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Title: Eleanor of Aquitaine.

By: McGill, Sara Ann, Eleanor of Aquitaine, 2005 Database: MasterFILE Premier

HTML Full Text Eleanor of Aquitaine

1. 2. 3. 4. Early Life Queen of France The Second Crusade Queen of England

Eleanor of Aquitaine lived in the twelfth century in the central regions of present-day France. She was born into an age when women had very little power. Despite the social limitations of the time, Eleanor used her ambition and wit to manipulate her situation and influence the politics of European medieval history. Early Life Eleanor was born in the French region of Bordeaux near the Garonne River circa 1122 AD. Her father, Duke William X of Aquitaine, was a powerful man. His fief was larger than the lands owned by Frankish King Louis VI the Fat. The circumstances surrounding Eleanor's childhood helped to develop her boldness and intelligence. Eleanor's father was occupied with the pressures of his political power, and had little time to be concerned with his daughter's proper upbringing. Eleanor's mother died when she was only eight years old, so she could not supervise Eleanor's training as an aristocratic woman. The poetry and songs Eleanor heard in her father's court in Poitiers appealed to her free spirit. Dukes of Aquitaine patronized artists and entertainers, attracting many poets and troubadours to the region. Aristocratic women occupied themselves with tasks like spinning and sewing, but Eleanor had no interest in such work. Instead, she was allowed to learn to read and write, a privilege usually reserved for boys. She also studied literature, basic math, and basic astronomy. In this environment, Eleanor developed a fearless, immodest, and playful personality. By age fifteen, she was also renowned for her beauty. In 1137, Eleanor's father died, leaving her an orphan. She was William's only living child, which made her the heiress of Aquitaine. However, becoming heiress did not mean that Eleanor could officially be the master of her estate. According to the feudal laws in France, Eleanor's future husband would become lord of Aquitaine. The orphaned Eleanor became the ward of the obese and ailing King Louis VI. Even though the king was on his deathbed, Louis VI saw his opportunity to seize power over the region of Aquitaine. He ordered the marriage of Eleanor to his son, Louis VII. Queen of France

Prince Louis was a quiet sensitive man of sixteen. His life up to this point was devoted to the Church. His Christian piety was in stark contrast to Eleanor's vivacious and bawdy lifestyle. The mismatched and politically inexperienced pair became King and Queen of France in the summer of 1137, following the death of King Louis VI. Louis loved and adored Eleanor, and she exploited her ability to flatter and manipulate him. She convinced the young king to embark on several bold attempts to extend the borders of his realm. As a result, Louis attacked more experienced leaders like the Duke of Toulouse. This endeavor, which ended in failure, only provided Louis with more enemies. The royal couple was married for eight years before they had their first child. Although they hoped for a boy to become the heir to the French throne, Eleanor gave birth to a girl in 1145. They named her Marie. That same year, the Latin Kingdom in the east was struck with a great loss when the Muslim army leader, Zengi, conquered the Crusader Kingdom of Edessa in Mesopotamia. All of Europe feared for the safety of the Latin Kingdom, and religious and secular leaders began to mobilize to win back Edessa. The Second Crusade Louis VII led a large contingent of French knights to the Holy Land in 1147, thanks to Eleanor's influence in Aquitaine and the extensive preaching of the pope's representative, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Like many nobles of the day, Louis brought his wife along with him to the Holy Land. Eleanor chose men and women from Aquitaine to travel with her. Poets and troubadours accompanied Eleanor's party. This company helped to pass the time away on the arduous journey. After crossing Europe and stopping in Constantinople to negotiate with Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus, the French army entered Asia Minor. The journey became more difficult in this barren land. Louis, Eleanor and the entire contingent suffered from thirst and hunger. Louis's army was also weakened by enemy attacks, and the French numbers were significantly reduced. Louis and his men were exhausted from the difficulties they had experienced in Asia Minor. They dragged themselves to the Byzantine town of Attalia. With a plague already beginning to ravage his camp, Louis was desperate to find a solution. The French King used his small treasury to pay Byzantine sailors to carry himself and his highest-ranking knights to Antioch by ship. Unfortunately, Louis was unable to afford enough ships to transport everyone by sea. He was forced to leave his infantry in Attalia, where they eventually died. The French crusader army reached Antioch, located southwest of Edessa along the Syrian coast. Eleanor's Uncle Raymond, who was only eight years older than his niece, commanded this crusader realm. Chroniclers described Raymond as an able knight who was sometimes given to a quick temper. Louis and many of his vassals were surprised by what they found in Antioch. It seemed to the crusaders that the enemy Muslims had infiltrated everything. There were mosques for Muslims to worship in. A number of Christian churches were decorated in Muslim style. Raymond even invited Muslims to dine with the French crusaders. Louis was disgusted with the amount of luxury that the people of Antioch enjoyed. What bothered Louis the most was the close relationship that Eleanor and Raymond seemed to be developing. Eleanor had grown up with Raymond in the courts of Aquitaine and had more in common with Raymond than she did with Louis and the other Franks. Upon Eleanor's arrival in Antioch, the queen and Raymond spent a great deal of time together. Rumors of an affair between the two quickly flew and Louis became blind with jealousy. While Eleanor and Raymond were conducting their alleged affair, Raymond presented his plan to save his realm. He hoped that with Louis's help, they could take back Edessa and thus secure the northern borders of Antioch.

