Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Mother of Kings: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine, legendary Duchess and Queen to both Louie VII of France and Henry II of England was a combination of Jacqueline Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, and Queen Elizabeth. Eleanor, or Alienor, was brought up in her grandfather William IX's household. Eleanor’s father was Duke William X of Aquitaine and her mother was Aenor de Chatellerault. Duke William had written his will to ensure the title would be inherited through Eleanor’s children - even if all she has were girls, not unusual in a country where women were allowed to speak up and rule.

Good ‘ol Will was a character himself, living separate from his legal wife, Philippa. He had ‘kidnapped’ the wife of the Viscount of Chatellerault, and brought her to his home. Dangereuse didn’t fight the abduction. It was said Duke William's wife, Philippa, came home only to find her husband’s lover acting as Will's spouse in her place.

A mortified Philippa fled to Fontevraud Abbey, where ironically, William’s first wife (that’s right, he’d annulled his first marriage on the ground of no heir) Ermengarde of Anjou was living. Dangereuse and William were madly in love and openly lived together, not caring who knew. The two lovers flaunted their relationship despite the Viscount’s attempts to reclaim his wife. The episode came to a head when the Pope excommunicated William over the affair. Oddly enough, this was the second time for this extreme punishment for Eleanor's Grandfather(the first time was over a disagreement
on money & the Church). Poor Philippa died at the abbey of Fontevraud on 28th of November, 1118.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was her father’s sole heir. She inherited her vast lands and titles when she was 15 in the year 1137, which consisted of the Duchies of Aquitaine & Gascony, and the county of Poitou. Eleanor’s lands were more than that held by the King of France. As a rich heiress, she was highly sought after. King Louie VI arranged to have his son, Louie VI marry Eleanor on July 12, 1137, the ceremony officiated by Abbot Suger.  Eleanor’s younger sister Petronilla (also called Alix) was married to County Raoul I of Vermandois, but she remained a steady influence and was one of Eleanor’s biggest supporters over the years.

Keeping bad behavior within the family, Petronilla met Raoul when he was still married. He left his wife and had his marriage annulled in order to get hitched to Petronilla. The Catholic Church excommunicated the couple. Pope Innocent suppsoedly promised to remove the excommunication but that didn't happen. After Inocent died, Pope Celestine II took pity on Petronilla and Raoul, lifting the excommunication at the Council of Reims in 1144.

If King Louie though his young bride would be a push-over, he was dead wrong. Queen Eleanor had been brought up by her family to be bold. She was intelligent, well-read, and used to getting what she wanted.

In 1146, Louie decided to join those heeding the Pope’s call, and take up the cross. Rather than stay at home, Eleanor gathered some of her braver ladies and rode with her husband wearing custom made armor.  Among the women were the Countesses of Flanders and Toulouse. The Queen and her ladies shocked the men by riding astride and carrying weapons, albeit never actually intending to ride in to battle. The young Queen and her ladies were accused of being a distraction. In one incident, a favored knight and vassal of the Queen, was sent back to France in disgrace for failing to protect King Louie’s army. Sir Geoffrey of Rancon had ridden ahead to scout; nothing unusual, except that he and his men rode much further than was the normal. While Geoffrey was a day out, Louie’s men were attacked by Turks.

Eleanor didn’t stop her antics. Upon arrival in Antioch, the Queen had a family reunion wither Uncle, Raymond. According to historians, she was accused of having an affair with him, but she denied it. The rumors came about from Eleanor siding with Raymond against her husband. Raymond wanted help taking back Edessa while Louie wanted to continue on to Jerusalem. Louie naturally was upset when his wife not only backed up Raymond, but also denounced their marriage as invalid due to consanguinity. Louie forced Eleanor to move with him. Later, Raymond was killed, leading questions as to the outcome if Louie had helped Raymond as requested.

Louie and Eleanor had two children together, both daughters. Even taking up the cross wasn’t enough to help convince Heaven to give the couple the desired son & heir, Louie had the marriage annulled.

Eleanor was a rich heiress again. This time she chose an ambitious, younger man as a husband: Henry Plantagenet, the Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. At 30, Eleanor was 12 years older than the 18 year old Henry, but neither one minded.  The Duke was the heir to the English throne.

On December 19, 1154, Henry became King Henry II and Eleanor again became a queen. This time she bore her husband the desired son. In fact, Queen Eleanor gave Henry II five sons and three daughters, a slap in the face to ex-husband King Louie. Of the eight children, two sons, Richard and John, were future Kings of England. Eleanor made it no secret Richard was her favorite, while John was his father's.

Eleanor stood in for her husband in the early years of their marriage. Once the boys were older, she aided her son, Henry the Young King in a rebellion in 1173 against his father, earning her an imprisonment. The oldest son, Henry, had been crowned by his father as a “King” in waiting, so to speak, with no real powers.  Henry then became known as Henry the Young King. He joined with Geoffrey, Richard, and Phillip in the rebellion in an attempt to force his father to hand over the promised lands and powers. Only John remained loyal to his father during the incident. Earl Richard de Lucy, one of King Henry II’s trusted Justiciars led England’s armies and ended the uprising.

The myth has continued thorugh history that Eleanor poisoned Henry's mistress, Rosamund de Clifford. There is no evidence to support that claim. It is true that King Henry had many mistresses during their marriage, and Henry did bring his illegitimate son, Geoffrey of York to court to be raised with his legitimate children. When Rosamund died, Henry did send money to Godstow Nunnery, and some claim the King had a memorial to his true love built.

For her part in the uprising, Eleanor was imprisoned in England for the next fifteen years. When Henry passed away, she was freed, becoming active as an advisor to her sons. When Richard was captured and held for ransom, it was due to the efforts of Eleanor that the money was raised to pay off the Duke of Austria.

The Grande Dame of Aquitaine died in 1204, when she was 82 years old. She is buried at Fontevraud Abbey, near Chinon, France with her husband Henry II and her son, Richard I. To the best of my research, there is no reliable description of Eleanor other than the generic “how beautiful” she was. It has been suggested that she might have had blonde or reddish blonde hair and a fair complexion.

Eleanor was a patroness of the arts. Her 'Court of Love' in Poitiers encouraged men to worship their fair ladies from afar with poetry, songs, and deeds of valor. Eleanor's daughter, Marie de Champagne, lived with her mother, and also kept the ideas of chivalry strong. It was through Queen Eleanor's court that tales of King Arthur were told and became popular.

Eleanor’s equivalent in Thaelia’s World is Gaelynn Blackwood. Unlike the real Eleanor, Gaelynn does not come from a noble background, she married into nobility. After her first husband dies, Gaelynn is trapped by the King and has to accept his marriage proposal. Through her reign, Gaelynn inadvertently plays the same role as Eleanor, teaching and guiding her children through good times and bad.

As always, stay safe out there!

Women Warriors an Illustrated History of Female Warriors
By Tim Newark
1989, Blandford Press
ISBN #0-7137-2262-2

Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism
By Robin Cross & Rosalind Miles
2011, Metro Books
ISBN #978-1-4351-2638-1

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain
By Charles Phillips
2009, Metro Books
ISBN #978-1-4351-1835-5

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