Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)

Relation to me: 23rd Great Grandmother

Eleanor had been one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. She was a member of the Ramnulfid Dynasty in Southwestern France and had inherited the Duchy of Aquitaine from her father in 1137. Eleanor would later become the queen consort of France and England. She was also the leader of the Second Crusade and of many armies throughout her life.

As the Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor was the most eligible bride in Europe in her time. Just three months after she had become the Duchess, she had married


King Louis VII of France


King Louis VII of France, who was the son of her guardian King Louis VI. As the Queen of France, Eleanor had participated in the very unsuccessful Second Crusade. Not long after, she would seek for an annulment of her marriage from the pope, but her request was rejected by Pope Eugene III.

After the birth of the couple’s second daughter, Alix, Louis had agreed to the annulment, given that their union had not produced a son after they had been married for fifteen years. The marriage annulment would be granted on the 11th of March 1152, on the grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters would remain legitimate and the custody of them would be awarded to Louis, while Eleanor’s lands were restored to her.

Just as soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor had become engaged to Henry, the Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou. Henry would become King Henry II of England in 1154. He was Eleanor’s third cousin and was also eleven years younger than her. The couple would marry on the 18th of May 1152, Whit Sunday, in the cathedral in Poitiers, France, just eight weeks after her previous marriage had been annulled.

Over the next thirteen years, Eleanor would give birth to Henry’s eight children, five sons and three daughters. Three of their sons would become kings. The couple would eventually become estranged, and in 1173 Henry had Eleanor imprisoned for supporting her son Henry’s revolt against him. On the 6th of July 1189, Eleanor was finally released, when her husband had died and their son had ascended to the English throne as Richard I.

Now the Queen Dowager, Eleanor had acted as Regent while her son Richard set out on the Third Crusade. Upon his return, Richard was captured and held prisoner. Eleanor would live well into the reign of her youngest son, John. By the time of her death, she had outlived all of her children except John and Eleanor.

Eleanor’s Early Life

Eleanor’s year of birth is not known precisely. In late 13th century genealogy of her family, they list her as being thirteen years old in the spring of 1137, providing the best evidence to her being born as late as 1124. In 1136 though, some chroniclers mention a fidelity oath of some lords of Aquitaine on the occasion of Eleanor’s fourteenth birthday. This and her known age at death of eighty-two, would make her birth year 1122, which is more likely the year of her birth. Her birthplace may have been in either Poitiers, Bordeaux, or Nieul-sur-I’Autise, where her mother and brother had died when Eleanor was just six or eight years old.

She was the eldest of three children born to William X, Duke of Aquitaine. His glittering ducal court was renowned in the early twelfth century Europe. William’s longest mistress and Eleanor’s mother, was Aenor de Chatellerault, the daughter of Aimery I, Viscount of Chatellerault and Dangerose de I’Isle Bouchard. Eleanor’s mother was also her maternal grandmother.

Eleanor is said to have been named after her mother Aenor and she was called Alienor from the Latin alia Aenor, which means the other Aenor. Her name had become Eleanor in the langues d’oil of Northern France, and Eleanor in English.

There had been another prominent Eleanor before her, Eleanor of Normandy. Eleanor of Normandy was an aunt of William the Conqueror and lived just a century before Eleanor of Aquitaine. In Paris, as the Queen of France, Eleanor of Normandy was also called Helienordis, her horrific name as it was written in the Latin epistles.

By all accounts, Eleanor’s father had made sure that she had the best possible education. She would come to learn arithmetic and about the constellations, as well as history. She had also learned the domestic skills of household management and the needle arts of embroidery, needlepoint, sewing, spinning and weaving. Over her life she would also develop skills in conversation, dancing and games like backgammon, checkers, chess, playing the harp and singing. Even though her native language was Poitevin, Eleanor was also taught to read and speak Latin. She was well versed in the art of music and in literature. She’d learn how to ride, hawking, and how to hunt. Eleanor was also known to have been extroverted, lively, intelligent and strong-willed.

During the spring of 1130, Eleanor’s four-year-old brother William Aigret and their mother had died at the castle of Talmont, which was on Aquitaine’s Atlantic Coast. She had become the heir presumptive to her father’s domains at this time. The Duchy of Aquitaine was the largest and the richest province of France. Poitou, where she had spent most of her childhood and Aquitaine together were almost one-third the size of modern day France.

