Aquitaine (French: Aliénor d'Aquitaine, Éléonore, Latin:
Alienora; 1122 – 1 April 1204) was
Queen consort of France
(1137–1152) and England (1154–1189) and
Duchess of Aquitaine
Duchess of Aquitaine in
her own right. As a member of the
Ramnulfids (House of Poitiers)
rulers in southwestern France, she was one of the most powerful and
wealthiest women in western Europe during the High Middle Ages. She
was patron of literary figures such as Wace, Benoît de Sainte-Maure,
and Bernart de Ventadorn. She led armies several times in her life and
was a leader of the Second Crusade.
As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor was the most eligible bride in
Europe. Three months after becoming duchess upon the death of her
father, William X, she married King Louis VII of France, son of her
guardian, King Louis VI. As Queen of France, she participated in the
unsuccessful Second Crusade. Soon afterwards, Eleanor sought an
annulment of her marriage, but her request was rejected by Pope
Eugene III. However, after the birth of her second daughter Alix,
Louis agreed to an annulment, as fifteen years of marriage had not
produced a son. The marriage was annulled on 21 March 1152 on the
grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters
were declared legitimate and custody was awarded to Louis, while
Eleanor's lands were restored to her.
As soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor became engaged to the
Duke of Normandy, who became King
Henry II of England
Henry II of England in 1154. Henry
was her third cousin and eleven years younger. The couple married on
Whitsun, 18 May 1152, eight weeks after the annulment of Eleanor's
first marriage, in
Poitiers Cathedral. Over the next thirteen years,
she bore eight children: five sons, three of whom became kings; and
three daughters. However, Henry and Eleanor eventually became
estranged. Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting their son
Henry's revolt against him. She was not released until 6 July 1189,
when Henry died and their second son, Richard the Lionheart, ascended
As Queen dowager, Eleanor acted as regent while Richard went on the
Third Crusade; on his return Richard was captured and held prisoner.
Eleanor lived well into the reign of her youngest son, John. She
outlived all her children except for John and Eleanor.
1 Early life
2 First marriage
3 Second marriage
3.1 The Court of Love in Poitiers
3.2 Revolt and capture
3.3 Years of imprisonment 1173–1189
6 Popular culture
6.2 Books and dramas
6.3 Film, radio and television
9 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Eleanor's year of birth is not known precisely: a late 13th-century
genealogy of her family listing her as 13 years old in the spring of
1137 provides the best evidence that Eleanor was perhaps born as late
as 1124. On the other hand, some chronicles mention a fidelity oath
of some lords of
Aquitaine on the occasion of Eleanor's fourteenth
birthday in 1136. This, and her known age of 82 at her death, make
1122 more likely the year of birth. Her parents almost certainly
married in 1121. Her birthplace may have been Poitiers, Bordeaux, or
Nieul-sur-l'Autise, where her mother and brother died when Eleanor was
6 or 8.
Eleanor (or Aliénor) was the oldest of three children of William X,
Duke of Aquitaine, whose glittering ducal court was renowned in early
12th-century Europe, and his wife, Aenor de Châtellerault, the
daughter of Aimery I, Viscount of Châtellerault, and Dangereuse de
l'Isle Bouchard, who was William IX's longtime mistress as well as
Eleanor's maternal grandmother. Her parents' marriage had been
arranged by Dangereuse with her paternal grandfather William IX.
Eleanor is said to have been named for her mother Aenor and called
Aliénor from the Latin alia Aenor, which means the other Aenor. It
became Eléanor in the langues d'oïl of northern France and Eleanor
in English. There was, however, another prominent Eleanor before
her—Eleanor of Normandy, an aunt of William the Conqueror, who lived
a century earlier than Eleanor of Aquitaine. 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. Eleanor came to learn arithmetic, the
constellations, and history. She also learned domestic skills such
as household management and the needle arts of embroidery,
needlepoint, sewing, spinning, and weaving. Eleanor developed
skills in conversation, dancing, games such as backgammon, checkers,
and chess, playing the harp, and singing. Although her native
tongue was Poitevin, she was taught to read and speak Latin, was well
versed in music and literature, and schooled in riding, hawking, and
hunting. Eleanor was extroverted, lively, intelligent, and
strong-willed. In the spring of 1130 her four-year-old brother William
Aigret and their mother died at the castle of Talmont on Aquitaine's
Atlantic coast. Eleanor became the heir presumptive to her father's
Duchy of Aquitaine
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. Her half brother Joscelin was
acknowledged by William X as a son, but not as his heir. That she
had another half brother, William, has been discredited. Later,
during the first four years of Henry II's reign, her siblings
joined Eleanor's royal household.
