, , , , , ,

Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1122 – 1 April 1204)

Eleanor (or Aliénor) was the oldest of three children of William X, Duke of Aquitaine and his wife, Aenor de Châtellerault, the daughter of Aimery I, Viscount of Châtellerault, and Dangereuse de l’Isle Bouchard, who was William IX’s longtime mistress as well as Eleanor’s maternal grandmother. Her parents’ marriage had been arranged by Dangereuse with her paternal grandfather William IX. Her father was renowned in early 12th-century Europe for having a glittering ducal court.

A romanticized portrait of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor’s year of birth is not known precisely: a late 13th-century genealogy of her family listing her as 13 years old in the spring of 1137 provides the best evidence that Eleanor was perhaps born as late as 1124.

On the other hand, some chronicles mention a fidelity oath of some lords of Aquitaine on the occasion of Eleanor’s fourteenth birthday in 1136. This, and her known age of 82 at her death make 1122 the most likely year of her birth.

Her parents almost certainly married in 1121. Her birthplace may have been Poitiers, Bordeaux, or Nieul-sur-l’Autise, where her mother and brother died when Eleanor was 6 or 8.

As the heir of the House of Poitiers, rulers in southwestern France, she was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe during the High Middle Ages. She was patron of literary figures such as Wace, Benoît de Sainte-Maure, and Bernart de Ventadorn. She was also known to have led armies several times in her life and was a key leading figure of the unsuccessful Second Crusade.

She became Duchess of Aquitaine upon her father’s death in April 1137, and three months later she married Louis, son of her guardian King Louis VI of France. A few weeks later, Prince Louis became the French king, Louis VII of France.

King Louis VII of France

Eleanor and Louis had two daughters, Marie and Alix. As Queen of France, Eleanor participated in the unsuccessful Second Crusade. Soon afterwards, she sought an annulment of her marriage, but her request was rejected by Pope Eugene III.

Eventually, Louis agreed to an annulment, as 15 years of marriage had not produced a son. The marriage was annulled on March 21, 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters were declared legitimate, custody was awarded to Louis, and Eleanor’s lands were restored to her.

As soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor became engaged to her third cousin Henry, Duke of Normandy. The couple married on Whitsun, May 18, 1152. In 1154 Henry became King Henry II of England and Eleanor became Queen of England as his Consort. Because of Jure uxoris (a Latin phrase meaning “by right of (his) wife”) Henry II became Duke of Aquitaine and ruler of all his wife’s lands. Joining these lands with England and Normandy to create the vast Angevin Empire.

King Henry II of England

Eleanor and Henry II had five sons and three daughters. However, Henry II and Eleanor eventually became estranged. Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting the revolt of their eldest son, Henry the Young King, against him.

Eleanor was not released until July 6, 1189, when her husband died and their third son ascended the throne as King Richard I the Lionheart.

As queen dowager, Eleanor acted as regent while Richard went on the Third Crusade. She lived well into the reign of her youngest son, King John of England, Lord of Ireland.