She had only one other legitimate sibling, a younger sister named Aelith, who was also known as Petronilla. She also had a half-brother named Joscelin, who was acknowledged by William X as his son, but not as his heir. She had a second half-brother named William, but he has been discredited. Later on, during the first four years of Henry II’s reign, her siblings would join her royal household.

Eleanor’s Inheritance

In 1137, Duke William X had left Poitiers for Bordeaux, taking his daughters with him.


The Shrine of Saint James of Compostela


After they reached Bordeaux, William left his girls in charge of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, one of his few loyal vassals. The Duke then set out for the Shrine of Saint James of Compostela in the company of other pilgrims. He would die on the journey on Good Friday, April 9th, of 1137.

Eleanor was now only between twelve and fiften-years-old, and upon William’s death she became the Duchess of Aquitaine. Upon being given this title, Eleanor was now the most eligible heiress in Europe. Since these were the days when kidnapping an heiress was seen as a valuable option for obtaining a title, William had dedicated a will on the very day he had died, bequeathing his domains to Eleanor and appointing King Louis VI of France as her guardian. William had requested that the king take care of both the lands and his daughter and find her a suitable husband. However, until a husband was found, the king had the legal rights to Eleanor’s lands. He had also insisted to his companions that his death be kept a secret until Louis was informed of it. The men would journey from Saint James of Compostela across the Pyrenees as quickly as they could to call at Bordeaux to notify the archbishop, then they’d make all speed to Paris to inform the King.

King Louis, known as Louis the Fat, was also gravely ill at the time. He was suffering from a bout of dysentery, from which he appeared unlikely to recover. Despite his impending mortality, Louis had remained clear-minded. His heir, Prince Louis, had originally been destined for the monastic life of a younger son, but had became heir apparent when his older brother, Philip, had died from a riding accident in 1131. Upon the death of William, one of the king’s most powerful vassals had made available the most desirable duchy in France. While presenting a solemn and dignified face to the grieving Aquitainian messengers, Louis exulted when they had departed. Rather than act as a guardian to the duchess and duchy, he had decided to marry Eleanor to his seventeen-year-old heir and bring Aquitaine under the control of the French crown, thereby, greatly increasing the power and prominence of France and its ruling family, the Capets. Within hours, the king had arranged for Prince Louis to marry Eleanor. Prince Louis was sent to Bordeaux with an escort of five hundred knights, along with Abbot Suger, Theobald II, Count of Champagne and Count Ralph.

Eleanor’s First Marriage

On the 25th of July 1137, Louis and Eleanor were married in the Cathedral of Sant-Andre in Bordeaux, by the Archbishop of Bordeaux. Immediately following the wedding, the couple was enthroned as Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine. However, there was a catch, the land would remain independent of France, until Eleanor’s oldest son became both King of the Franks and Duke of Aquitaine, thus her holdings wouldn’t be merged with France until the next generation. As a wedding present, Eleanor gave Louis a rock crystal vase, which is currently on display at the Louvre. He would give this vase to Saint Denis Basilica, the vase is the only object that is connected with Eleanor that still survives today.

Louis’s tenure as the Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony would last only a few days, although he had been invested as such on the 8th of August 1137. A messenger had given him the news that Louis VI had passed away of dysentery on the 1st of August, while Prince Louis and Eleanor were making a tour of the provinces. He had at that time became King Louis VII of France.

He and Eleanor were anointed and crowned King and Queen of the Franks on Christmas Day 1137. Eleanor had possessed a high-spirited nature and thus was not popular with the staid Northerners. According to sources, Louis’s mother Adelaide de Maurienne thought her flighty and a bad influence on her son. She was not aided by memories of Constance of Arles, the Provencal wife of Robert II either. Tales of Eleanor’s modest dress and language are still told with horror. Eleanor’s conduct was repeatedly criticized by the church elders as indecorous, particularly Bernard of Clairvaux and Abbot Suger. The King though, was madly in love with his beautiful and worldly bride. He would grant her every whim, even though her behavior had baffled and vexed him, much money would go into making the austere Cite Palace in Paris more comfortable for Eleanor’s sake.

Although Louis was a pious man, he had soon came into a violent conflict with Pope Innocent II. In 1141, the Archbishopric of Bourges became vacant, the king would put forward as a candidate one of his chancellors, Gadurc, while vetoing the one suitable candidate, Pierre de la Chatre. Pierre was promptly elected by the Canons of Bourges and consecrated by the Pope. Louis accordingly bolted the gates of Bourges against the new bishop. The pope, recalling similar attempts by William X to exile supporters of Innocent from Poitou and replacing them with priests loyal to himself had blamed Eleanor. He would say that Louis was only a child and should be taught manners. Outraged by this, Louis swore upon relics that so long as he had lived Pierre should never enter Bourges. An interdict was imposed upon the king’s lands and Pierre was given refuge by Theobald II, Count of Champagne.