In 1137 Duke William X left
Bordeaux and took his
daughters with him. 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. He died, however, on
Good Friday of that
year (9 April).
Eleanor, aged twelve to fifteen, 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
King Louis VI of France as her
guardian. William requested of the king that he take care of both
the lands and the duchess, and find her a suitable husband.
However, until a husband was found, the king had the legal right to
Eleanor's lands. 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 older brother, Philip, died from a riding accident
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 17-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. Prince Louis was sent to
Bordeaux with an
escort of 500 knights, along with Abbot Suger, Theobald II, Count of
Champagne, and Count Ralph.
At left, a 14th-century representation of the wedding of Louis and
Eleanor; at right, Louis leaving on Crusade.
Eleanor's grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine, gave her this rock
crystal vase, which she gave to Louis as a wedding gift. He later
donated it to the Abbey of Saint-Denis. This is the only surviving
artifact known to have belonged to Eleanor.
On 25 July 1137
Louis VII of France
Louis VII of France and Eleanor were married in the
Cathedral of Saint-André in
Bordeaux by the Archbishop of
Bordeaux. Immediately after the wedding, the couple were enthroned
as Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine. However, there was a catch: the
land would remain independent of France until Eleanor's oldest son
became both King of the Franks and Duke of Aquitaine. Thus, her
holdings would not be merged with France until the next generation. As
a wedding present she gave Louis a rock crystal vase, currently on
display at the Louvre. Louis gave the vase to the Basilica
of St Denis. 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 1137, a messenger gave him the news that Louis VI had died of
dysentery on 1 August while Prince Louis and Eleanor were making a
tour of the provinces. Thus he became King Louis VII of France. He and
Eleanor were anointed and crowned King and Queen of the Franks 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. She was not aided
by memories of Constance of Arles, the Provençal wife of Robert II,
tales of whose immodest dress and language were still told with
horror.[a] Eleanor's conduct was repeatedly criticized by church
Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux and Abbot Suger, as
indecorous. 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. Much money went into making the austere Cité
Paris more comfortable for Eleanor's sake.
Although Louis was a pious man, he soon came into a violent conflict
with Pope Innocent II. In 1141, the
Archbishopric of Bourges
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. 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.
Louis became involved in a war with Count Theobald by permitting Raoul
I, Count of Vermandois and seneschal of France, to repudiate his wife
Eléonore of Blois, Theobald's sister, and to marry Petronilla of
Aquitaine, Eleanor's sister. 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 (1142–44) 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
In June 1144, 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
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 a matter of weeks, peace
had returned to France: Theobald's provinces were returned and Pierre
de la Chatre was installed as Archbishop of Bourges. In April 1145,
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. In
Pope Eugene III
Pope Eugene III requested that Louis lead a Crusade to
Middle East to rescue the Frankish Kingdoms there from disaster.
Accordingly, Louis declared on Christmas Day 1145 at Bourges his
intention of going on a crusade.
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 300
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. She left for the Second Crusade
from Vézelay, the rumored location of Mary Magdalene's grave in June
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. Notwithstanding, during
their three-week stay at Constantinople, Louis was fêted and Eleanor
was much admired. 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.
Second Crusade council: Conrad III of Germany, Eleanor's husband Louis
VII of France, and Baldwin III of Jerusalem
From the moment the Crusaders entered Asia Minor, things began to go
badly. The king and queen were still optimistic —the Byzantine
Emperor had told them that the German King Conrad had won a great
victory against a Turkish army when in fact the German army had been
massacred. 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 previously
slaughtered German army.
On the day set for the crossing of Mount Cadmos, 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 Cadmos, 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.
Accordingly, by mid-afternoon, the rear of the
column —believing the day's march to be nearly at an
end —was dawdling. This resulted in the army becoming
separated, with some having already crossed the summit and others
still approaching it. 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 1170 and 1184 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
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, fortunately for Geoffrey, 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
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.
Reputedly Eleanor then requested to stay with Raymond and brought up
the matter of consanguinity —the fact that she and her husband,
King Louis, were perhaps too closely related.
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.
