Eleanor Ramnulfids of the House of Poitiers, “Eleanor of Aquitaine,” Queen Consort of the Franks, Queen Consort of England, Duchess of Aquitaine, and Countess of Poitiers.
I always like to say that Eleanor is the Queen of Hearts and one of my favorite Queens in History. At around 15 years old, Eleanor became one of the world’s wealthiest women, when her father, Duke William X of Aquitaine, died suddenly having no male children or relatives to succeed him. Almost immediately the wolves were on the scent. Some local Barons gathered and plotted to abduct the defenseless girl and rape her for her lands and titles. Immediately, the King of France Louis VI (AKA Louis the Fat), Aquitaine’s Overlord as well has Eleanor’s guardian was notified. The Dauphin of France, also named Louis, was dispatched straight away to Aquitaine, to propose marriage to the damsel in distress. To Accompany him was 500 French soldiers, just in case.
Eleanor was told that she must obey her guardian, and she was a very intelligent girl. Her father gave her an outstanding education for a female. She had been groomed as the heir of Aquitaine. She new that to be the wife of the future King of France was a shrewd political move, that brought with it power and protection. Queen of France and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right was better than being wife to Baron such and such who would become Duke. She quickly accepted the Prince’s (or actually King of France’s) offer of marriage. It did not matter that the Prince was not impressive and she did not even know him.
She did not have to wait to become a Queen very long. About a month after they were married, King of the Franks Louis the Fat died. Eleanor’s husband became King Louis VII. The young couple left immediately for France to do their duties. Eleanor left some her most loyal Barons in charge in Aquitaine. One thing that could be said was that her Aquitainian Barons would die for her. They were loyal up until the very end of her exceptionally long life. (Long by medieval standards.)
Eleanor was a handful for her new husband. She was a capable, ambitious, and sensual woman. She loved art of all sorts, particularly the ribald poetry and music of the troubadour. (Her grandfather Duke William IX was a famous troubadour in his own time.) Eleanor also had a taste for politics. Louis mother, thought this was a bit improper, but Eleanor was the type that did not care what anyone thought. The thing was, Louis was never intended to be the Dauphin. He once had an older brother that died suddenly. Like most noble born second sons, Louis was being groomed for the Church. He was pious and timid in the bedroom department. Eleanor was firey and passionate. She was also known throughout the world as a great beauty. She tried very hard to make her husband desire her, but he really was not made for all that. That made Eleanor bored. She encouraged a court of love. She encouraged troubadours and poets and their games of chivalry and courtly love. They praised her beauty and grace, and those of her lovely ladies and waiting, and she learned to be content. Her husband however was irritated. Even though he was not very passionate, he was in love with his beautiful wife and quite jealous. Regardless of their differences a Princess was born in 1145.
It was during the Second Crusade, shortly after her first child’s birth that Eleanor’s marriage was really thrown against the rocks. Eleanor demanded to go on the Crusade. Louis and the clergy were against that idea, yet they needed Aquitainian gold and troops to support their mission. Eleanor insisted she would go or she would not pitch in. They had to eventually cave. Eleanor treated it like an extended vacation. She pretty much brought with her all her household and palace comforts, something soldiers did not do. They were going to battle, not to sight see! There is even a legend saying that Eleanor and her ladies entered Jerusalem dressed as half naked Amazons. (This is most unlikely, but it makes a good story.) What is known is that her behavior annoyed her husband. He blamed her frivolities and her Aquitainian Commanders (who were only loyal to her) for the fact that the Saracens beat them almost to the point of complete annihilation. The king himself was almost killed, but a miracle happened. Since Louis was dressed as a common peasant pilgrim making his way to the Holy Land, the Muslim’s totally bypassed him and just slaughtered his army. This was such a miracle that there were whispers of Sainthood. In the end though, one of Eleanor’s commanders was almost executed because they did not camp in the place Louis told them too, where they would have been able to buffer against the attack against Louis’s men. This caused a rift between husband and wife.
When they went to see Eleanor’s uncle the Prince of Antioch, the fighting ensued. Louis refused to aid Eleanor’s uncle in fighting Saracens attacking his territories. Eleanor was seeking ways to get rid of her disagreeable and over zealous and lousy lover husband. She pondered with the idea of an annulment on the grounds that she was barren and Louis hardly did his husbandly duties. After all the time they had been married, all they had to show for it was one daughter. When she refused to leave with her husband, insisting that her Aquitainians would stay to help her uncle, Louis had to forced her. He had to rough handle his own wife (the Queen) and drag her kicking and screaming from her Uncle’s Palace. It was probably quite a spectacle and very embarrassing for the King. It also earned Eleanor a damaged reputation. Rumors even began to fly that Eleanor was having an affair with her Uncle.
They went home on separate ships, mad at each other. After being attacked and having a rough time at sea, they finally made it back to France. Eleanor tried to petition for an annulment and Louis was horrified. A Priest requested, suggested, or insisted that they work it out and made them spend the night together. To Eleanor’s great displeasure, this made her pregnant. She presented the King with another Princess in 1148, and then claimed this was proof that her marriage was obviously not pleasing to God. If her marriage was, she would have had a son instead. Whether Louis gave up in order to just be rid of her, or he also thought her claims were justified the annulment was granted and Eleanor was sent back to her Duchy in Aquitaine. News of her imminent arrival quickly reached her unruly barons and once again they plotted to seize her.
However, someone got to her first. Henry, Duke of Normandy, The son of Geoffrey Count of Anjou, and Matilda Dowager Holy Roman Empress the self-proclaimed rightful Queen of England. He offered her his hand in marriage and his protection. He also offered her the crown of England. She accepted this and he did obtain the crown of England. Also, so much for being barren, because Eleanor gave birth to eight of Henry II’s children. (Five Princes and Four Princesses.) It’s bad when a King has not enough sons, but it is also bad when he has too many, as you will learn in my essay about Henry II. This marriage was not a necessarily a happy one, but it sure was a passionate one. All those babies kind of validate that at least. Anyway, this was Eleanor’s true legacy. Queen of France, then Queen of England, and mother to two Kings.