Louis became involved in a war with Count Theobald, by permitting Raoul I, Count of Vermandois and seneschal of France, to repudiate his wife Eleanor of Blois, Theobald’s sister, and to marry Petronilla of Aquitaine, Eleanor’s sister. Eleanor had urged Louis to support her sister’s marriage to Count Raoul. Theobald would offend Louis by siding with the pope in dispute over Bourges. The war would last two years, from 1142 until 1144, and ended with the occupation of Champagne by the royal army.

Louis was personally involved in the assault and burning of the town of Vitry. More than a thousand people who had sought refuge in the church there had died in the flames. Horrified by this, and desiring an end to the war, Louis attempted to make peace with Theobald, in exchange for his support in lifting the interdict on Raoul and Petronilla. It was duly lifted, just long enough to allow Theobald’s lands to be restored. It was again lowered once more when Raoul had refused to repudiate Petronilla, prompting Louis to return to Champagne and ravage the area once more.

In June of 1144, the King and Queen would visit the newly built monastic church at Saint-Denis. While there, Eleanor met with Bernard of Clairvaux. She would demand that the excommunication of Petronilla and Raoul be lifted through his influence on the pope. In exchange, King Louis would make concessions in Champagne and recognize Pierre de la Chatre as the Archbishop of Bourges. Dismayed by her attitude, Bernard scolded her for her lack of penitence and interference in matters of state. In response, Bernard became more kindly towards her saying:

“My child, seek those things which make for peace. Cease to stir up the King against the Church, and urge upon him a better course of action. If you will promise to do this, I in return promise to entreat the merciful Lord to grant you offspring.”

In a matter of weeks, peace had returned to France. Theobald’s provinces were returned and Pierre de la Chatre was installed as the Archbishop of Bourges.

During April of 1145, Eleanor would give birth to a daughter, Marie. Louis, still burned with guilt over the massacre at Vitry, wished to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to atone for his sins. Fortunately for him, in the Autumn of 1145, Pope Eugene III requested that Louis lead a Crusade to the Middle East to rescue Frankish Kingdoms there from disaster. Accordingly, Louis declared on Christmas Day of that year at Bourges his intention of going on crusade.

The Second Crusade

Eleanor of Aquitaine had also formally took up the cross symbolic of the Second Crusade, during a sermon preached by Bernard of Clairvaux. In addition she had been corresponding with her uncle Raymond, Prince of the Crusader kingdom of Antioch, who was seeking further protection against the “Saracens” from the French crown.

She would recruit some of her royal ladies-in-waiting for the campaign, as well as three hundred non-noble Aquitainian vassals, and insisted on taking part in the Crusades as a feudal leader of soldiers from her duchy. The story that Eleanor and her ladies had dressed as Amazons is disputed by historians, sometimes confused with an account of King Conrad’s train of ladies during this campaign. Eleanor would launch the Second Crusade from Vezelay, the rumored location of Mary Magdalene’s grave.

The Crusade itself would achieve little. Louis was a weak and ineffectual military leader, with no skill for maintaining troop discipline or morale, or making informed and logical tactical decisions. In Easter Europe the French army was at times hindered by Manuel I Comnenus, the Byzantine Emperor, who had feared that the Crusade would jeopardize tenuous safety of his empire. Notwithstanding, during their three-week stay at Constantinople, Louis had feted and Eleanor was really admired. She was compared with Penthesilea, the mythical queen of the Amazons, by Greek historian Nicetas Choniates. He would add that Eleanor had gained the epithet chrysopous (golden-foot) from the cloth of gold that had decorated and fringed her robe. The couple would stay in Philopation Palace, just outside the city walls.

From the moment that the Crusaders had entered Asia Minor, things started going badly. The king and queen would remain optimistic, but the Byzantine Emperor had told them the German King, Conrad, had won a great victory against a Turkish army, when in fact the German army had been massacred. However, while camping near Nicea, remnants of the German army, including a dazed and sick King Conrad, staggered past the French camp. They would bring with them the news of their disaster. The French, with what had remained of the Germans, then started their march in an increasingly disorganized fashion towards Antioch. They were in high spirits on Christmas Eve when they had chose to camp in the lush valleys near Ephesus. It was here that they were ambushed by the Turkish detachment. The French would proceed to slaughter this detachment and appropriate their camp.

