April Queen: Eleanor of Aquitaine

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This, and her known age of 82 at her death make more likely the year of birth. Her birthplace may have been Poitiers , Bordeaux , or Nieul-sur-l'Autise , where her mother and brother died when Eleanor was 6 or 8. In Paris as the queen of France she was called Helienordis, her honorific name as written in the Latin epistles. By all accounts, Eleanor's father ensured that she had the best possible education. Her four-year-old brother William Aigret and their mother died at the castle of Talmont on Aquitaine's Atlantic coast in the spring of Eleanor became the heir presumptive to her father's domains.

The Duchy of Aquitaine was the largest and richest province of France. Poitou, where Eleanor spent most of her childhood, and Aquitaine together were almost one-third the size of modern France. Eleanor had only one other legitimate sibling, a younger sister named Aelith, also called Petronilla. The notion that she had another half-brother, William, has been discredited. Upon reaching Bordeaux, he left them in the 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.

Eleanor, aged 12 to 15, then became the duchess of Aquitaine, and thus the most eligible heiress in Europe. As these were the days when kidnapping an heiress was seen as a viable option for obtaining a title, William dictated a will on the very day he died that bequeathed his domains to Eleanor and appointed King Louis VI of France as her guardian. The duke also insisted to his companions that his death be kept a secret until Louis was informed; the men were to journey from Saint James of Compostela across the Pyrenees as quickly as possible to call at Bordeaux to notify the archbishop, then to make all speed to Paris to inform the king.

The king of France, known as Louis the Fat, was also gravely ill at that time, suffering from a bout of dysentery from which he appeared unlikely to recover. Yet despite his impending death, Louis's mind remained clear. His heir, Prince Louis , had originally been destined for the monastic life of a younger son , but had become the heir apparent when his elder brother Philip died from a riding accident in The death of William, one of the king's most powerful vassals, made available the most desirable duchy in France.

While presenting a solemn and dignified face to the grieving Aquitainian messengers, Louis exulted when they departed. Rather than act as guardian to the duchess and duchy, he decided to marry the duchess to his 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 House of Capet.

Within hours, the king had arranged for Prince Louis to be married to Eleanor, with Abbot Suger in charge of the wedding arrangements. Thus, her holdings would not be merged with France until the next generation. This vase is the only object connected with Eleanor of Aquitaine that still survives. Louis's tenure as count of Poitou and duke of Aquitaine and Gascony lasted only a few days.

Although he had been invested as such on 8 August , a messenger gave him the news that Louis VI had died of dysentery on 1 August while he and Eleanor were making a tour of the provinces. He and Eleanor were anointed and crowned king and queen of France on Christmas Day of the same year. Possessing a high-spirited nature, Eleanor was not popular with the staid northerners; according to sources, Louis's mother Adelaide of Maurienne thought her flighty and a bad influence.

The king was madly in love with his beautiful and worldly bride, however, and granted her every whim, even though her behavior baffled and vexed him. In , the Archbishopric of Bourges became vacant, and the king put forward as a candidate one of his chancellors, Cadurc, while vetoing the one suitable candidate, Pierre de la Chatre , who was promptly elected by the canons of Bourges and consecrated by the Pope.

Louis accordingly bolted the gates of Bourges against the new bishop.

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The Pope, recalling similar attempts by William X to exile supporters of Innocent from Poitou and replace them with priests loyal to himself, blamed Eleanor, saying that Louis was only a child and should be taught manners. Outraged, Louis swore upon relics that so long as he lived Pierre should never enter Bourges.

An interdict was thereupon imposed upon the king's lands, and Pierre was given refuge by Theobald II, Count of Champagne. Eleanor urged Louis to support her sister's marriage to Count Raoul. Theobald had also offended Louis by siding with the Pope in the dispute over Bourges. The war lasted two years —44 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 sought refuge in the church there died in the flames. Horrified, 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. This was duly lifted for long enough to allow Theobald's lands to be restored; it was then lowered once more when Raoul refused to repudiate Petronilla, prompting Louis to return to Champagne and ravage it once more. In June , the king and queen visited the newly built monastic church at Saint-Denis.

