess on crusade was Melisende, the ruling queen of Jerusalem. At the time of Eleanor’s birth, Urraca of Léon called herself ‘Queen of all the Spains’, while Eleanor’s own cousin, Petronilla, would become queen of Aragon on the Iberian peninsula.

And, beyond the biographers’ stereotypes, it appears that Eleanor exercised little power during her time as queen of France. Even in her ‘own’ lands, her role was confined to merely confirming her husband Louis’ acts.

It’s true that she had a lot more influence as the wife and queen of Henry II. But that influence was limited and supervised – even as regent she was hemmed in by Henry’s nominated ‘advisers’. Over time, Henry gradually whittled down the limited powers he’d ceded to her, until she was not even issuing confirmatory charters over her own lands.

All that changed, of course, when Henry died and his sons – first Richard, then John – sat upon the English throne. Eleanor ruled on Richard’s behalf during his long absences from England. And she helped secure John’s accession to the throne, and brokered deals for him in her lands, where he was not well known.

But that doesn’t make Eleanor exceptional in fact, it was quite normal for noble widows to assume such responsibilities. Widows routinely gained control of dower properties and were expected to manage them in their own right. There was also an expectation that they preside over their children’s affairs. The records, not just in the south of France – but in Normandy and England too – are replete with formidable dowagers exercising real power, often acting as de facto heads of the family.

There has been a tendency to project back into Eleanor’s earlier life the same level of power that she enjoyed in her ‘golden years’ – when there is little evidence to sustain that theory. Eleanor was a remarkable woman. But the roles she performed through her long and eventful life were far from unconventional.

Sara Cockerill is the author of Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires (Amberley, 2019). She will be discussing Eleanor with Dan Jones the HistoryExtra podcast

LISTEN: You can listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Eleanor of Aquitaine on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time

Eleanor of Aquitaine Quiz Questions with Answers

1. Who was Eleanor of Aquitaine’s father?
a) William X

2. Who was Eleanor of Aquitaine’s mother?
b) Aenor de Chatellerault

3. When did Eleanor of Aquitaine marry Louis VII?
c) 22 July 1137

4. During which crusade did Eleanor of Aquitaine accompany Louis VII to Jerusalem?
d) Second

5. When was Eleanor of Aquitaine’s marriage to Louis VII annulled?
a) March 1152

6. When did Eleanor of Aquitaine marry Henry II?
b) 18 May 1152

7. When did Henry the Young King revolt against Henry II?
c) 1173

8. Which daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine became queen of Sicily?
d) Joan

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English Historical Fiction Authors

Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1967 film “A Lion in Winter” starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn.

As with most good historical fiction, there is more than a grain of truth to this fictional line from The Lion in Winter. Not only did Eleanor of Aquitaine take part in the Second Crusade, she and her fellow female crusaders were referred to as amazons in her own lifetime, and her participation precipitated a marriage crisis. Here is a summary of what happened.

In 1144, the crusader County of Edessa was overrun by the atabeg of Mosul, Zengi. The news shocked Western Europe and Pope Eugenius III called for a new crusade. St. Bernard of Clairvaux enthusiastically took up the call, and at the pope’s bidding preached the crusade far and wide, including on Easter Sunday in Vezelay, Burgundy. Here King Louis VII of France knelt before the abbot and took the cross to the thunderous cheers of his vassals and subjects. When he finished, his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, knelt beside him and likewise took the crusdader vow.

Eleanor did so as Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou – not as Queen of France. The purpose of her gesture was to muster support among the barons, lords and men who owed her, but not Louis of France, homage. However, Eleanor’s example inspired many other noblewomen to take the cross as well. (According to some later accounts, Eleanor and these other ladies mounted on white horses and wearing armor rode among the crowd admonishing men to take the cross. Colorful as the story is, it strikes me as fabricated there was so reportedly much enthusiasm already that it was hardly necessary and it appears in no contemporary account.)

What is certain is that when King Louis’ crusaders set forth on their crusade, the estimated 100,000 French included an unnamed number of ladies – or “amazons” as some liked to call them – determined to take part in the crusade themselves. Far from being Eleanor’s “maids,” most of these women were the wives of other high-born crusaders. According to a Greek chronicler writing some fifty years after the event, they rode astride and wore armor. They were also accompanied by servants and a great deal of baggage.

Depiction of Eleanor of Aquitaine in a German 12th century Manuscript

The first stages of this crusade went remarkably well, with the army making good progress. Although accounts differ on the extent to which Louis was able to prevent pillaging and abuse of the civilian population along the route, it is clear that the French intention was to pay for provisions and leave the Christian populations in peace. Unfortunately, they were preceded by German crusaders under the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III that behaved so badly the French found all the cities closed to them, and the price for goods exorbitant.

Nevertheless, they reached Constantinople in comparatively good order, and while the common soldiers encamped outside the walls, the nobles, including Eleanor and her ladies, were introduced to the luxuries and splendors of the fabled Queen of Cities. They were lodged in palaces the like of which they had never seen before, feted and entertained. However, the news that the Byzantine Emperor had just concluded a 12 year truce with the Turks, cast serious doubts upon his reliability. Furthermore, the Byzantine Emperor tried to make Louis swear to turn any territories his army conquered over to the Greeks. Louis thought he had come to fight the Turks and restore Christian rule – not expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire. Nevertheless, Louis rejected calls by some of his advisors to capture Constantinople and depose the Greek emperor. Instead he set out for Jerusalem determined to fulfill his crusading vow – and consult with the King of Jerusalem about further action.