Louis then decided to cross the Phyrgian mountains directly in hopes of reaching Eleanor’s uncle Raymond in Antioch more quickly. As they ascended the mountains though the army and King and Queen were horrified to discover the unburied corpses of the previously slaughtered German army. On the day set for crossing Mount Cadmos, Louis chose to take charge of the rear column, where the unarmed pilgrims and baggage trains had marched. The young vanguard, with which Eleanor had been marching with was commanded by her Aquitainian vassal Geoffrey de Rancon. Unencumbered by baggage, they would reach the summit of Cadmos, where Rancon was ordered to make camp for the night. However, Rancon chose to continue on, deciding with Amadeus III, Count of Savoy, Louis’s uncle, that a nearby plateau would make a better campsite. Such disobedience was reportedly common. Accordingly, by the mid-afternoon, the rear of the column had thought that the day’s march was nearly ending, some decided to dawdle. This would result in the army becoming separated, with some having already crossed the summit and others still approaching it.

At this time, the Turks who had been following and feinting for many days, had taken their opportunity and attacked those who had not yet crossed the summit. The French, both soldiers and pilgrims, were taken by surprise. Having been trapped, those who had tried to escape were caught and killed. Many of the men, their horses, and much of their baggage were cast into the canyon below. The chronicler, William of Tyre, wrote between 1170 and 1184, and thus perhaps too late to be considered historically accurate, had placed the blame for this disaster firmly on the amount of baggage, much of it reputedly belonging to Eleanor and her ladies, and the presence of non-combatants.

The king, having scorned the royal apparel in favor of a simple pilgrim’s tunic, would escape from being noticed, unlike his bodyguards, whose skulls were brutally smashed and their limbs severed. He had reportedly “nimbly and bravely scaled a rock by making use of some tree roots which God had provided for his safety”, and would manage to survive the attack. Others were not so fortunate:

“No aid came from Heaven, except that night fell.”

The official blame for the disaster would be placed on Geoffrey de Rancon, who had made the decision to continue on. It was suggested that Rancon be hanged, a suggestion which the king had ignored. Since he was Eleanor’s vassal, many had believed that it was she who had been ultimately responsible for the change in plan, and thus the massacre. This would not help her popularity in Christendom. Eleanor was to blame for the size of the baggage train and the fact that her Aquitainian soldiers had marched at the front, thus they were not involved in the fight, but had continued on, causing the army to become split, with the commoners marching towards Antioch and the royalty traveling by sea.

When most of the land army had arrived, the King and the Queen had a profound dispute. Some, such as John of Salisbury and William of Tyre, say that Eleanor’s reputation was sullied by rumors of an affair with her uncle Raymond. This may have been a ruse, as Raymond, through Eleanor had tried to sway Louis by force to use his army to attack the actual Muslim encampment at nearby Aleppo, the gateway to retaking Edessa, by the papal decree, the objective of the Crusade.

Even though this was perhaps the better military plan, Louis was not too keen to fight in Northern Syria. One of Louis’s avowed Crusade goals was to journey in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and he would state that his intention should continue. Reputedly, Eleanor then had requested to stay with her uncle Raymond and had brought up the matter of consanguinity, the fact that she and her husband, King Louis, were too closely related. This would be grounds for divorce in this time period. Rather than allowing her to stay, Louis would take Eleanor from Antioch against her will and would continue on to Jerusalem with his dwindling army.

This episode would have humiliated Eleanor, and she’d maintain a low profile for the rest of the Crusade. Louis’s subsequent assault on Damascus in 1148, with his remaining army, fortified by King Conrad and Baldwin III of Jerusalem, had achieved little. Damascus was a major trading center that was quite wealthy and under normal circumstances it was a potential threat. However, rulers of Jerusalem had recently entered into a truce with the city, which they then forswore. It was a gamble that would not pay off, and whether through military error or betrayal, the Damascus campaign was a failure. The French royal family would retreat to Jerusalem and then set sail to Rome, finally making their way back to Paris.

While in the Eastern Mediterranean, Eleanor would learn about maritime conventions that were developing there. This was the start of what would become admiralty law. Eleanor would introduce these conventions in her own lands on the island of Oleron in 1160, with the “Rolls of Oleron”, and later in England as well. She was also quite instrumental in the development of trade agreements with Constantinople and the ports of trade in the Holy Lands.