Louis's subsequent assault on
Damascus in 1148 with his remaining
army, fortified by King Conrad and Baldwin III of Jerusalem, achieved
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. She introduced those conventions in her own
lands on the island of
Oleron in 1160 (with the "Rolls of Oléron")
and later in England as well. She was also instrumental in developing
trade agreements with
Constantinople and ports of trade in the Holy
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, 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. While many historians[who?] today dismiss
this as normal affection between uncle and niece, noting their early
friendship and his similarity to her father and grandfather, some of
Eleanor's adversaries interpreted the generous displays of affection
as an incestuous affair.
Home, however, was not easily reached. Louis and Eleanor, on separate
ships due to their disagreements, were first attacked in May 1149 by
Byzantine ships attempting to capture both on the orders of the
Byzantine Emperor. 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
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
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?] by the
Pope. Thus was conceived their second child —not a son, but
another daughter, Alix of France.
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 1152, 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
Bordeaux and Rouen. Archbishop
Samson of Reims acted
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, ... children of the marriage were legitimate."
[Berman 228.][why?]) Custody of them was awarded to King Louis.
Archbishop Samson received assurances from Louis that Eleanor's lands
would be restored to her.
Henry II of England
The marriage of Eleanor of
Aquitaine to Henry of Anjou and Henry's
subsequent succession to the throne of England created the Angevin
As Eleanor traveled to Poitiers, two lords —Theobald V, Count
of Blois, and Geoffrey, Count of Nantes, brother of Henry II, Duke of
Normandy —tried to kidnap and marry her to claim her lands. 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 1152 (Whit Sunday), eight weeks after her
annulment, Eleanor married Henry "without the pomp and ceremony that
befitted their rank."
Eleanor was related to Henry even more closely than she had been to
Louis: they were cousins to the third degree through their common
ancestor Ermengarde of Anjou, wife of
Robert I, Duke of Burgundy and
Geoffrey, Count of Gâtinais, and they were also descended from King
Robert II of France. 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 1154, Henry became King of England. Eleanor was crowned
Queen of England by the
Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury on 19 December
1154. She may not have been anointed on this occasion, however,
because she had already been anointed in 1137. Over the next
thirteen years, she bore Henry five sons and three daughters: William,
Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, Matilda, Eleanor, and Joan. John
Speed, in his 1611 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. 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). "Young Henry," son of Henry and Eleanor, wed
Marguerite of France, daughter of Louis from his second marriage.
Little is known of Eleanor's involvement in these events. It is
certain that by late 1166, Henry's notorious affair with Rosamund
Clifford had become known, and Eleanor's marriage to Henry appears to
have become terminally strained.
In 1167, Eleanor's third daughter, Matilda, married
Henry the Lion
Henry the Lion of
Saxony. Eleanor remained in England with her daughter for the year
prior to Matilda's departure for Normandy in September. In December,
Eleanor gathered her movable possessions in England and transported
them on several ships to Argentan. Christmas was celebrated at the
royal court there, and she appears to have agreed to a separation from
Henry. She certainly left for her own city of
after Christmas. Henry did not stop her; on the contrary, he and his
army personally escorted her there before attacking a castle belonging
to the rebellious
Lusignan family. Henry then went about his own
business outside Aquitaine, leaving Earl Patrick, his regional
military commander, as her protective custodian. When Patrick was
killed in a skirmish, Eleanor, who proceeded to ransom his captured
nephew, the young William Marshal, was left in control of her lands.
The Court of Love in Poitiers
Palace of Poitiers, seat of the Counts of Poitou and Dukes of
Aquitaine in the 10th through 12th centuries, where Eleanor's highly
literate and artistic court inspired tales of Courts of Love.
Of all her influence on culture, Eleanor's time in
1168 and 1173 was perhaps the most critical, yet very little is known
about it. Henry II was elsewhere, attending to his own affairs after
escorting Eleanor there. Some believe that Eleanor's court in
Poitiers was the "Court of Love" where Eleanor and her daughter Marie
meshed and encouraged the ideas of troubadours, chivalry, and courtly
love into a single court. It may have been largely to teach manners,
something the French courts would be known for in later generations.
Yet the existence and reasons for this court are debated.
In The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capellanus, Andrew the chaplain,
refers to the court of Poitiers. He claims that Eleanor, her daughter
Marie, Ermengarde, Viscountess of Narbonne, and Isabelle of Flanders
would sit and listen to the quarrels of lovers and act as a jury to
the questions of the court that revolved around acts of romantic love.
