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Thursday, November 27, 2014

52 Ancestors, # 47: Eleanor of Aquitaine, a Woman for the Ages

     Eleanor of Aquitaine is a very famous historical person of whom many biographies, novels, plays and movies have written.  So I won't attempt a new one here.  But she is on my family tree.  There are 27 generations from her to me and 29 to my granddaughter.  My granddaughter is also named Eleanor, spelled Elinor (and apparently Eleanor spelled her name Aelinor in fact). So after Elinor was born I listed all the names of the line from Eleanor to Elinor and called it "From Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elinor of Alameda".

     Eleanor became an heiress at the age of 13, when her father died leaving her the Duchy of Aquitaine.  This land extended from the Loire to the Pyrenees, encompassing much of the east and south of France. She was well educated, unusually so for a woman of that age.  At the age of 15 she married King Louis VII of France.  She was famous for her beauty and also her "Court of Love" where she encouraged troubadours, chivalry and courtly love with music, poetry and art.  She and Louis had two daughters but the marriage was not a happy one.  When Louis took up the Second Crusade in 1145 Eleanor accompanied him along with several of her ladies in waiting and 300 personal vassals.  She and the women dressed in armor and carried lances but they never fought.  The crusade ended badly and she was blamed for this as she had intruded in a place where women did not belong. However, as a result of her experiences in this Crusade she introduced maritime conventions into her own lands as well as into England.  She also was instrumental in developing trade agreements with Constantinople and ports in the Holy Lands.

     The marriage did not survive this experience, though.  In 1252 an annulment was granted. Only eight weeks after the annulment was granted she married Henry Plantagenet, who was to become the King of England.  I believe that this was a marriage of great passion.  Two larger than life people, both very able and ambitious with a passion for each other and for power.  But also each had a commitment to governing the lands in their charge. They had five sons and two daughters.  Two of her sons became king of England and are two of the most famous of those kings.  Richard the Lion Hearted, famous for his exemplifying the chivalric ideal and John, famous for his venal personality and as the signer of the Magna Carta, necessitated by his excesses! In 1173, Eleanor supported three of her sons in fighting against their father.  As a result Henry imprisoned her for fifteen years.  This episode is covered in the excellent movie, "The Lion in Winter". After Henry died she was reinstated and was a major player in ruling England with her sons Richard and John.

     She died in 1204 and was buried next to her husband, Henry and her son, Richard.  She survived all of her children except for King John of England and Queen Eleanor of Castille.  Here was a woman who took her life in her own hands.  She did things that would have been exemplary in a man but were truly remarkable in a woman of the time.  She was also intelligent, educated, cultured and beautiful. She stands out with a handful of women in Western history who were way beyond the norm.

1 comment:

  1. 300 personal vassals?! Wow. I'd be happy to make do with just one or two. :-)

    I'll have to get a copy of "Lion in Winter," I think!