The End of Eleanor’s First Marriage

Even before the Crusade, Eleanor and Louis were becoming estranged from one another. Their differences were only exacerbated while they were abroad. Eleanor’s purported relationship with her uncle Raymond, the ruler of Antioch, was a major source for the discord. She had supported her uncle’s desire to re-capture the nearby County of Edessa, the objective of the Crusade. In addition, having been close to him in their youth, Eleanor now showed what was considered to be “excessive affection” towards her uncle.

Raymond had plans to abduct Eleanor, of which she consented. While many historians today dismiss this as a normal affection between uncle and niece, noting their early friendship and his similarity to her father and grandfather, some of Eleanor’s adversaries interpreted the generous displays of affection as an incestuous affair.

Louis’ long march to Jerusalem and back North, which Eleanor was forced to join, debilitated his army and disheartened her knights. The divided Crusade armies couldn’t overcome the Muslim forces, and the royal couple had to return home. Home was however not easily reached. Louis and Eleanor, on separate ships due to their disagreements, were first attacked in May of 1149 by Byzantine ships that were attempting to capture both on orders of the Byzantine Emperor. Although they had escaped this attempt unharmed, stormy weather drove Eleanor’s ship far to the South, to the Barbary Coast to be exact, which would cause her to lose track of her husband. Neither of the two were heard from for over two months.

In the middle of July, Eleanor’s ship had finally reached Palermo in Sicily, where she would discover that she and her husband had both been given up for dead. She was given shelter and food by servants of King Roger II of Sicily, until the king had eventually reached Calabria, and she would set out to meet him there. Later, at King Roger’s court in Potenza, Eleanor had learned of the death of her uncle Raymond, who had been beheaded by Muslim forces in the Holy Land. This appears to have forced a change of plans. Instead of returning to France from Marseilles, the couple went to see Pope Eugene III in Tusculum, where he had been driven five months prior by a revolt of the Commune of Rome.

Eugene did not, as Eleanor had hoped, grant the couple an annulment, instead, he had attempted to reconcile Eleanor and Louis, confirming the legality of their marriage. He would proclaim that no word could be spoken against it, and that it might not be dissolved under any pretext. Eventually however, the Pope had arranged events so that Eleanor had no choice but to sleep with Louis in a bed specially prepared by the pope. This would lead to the couple’s second child, again not a son, but a daughter named Alix, being conceived.

Their marriage was doomed, still without a son and in danger of being left with no male heir as well as facing substantial opposition to Eleanor from many of his barons and her own desire for divorce, Louis would bow to the inevitable. On the 11th of March 1152, Eleanor and Louis had met at the royal castle at Beaugency to dissolve their marriage. Hughes de Toucy, the Archbishop of Sens would preside, Louis and Eleanor were both present, obviously, as well as the Archbishops of Bordeaux and Rouen and Archbishop Samson of Reims had acted for Eleanor.

Ten days later, on the 21st, the four archbishops, along with the approval of Pope Eugene, would grant an annulment on grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Eleanor was Louis’ third cousin once removed, and had shared a common ancestry with Robert II of France. Their daughters were, however, declared legitimate. Children born to a marriage that was annulled were not at risk of being “bastardized” since “where parties married in good faith, without knowledge of an impediment…children of the marriage were legitimate”. The custody of their daughters was given to King Louis. Archbishop Samson had received assurances from Louis, that Eleanor’s lands would be restored to her.

Eleanor’s Second Marriage

As Eleanor was traveling to Poitiers, two lords; Theobald V, Count of Blois and Geoffrey, Count of Nantes and brother of Henry II, Duke of Normandy, had tried to kidnap and marry her so they could claim her lands. As soon as she had arrived in Poitiers, Eleanor sent envoys to Henry, the Duke of Normandy and future King of England, asking him to come at once to marry her.

On the 18th of May 1152, which was Whit Sunday, eight weeks after her annulment, Eleanor and Henry married, “without the pomp and ceremony that befitted their rank.” Eleanor


Henry II


was related to Henry, even closer than she had been to Louis, they were cousins to the third degree through their common ancestor Eremengarde of Anjou, the wife of Robert I, Duke of Burgundy and Geoffrey, the Count of Gatinais. They were also both descendants of King Robert II of France. A marriage between their daughter Marie had earlier been declared impossible due to their status as third cousins once removed. It was rumored by some that Eleanor had an affair with Henry’s own father, Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, who had advised his son to avoid any involvement with her.

