Eleanor was born, probably in 1122, in Bordeaux, France. She was the oldest child of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, and Aenor de Chatellerault. Although not originally the heir, since she had a younger brother, she became the heir when her mother and four-year old brother, William, died in 1130.
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William X was exceedingly fond of Eleanor, providing an excellent education and making her his constant companion. She was taught to read, write, and speak Latin, in addition to her native tongue, Poitevin; was proficient in music and well versed in literature; and was well schooled in riding, hunting and hawking. Eleanor accompanied her father on his progresses, during which he administered justice and brought rebellious vassals under control. She matured early and was strong-willed. She became accustomed to the independence, power and freedom she experienced with her father, and expected that, in her future life, she would have a similar amount of independence, power and freedom.
In 1137 her father, William X, died while on a pilgrimage to Compostela. Eleanor then became the Duchess of Aquitaine and, therefore, the most eligible heiress in Europe. Her father knew that both her life and her inheritance would be in danger at his death so, on the last day of his life, he dictated a will, designating his lands to his daughter and appointing King Louis VI of France as her guardian. He also asked that Louis VI find her a suitable husband.
Louis VI's original heir, Philip, died following a riding accident. His younger son, Louis, who had been brought up in a monastery, was then declared the heir. To bring Eleanor's lands under the auspices of the French crown, Louis VI arranged a marriage between his second son and Eleanor shortly before his death of dysentery.
Eleanor's marriage to Louis took place in 1137. Her husband, who was soon to be Louis VII of France, “…was infatuated with his beautiful wife, who returned his affection.” The couple, was happy at first; they were married from 1137 to 1152. Although Louis was deeply in loved and “…besotted with his … wife…” Eleanor eventually became annoyed by his excessive piety and monkish behavior. In the fifteen years of their marriage they had only two children, both girls. Eleanor was unhappy with Louis --“…they began to quarrel over everything…” and wanted an annulment. She was angry about “…being married to a monk…” Originally, Louis was against the annulment. However, in 1152, since he had no male heir by Eleanor, he agreed to the annulment on the basis of consanguinity. Interestingly, Louis VII had two daughters and no sons by his second wife, Constance of Castille. His heir, Phillip, was finally born during his third marriage to Adela of Champagne, along with another daughter.
When the marriage was annulled. in 1152, Eleanor regained her title as Duchess of Aquitaine and her lands, again becoming the most desirable heiress in Europe.
Eight weeks later, On Whit Sunday, May 18, 1152, Eleanor was married to Henry, Duke of Normandy -- the most eligible bachelor in France after Louis VII. Although he was eleven years younger than she, that was not considered to be an obstacle. “Henry was passionately in love with Eleanor's mature beauty and intellect…As highly sexed as he was vigorous…he gave his wife all the children she wanted…”. Between 1153 and 1167 – fourteen years, compared with the 15 years Eleanor was married to Louis VII -- there were nine children, including five sons.
Henry and Eleanor were crowned king and queen by the Archbishop of Canterbury on December 19, 1154.
Although Eleanor thought she would have a great deal of influence over her much younger husband, such was not the case. She finally realized that any power that she had, or would have, would have to be exerted through her sons. In 1173, with the help of her three eldest sons, Henry, Richard, and Geoffrey, Eleanor organized a revolt against her husband. The outcome was not what she had expected. A furious Henry had her imprisoned, where, with a few breaks, she remained until his death in 1189.
The young king Henry, Eleanor's oldest child, had already died; Richard, the Lion-Hearted, was crowned. As queen mother, Eleanor had great influence over the policies of her eldest son. Similarly, after his death, when John became king, she exerted great power through her youngest son.
Eleanor died at the age of 82. She is buried at the Abbey of Fontevrault, which she had supported generously throughout her life.
Although Queen Victoria is known as “The Grandmother of Europe”, Desmond Seward believes this title also applies to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Three of her sons, the young king Henry, who died at age 28, Richard I [the Lion-Hearted] and John [of Magna Carta fame], were kings. Her daughters, thanks to Eleanor's shrewd negotiations, were the queens of Sicily and Castile, and the consorts of the counts of Blois, Champagne and Toulouse and the duke of Saxony. Two of her grandsons were Holy Roman Emperors and another three were kings of Castile, England and Jerusalem. Her grand-daughters, also because she was able to make good marriages for them, were queens of France, Scotland and Portugal and one, although illegitimate, was Princess of Wales. Louis IX of France, “Saint Louis”, was one of her great grandsons.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was a paradox. She was magnificently beautiful, exceedingly frivolous, but extremely hard working and well educated. She had a notorious lust for power, but was deeply devoted to her children and could be deeply loyal.
“When Eleanor was young, men worshipped her beauty, elegance, and her vast inheritance, the great Duchy of Aquitaine; when she was old her children venerated her as the all-powerful queen mother. The men in her life were giants in history – her warring husbands Louis of France and Henry II of England, the murderer of Thomas Becket…”
Best part of story, including ending:
This is a truly remarkable book. It is comprehensive, well researched, and, in addition, is incredibly exciting and ireads like a novel – it's a real page-turner. I can't wait to find out what happens even though I know what happens! The characters come alive; it feels as if I know them.
Best scene in story:
My favorite part of the book is the description of Eleanor's relationship with her father, describing the fact that he paid a great deal of attention to her education and took her with him as he traveled, so that she could learn from his expertise.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked Eleanor because of her strength of character, devotion to her children, and efforts on behalf of women, especially in her support of the activities of the Abbey of Fontevrault. I was saddened by her treachery towards her husband, Henry II.