History of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Aliénor d’Aquitaine), twice queen, mother of eleven children. She born around 1122, and died on March 31 or April 1, 1204 in Poitiers, and not at the Abbey of Fontevraud, was in turn Queen of France, then Queen of England.
Aquitaine is a historical region of southwestern France and a former administrative region of the country.
At age of thirteen, the young Aliénor already demonstrates an exceptional personality: cheerful, brilliant and in love with the arts, she is aware of being the heir to an influential duchy. But in 1137, his fate changed…
Here is the incredible journey of an indomitable young girl, before she becomes duchess then queen …
« Aliénor d’Aquitaine does nothing by halves, she lives until she is 80 years old. She has ten children and two kings as husbands. She first married the King of France, Louis VII. She divorces. Then she remarried to the future King of England, Henry II. Solid health and a hell of a appetite: for politics, for art, for life! «
An intimate and hectic political life but also a taste for remarkable art: she played the role of patron of the poets and troubadours of her time who fascinated her, whom she supported and who paid her numerous tributes in music and songs. She is nicknamed “the queen of the troubadours (artist)!”
Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitiers, she occupied a central place in relations between the kingdoms of France and England in the 12th century: she successively married the King of France Louis VII (1137), then Henri Plantagenêt (1152), future King of England Henry II, thus reversing the balance of power by bringing his land to one and then to the other of the two sovereigns. At the sumptuous court that she holds in Aquitaine, she favors the poetic expression of troubadours in the langue d’oc. From her first marriage (during which she participated in the Second Crusade), she played an important political role in medieval Europe.
Aliénor, queen of France
Louis VII the younger is a weak king, very devout. Little respected by his vassals, whose possessions were often more important than the royal domain, he stood aside from everything, participating in nothing, entrusting the government in part to Father Suger. Aliénor says “he is more a monk than a king”, but their first daughter Marie de France was born in 1145 (she married the Count of Champagne Henri I and died in 1198). The king’s only salvation lies in the crusade requested by Pope Eugene III in March 1146. Convinced by the words of Saint Bernard, Louis VII sets out for the holy lands, followed by his court and an Eleanor “light and dissipated. Busy having fun. From Constantinople to Asia Minor, Eleanor discovers magnificent landscapes but … is ambushed by the Saracens near Iconium. Thanks to the knights, she escaped and yet the main body of the army was defeated.
The King of France Louis arriving shortly after is involved in the battle for four hours and happily reunites with Eleanor in Antioch, where they are received royally by the queen’s uncle: Raymond de Poitiers, Duke of Antioch. The feasts have a special character due to the customs and customs of Asia. Eleanor happily indulges in the pleasure of these feasts and the king holds it against him. He finds the relations between Eleanor and his uncle questionable, he becomes indignant and decides to leave the place.
The queen refuses to leave and speaks of separation, the situation escalates … but she must nevertheless obey. The rumor is launched on the extramarital affairs of the queen … with her uncle. The king sets sail for Europe on the ships of the king of Sicily. Then stopping in Rome, he confided in the Pope about Eleanor: he wanted to repudiate her …
The breakdown of the marriage with Louis VII
Back in France, after four years of absence, Louis VII finds his friend Father Suger who calms him down, helps him with his worries and explains to him that he is strongly against this repudiation. The royal couple are reconciled and a second daughter is born in 1150: Alix who will marry the count of Blois Thibault le Bon and who will die in 1195. But Suger dies in January 1152, the king loses a friend full of wisdom and the situation worsens again in the couple. Finally, at Easter 1152, he presented his request to an assembly of prelates: a request for the nullity of the marriage.
The Chancellor has this speech: “It is useless,” he said, “to dwell on the king’s sorrows, and on what happened in Palestine; there is no one who does not know the rumors that have circulated, and the king, who wants to respect the honor of this great princess, must not go into the truth of the facts whose certainty would oblige him to display all his severity. It relates to the queen herself. When she wanted to Antioch to separate from the king her husband, she invoked kinship as a testimony of the nullity of her marriage; this is what the king submits to the judgment of the Assembly. If the kinship is proven, Louis’ union with Aliénor will be annulled ”.
The Archbishop of Bordeaux then admits that kinship does exist in the fourth degree through the women of Burgundy. The nullity is pronounced immediately during this council of Beaugency. At the announcement of this news, Eleanor fainted, then recovering she was surprised at the king’s decision “Ah! Gentlemen, what have I done to the king why he wants to abandon me? How did I offend him? What fault has he found in me? I am young enough for him, I am not sterile … I am rich enough; I have always obeyed him… ”.
Quickly regaining her senses, at the head of Poitou and all of Aquitaine, she feels threatened with kidnapping (the count of Anjou, Geoffroy Plantagenêt wanted to arrest her in order to marry her), flees Blois, passes through Tours and takes refuge in Poitiers, in the hope of marrying Henri Plantagenêt, Duke of Normandy, brother of Geoffroy. Their first meeting had taken place in 1151 and had been very successful. He has everything to please the rich heiress: a demeanor announcing his high birth, golden blond hair, a gentle look, an address for all the exercises of the body, at ease at court, he is twenty years old. Six weeks after the repudiation, Henri proposed to her in marriage.