The 25th of October 1154 would be the day that Henry became King of England and on the 19th of December 1154, Eleanor was crowned Queen of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Eleanor may not have been anointed on this occasion though, because she had already been anointed in 1137. Over the next thirteen years, Eleanor would give birth to Henry’s five sons and three daughters: William, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, Matilda, Eleanor and Joan.

In John Speed’s 1611 “History of Great Britain”, he mentions the possibility that she had another son named Philip, but he had died young. Speed’s sources no longer exist and he is the only one that mentions Philip.

Eleanor’s marriage to Henry was reputedly tumultuous and argumentative, although sufficiently cooperative enough to produce at least eight pregnancies. Henry was by no means faithful to Eleanor and had a reputation of philandering. Henry would father other illegitimate children throughout their marriage. Eleanor appears to have taken an ambivalent attitude towards these affairs. For example, Geoffrey of York, an illegitimate son of Henry, was acknowledged by him as his child and was raised at Westminster in the care of Eleanor.

During the period from Henry’s accession to the birth of Eleanor’s youngest son John, affairs in the kingdom were turbulent. Aquitaine, as was the norm, had defied the authority of Henry as Eleanor’s husband and would only answer to their Duchess. Attempts had been made to claim Toulouse, which was the rightful inheritance of Eleanor’s grandmother Philippa of Toulouse, but they would end in failure. A bitter feud


Philip Augustus


would arise between the king and Thomas Becket, who had initially been Henry’s Chancellor and his closest adviser and later the Archbishop of Canterbury. Louis of France would remarry and would also be widowed. He would marry yet again and finally fathered a long hoped-for son, Philip Augustus. Young Henry, the son of Henry and Eleanor, wed Marguerite of France, daughter of Louis from his second marriage.

Little is known of Eleanor’s involvement in these events, but it is certain that by 1166, Henry’s notorious affair with Rosamund Clifford had become known. This caused Eleanor and Henry’s marriage to appear to have become terminally strained.

During 1167, Eleanor’s third daughter, Matilda had married Henry the Lion of Saxony. Eleanor would remain in England with her daughter for the year prior to her departure for Normandy in September. In December, Eleanor gathered her movable possessions together in England and transported them on several ships to Argentan. Christmas would be celebrated at the royal court in Argentan and Eleanor appears to have agreed to a separation from Henry. She had certainly left her own city of Poitiers immediately after Christmas, and Henry did not stop her. On the contrary, Henry and his army had personally escorted her to Argentan before they had attacked a castle that belonged to the rebellious Lusignan family. Henry then went about his own business outside of Aquitaine, leaving Earl Patrick, his regional military commander, as Eleanor’s protective custodian. However, when Patrick was killed in a skirmish, Eleanor, who had proceeded to ransom his captured nephew, the young William Marshal, was left in control of her own lands.

The Court of Love in Poitiers

Out of all of Eleanor’s influence on culture, her time in Poitiers from 1168 until 1173 was perhaps the most critical, yet very little is known about this time in her life. Henry II was elsewhere, attending to his own affairs after he had escorted Eleanor there. Some believe that her court in Poitiers was the “Court of Love,” where her and her daughter Marie would mesh and encourage the ideas of troubadours, chivalry and courtly love into a single court. It may have been largely to teach manners, as the French courts would be known for in later generations. The existence and reasons for this court however, are debated.

In “The Art of Courtly Love”, by Andreas Capellanus (Andrew the Chaplain) refers to the court of Poitiers. He claims that Eleanor, her daughter Marie, Ermengarde, the Viscountess of Narbonne, and Isabelle of Flanders would sit and listen to the quarrels of lovers and then act as a jury to the questions of the court that revolved around acts of romantic love. His records consisted of twenty-one cases, the most famous of them being a problem posed to the women about whether true love can exist in marriage. According to Capellanus, the women had decided that it was not at all likely.

Some scholars believe that the “court of love” had probably never existed, since the only evidence for it is Andreas Capellanus’ book. To strengthen their argument, they stated that there is no other evidence that Marie ever had stayed with her mother in Poitiers.

Andreas wrote that the court of the King of France, Eleanor was not held in high esteem. Polly Shoyer Brooks, an author of a non-academic biography of Eleanor, suggests that the court did exist, but that it was not taken very seriously, and the acts of courtly love were just a “parlor game,” made up by Eleanor and Marie to place some order over the young courtiers that were living there. There is no claim that Eleanor had invented courtly love, since it was a concept that had begun to grow before Eleanor’s court arose. All that can be said is that Eleanor’s court at Poitiers was most likely a catalyst for the increased popularity of courtly love literature in the Western European regions.

