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Eleanor of Aquitaine Mother of English Kings

This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series Intriguing Women
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Eleanor of Aquitaine Mother of English Kings chronology of her life.

Eleanor’s life was much enriched, not just by her vast inheritance of the Duchy of Aquitaine, which her son Richard I would also inherit but also by her formidable strength of personality and astute marriages and ruthless instinct to pursue the prospects for herself and her children. She was first married to Louis VII, would subsequently marry Henry Anjou (later Henry II) a powerful alliance of enormous wealth and influence.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor at rest in Fontrevaud

  • 1137 Eleanor’s father died and so had her one brother, she was only 15 but inherited incredible wealth and power not normally accessible to women in this period. She married King Louis VII of France, greatly strengthening the wealth and standing of her husband with the wealth of Aquitaine.
  • 1147 Eleanor accompanied her husband Louis VII on the 2nd Crusade to Constantinople and Jerusalem, it was not a success and neither was the marriage.
  • 1152 She bore him only two daughters and this led to the marriage being annulled. Their daughters were;
    • 1145-1198 Marie, Countess of Champagne later  married Henry I Count of Champagne (brother of Theobald V, Count of Blois.)
    • 1151-1198 Alix married Theobald V, Count of Blois, in 1164, her sister Marie married Theobald’s brother Henry.
  • She promptly married Henry II and together they had 8 children of which 5 were importantly boys providing the certainty for the succession which was vital for the King. But this was no close and happy family from the outset there would be competition and in-fighting not only between their children but also between the King and Eleanor as his Queen. The power of their alliance and the uniting of the Anjevin Empire with Aquitaine was at least influential in causing the familial division and in-fighting that would pervade the Plantagenet line;
    • 1153-1156 William IX, Count of Poitiers died in infancy and hence was not married.
    • 1155-1183 Henry the Young King, married Margaret of France and had no surviving children. He quarreled with his father and brothers and rebelled against them and with them. He died in the summer of 1183, during the course of a campaign in the Limousin against his father and his brother Richard.
    • 1156-1189 Matilda, Duchess of Saxony, she married Henry Duke of Saxony one of the most powerful German princes of the time.
    • 1157-1189 Richard I, King of England married Berengaria of Navarre they had no children and Ricard named his brother John as his heir.
    • 1158-1186 Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, named after his grand-father Geoffrey I, Father of Eleanor’s husband Henry II. He married Constance the heiress to the Brittany Ducy and hence he inherits by marriage this title. They ahd 3 children;
      • Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany (1184–1241)
      • Maud/Matilda of Brittany (1185 – before May 1189 )
      • Arthur I, Duke of Brittany (1187–1203) Arthur was the nephew whom it was believed  King John subsequently had murdered.
    • 1162-1214 Eleanor of England, Queen of Castille married Alfonso VIII of Castille which strengthened further the Anjevin alliances, whilst a political marriage Eleanor was devoted to Alfonso and was almost as powerful as her mother, ruling alongside her son as prescribed by Alfonso on his death. They had 11 children.
    • 1165-1199 Joan of England, Queen of Sicily had a troubled time after the death of her husband she was held prisoner by his successor, she was subsequently rescued by her brother Richard but also used politically by him to forge alliances. She married Raymond VI and bore him his successor but the marriage was not a happy one. She sort refuge by requesting as a pregnant married woman,  to enter Fontevrault Abbey, this was unusually granted but she died in child birth. She was buried in her father’s tomb but the effigy of Joan and her son were destroyed in the French Revolution.
    • 1166-1216 John King of England the youngest son, always paranoid and conspiring amongst and against his own sibblings and father would be the King who reluctantly leeft England and the world with the legacy of Magna Carta but his reign was neither happy nor successful. he single handedly lost the family the Anjevin Empire which had been carved out by his father and Richard’s mutual successes.
  • 1173 she led young Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and the Barons of Poitou against her own husband the King. She was intercepted and arrested by the King’s Agent , whilst making her way to the court of her ex-husband Louis VII, who also was her current husband’s, she was in disguise in male clothing. This was direct involvement in a clandestine plot, Eleanor in such brutal and absolute times must have been fortunate to escape with her life. She did pay a heavy price, Henry extraordinarily forgave their sons but not his wife, she became a prisoner until his death.
  • 1189 On her son Richard’s accession she was released, playing an important role whilst he was away at the Crusades curbing the instincts of her son prince John who was hungry for his own lands and riches.
  • 1199 when Richard had died, she assisted John now her only surviving son in winning over Anjou from Arthur of Brittany who was his nephew.
  • 1202 Arthur revived his claim to Anjou and was besieging Eleanor in Mirebeau when he fell into his uncle King John’s hands, subsequently it is believed John had Arthur murdered and this was to lose him much support in England subsequently.
  • In the final stage of her life Eleanor retreated to the Abbey at Fontevraud no longer being intrinsically involved in the affairs of state.
  • Throughout her life she remained ruler of Aquitaine but with her death, her subjects swiftly followed and pledged allegiance to the King of France, John lacked the support and credibility to stem the flow.
  • 1204 Eleanor was laid to rest with Henry II, ironically the husband who had imprisoned her and her favoured son Richard I the Coeur def Lion. The collapse of the Angevin Empire continued, it would not be long before John had lost most of English dominions in France and the essence of the empire.

Eleanor was an extraordinary woman of her time, coming to extreme wealth at just 15 years of age, she had outlived all but one of her sons, possibly the weakest link in the Anjevin dynasty. There is probably much about her that we do not know but the glimpses that we have are very impressive. Whilst John was the son and King that didn’t follow in her footsteps, he did give England reluctantly Magna Carta and both Richard I and her impressive daughter Eleanor of England and Castille.

Much of the Plantagenet era has been romanticised in literature of the time and since, but it exceptional how as a woman the name Eleanor of Acquitaine has been remembered and admired many centuries later. More a french woman than ever English, with Richard and Henry much of their time was spent in France in the centre of their Empire. The impact of this family is certainly intriguing and the connections down the centuries are complex and fascinating.

What a shame the last of her sons was probably the worst as a leader, did she retire to Fontevraud because she knew with John in power the game was up.

 

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