He records some twenty-one cases, the most famous of them being a
problem posed to the women about whether true love can exist in
marriage. According to Capellanus, the women decided that it was not
at all likely.
Some scholars believe that the "court of love" probably never existed,
since the only evidence for it is Andreas Capellanus' book. To
strengthen their argument, they state that there is no other evidence
that Marie ever stayed with her mother in Poitiers. Andreas wrote
for the court of the king of France, where Eleanor was not held in
esteem. Polly Schoyer Brooks, the author of a non-academic biography
of Eleanor, suggests that the court did exist, but that it was not
taken very seriously, and that acts of courtly love were just a
"parlor game" made up by Eleanor and Marie in order to place some
order over the young courtiers living there.
There is no claim that Eleanor invented courtly love, since it was a
concept that had begun to grow before Eleanor's court arose. All that
can be said is that her court at
Poitiers was most likely a catalyst
for the increased popularity of courtly love literature in the Western
European regions. Amy Kelly, in her article, "Eleanor of Aquitaine
and her Courts of Love," gives a very plausible description of the
origins of the rules of Eleanor's court: "In the Poitevin code, man is
the property, the very thing of woman; whereas a precisely contrary
state of things existed in the adjacent realms of the two kings from
whom the reigning duchess of
Aquitaine was estranged."
Revolt and capture
In March 1173, aggrieved at his lack of power and egged on by Henry's
enemies, his son by the same name, the younger Henry, launched the
Revolt of 1173–1174. He fled to Paris. From there, "the younger
Henry, devising evil against his father from every side by the advice
of the French King, went secretly into
Aquitaine where his two
youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were living with their
mother, and with her connivance, so it is said, he incited them to
join him." One source claimed that the Queen sent her younger sons
to France "to join with him against their father the king." Once
her sons had left for Paris, Eleanor may have encouraged the lords of
the south to rise up and support them.
Sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May, Eleanor
left Poitiers, but was arrested and sent to the king at Rouen. The
king did not announce the arrest publicly; for the next year, the
Queen's whereabouts were unknown. On 8 July 1174, Henry and Eleanor
took ship for England from Barfleur. As soon as they disembarked at
Southampton, Eleanor was taken either to
Winchester Castle or Sarum
Castle and held there.
Years of imprisonment 1173–1189
The obverse of Eleanor's seal. She is identified as Eleanor, by the
Grace of God, Queen of the English, Duchess of the Normans. The legend
on the reverse calls her Eleanor, Duchess of the Aquitanians and
Countess of the Angevins.
Eleanor was imprisoned for the next sixteen years, much of the time in
various locations in England. During her imprisonment, Eleanor became
more and more distant from her sons, especially from Richard, who had
always been her favorite. She did not have the opportunity to see her
sons very often during her imprisonment, though she was released for
special occasions such as Christmas. About four miles from Shrewsbury
and close by
Haughmond Abbey is "Queen Eleanor's Bower," the remains
of a triangular castle which is believed to have been one of her
Henry lost the woman reputed to be his great love, Rosamund Clifford,
in 1176. He had met her in 1166 and had begun their liaison in 1173,
supposedly contemplating divorce from Eleanor. This notorious affair
caused a monkish scribe to transcribe Rosamund's name in Latin to
"Rosa Immundi," or "Rose of Unchastity." The king had many mistresses,
but although he treated earlier liaisons discreetly, he flaunted
Rosamund. He may have done so to provoke Eleanor into seeking an
annulment, but if so, the queen disappointed him. Nevertheless,
rumours persisted, perhaps assisted by Henry's camp, that Eleanor had
poisoned Rosamund. It is also speculated that Eleanor placed Rosamund
in a bathtub and had an old woman cut Rosamund's arms. Henry
donated much money to Godstow Nunnery, where Rosamund was buried.
In 1183, the young King Henry tried again to force his father to hand
over some of his patrimony. In debt and refused control of Normandy,
he tried to ambush his father at Limoges. He was joined by troops sent
by his brother Geoffrey and Philip II of France. Henry II's troops
besieged the town, forcing his son to flee. After wandering aimlessly
through Aquitaine, Henry the Younger caught dysentery. On Saturday, 11
June 1183, the Young King realized he was dying and was overcome with
remorse for his sins. When his father's ring was sent to him, he
begged that his father would show mercy to his mother, and that all
his companions would plead with Henry to set her free. Henry II sent
Thomas of Earley, Archdeacon of Wells, to break the news to Eleanor at
Sarum.[b] Eleanor reputedly had had a dream in which she foresaw her
son Henry's death. In 1193 she would tell
Pope Celestine III
Pope Celestine III that she
was tortured by his memory.
