Monday, 16 May 2011

Eleanor of Aquitaine 1124 - 1204 (Queen of France then Queen of England)

Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine is a lady much favoured by historians and is an iconic figure of the middle ages. She lived a long and eventful life that was full of intrigue and subterfuge. Most learned people would agree she was no faint hearted lady and had a strong instinct for survival.


Eleanor was born in the year of 1124 and became the Duchess of Aquitaine at the age of just 15. This made her extremely wealthy and powerful in her own right. Many men of noble birth, in Middle Age Europe, wanted the hand of Eleanor, but this young lady would never come to cheap. Most wealthy men of the age did not have enough power to attract the young Duchess of Aquitaine. The young joint king of France, Louis VII ruled with his father Louis VI. This rising king would soon have the full inheritance of a kingdom – a rich and powerful one. Eleanor married the young royal and gave him two daughters.

She became involved with her husband on the second crusade. Louis VII and the German King Conrad III joined their armies and with other European supporters led a combined Christian army against the Muslims of the Middle East. As the Army travelled south through the Balkans and into the Holy Lands they were met by a force of Turks and defeated in battle. The survivors of the Christian force included King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany. They managed to reach Jerusalem. The second Crusade was a disaster and when it was over Louis VII and Eleanor wanted to dissolve their marriage on the grounds of consanguinity. This meant their family lines were too closely intertwined and brought their close ancestry into question.

The annulment was congenial and granted. Eleanor’s two daughters were left in the care of King Louis VII of France. Eleanor regained her province of Aquitaine and within weeks she was married to a man nine years her junior. He was a young Duke of Normandy called Henry – heir to the throne of England. Two years later Henry was proclaimed King Henry II of England. Now Eleanor was Queen of a rich kingdom for the second time. She was Queen of England in 1154 – near or at thirty years of age with a twenty-one year old husband. She bore Henry II eight children, five boys and three daughters. She would give birth ten times during her lifetime.

Eleanor had many domestic disputes with her husband (King Henry II) but I can’t help feeling there must have been some passion and attraction to one another to produce so many children. It seems like a compelling love - hate relationship.


The first of the five sons died but young Prince Henry, the second son, survived to grow to manhood along with three other brothers – Richard, Geoffrey, and John.


The young son Prince Henry was made a co-ruling King alongside his father Henry II. The son was never proclaimed Henry III but was recognised as a joint ruler, Young King Henry. His mother Queen Eleanor (Eleanor of Aquitaine) hoped for more than just a consolation title for her son. This was as far as things went for young Henry and he would have no real authority which frustrated him. Young Henry got involved in a plot to oust King Henry II. He acquired the support of some disgruntled nobleman and with his mother Eleanor’s blessing, rebelled. He might have won, but for his father (Henry II) getting supported by his English Lords. Most of the today’s northern France was ruled by the Norman king too and in this day England was a kingdom province ruled from Normandy – the heart of the Norman Empire.

Also, King Henry II managed to capture Eleanor, his wife and queen, forcing his young son to come to terms with him. Henry II anger and distrust of his wife Eleanor were so inflamed that he had her imprisoned on her estate – his picked guards keeping watch on her from 1173 to 1189. Over the years the two had grown apart and the plotting against each other had finally spread among their children.

Young joint regent King Henry would never become full king of England. Ten years later he rebelled again and campaigned against his father King Henry II and his younger brother Richard the Lionheart. Young Richard would become King Richard I in 1189. The young joint king died of dysentery in 1183 at the age of twenty-eight.


When King Henry II died in 1189 at the age of fifty-six and the third son, Richard, was proclaimed King Richard I of England. He immediately had his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine released from her confinement. She was now sixty-five years of age and had been in captivity for sixteen years.


Her third son, Richard I, gave her real power and made her Queen Dowager and regent while he went away on the Third Crusade.


Eleanor of Aquitaine outlived the reign of her third son Richard I. He died in 1199. Eleanor finally died during the reign of her youngest son King John of England in the year of 1204 at the age of 81. She outlived all of her children save for King John. Despite being Queen of France and later Queen of England; Eleanor is best remembered as Eleanor of Aquitaine. A lady that married two kings and played a prominent role in Anglo-French history.


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