Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)

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Eleanor of Aquitaine

Who was Eleanor of Aquitaine?

Eleanor of Aquitaine is considered as the most influential and powerful woman of 12th century. After the death of her father in 1137, she inherited the vast lands of Aquitaine at the age of 15. The same year, she married to Louis VII and became queen of France. However, due some personal conflicts, the two separated in 1152. She then married to Henry II and became Queen of England and gave birth to eight children. What made her superior from other queens of her era was her strong will and intelligence. Unlike others, she participated in the matters of her state and helped draft a lot of administrative reforms. She is best known for promoting courtly rituals. She lived long enough to see her first two sons King Richard I and King John ruling over the empire and contributed in their tenures, serving as their best advisor. Eleanor of Aquitaine

Early years

  Eleanor was born to William X, the Duke of Aquitaine and Aenor de Chatellerault. Although the exact year of her birth is not known, it is widely accepted that she was born in 1122 in Bordeaux. Eleanor got to spend very little time with her mother who, along with her son, died in the spring of 1130, when Eleanor was just 8 years old, leaving the responsibility of Eleanor and her younger sister Aelith on their father. This made Eleanor the immediate heir to the throne. King William raised her to be an extremely talented girl, who besides being good in domestic tasks excelled in studies and literature. She also learned to have a command over hunting and riding. Her life was going well until tragedy hit her on April 9, 1137. While on pilgrimage in the city of Compostella, her father died making his 15 year old daughter Duchess of Aquitaine. However, she was still in guardianship of King Louis VI of France, who with the intention to increase his power and dominance fixed her marriage with his only surviving son named Louis.

Eleanor of Aquitaine as the Queen of France

The two married on 15 July 1137 in Bordeaux and became to known as Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine. However, they got very little time to settle and to get to know each other due to the sudden death of king of France on August 1137. Following the death, the couple was announced as King and Queen of France on December 25, 1137. The starting years of their marriage went quite well, with both giving their full attention to their governmental works as well as enjoying their private life. Eleanor strived hard to improve conditions of the court. She also traveled from town to town, holding courts along with her husband. She brought from Aquitaine her culture and customs such as language and fashion. She also improved the condition of women of France by providing them a greater degree of respect. However, her measures were not welcomed by many of the important political figures, who began to criticize her actions. At the same time, king Louis was also not doing well in politics. Due to his young age and inexperience, he took a number of wrong political and military steps, which created a conflict between him and other political figures, especially with the Bernard of Clairvaux. One of his blunders include a siege of the town of Vitry. During the siege, hundreds of civilians moved towards the church, which was set to fire by Louis’ troops. This was the huge setback for the government of King Louis. However, these setbacks did not stop him and he led another crusade from 1147 to 1149, accompanied by Eleanor, to protect holy land of Jerusalem from attack of Turks. The crusade, although did not prove successful, the military actions taken by Eleanor created jealousy in the heart of King Louis against her. The relations between husband and wife began to deteriorate soon after their return from crusade and in 1150. The birth of their second daughter, named Alix further worsened their relation. Due to her inability to give birth to a son so that he could become a heir, combined with their internal conflicts led to their divorce on March 21, 1152, on the basis that they were third cousins. Their daughters were given to the custody of king Louis. Soon after her divorce, she regained all her possessions and even her title as Duchess of Aquitaine. Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor as Queen of England

After rejecting proposals from many of the noblemen, Eleanor finally accepted the offer from Henry, who was the Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. The two married on May 18, 1152 when Eleanor was 29 and Henry was 18. The marriage proved to be more successful than the previous one. From the period of 1152 to 1167, the couple had eight children, five sons; William who was named in honor of her father, Henry, Richard, Jeoffrey and John and three daughters; Matilda, Eleanor and Joanna. Three of her sons and two of her daughters would later grow up to become kings and queens respectively. In 1154, after the death of King Stephen, keeping in consideration his successful campaigns and support from many people, Henry was crowned as the King of England and Eleanor was crowned as Queen. She proved herself to be the great queen by participating in all the governmental decision making process and administrative actions. She also travelled between lands of France and England. She used to serve as the substitute in  the absence of her husband, keeping control over the whole empire and solving all newly arising problems as well as old disputes. She used to keep her vigilant eye over the tax collection system. In 1167, after the birth of their last child, they developed disagreements among each other and the main reason of this revolved around the infidelity of King Henry. The following year she went to Poitiers where she spent next five years of her life. There she turned the court into the centre of literature, poetry and music. The court attracted many artists who contributed to the flourishment of art and culture

Imprisonment

On her return to England in 1173, she began to get extremely upset on her husband’s infidelities. In order to get her possession and land of Aquitaine back, she planned a revolt against her husband in alliance with her three elder sons. Her eldest son, also known as Henry, flew one night to England to raise an army against his father. However, the conspiracy was already suspected by the king due to certain previous events, which became the main reason why all the plotting and planning failed. In an attempt to flee, Eleanor took refuge in her uncle’s house but before reaching her safety destination, she was caught by King Henry’s men and was made his captive. He could not hold his anger against his wife and put her behind the bars for next fifteen years. Very rarely she was allowed to travel to Aquitaine where she transferred her power to her son Richard. During all these years, she was never allowed to meet her sons.

Later years and Death

 In 1189, king Henry died and his son Richard, the lion hearted, took his position as the king. The first thing he did immediately after coming to throne was to order release of her mother. Upon her release, she returned to the political works, this time with even more will and enthusiasm. She acted as regent during his rule when he led the third crusade which was about to leave shortly before the death of his father. She also raised the fund to pay the ransom when he was captured by the Duke of Austria on his return to England. She kept her firm control over the empire and left no space for any kind of revolt or conspiracy. She lived long enough to see her youngest son being crowned as king after the death of Richard in 1199, who died with no male heirs. During his era, she served as an envoy to France. She also strived to stabilize the relations between England and France. She stood in support of her son when he faced rebellion from her grandson Arthur and succeeded in protecting his possessions of Aquitaine. Her campaign at Mirebaur is considered as her last political activity after which she retired to Poitou. She died on april1, 1204 serving as nun at Fontevrault, Anjou.

As history portrays, Eleanor was the most influential women of 12th century, who was bold enough to exercise her political power. Her contribution to politics and her influence on culture can not be overlooked. She, without doubt, proved herself to be the most powerful queens of the world.

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