The Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine, or Aliénor, was the oldest of three children of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, whose glittering ducal court was on the leading edge of early 12th century culture.

She was born around 1122 to a prestigious and scandal-ridden family: her grandfather, William IX was acknowledged as history's first troubadour and had abandoned two noble wives for a woman known only as Dangereuse ("dangerous" in French).

Upon the deaths of her mother and only brother in 1130, Eleanor became heir to the vast realm of Aquitaine (which then constituted almost a third of modern France). William X delighted in his intelligent, lively daughter and she received the best possible education, which was most unusual for a woman.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

In 1137 William X of Aquitaine died suddenly and Eleanor, aged fifteen, became the Duchess of Aquitaine, and thus the most eligible heiress in Europe.

Since kidnapping an heiress was, back then, seen as something quite valid in order to get his/her title, William appointed King Louis VI as her guardian.

Old King Louis may have been fat (Fat Louis was his nickname) but he wasn't stupid. Barely managing to control his delight over the death of one of his most powerful vassals, he decided to marry the duchess in order to blend Aquitaine with the French Crown. It doesn't always take an army to make a conquest.

Queen of France

The couple married on July 25, 1137. They also become Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine. Within days, also, they would become King and Queen of the Franks, as her father-in-law died on 1 August.

In a matter of months, the 15 year old Eleanor of Aquitaine had become Queen of France.

High-spirited and vibrant, Eleanor of Aquitaine did not prove a hit with the staid northerners. She was widely criticized but quiet, pious Louis was madly in love with his beautiful and worldly bride.

Around this time Eleanor's sister, Petronella, was also attracting a lot of attention. With Eleanor's encouragement, a nobleman annulled his first marriage to marry Petronella and understandably the first wife's brother, Theobald II Count of Champagne, wasn't amused.

Tragedy in Vitry

War broke out in 1142 and Louis VII led his troops to assault and burn a town called Vitry in the Champagne region.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was still childless, and was told God was punishing her. She was persuaded to repent and lo and behold in April 1145 Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, Marie. Louis, however still burned with guilt over the massacre at Vitry, and decided to make a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in order to atone for his sins.

Conveniently the Pope requested Louis lead a Crusade to the Middle East so in 1145 he set off.

The Second Crusade

The Second Crusade

Eleanor of Aquitaine was not one to sit quietly at home especially after encouragement from her uncle Raymond, King of Antioch , who required protection from the French crown. The crusade was a disaster right from the start, mainly because Louis was a weak and ineffective military leader. Relations between the royal couple were strained due to Eleanor's frequent opposition to the King's decisions and her rumored incestuous affair with her uncle.

The crusade was eventually abandoned and Louis and Eleanor of Aquitaine set sail on separate ships home due to their disagreements. In Rome, Eleanor hoped the Pope might grant an annulment to the marriage but instead he persuaded them to go to bed together. As a result of this papal interference Eleanor gave birth to a second daughter, Alix of France, born in 1150.

The marriage was still doomed.

Poor Louis

Since Eleanor of Aquitaine was having an affair with Henry, Duke of Normandy, Louis granted his wife the annulment she desired on 11th March 1152.

Not one to mope and rest on her laurels, six weeks after her annulment, Eleanor married Henry, Duke of Normandy and grandson to the King of England. Twelve years her junior and her cousin to the fourth degree, Henry had been advised against any involvement with Eleanor of Aquitaine by his father who had also been her lover.

Queen Again (of England this time)


In 1154 Eleanor's second husband became King of the English and so Eleanor was once again Queen, just of a different country this time.

During their marriage, Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine had seven surviving children: Henry, Matilda, Richard, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan and John. The marriage was tumultuous and argumentative, and Henry conducted a series of high profile affairs. In 1168, Eleanor returned to France to try and quell the growing trouble in Aquitaine.

The court at Poitiers quickly became a center of culture and Eleanor of Aquitaine was reunited with her eldest daughter from her first marriage, Marie. Clearly though, the ambitious Eleanor was not content. In 1173, her three eldest sons - Henry, Richard and Geoffrey - rebelled against their father Henry II with Eleanor's support.

They were forced to flee to France and Henry arrested Eleanor and took her back to England on 8th July 1184.

Family issues...

As soon as they hit English soil, Henry had Eleanor imprisoned, and kept her there for the next 16 years. In a huge parental fail, his sons continued to war against him. Even his favorite one, John, turned against him. Finally, in 1189, Henry II died and Eleanor of Aquitaine's favorite son, Richard the Lionheart, became king (his older brother Henry had already died).

Richard soon went away on the Third Crusade, leaving his mother as regent of England.

She proved to be a shrewd ruler and managed to reconcile her two sons even when John was plotting to take Richard's throne in his absence. Eleanor survived Richard and lived long into the reign of her youngest son, King John. Like his brother, King John respected his mother and heeded her advice so that even at the age of 77, Eleanor was still the center of the court.

Eleanor of Aquitaine died in 1204 after plenty of excitement in her latter years, including being ambushed and captured in France. She was entombed in Fontevraud Abbey next to her husband Henry and her son Richard.