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  Eleanor of Aquitaine, 1122 - 1204 
  [ Alienor d’Aquitaine, de Guyenne 1122-1204 ] 

Eleanor of Aquitaine Background

Eleanor of Aquitaine [actually ‘Alia-Aenor’, meaning ‘the other Aenor’], the eldest of three children, was born in France [possibly in the Chateau de Belin, near Bordeaux] in 1122.  She was the daughter of William X [Guillaume X], the last duke of Aquitaine [and count of Poitiers] and the tenth duke of that name to inherit the duchy of Aquitaine.  Her mother was Aenor de Rochefoucauld.  In about 1130, her younger sister and brother died, making Eleanor of Aquitaine William of Aquitaine’s sole heir. 

In 1137, William X died of food poisoning while on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.  On his death-bed he made Louis VI [the Fat] her guardian.  In Paris, when Louis learned of his guardianship, he realized that this fateful event solved three of his most pressing problems:  1.  There would be no male heirs of William to contend with; 2.  He would have absolute control over who would become the next duke of Aquitaine; and 3.  He had a bride for his son Louis.  He immediately set about to gain control of the Duchy of Aquitaine.  To accomplish this, he ordered his son Louis Capet and Eleanor of Aquitaine to marry. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine Marries Louis Capet

In 1137, when she was 15, she married Louis Capet, bringing with her the dowry consisting of Guyenne, la Gascogne, le Poitou, la Marche, le Limousin, l’Angoumois, le Périgord and la Saintonge [present day Aquitaine] – which she inherited from her father.  They were married just a few days after she learned of William of Aquitaine’s death.  Upon the death of his father, Louis the Fat, her husband became Louis VII of France.   

In 1147 she accompanied Louis VII on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land.  They arrived in Constantinople on October 4 of the same year.  On January 8, 1148, the Crusaders lost a battle in the Pisidie Mountains.  Two months latter Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis went to Antioche where her uncle, count Raymond of Poitiers, provoked the king’s jealousy.  This resulted in a violent quarrel.  It was also rumored that Eleanor of Aquitaine had committed adultery. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine Marriage is Annulled

On the 21st of March, 1152, pope Eugène III annulled the marriage that had deteriorated on the basis of her alleged adultery and the fact that she had not produced a male heir for Louis VII [the couple had two daughters].  However, the annulment was ostensively on the basis of the consanguinity of the couple.  As part of the annulment, Eleanor of Aquitaine regained all her lands. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine Marries Henri Plantagenet

Latter that year, Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henri Plantagenêt, count of Anjou and duke of Normandy, who was born in Le Mans, France, in March 1133.  She gave him the same dowry she had Given Louis VII.  This union brought together England, Aquitaine, Anjou and Normandy under a single rule and served as an underlying cause of the Hundred Years’ War two centuries latter.   

In 1154, claiming kingship through his mother Matilda, Henri became Henry II, king of England.  Through his marriage with Eleanor, Henry II of England laid claim to vast lands in southwestern France that amounted to over one-forth of the size of the French Kingdom.  This claim was the genesis of strife between France and England that lasted some 400 years. 

Henry II held England and Normandy by his mother's right. From his father he inherited, as French fiefs, the important counties of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. By his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage with the French king Louis VII had been annulled, he acquired Poitou, Guyenne, and Gascony, so that he held most of the British Isles and about half of France.    

Eleanor of Aquitaine had eight children with Henry II of England, five of whom were males.  Among them was Richard the Lion-Hearted.  In 1170, she induced Henry II of England to invest Richard the Lion-Hearted with her personal dominions of Aquitaine, Gascogne and Poitou.   

Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England Separate

Henry II of England’s infidelity had alienated Eleanor.  The couple soon separated and Eleanor of Aquitaine retired to Poitier where she turned her court into a model of courtly life and manners and a center of poetry.  There, she surrounded herself with artists and troubadours.  She was a great patron of the two dominant poetic movements of the time.   

Eleanor of Aquitaine Supports her Sons Against Henry II

Eleanor of Aquitaine returned to London in 1173 where she supported Richard the Lion-Hearted, and his brothers, against Henry II of England.  As a result of her actions against Henry II of England, he had her confined until 1185.  Her eldest son had died in 1183 and Eleanor of Aquitaine then supported the succession of her son Richard the Lion-Hearted to the throne.   

Henry II of England Dies

From the death of Henry II of England, in 1189, until the return of Richard the Lion-Hearted from the Third Crusade in 1194, Eleanor of Aquitaine ruled England as regent.  During this time she prevented her son John from consummating an alliance with Philip II Augustus of France against Richard the Lion-Hearted.   

Upon Richard the Lion-Hearted’s return from the Crusades, he was captured by the duke of Austria.  Eleanor of Aquitaine raised his ransom and went to Austria to accompany Richard the Lion-Hearted back to England.  Following Richard the Lion-Hearted’s return, she was able to reconcile her sons. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine's Latter Years

In the year 1200, when she was nearly 80 years old, she crossed the Pyrenees in order to taker her granddaughter Blanche from the court of Castile and marry her to the son of the French king.  She hoped that this marriage would insure peace between the English Plantagenets and the French Capetian kings.  This same year, she helped to secure her son’s French possessions by defending Anjou and Aquitaine against her grandson Arthur of Brittany.  Subsequently, she retired to the abbey of Fontevraux, in France, where she died on March 31, 1204. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine in Retrospect

Shakespeare’s play ‘King John’ portrayed Eleanor of Aquitaine as an astute and aggressive queen mother in her role as John’s chief political adviser and military ally.  She had been queen consort of both Louis VII of France and of Henry II of England and was the mother of two English kings, Richard I the Lion-Heart and John of England.  She was also the mother of Matilda, who married Henry II of England the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria, Eleanor who married Alfonso VIII, king of Castile and Joan who first married William II, king of Sicily and then Raymond VI, count of Toulouse.  And of course, her granddaughter Blanche married the king of France.  As the ‘grandmother of Europe’, she was undoubtedly the most powerful woman in 12th-century Europe. 

http://www.royalty.nu/Europe/England/Angevin/Eleanor.html  2 daughters by Louis VII 

http://www.lynnabbey.com/html/eleanor_of_aquitaine.htm  interesting stuff about her legitimacy to her title 

http://www.rootsweb.com/~nwa/aquit.html  confirms daughters from first marriage


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