Eleanor of Aquitaine
Queen of France, 1137-1151;
Queen of England, 1154-1189
"A legend in her time and for all time"
She was beautiful, highborn, powerful, tireless, intelligent, ambitious. For eighty years Eleanor occupied center stage of medieval Europe.
As Duchess of Aquitaine and a sought-after marriage prize, she first wed King Louis VII of France and bore him two daughters. When he went on Crusade to Palestine, she went too and gloried in the adventure. She even recruited a band of lady Crusaders to join the army.
When Louis and Eleanor returned to France their marriage broke down. She was granted an annulment and, ever ambitious and newly in love, she married King Henry II of England, France's enemy. She and the dashing, strong-willed Henry produced five sons and three daughters-motivated as much by their fierce desire to provide for the succession as by mutual attraction. Henry's infidelities, notoriously with Rosamund Clifford, the "Fair Rosamonde," strained their relations but not quite to the breaking point. Eleanor's passion for her husband was transferred to her sons, whom she supported in their power struggles with Henry. In 1170 she established her own court in Poitiers, where she presided over her Courts of Love, magnets for troubadours, chivalrous knights and lovely ladies. She continued to encourage her sons in their rebellion against their father.
To quell his troublesome queen, Henry imprisoned her for sixteen years. But even from her confinement Eleanor continued to maneuver and plot. She emerged only four years before Henry's death. She lived to see her beloved son Richard ascend to the throne, to grieve at his untimely death in 1199, and to insure the succession of her youngest son, John. At eighty, she was still ready to do battle. Her last adventure was to withstand the siege of Mirebeau by her nephew Arthur, who disputed the English throne with John. John lifted the siege and Eleanor emerged triumphant.
She died at eighty-two, a phenomenal queen who left an indelible record as one of the bravest, most powerful and glamorous women of all time.
Learn more about Queen Eleanor:
Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, by Amy Kelly. Harvard University Press, 1950.
Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography, by Marion Meade. Hawthorne Books, 1977.
Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen, by Desmond Seward. Barnes & Noble, 1993.
Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, by Alison Weir. Ballantine Books, 1999.
La Dame d'Aquitaine, by Jacques Chaban-Delmas. Éditions J'ai Lu, 1988.
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine
Effigy of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine
The Abbey of Fontevrault,
Eleanor's final resting place.
Eleanor of Aquitaine Enters Constantinople, 1147 A.D.
Illustration from Women Warlords, Tim Newark, Blanford Press, UK, 1989.