Eleanor, Queen of England
Although Louis VII made every effort to prevent this union, Aliénor married Henri in May 1152; the latter becomes King of England and takes the name of Henry II. Eleanor, Duchess of Normandy, Queen of England does not find happiness, her husband being fickle and moreover, he has no intention of letting her power! She just has the right to take care of the eight children who will be born: Guillaume (1153-1156); Henri the Younger (1155-1183); Mathilde (1156-1189) wife of Henri le Bon, mother of Emperor Otto IV; Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199) King of England; Geoffroy (1158-1186) father of Arthur; Aliénor (1161-1214) wife of the King of Castile, mother of Blanche of Castile; Jeanne (1165-1199) wife of William II king of Sicily, then Raymond V count of Toulouse, becomes abbess of Fontevraud; John the Landless (1166-1216) King of England at the expense of Arthur.
Furious, Eleanor stages scenes with her husband, turning from anger to tenderness, even leading the children against their father, by providing them with weapons, by pushing them to ally themselves with Scotland against him. She left England and retired to Poitiers, in the midst of her court of poets. Henry II, suspecting Eleanor of being at the origin of the death of his former mistress Rosemonde and at the end of his patience, locked him in prison for sixteen years, in Chinon, and in various castles in England.
She did not come out until her eldest son Richard the Lionheart, once on the throne after the death of Henry II in July 1189, freed her. From that day on, still ruling Aquitaine and Poitou, she visited her regions and decided to open all the prisons. While Richard the Lionheart is on a crusade, she ensures the Regency and receives a more than warm welcome at each of her visits to the various regions. But out of jealousy and the need for power, she ousted Richard’s young bride, Philippe Auguste’s sister: she doesn’t want anyone other than herself on the throne! She ended up accepting and negotiating the marriage of Bérangère d’Aragon and Richard.
A little later, she scrambles and devotes herself body and soul to free Richard, who has just been captured and handed over to Emperor Henry VI, on his return from the crusade. She goes to great lengths to raise the huge ransom she has demanded. Richard was released in February 1194, but a few years later he was injured and died in Limousin in 1199.
Rather than seeing another lineage rise to power, she pushes Jean sans Terre, her last son, to the throne. She still goes to look for her little daughter Blanche in Castile and takes part in the marriage negotiations with the son of Philippe Auguste, the future Louis VIII.
End of life in Fontevraud
Having reached the end of her life, she left her inheritance to her grandson Henri III, then retired definitively to the Abbey of Fontevraud in Maine. He takes the veil there while making donations and alms to the poor. After a busy life, “the most beautiful and richest flower in Aquitaine, the incomparable pearl of the South” died in March 1204 at the age of 82. She rests in Fontevraud, first alongside her husband, then her son Richard and her daughter-in-law Isabelle d´Angoulême (wife of Jean sans Terre). Today we can see their four polychrome recumbent figures facing the high altar of the abbey.
Considered for a time by historians to be the cause, through his conduct, his divorce and his remarriage, of three centuries of conflict with England, we now perceive this famous figure in a different way. Eleanor of Aquitaine embodies the liberated woman of the 13th century, symbol of an enlightened and pleasant Middle Ages; however, some would like to portray her as the archetype of the medieval princess, more to be pitied than admired. If Aliénor continues to arouse such strong positions, it is because she remains above all a central female figure in our history.
The Legend of Queen Eleanor
The scandal and the myth of the Queen:
The scandal of ALIENOR
From the end of the eleventh century, Aliénor was already the object of a scandalous legend; even during the queen’s lifetime, gossip began to spread about her. It is said that she gave her body to the Saracens during the crusade, she is credited with an adventure with Saladin (who was however still a child at the time when Eleanor accompanied her husband on the crusade) and, another more likely with Raimond de Poitiers.
Soon after her death, she became a source of inspiration for storytellers, minstrels and poets. Historians, almost all of the Church, make her the archetype of the scandalous woman, the living proof of the wicked feminine nature. It is because Eleanor flouted the established order at least twice. The first, when she asked for and obtained a divorce from the King of France after having ridiculed him. The second, by freeing herself from the tutelage of her second husband, King Henry, against whom she takes sides alongside her sons. Not to mention his love affairs, which are certainly not all of the legend.
From the Romantic period, the legend of Eleanor gains momentum, but the caricature of the sensual and adulterous woman gives way to a more nuanced portrait. Eleanor the scandalous remains the free and seductive woman, of course, but above all the cultured queen, imposing the richness of Occitan culture on the brutality of the customs of the Capetian court. Aliénor becomes the “queen of the troubadours”, the inspiration for courtly love. Its beauty and charm inspire writers and historians. Her recumbent figure in Fontevrault represents her with an open book in her hands. Aliénor then embodies two images, on the one hand the influential and opinionated sovereign, on the other the woman freely disposing of her heart and her body.
Was she a manipulator, sensual and adulterous, as the historians of the following century wanted to make it believe? Or a victim to be pitied
? It is certain that its political role was great, and that it gave a real impetus to the development of Occitan culture. A woman of character, she took responsibility for the scandal caused by her divorce. And she cared until the end of helping her sons establish their power, be they incompetent or felon.
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