While there, the queen met with Bernard of Clairvaux, demanding that he use his influence with the Pope to have the excommunication of Petronilla and Raoul lifted, in exchange for which King Louis would make concessions in Champagne and recognise Pierre de la Chatre as archbishop of Bourges. Dismayed at her attitude, Bernard scolded Eleanor for her lack of penitence and interference in matters of state.

In response, Eleanor broke down and meekly excused her behaviour, claiming to be bitter because of her lack of children.

In response, Bernard became more kindly towards her: "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 April , Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, Marie.

Louis, however, still burned with guilt over the massacre at Vitry and wished to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to atone for his sins. Accordingly, Louis declared on Christmas Day at Bourges his intention of going on a crusade. Eleanor of Aquitaine 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 from the French crown against the Saracens. Eleanor recruited some of her royal ladies-in-waiting for the campaign as well as non-noble Aquitainian vassals. She insisted on taking part in the Crusades as the feudal leader of the soldiers from her duchy.

The story that she and her ladies dressed as Amazons is disputed by historians, sometimes confused with the account of King Conrad's train of ladies during this campaign in Edward Gibbon 's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The Crusade itself achieved little. Louis was a weak and ineffectual military leader with no skill for maintaining troop discipline or morale, or of making informed and logical tactical decisions. In eastern Europe, the French army was at times hindered by Manuel I Comnenus , the Byzantine Emperor , who feared that the Crusade would jeopardize the tenuous safety of his empire.

She was compared with Penthesilea , mythical queen of the Amazons , by the Greek historian Nicetas Choniates. He added that she gained the epithet chrysopous golden-foot from the cloth of gold that decorated and fringed her robe. Louis and Eleanor stayed in the Philopation palace just outside the city walls. From the moment the Crusaders entered Asia Minor , things began to go badly. However, while camping near Nicea, the remnants of the German army, including a dazed and sick King Conrad, staggered past the French camp, bringing news of their disaster.

The French, with what remained of the Germans, then began to march in increasingly disorganized fashion towards Antioch. They were in high spirits on Christmas Eve, when they chose to camp in a lush valley near Ephesus. Here they were ambushed by a Turkish detachment, but the French proceeded to slaughter this detachment and appropriate their camp. Louis then decided to cross the Phrygian mountains directly in the hope of reaching Eleanor's uncle Raymond in Antioch more quickly.

As they ascended the mountains, however, the army and the king and queen were horrified to discover the unburied corpses of the German army previously slaughtered there. On the day set for the crossing of Mount Cadmus, Louis chose to take charge of the rear of the column, where the unarmed pilgrims and the baggage trains marched. The vanguard, with which Queen Eleanor marched, was commanded by her Aquitainian vassal, Geoffrey de Rancon. Unencumbered by baggage, they reached the summit of Cadmus, where Rancon had been ordered to make camp for the night.

Rancon, however, chose to continue on, deciding in concert with Amadeus III, Count of Savoy , Louis's uncle, that a nearby plateau would make a better campsite. Such disobedience was reportedly common. This resulted in the army becoming separated, with some having already crossed the summit and others still approaching it.

The History Press | Eleanor of Aquitaine’s greatest gamble

At this point the Turks, who had been following and feinting for many days, seized their opportunity and attacked those who had not yet crossed the summit. The French, both soldiers and pilgrims, taken by surprise, were trapped. Those who tried to escape were caught and killed. Many men, horses, and much of the baggage were cast into the canyon below.

The chronicler William of Tyre , writing between and and thus perhaps too long after the event to be considered historically accurate, placed the blame for this disaster firmly on the amount of baggage being carried, much of it reputedly belonging to Eleanor and her ladies, and the presence of non-combatants. The king, having scorned royal apparel in favour of a simple pilgrim's tunic, escaped notice, unlike his bodyguards, whose skulls were brutally smashed and limbs severed.

