Over the past month I have been reading about western European history at the turn of the first millennium 1000 AD. The Norman conquest of Britain and its influence over the English throne has been particular fascinating. I didn’t realise how intertwined the history of England and France was during this period. Importantly, among the many hundred pages I have read to date, one women in particular stands heads and shoulders above all, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Eleanor was a very wealthy woman and one of the most powerful and influential women of the twelfth century. She became Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right at the age of 15 in 1137. Her succession to the duchy of Aquitance made her a very eligible bride throughout Europe. Though, one must be skeptical and presume her title and inherited wealth played an important part of her eligibility. Nevertheless soon after she married Louis VII of France and became Queen of France.
With her husband she participated in the failed Second Crusade and even managed to bedazzle everyone at the Byzantine court of Manuel I with her beauty and high spirited nature. Following the crusade she sort to divorce her husband and at first Pope Eugene III refused to annul the marriage. By 1152, after the marriage produced no male heirs, on grounds of consanguinity, Louis divorced her in 1152.
Within months, though, Eleanor sort for herself another politically shrewd marriage and alliance. She married Duke Henry of Normandy, who would become future king of England (Henry II) and in time had five sons and three daughters with him.
After a while her second marriage would deteriorate. Eleanor, it seemed had finally had enough of Henry’s philandering ways and by 1167 she packed her belongings and sailed across the channel to her own city of Poitiers (with Henry’s Blessing). In Poitiers, Eleanor retained her own court and was even not afraid to oppose Henry, when her son Prince Henry launched a rebellion against him. Her actions unfortunately infuriated Henry II and he had Eleanor imprisoned for around 15 years. Upon his death, Eleanor would be released in 1189.
In her final years of life, she would act as regent (Queen) for her son Richard I while he sought fame and glory during the Third Crusade. Eleanor would outlive Richard and survive long enough to see her youngest son John reign as king.
At the age of 82 this amazing women would die in a convent on April 1st 1204, having influenced the politics of western Europe through her marriages and influence over her sons.