Philip II of France
Philip II of France claimed that certain properties in Normandy
belonged to his half-sister Margaret, widow of the young Henry, but
Henry insisted that they had once belonged to Eleanor and would revert
to her upon her son's death. For this reason Henry summoned Eleanor to
Normandy in the late summer of 1183. She stayed in Normandy for six
months. This was the beginning of a period of greater freedom for the
still-supervised Eleanor. Eleanor went back to England probably early
in 1184. Over the next few years Eleanor often travelled with her
husband and was sometimes associated with him in the government of the
realm, but still had a custodian so that she was not free.
Upon the death of her husband Henry II on 6 July 1189, Richard I was
the undisputed heir. One of his first acts as king was to send William
Marshal to England with orders to release Eleanor from prison; he
found upon his arrival that her custodians had already released
her. Eleanor rode to
Westminster and received the oaths of fealty
from many lords and prelates on behalf of the king. She ruled England
in Richard's name, signing herself "Eleanor, by the grace of God,
Queen of England." On 13 August 1189, Richard sailed from
Portsmouth and was received with enthusiasm. Between 1190
and 1194, Richard was absent from England, engaged in the Third
Crusade from 1190 to 1192 and then held in captivity by Henry VI,
Holy Roman Emperor. During Richard's absence, royal authority in
England was represented by a Council of Regency in conjunction with a
succession of chief justiciars – William de Longchamp
(1190–1191), Walter de Coutances (1191–1193), and finally
Hubert Walter. Although Eleanor held no formal office in England
during this period, she arrived in England in the company of Coutances
in June 1191, and for the remainder of Richard's absence she exercised
a considerable degree of influence over the affairs of England as well
as the conduct of Prince John. Eleanor played a key role in raising
the ransom demanded from England by Henry VI and in the
negotiations with the Holy Roman Emperor that eventually secured
Eleanor survived Richard and lived well into the reign of her youngest
son, King John. In 1199, under the terms of a truce between King
Philip II and King John, it was agreed that Philip's
twelve-year-old heir-apparent Louis would be married to one of John's
nieces, daughters of his sister Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile.
John instructed his mother to travel to Castile to select one of the
princesses. Now 77, Eleanor set out from Poitiers. Just outside
Poitiers she was ambushed and held captive by Hugh IX of Lusignan,
whose lands had been sold to Henry II by his forebears. Eleanor
secured her freedom by agreeing to his demands. She continued south,
crossed the Pyrenees, and travelled through the Kingdoms of Navarre
and Castile, arriving in Castile before the end of January 1200.
Alfonso VIII and Eleanor's daughter, Queen Eleanor of Castile,
had two remaining unmarried daughters, Urraca and Blanche. Eleanor
selected the younger daughter, Blanche. She stayed for two months at
the Castilian court, then late in March journeyed with granddaughter
Blanche back across the Pyrenees. She celebrated Easter in Bordeaux,
where the famous warrior
Mercadier came to her court. It was decided
that he would escort the Queen and Princess north. "On the second day
in Easter week, he was slain in the city by a man-at-arms in the
service of Brandin," a rival mercenary captain. This tragedy was
too much for the elderly queen, who was fatigued and unable to
continue to Normandy. She and Blanche rode in easy stages to the
valley of the Loire, and she entrusted Blanche to the Archbishop of
Bordeaux, who took over as her escort. The exhausted Eleanor went to
Fontevraud, where she remained. In early summer, Eleanor was ill, and
John visited her at Fontevraud.
Tomb effigies of Eleanor and Henry II at
Eleanor was again unwell in early 1201. When war broke out between
John and Philip, Eleanor declared her support for John and set out
Fontevraud to her capital
Poitiers to prevent her grandson Arthur
I, Duke of Brittany, posthumous son of Eleanor's son Geoffrey and
John's rival for the English throne, from taking control. Arthur
learned of her whereabouts and besieged her in the castle of Mirebeau.
As soon as John heard of this, he marched south, overcame the
besiegers, and captured the 15-year-old Arthur. Eleanor then returned
Fontevraud where she took the veil as a nun.