He reportedly "nimbly and bravely scaled a rock by making use of some tree roots which God had provided for his safety" and managed to survive the attack. Others were not so fortunate: "No aid came from Heaven, except that night fell. Official blame for the disaster was placed on Geoffrey de Rancon, who had made the decision to continue, and it was suggested that he be hanged, a suggestion which the king ignored.

Since Geoffrey was Eleanor's vassal, many believed that it was she who had been ultimately responsible for the change in plan, and thus the massacre. This suspicion of responsibility did nothing for her popularity in Christendom. She was also blamed for the size of the baggage train and the fact that her Aquitainian soldiers had marched at the front and thus were not involved in the fight.

Continuing on, the army became split, with the commoners marching toward Antioch and the royalty traveling by sea. When most of the land army arrived, the king and queen had a dispute. Some, such as John of Salisbury and William of Tyre, say Eleanor's reputation was sullied by rumours of an affair with her uncle Raymond. However, this rumor may have been a ruse, as Raymond, through Eleanor, had been trying to induce Louis to use his army to attack the actual Muslim encampment at nearby Aleppo , gateway to retaking Edessa , which had all along, by papal decree, been the main objective of the Crusade.

Although this was perhaps the better military plan, Louis was not keen to fight in northern Syria. One of Louis's avowed Crusade goals was to journey in pilgrimage to Jerusalem , and he stated his intention to continue. Consanguinity was grounds for annulment in the medieval period. But rather than allowing her to stay, Louis took Eleanor from Antioch against her will and continued on to Jerusalem with his dwindling army.

Louis's refusal and his forcing her to accompany him humiliated Eleanor, and she maintained a low profile for the rest of the crusade.

April Queen (Eleanor of Aquitaine)

Damascus was a major wealthy trading centre and was under normal circumstances a potential threat, but the rulers of Jerusalem had recently entered into a truce with the city, which they then forswore. It was a gamble that did not pay off, and whether through military error or betrayal, the Damascus campaign was a failure. Louis's long march to Jerusalem and back north, which Eleanor was forced to join, debilitated his army and disheartened her knights; the divided Crusade armies could not overcome the Muslim forces, and the royal couple had to return home.

The French royal family retreated to Jerusalem and then sailed to Rome and made their way back to Paris. While in the eastern Mediterranean, Eleanor learned about maritime conventions developing there, which were the beginnings of what would become admiralty law.

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She was also instrumental in developing trade agreements with Constantinople and ports of trade in the Holy Lands. Even before the Crusade, Eleanor and Louis were becoming estranged, and their differences were only exacerbated while they were abroad. Eleanor's purported relationship with her uncle Raymond, [17] the ruler of Antioch, was a major source of discord. Eleanor 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, she now showed what was considered to be "excessive affection" toward her uncle.

Raymond had plans to abduct Eleanor, to which she consented. Home, however, was not easily reached. Louis and Eleanor, on separate ships due to their disagreements, were first attacked in May by Byzantine ships attempting to capture both on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor.

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Although they escaped this attempt unharmed, stormy weather drove Eleanor's ship far to the south to the Barbary Coast and caused her to lose track of her husband. Neither was heard of for over two months. In mid-July, Eleanor's ship finally reached Palermo in Sicily, where she discovered 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 eventually reached Calabria , and she set out to meet him there. Later, at King Roger's court in Potenza , she learned of the death of her uncle Raymond, who had been beheaded by Muslim forces in the Holy Land. This news appears to have forced a change of plans, for instead of returning to France from Marseilles , they went to see Pope Eugene III in Tusculum , where he had been driven five months before by a revolt of the Commune of Rome. Eugene did not, as Eleanor had hoped, grant an annulment.

Instead, he attempted to reconcile Eleanor and Louis, confirming the legality of their marriage. He proclaimed that no word could be spoken against it, and that it might not be dissolved under any pretext. Eventually, he arranged events so that Eleanor had no choice [ clarification needed ] but to sleep with Louis in a bed specially prepared [ how? The marriage was now doomed. Still without a son and in danger of being left with no male heir, facing substantial opposition to Eleanor from many of his barons and her own desire for annulment, Louis bowed to the inevitable.