Louis refused to give Raymond any aid. Louis would not help Eleanor's supposed lover to acquire more land for his realm. Instead, Louis announced his intention to go to Jerusalem, where he felt he would be of more use to the crusading campaign. Eleanor could not understand her husband's decision. In a rage, she declared her intention to divorce Louis and remain in Antioch. Eleanor was no doubt weary of her husband's extreme piety and their personality differences. Eleanor's decision seemed to only confirm that she had indeed had an affair with Raymond and only wanted to continue her indecencies. Louis refused to give her the opportunity to remain in Antioch with her lover. After seeking council from a few of his advisors, he forced her to leave the city with him. For the rest of the crusade, she was kept under surveillance. Louis promised Eleanor a divorce only if his subjects would agree to support their decision. The French crusaders traveled to Jerusalem. They met with the Latin leaders living in Jerusalem and the German crusaders who also joined the endeavor. They chose to besiege Damascus. Unfortunately, the siege failed and the crusaders left the Holy Land in embarrassment. Louis and Eleanor sailed home with their vassals. The royal couple stopped in Italy to visit the pope. Pope Eugenius convinced the royal couple not to give up on their marriage and try to make it work. Eleanor and Louis arrived home in Paris in November 1149. Eleanor had another child, a daughter named Alix in 1150. This birth brought more stress on Eleanor and Louis because they had been married over ten years, and still there was no male heir to the throne. The marriage did not improve over time. Instead, by 1152, a French church council gave the couple permission to divorce. Eleanor returned to Aquitaine, but she did not sit at home and mourn over losing her crown. Instead, the 30-year-old Eleanor made plans to marry one of Louis's strongest enemies, Henry Plantagent. Henry held the title of Duke of Normandy and Anjou. Queen of England Eleanor's new husband had a very different personality than Louis. Henry was in his twenties, and was very ambitious. With the marriage of Eleanor and the acquisition of her lands, he owned a very large portion of present-day France. The power his land gave him, along with his relation to the monarchy in England, allowed him to assert a claim on the throne of England. Eleanor remained in France while her husband pursued his ambitions. Then in 1154, King Stephen of England died and Henry Plantagent seized the throne. He called Eleanor from Aquitaine to join him in England. The royal couple was crowned king and queen of England. Later that year, Eleanor bore a son named Henry. Eleanor found that her marriage with the King of England was just as miserable as her marriage with Louis, though for different reasons. Henry was not passive or willing to be manipulated. He was unafraid to have affairs despite the fact that he was married. Nor did he hide his mistresses from his wife. Between 1156 and 1168, Eleanor had 6 more children. Then, in 1169, Henry gave his son, Richard, the title Duke of Aquitaine. Henry sent Eleanor back to Aquitaine to help Richard become familiar with his land. While Henry was dealing with problems at home, Eleanor enjoyed her stay in Aquitaine. Not only did she care for administrative and judicial issues in Aquitaine, Eleanor also supported literature and art through the influence of her court. Aquitaine was still one of the most important cultural centers in Europe. One of the new movements in literature that Eleanor patronized was the poetry of courtly love. Courtly love was a movement in which a knight swore complete loyalty and poured out romantic adoration to an aristocratic

woman who was not his wife. Scholars know little about how courtly love was actually applied in the Middle Ages because it only survives in poetry. Eleanor spent three years in Aquitaine. Her husband then called her back to England in 1172. A year later, Eleanor and her sons began a revolt against their father with the help of several allies. Henry swiftly put an end to their rebellion and handed out punishment for their actions. Eleanor did not escape his wrath. She was confined to the royal castle, only able to escape the darkness of the stone walls when the king needed her for public appearances. After spending 15 years under Henry's severe punishment, the 60-year-old Eleanor was freed by Henry's death in 1189. Eleanor's son Richard, known as the Lion Heart, became king. Before Henry died, he had made preparations to go on crusade. Richard decided to go in place of his father despite the fact that it was dangerous to leave his realm only a year after he became king. While Richard was away, Eleanor reigned as his regent. She used her abilities of diplomacy and firm rule to maintain the realm. She even convinced her younger son, John, to usurp his brother's place as king. Eleanor also understood the need for a royal heir. She chose a wife for him not only to provide an heir, but also to maintain diplomatic relations with France. Richard's fianc, Blanche, was the daughter of Louis VII and his second wife. This union was useless because in 1199, Richard died before he could return home from the Holy Land. Eleanor continued to influence politics when she used her power to help her son John become king and fight against the claims of her grandson, Arthur. The aging queen then retired to Fontevrault, a French convent inhabited by many other aristocratic women. Here, she spent the last five years of her life. Eleanor died on March 31, 1204, at the age of eighty-two. Eleanor of Aquitaine was queen of the most powerful European nations in the Middle Ages. She fearlessly used her intelligence to not only control her own destiny, but also to influence European politics. ~~~~~~~~ By Sara Ann McGill