Eleanor died in 1204 and was entombed in
Fontevraud Abbey next to her
husband Henry and her son Richard. Her tomb effigy shows her reading a
Bible and is decorated with magnificent jewelry. By the time of her
death she had outlived all of her children except for King John of
England and Queen Eleanor of Castile.
Contemporary sources praise Eleanor's beauty. Even in an era when
ladies of the nobility were excessively praised, their praise of her
was undoubtedly sincere. When she was young, she was described as
perpulchra – more than beautiful. When she was around 30,
Bernard de Ventadour, a noted troubadour, called her "gracious,
lovely, the embodiment of charm," extolling her "lovely eyes and noble
countenance" and declaring that she was "one meet to crown the state
of any king."
William of Newburgh emphasized the charms of her
person, and even in her old age
Richard of Devizes described her as
beautiful, while Matthew Paris, writing in the 13th century,
recalled her "admirable beauty."
In spite of all these words of praise, no one left a more detailed
description of Eleanor; the colour of her hair and eyes, for example,
are unknown. The effigy on her tomb shows a tall and large-boned woman
with brown skin, though this may not be an accurate representation.
Her seal of c.1152 shows a woman with a slender figure, but this is
likely an impersonal image.
Judy Chicago's artistic installation
The Dinner Party
The Dinner Party features a place
setting for Eleanor.
Books and dramas
Henry and Eleanor are the main characters in James Goldman's play The
Lion in Winter, which was made into a film starring
Peter O'Toole and
Katharine Hepburn in 1968 in the role of Eleanor for which Hepburn won
Academy Award for Best Actress
Academy Award for Best Actress and the
BAFTA Award for Best
Actress in a Leading Role and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award
for Best Actress—Motion Picture Drama.
The character "Queen Elinor" appears in William Shakespeare's King
John, along with other members of the family. On television, she has
been portrayed in this play by Una Venning in the
BBC Sunday Night
Theatre version (1952) and by
Mary Morris in the
Elizabeth Chadwick's trilogy about Eleanor is made up of 'The Summer
Queen', 'The Winter Crown' and 'The Autumn Throne', and spans her life
from a twelve year old to the day she dies with accuracy.
Film, radio and television
Katharine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor in
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Eleanor has featured in a number of screen versions of the
Robin Hood stories. She has been played by
Martita Hunt in The Story
Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952),
Jill Esmond in the British TV
adventure series The Adventures of
Robin Hood (1955–1960), Phyllis
Neilson-Terry in the British TV adventure series
Yvonne Mitchell in the
BBC TV drama series The Legend of Robin Hood
Siân Phillips in the TV series
Ivanhoe (1997), and Tusse
Silberg in the TV series The New Adventures of
Robin Hood (1997). She
was portrayed by
Lynda Bellingham in the
BBC series Robin Hood. Most
recently, she was portrayed by
Eileen Atkins in
Robin Hood (2010).
In the 1964 film, "Becket", Eleanor is briefly played by Pamela Brown
to Peter O'Toole's first performance as a young Henry II.
In the 1968 film, The Lion in Winter, Eleanor is played by Katharine
Hepburn, while Henry is again portrayed by O'Toole. The film is about
the difficult relationship between them and the struggle of their
three sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John for their father's favour and
the succession. A 2003 TV film, The Lion in Winter, starred Glenn
Close as Eleanor and
Patrick Stewart as Henry.
She was portrayed by
Mary Clare in the silent film, Becket (1923), by
Prudence Hyman in
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart (1962), and twice by Jane
Lapotaire; in the
BBC TV drama series,
The Devil's Crown (1978), and
again in Mike Walker's
BBC Radio 4 series, Plantagenet (2010). In the
2010 film, Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, Eleanor is played by
Eileen Atkins. In the 2014 film, Richard the Lionheart: Rebellion,
Eleanor is played by Debbie Rochon.
Eleanor and Rosamund Clifford, as well as Henry II and Rosamund's
father appear in Gaetano Donizetti's opera
Rosmonda d'Inghilterra with
a libretto by Felice Romani, which was premiered in Florence, at the
Teatro Pergola, in 1834.