In Amy Kelly’s article, “Eleanor of Aquitaine and her Courts of Love,” gives a very plausible description of the origins of the rules of her court:

“In the Poitevin code, man is the property, the very thing of woman; whereas a precisely contrary state of things existed in the adjacent realms of the two kings from whom the reigning duchess of Aquitaine was estranged.”

Revolt and Capture

During March of 1173, aggrieved by his lack of power and egged on by Henry’s enemies, his son by the same name, had launched the Revolt of 1173 to 1174. He would flee to Paris, from there, “the younger Henry, devising evil against his father from ever side by the advice of the French King, went secretly into Aquitaine where his two youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were living with their mother, and with her connivance, so it is said, he incited them to join him.” One source claimed that the Queen had sent her younger sons to France “to join with him against their father the king”. As soon as her sons had left for Paris, Eleanor might have encouraged the lords of the south to rise up and support them.

Sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May, Eleanor had left Poitiers, but was arrested and sent to the King of Rouen, who would not announce the arrest publicly. For the next year, the Queen’s whereabouts were unknown. On the 8th of July 1174, Henry and Eleanor took a ship to England from Barfleur. As soon as they disembarked at Southampton, Eleanor was taken either to Winchester Castle or Sarum Castle and was held there.

Eleanor was imprisoned for the following sixteen years, of which much of the time was spent in various locations throughout England. During her imprisonment, she became more and more distant from her sons, especially Richard, who had always been her favorite. She did not have the opportunity to see her sons very often during this time, but she was released for special occasions, such as Christmas. About four miles away from Shrewsbury and the nearby Haughmond Abbey is “Queen Eleanor’s Bower”. The remains of a triangular castle that is believed to have been one of her prisons.

Rosamund Clifford and the Younger Henry Die

In 1176, Henry would lose the woman reputed to be his great love, Rosamund Clifford, who he had met in 1166 and began his liaison with in 1173, when he was supposedly contemplating a divorce from Eleanor. The affair would cause a monkish scribe to transcribe Rosamund’s name in Latin to “Rosa Immundi”, or “Rose of Unchastity”. The king had many mistresses, even though he had treated earlier liaisons discreetly, he had flaunted Rosamund. Henry may have done this to provoke Eleanor into seeking an annulment, but, if so, the queen would disappoint him.

(c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Rosamund Clifford


Nevertheless, rumors had persisted, perhaps assisted by Henry’s camp, that Eleanor had Rosamund poisoned. It’s also speculated that Eleanor had placed Rosamund in a bathtub and had an old woman cut Rosamund’s arms. Henry had donated a lot of money to Godstow Nunnery, where Rosamund was buried.

In 1183, the Young King Henry had tried again to force his father to give over some of his patrimony. In debt and refusing control of Normandy, he had tried to ambush his father at Limoges. The Younger was joined by troops that were sent by his brother Geoffrey and Philip II of France. Henry II’s troops would besiege the town and forced his son to flee. After wandering aimlessly through Aquitaine, the Younger came down with dysentery. On Saturday, the 11th of June 1183, the Young King realized that he was dying and was overcome with remorse for his sins. When his father’s ring was sent to him, he had begged that his father would show mercy to his mother and that all of his companions would plead with Henry to set her free. His father would then send Thomas of Earley, the Archdeacon of Wells, to break the news to Eleanor at Sarum. She reputedly had a dream in which she had foreseen her son’s death.

During 1193, Eleanor would tell Pope Celestine III that she was tortured by her son’s memory. King Philip II of France would claim that certain properties in Normandy had belonged to his half-sister Marguerite, the widow of the younger Henry. However, Henry would insist that they had once belonged to Eleanor and would revert to her upon her son’s passing. For this reason, Henry had summoned Eleanor to Normandy in the late summer of 1183. She had stayed in Normandy for six months, this being the beginning of a period of greater freedom for the still-supervised Eleanor.

Early in 1184, Eleanor would go back to England, and over the next few years she had often traveled with her husband and was at times associated with him in the government of the realm. She would still have a custodian so that she was not free.

Eleanor’s Widowhood

On the 6th of July 1189, on the death of Eleanor’s husband, Henry II, Richard I was the undisputed heir. One of his first acts as King was to send William Marshal to England with the orders to release Eleanor from prison. He would find, upon his arrival, that her custodians had already released her.


