Eleanor of Aquitaine

One of the most famous women in history, Eleanor of Aquitaine was both Queen of France and Queen of England. Moreover, three of her sons, one of whom was Richard the Lionheart, would sit on the English throne. Historians believe she was likely born in the year 1122. She came to become one of the richest and most powerful women of the High Middle Ages.

Scholars are not certain, but they believe Eleanor of Aquitaine was likely born in Poitiers, Burgundy, or Nieul-sur-l’Autise. One of three children, Eleanor was the oldest child born to William X, Duke of Aquitaine, and Aenor de Chatellerault. At the age of six, Eleanor lost both her mother and brother. Upon her brother’s death, Eleanor became the heir to her father’s estates. At the age of fifteen, Eleanor became the Duchess of Aquitaine upon her father’s death. She was placed under the guardianship of King Louis VI of France who betrothed her to his son.

Eleanor married Prince Louis 1137 in Bordeaux. Louis VI died within days of the wedding and his son ascended the throne as Louis VII and Eleanor became Queen of France. As regents of France, Louis and Eleanor took up the cause of the Second Crusade. Although they had two daughters, they decided to annul their marriage on the grounds of consanguinity in 1152. The annulment allowed her to retain all her holdings.

Later that year, Eleanor married Henry II, Duke of Normandy. When he inherited the English crown in 1154, she became Queen of England. Their marriage produced five sons and three daughters in spite of its turbulent reputation. By 1167, Eleanor decided upon a separation from Henry and returned to Poitiers. While in her home city, Eleanor became devoted to the ideals of chivalry and her court became famous for its support of the arts.

In 1173, however, Eleanor was imprisoned by her husband for supporting their son, Henry the Young King, in his revolt against his father. The younger Henry’s revolt failed and he died of dysentery in 1183; though he was anointed as Young King Henry during his parents’ lifetimes, he is not counted in the numerical succession of English kings. Eleanor remained imprisoned in various locations until Henry’s death in 1189. Richard became king and immediately had his mother released. She ruled in his stead when he traveled to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade. Upon Richard’s death in 1199, her youngest son John became King of England.

A few years before her death, Eleanor took the veil. She died in 1204 in Poitiers and is interred at Fontevraud Abbey. She outlived all of her children except for King John of England and Eleanor, Queen of Castile. One of the most important figures of the Middle Ages, she is also remembered for her influential reign and great beauty.