Ancestors of Eleanor of Aquitaine
16. William V, Duke of Aquitaine
8. William VIII, Duke of Aquitaine
17. Agnes of Burgundy
4. William IX, Duke of Aquitaine
18. Robert I, Duke of Burgundy
9. Hildegarde of Burgundy
19. Ermengarde of Anjou
2. William X, Duke of Aquitaine
20. Pons, Count of Toulouse
10. William IV, Count of Toulouse
21. Almodis de la Marche
5. Philippa of Toulouse
22. Robert, Count of Mortain
11. Emma of Mortain
23. Matilda de Montgomerie
1. Eleanor of Aquitaine
24. Hugues I, Viscount of Châtellerault
12. Boson II, Viscount of Châtellerault
25. Gerberge de La Rochefoucauld
6. Aimery I, Viscount of Châtellerault
26. Aimery IV, Viscount of Thouars
13. Alienor de Thouars
27. Aremgarde de Mauléon
3. Aenor de Châtellerault
28. Archimbaud Borel de Bueil
14. Barthelemy, Seigneur de L'Isle Bouchard
29. Agnès, Dame de l'Isle Bouchard
7. Dangerose de l'Isle Bouchard
30. Eon, Seigneur de Blaison
15. Gerberge de Blaison
31. Tcheletis de Trèves
Issue of Eleanor & Henry
Louis VII of France
Louis VII of France (married 12 July 1137, annulled 21 March 1152)
Marie, Countess of Champagne
11 March 1198
married Henry I, Count of Champagne; had issue, including Marie, Latin
Alix, Countess of Blois
married Theobald V, Count of Blois; had issue
Henry II of England
Henry II of England (married 18 May 1152, widowed 6 July 1189)
William IX, Count of Poitiers
17 August 1153
died in infancy
Henry the Young King
28 February 1155
11 June 1183
married Margaret of France; no surviving issue.
Matilda, Duchess of Saxony
Matilda, Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria
13 July 1189
married Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria; had issue,
including Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor
Richard I of England
8 September 1157
6 April 1199
married Berengaria of Navarre; no issue
Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany
23 September 1158
19 August 1186
married Constance, Duchess of Brittany; had issue
Eleanor, Queen of Castile
13 October 1162
31 October 1214
Alfonso VIII of Castile; had issue, including Henry I, King of
Castile, Berengaria, Queen regnant of Castile and Queen of León,
Urraca, Queen of Portugal, Blanche, Queen of France, Eleanor, Queen of
Joan, Queen of Sicily
4 September 1199
William II of Sicily
William II of Sicily 2) Raymond VI of Toulouse; had issue
John, King of England
27 December 1166
19 October 1216
married 1) Isabella, Countess of Gloucester 2) Isabella, Countess of
Angoulême; had issue, including Henry III, King of England, Richard,
King of the Romans, Joan, Queen of Scotland, Isabella, Holy Roman
List of longest-reigning monarchs
^ [Adelaide] perhaps [based] her preconceptions on another southerner,
Constance of Provence ... tales of her allegedly immodest dress
and language still continued to circulate among the sober Franks.
^ Ms. S. Berry, Senior Archivist at the Somerset Archive and Record
Service, identified this "archdeacon of Wells" as Thomas of Earley,
noting his family ties to Henry II and the Earleys'
^ Meade (1977), p. 106.
^ Meade (1977), p. 122.
^ a b c d e f Meade (1977).
^ Turner (2009), p. 28.
^ Weir (1999), p. 13.
^ (in French) Biographie d'Aliénor d'Aquitaine
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Weir (1999).
^ Horton & Simmons (2007).
^ Chadwick & 24 March 2013.
^ a b Weir (2008).
^ a b c Swabey (2004).
^ Kelly (1978).
^ Weir (1999), p. 25.
^ a b c Wheeler & Parsons (2008).
^ Meade (1977), p. 100.
^ Hodgson (2007), pp. 131–134.
^ Crawford (2012).
^ a b Chambers (1941).
^ Historia Pontificalis of John of Salisbury
^ Chronique de Touraine[full citation needed]
^ & Aurell (2007).
^ Weir (1999), pp. 154–155.
^ Black (2009), p. 389.
^ Brooks (1983)[page needed]
^ Kelly (1937), pp. 3–19.
^ Kelly (1937), p. 12.
^ William of Newburgh, Book II, Chapter 7[full citation needed]
^ a b Roger of Hoveden[full citation needed]
^ Fripp (2006), ch. 33, and endnote 40..
^ Elvins (2006).
^ "Place Settings". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 2015-08-06.
Aurell, Martin (2007). The Plantagenet Empire, 1154–1224. Longman.
