Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most influential women in the history of Europe, having been a queen to rulers of both France and England, along with having significant political and economic power in her own right. She served as an example to all women, during a period where there was increasing development in the female’s role in society. Eleanor was a patron of the arts, and she was also a powerful personality, influencing the politics of the day with the help of her sons, and maintaining a certain degree of control over the monarchy even after her marriage to Henry had ended.
Eleanor was born in 1122 to Duke William X of Aquitaine. The holdings of her father were equal to those of the French royalty, making him one of the most influential and important men in the region. She inherited her father’s wealth and influence upon his death, and later that year was wed to Louis VII of France. He became King of France a month later, and as his queen, she proved to be a talented advisor. Eleanor accompanied him during the Second Crusade, organizing his policy and advising his political choices. It was during the Crusades that their marriage ended, and despite having produced two daughters, it was annulled by Louis in 1152. His reasoning was that of Blood relationship, but the reality was of course that of jealousy and suspicion.
Eleanor was rumored to be having an intimate affair with a cousin, but whether that was true or not is unknown. What is known is that soon after the end of her marriage to Louis of France, Eleanor became independently wealthy and powerful again. Several months later she married Henry II of England, positioning herself into an even greater position of power in Europe. When Henry was crowned King Of England in 1154, Eleanor became the ruler of England, Normandy and thanks to Henry’s holdings and holdings of her own, much of France. It was during this period that she mothered eight children with Henry, including the future Kings Richard the Lionhearted and John.
During her reign she was a great patron of the arts, sponsoring troubadours and court poetry. She enjoyed work depicting courtly love, although others thought it to be pornographic and detrimental to the morals of England. Her court was said to be lively and exciting, and the work commissioned in her honor added to the literature of the day. She also was very active in the court during Henry’s absence, advising many aspects of government as well as being the driving force in rescuing Richard when he was kidnapped.
Eleanor’s relationship with Henry began to collapse, partially because of his frequent adultery, and partially because he was cruel. Eleanor joined again with Louis VII in 1173 to influence her sons in a revolt against Henry. She assisted them both politically and through military channels. This caused Henry to capture and imprison her during the last years of his life. He was chiefly concerned that she not be allowed to make more of the same political trouble, therefore she was kept under house arrest from 1174 to 1189.
Eleanor died in 1204. During her lifetime she wed and advised two Kings, even to some degree ruling in their absence. In advising both husbands she influenced military choices during war, even to the point of accompanying her husband to the Holy Land as he fought in the Crusades. Through the work sponsored by her court, she influenced the art and literature of Europe, which thus affected the social climate of the day. She served as an example of a strong leader to the men and especially the women of Europe, proving that a woman could be a capable, powerful ruler.
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