On 11 March , they met at the royal castle of Beaugency to dissolve the marriage. Hugues de Toucy, archbishop of Sens , presided, and Louis and Eleanor were both present, as were the archbishop of Bordeaux and Rouen. Archbishop Samson of Reims acted for Eleanor. On 21 March, the four archbishops, with the approval of Pope Eugene, granted an annulment on grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree; Eleanor was Louis' third cousin once removed, and shared common ancestry with Robert II of France. Their two daughters were, however, declared legitimate.

Children born to a marriage that was later annulled were not at risk of being "bastardized," because "[w]here parties married in good faith, without knowledge of an impediment, Archbishop Samson received assurances from Louis that Eleanor's lands would be restored to her. As soon as she arrived in Poitiers, Eleanor sent envoys to Henry, duke of Normandy and future king of England, asking him to come at once to marry her. On 18 May Whit Sunday , eight weeks after her annulment, Eleanor married Henry "without the pomp and ceremony that befitted their rank.

A marriage between Henry and Eleanor's daughter Marie had earlier been declared impossible due to their status as third cousins once removed. It was rumored by some that Eleanor had had an affair with Henry's own father, Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou , who had advised his son to avoid any involvement with her. On 25 October , Henry became king of England. Eleanor was crowned queen of England by the archbishop of Canterbury on 19 December John Speed , in his work History of Great Britain , mentions the possibility that Eleanor had a son named Philip, who died young. His sources no longer exist, and he alone mentions this birth.

Eleanor's marriage to Henry was reputed to be tumultuous and argumentative, although sufficiently cooperative to produce at least eight pregnancies. Henry was by no means faithful to his wife and had a reputation for philandering.

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Henry fathered other, illegitimate children throughout the marriage. Eleanor appears to have taken an ambivalent attitude towards these affairs. Geoffrey of York , for example, was an illegitimate son of Henry, but acknowledged by Henry as his child and raised at Westminster in the care of the queen. 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, defied the authority of Henry as Eleanor's husband and answered only to their duchess.

Attempts were made to claim Toulouse , the rightful inheritance of Eleanor's grandmother Philippa of Toulouse , but they ended in failure. A bitter feud arose between the king and Thomas Becket , initially his chancellor and closest adviser and later the archbishop of Canterbury. Louis of France had remarried and been widowed; he married for the third time and finally fathered a long-hoped-for son, Philip Augustus, also known as Dieudonne—God-given.

Eight weeks before, Eleanor had been Queen of France. Although Henry and Eleanor had a tumultuous marriage which is unsurprising when you consider that both spouses were such strong-willed people , it was a very fruitful one. Eleanor gave birth to eight children:.

In this second marriage, Eleanor developed more of a relationship with her offspring. Maybe it was the fact she saw them more often at a smaller English court that encouraged her to bond with them, but I think it more likely that she came to love the children as they aged and she grew to know them as people.

Over time, the queen became strongly attached to some of the children, but not to all of them. She even seemed to actively dislike a few of her kids, particularly her youngest son, the future King John. The enraged and unhappy queen even supported her sons in an unprecedented open rebellion against their father. When Richard died without and heir and his brother John came to the throne, the now elderly dowager queen continued to rule England in reality, if not in name.

Eleanor was able to negotiate her freedom and forge ahead to Castile, and in the spring of she set out with Blanche for Paris. King John rushed south with an army to save his mother, and captured his nephew. All the historical evidence suggests that John, a sadistic and weak bully, murdered his rival. Instead, the dowager queen retired from the world and took the veil at Fontevraud Abbey. She was interred at Fontevraud Abbey , where she lies in state next to the tomb of King Henry II, and more importantly near to the effigy of her beloved son, King Richard I.

Not in Alexandria, or Rome, or Camelot has there been such a queen.

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