Black, Joseph; et al., eds. (2014). Andreas Capellanus, The Art of
Courtly Love. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature.
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Brooks, Polly Schoyer (1983). Queen Eleanor: Independent Spirit of the
Medieval World. J.B. Lippincott. ISBN 978-0-397-31994-7.
(for young readers)
Chadwick, Elizabeth (24 March 2013). "Eleanor of
Aquitaine and the
Brother Who Never Was". The History Girls.
Chambers, Frank McMinn (1941). "Some Legends Concerning Eleanor of
Aquitaine". Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies. University of
Chicago Press. 16 (4): 459–468. doi:10.2307/2852844.
Crawford, Katherine (2012). "Revisiting Monarchy: Women and the
Prospects for Power". Journal of Women's History. 24 (1): 160–171.
doi:10.1353/jowh.2012.0006. (Subscription required (help)).
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Gracewing. ISBN 978-0-85244-664-5.
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Eleanor of Aquitaine. Toronto, Ontario: Shillington Press.
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Holy Land in
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The Eleanor Vase preserved at the Louvre
RoyaList Online interactive family tree (en)
Eleanor of Aquitaine
House of Poitiers
Born: 1124 Died: 1 April 1204
Duchess of the Aquitainians
9 April 1137 – 1 April 1204
Louis VII of France
Louis VII of France (1137–1152)
Henry II of England
Henry II of England (1152–1189)
Richard I of England
Richard I of England (1189–1199)
John of England
John of England (1199–1204)
Countess of Poitiers
9 April 1137 – c. 1153
Louis VII of France
Louis VII of France (1137–1152)
[[Henry II of England] (1152–1153)
Adelaide of Maurienne
Queen consort of the Franks
12 July 1137 – March 1152
Served alongside: Adelaide of Maurienne
(25 July – 1 August 1137)
Title next held by
Constance of Castile
Title last held by
Matilda I of Boulogne
Queen consort of the English
25 October 1154 – 6 July 1189
Served alongside: Margaret of France (1172–1183)
Title next held by
Berengaria of Navarre
Queens and empresses of France
Adelaide of Aquitaine
Rozala of Italy
Bertha of Burgundy
Constance of Arles
Matilda of Frisia
Anne of Kiev
Bertha of Holland
Bertrade de Montfort
Adelaide of Maurienne
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Constance of Castile
Adela of Champagne
Isabella of Hainault
Ingeborg of Denmark
Agnes of Merania
Blanche of Castile
Margaret of Provence
Isabella of Aragon
Maria of Brabant
Joan I of Navarre
Margaret of Burgundy
Clementia of Hungary
Joan II of Burgundy
Blanche of Burgundy
Marie of Luxembourg
Joan the Lame
Blanche of Navarre
Joan I of Auvergne
Joanna of Bourbon
Isabeau of Bavaria
Marie of Anjou
Charlotte of Savoy
Anne of Brittany
Joan of France
Claude of France
Eleanor of Austria
Catherine de' Medici
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots
Elisabeth of Austria
Louise of Lorraine
Margaret of Valois
Marie de' Medici
Anne of Austria
Maria Theresa of Spain
Marie Antoinette of Austria
Marie Joséphine of Savoy*
Joséphine de Beauharnais
Marie Louise of Austria
Marie Thérèse of France*
Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily
Eugénie de Montijo
English royal consorts
Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury
Æthelflæd of Damerham
Ælfgifu of York
Sigrid the Haughty/Świętosława
Emma of Normandy
Edith of Wessex
Edith of Mercia
Matilda of Flanders
Matilda of Scotland
Adeliza of Louvain
Matilda of Boulogne
Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Margaret of France
Berengaria of Navarre
Isabella of Angoulême
Eleanor of Provence
Eleanor of Castile
Margaret of France
Isabella of France
Philippa of Hainault
Anne of Bohemia
Isabella of Valois
Joan of Navarre
Catherine of Valois
Margaret of Anjou
Elizabeth of York
Catherine of Aragon
Anne of Cleves
Lord Guildford Dudley
Philip II of Spain
Anne of Denmark
Henrietta Maria of France
Catherine of Braganza
Mary of Modena
George of Denmark
Spouses of debatable or disputed rulers are in italics.
Counts of Poitiers
* Count through marriage
ISNI: 0000 0000 6628 6866
BNF: cb119384862 (data)