Richard I


Eleanor had rode to Westminster and received the oaths of fealty from any lords and prelates on behalf of the king. She ruled over England, in Richard’s name, signing herself “Eleanor, by the grace of God, Queen of England”.

On the 13th of August, Richard set sail from Barfleur for Portsmouth and was received with enthusiasm. Eleanor would rule over England as regent while King Richard went off on the Third Crusade. Later, when Richard was captured, Eleanor had personally negotiated his ransom by going to Germany. She would survive Richard and lived well into the reign of her youngest son, King John.

During 1199, under the terms of a truce between King Philip II and King John, it was agreed that Philip’s twelve-year-old heir-apparent, Louis, would be married to one of John’s nieces, the daughters of his sister Eleanor of Castile. John instructed his mother to travel to Castile to select one of the princesses. Now seventy-seven years old, Eleanor set out from Poitiers. Just outside of the city she was ambushed and held captive by Hugh IX of Lusignan, whose lands had been sold to Henry II by his forebears. Eleanor would secure her freedom by agreeing to his demands. She then continued South, crossing the Pyrenees and traveled through the Kingdoms of Navarre and Castile. She would arrive in Castile before the end of January of 1200.

King Alfonso VIII and Eleanor’s daughter, Queen Eleanor of Castile, had two remaining unmarried daughters, Urraca and Blanche. Eleanor selected the younger daughter, Blanche and stayed for two months at the Castilian court. Then in late March she journeyed with Blanche back across the Pyrenees, celebrating Easter in Bordeaux, where the famous warrior Mercadier came to her court.

It was decided that Mercadier would escort the Queen and Princess to the North. “On the second day in Easter week, he was slain in the city by a man-at-arms in the service of Brandin”. Brandin was a rival mercenary captain and this tragedy would be too much for the elderly queen, who was fatigued and unable to continue to Normandy. Eleanor and Blanche would ride in easy stages to the valley of the Loire. She then entrusted Blanche to the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who would take over as her escort. Exhausted, Eleanor wen to Fontevraud, where she would remain. In the early summer, Eleanor became ill and her son John had visited her here.

During the early part of 1201, Eleanor was again sick and when war broke out between John and Philip, Eleanor declared her support for John. She would leave Fontevraud to go to her capital, Poitiers, to prevent her grandson Arthur I, Duke of Brittany, posthumous son of her son Geoffrey and John’s rival for the English throne, from taking control. Arthur had learned of Eleanor’s whereabouts and besieged her in the castle of Mirebeau, as soon as John heard of this, he marched to the South, overcame the besiegers and captured the fifteen-year-old Arthur. His mother then returned to Fontevraud where she took the veil as a nun.

Sometime in 1204, Eleanor would pass away. She was entombed in Fontevraud Abbey next to her husband, Henry and her son, Richard. Her tomb effigy shows her reading a Bible and is decorated with magnificent jewelry. By the time of her passing, Eleanor had outlived all of her children except for King John of England and Queen Eleanor of Castile.


Eleanor and Henry’s Tomb


What Did Eleanor Look Like?

Contemporary sources praise Eleanor’s beauty. Even during an era when ladies of the nobility were excessively praised, the praise of Eleanor was undoubtedly sincere. When she was a young girl she was described as perpulchra; more than beautiful. At the age of thirty, Bernard de Ventadour, a noted troubadour, called Eleanor “gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm.” He would say that she had “lovely eyes and noble countenance.” Declaring that she was “one meet to crown the state of any king.” William of Newburgh had emphasized the charms of her person as well.

Even in old age, Richard of Devizes had described her as being beautiful. Matthew Paris would write in the 13th century about Eleanor and recalled her “admirable beauty”. However, no one has left a more detailed description of her. The color of her hair and eyes for example, are not known. The effigy on her tomb shows a tall and large-boned woman with brown skin. This may not be an accurate representation though. Eleanor’s seal of about 1152 shows her with a slender figure, but this is likely an impersonal image.

For more information on the Basilica of St. Denis

For more information on Abbot Suger


7 thoughts on “Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)”

  1. Fascinating detail about a well-known historical figure. As always, the research is meticulous, and you enlighten us as to many little-known facts. Ancestry research is becoming very popular here, and is the subject of a well-liked BBC TV show. I am not sure if you can watch this in America, but here’s a link anyway.
    If you can’t look at the video, here’s a text link from a newspaper review.
    I watched the show, and it was very interesting.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol yes I have watched all of the US Version and have started watching the UK version online love it I learn so much more about other countries that I never knew on there.


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