The French crusaders advanced along the southern, coastal route at a leisurely pace until at the end of October they encountered German crusaders fleeing in the opposite direction, who reported that the Turks had all but annihilated the German force and now lay in wait for the French. A few days later, the French caught up with what was left of the Germans, including Emperor Conrad, who was suffering from a head wound. Together Louis and Conrad’s crusaders followed the Mediterranean coast, finally reaching Ephesus in time for Christmas. Here, however, Conrad decided he was too ill to continue, so he and his nobles took ship back for Constantinople, while what was left of the foot soldiers continued with Louis’s army.

No sooner had the German Emperor departed than adversity struck the French. Torrential rains lasting four days washed away tents, supplies, and many men and horses. After this catastrophe, Louis elected to strike inland across the mountains, despite the absence of guides, in an attempt to reach Antioch as soon as possible. This route, however, was not only through rugged terrain and along bad roads, but took the French where they were constantly harassed by Turkish raiders. By now, at the latest, the “gayness and the gilt” of Eleanor and her lady-crusaders (or amazons) were “all besmirched with rainy marching in the painful field.”

Disaster, however, did not overtake them until mid-January, when two Poitevin nobles in command of the van took fatal independent action. They had been ordered to set up camp for the main army at a specific place, and Eleanor was sent with them. (Throughout the crusade, King Louis maintained separation from Eleanor in order not to be tempted to break his vow of chastity during the duration of the crusade.) When the main army reached the designated camp, however, they found it empty. The vanguard of Poitevins with the Queen had decided to move to a more attractive-looking spot down in the valley. The exhausted troops at the main army, including the King with Eleanor’s baggage train, could not possibly catch up, and as darkness fell a large gap had been opened between the two sections of Louis' army. The Turks quickly exploited the situation. They attacked the main force, killing Louis’ horse under him and some 7,000 crusaders before darkness fell, putting an end to the slaughter. Many in the army blamed Eleanor, because it was her vassals who had left the main French army in the lurch.

After this disaster, the French returned to the coast, now determined to continue the crusade by ship. They were without supplies, however, and soon reduced to eating their horses before what was left of Louis’ force finally reached Attalia on January 20, 1148. Here they discovered it was impossible to find sufficient ships for the whole force at prices King Louis was willing to pay. Plague broke out in the crusader camp, decimating a force already on the brink of starvation. At this junction, King Louis VII (not to be confused with his namesake and future saint, Louis IX) abandoned his troops and took ship with his wife and nobles for Antioch. Abandoned by their king, some 3000 French crusaders are said to have converted to Islam in exchange for their lives.

Louis and Eleanor, meanwhile, arrived in Antioch. Antioch was a magnificent, walled city, which had been one of the richest cities of the Roman Empire. At this time it was inhabited by a mixed population of Greek and Armenian Christians ruled by a Latin Christian elite, headed by Raymond of Poitiers, Eleanor's paternal uncle. The language of the court was Eleanor’s own langue d’oc, and the customs were likewise those of the Languedoc. Within a very short time, Eleanor and her uncle developed such rapport that the king became jealous and then suspicious. The clerical chroniclers are united in condemning Eleanor of forgetting her “royal dignity” – and her marriage vows.

The situation was aggravated by the fact that Raymond of Antioch thought the crusaders had come to restore Christian control over the county of Edessa – and so secure his eastern flank, but Louis thought he had come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and insisted on continuing to the Holy City, rather than following the Prince of Antioch’s military advice. At this junction, with Louis already jealous of Eleanor’s close relationship (sexual or not) with Prince Raymond, she announced that she – and all her vassals – would remain in Antioch, whether he went to Jerusalem or not. Since her vassals made up the bulk of what was left of the French forces, this was an effective veto. Louis threated to use force to make her come with him as was his right as her husband. Eleanor retorted their marriage was invalid because they were related within the prohibited degrees and demanded an annulment. Louis had her arrested in the middle of the night and carried away from Antioch by force.

Although Eleanor spent several months in Jerusalem while her husband’s crusade came to its final humiliating disaster outside Damascus, nothing is recorded of her activities. Her influence on Louis and her role in the crusade was over. Furthermore, despite an attempt to patch up the marriage, after their return to France, the birth of a second daughter there made a divorce a dynastic priority, paving the way for Eleanor to marry Henry of Anjou, the future King Henry II of England.

Eleanor's Tomb at Fontevrault Abbey

There are many biographies of Eleanor. I personally relied on Alison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England, (London, Pimlico, 1999), and Amy Kelly’s Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, (Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1950). There are innumerous novels about Eleanor. I have not read them all and the ones I did read failed to do her justice, so I’ll refrain from a recommendation.

Helena Schrader is writing a series of ten novels set in the Age of Chivalry. For more information visit her website: http://tales-of-chivalry.com or watch the video teaser Tales of Chivlary. One of these novels is set in Eleanor’s homeland, Poitou and Aquitaine:

An English knight en route to Cyprus is caught up in the mass arrest of French Templars on the night of Friday October 13, 1307. Tortured until he confesses to crimes he did not commit, he wants only to die, but fate puts him in the hands of two people determined to keep him alive – and resist the injustice of the French King. A novel of faith, fortitude, and the power of love set against the backdrop of one of the most appalling instances of state terrorism in Western European history.

Watch the video: Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine