Although in the basic record Eleanor is down as Wife of Henry II and just a queen of England, she created such an impression during her tenure and after he died that she simply deserves an entire recording all of her own. Also as she was clever, bold, capable, and forward looking woman this upset all the old fools of commentators who expected woman to do nothing except have children, so we shall put the record right on that matter too.
The Early Years
Eleanor was born in probably 1122 or thereabouts. We don’t have exact details because the old idiots doing the recording of births didn’t think it important to know much about Just A Woman. Her father was Duke of Aquitaine, William X, which doesn’t mean he was mysterious or had special powers, simply that he was the tenth of a long-line of Williams who duked about in Aquitaine. He must have been a forward looking fellow because he insisted that Eleanor be educated up to male standard (apart from the hacking, stabbing, slashing warfare bit, which was probably a heresy in those days).
As you will have noted in previous chapters Aquitaine along with other parts of France was quite independent from The King of. That fact that Aquitaine took up a large portion of the South and was about one-third the size of France meant it could be as independent as it liked. Thus when William died of pilgrimages and without recognisable sons Eleanor inherited Aquitaine, which meant she was married off to Louis Who Was To Be King of France, whether she wanted to or not. She probably didn’t.
The Queen of France Years
On the 25th July 1137 Louis and Eleanor were married and styled Duke & Duchess of Aquitaine; it was then that Louis found out he couldn’t actually get his regal hands on Aquitaine, it would only go to his son, when said son and born and lived to become king of France. He was miffed. Meanwhile, bright, alert, vivacious, easy going Eleanor, typical of Aquitaine was grandly not fitting in with the stodgy old northern French court. And then she started having daughters not sons. Louis was not happy. And worse Eleanor was proving to be intelligent, articulate and talented, which was not part of the deal. Louis was by now in such a temper that he not only argued with popes but massacred more people than was normally acceptable in a war with a local duke. So he went off on a crusade, hoping the change of air would do him good. As he was not a very good military leader he nearly got massacred himself; his supporters tried to blame it on Elanor who had been dragged along; the charge didn’t stick. They then visited Eleanor’s uncle Raymond, who Louis didn’t like (you know what visits to in-laws are like) and since other crusaders were being massacred they went home without Louis letting Eleanor visit some of the places she wanted to see. Shortly afterwards they divorced, on the grounds of suddenly discovering they were related, had this been the true case then nearly all royal marriages would have been annulled.
The Queen of England Years (Part One- The Sort of Happy Time)
Once the news got out that Aquitaine was up for grabs there was an undignified scramble for to marry Whoever She Was of Aquitaine; as was the custom of the time it was quite in order for a noble to kidnap the lady and claim her as his wife (after he’d found a compliant bishop). Eleanor having been a queen had got a taste for it, so having a fair idea of the state of things in Europe got in touch with Henry Duke of Normandy who was signed up to be king of England once the then King Stephen had succumbed to a serve case of Matlidas. A True History of the Isles Part 21- 1135-1154 Who Is Who and Who is in Charge of England Anyhow? ivorced in 1152, married again in 1152 and Queen of England in 1154 illustrates Eleanor was ahead of the game. And this time started having sons at an early rate.
As both Henry and Eleanor were passionate (eight children), intelligent, strong-willed folk there were lots of arguments, who won the moral high ground it is not recorded but as Henry was II and king, it must be assumed he got the last word (though maybe not the last laugh). This was Henry’s fault, Eleanor did not see why he could not ‘keep it at home’ instead of having affairs and mistresses, who presumably in the majority were not independently minded. Many commentator and nobles thought her a poor sport. Many commentators and nobles never felt inclined to discuss it with Eleanor face to face.
The Era of Henry’s Bright Idea
In 1168 Henry packed Eleanor off to Poitiers, her home town as she’d probably been starting to give her opinions on how to run England, Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Normandy etc. Henry hoped a spell in her Aquitaine would calm her down since it was easy-going and full of drippy folk who went around pretending they loved each other and writing poetry or ballads of varying qualities on the subject. Many sour old commentators and inventive authors of historical fiction claimed for differing reasons Eleanor invented all the goings on and their styles. This jars with the fact that in 1173 she was in the thick of the revolt against her husband. It is more likely the lady was spending the years out of Henry’s sight and hatching plots.
Eleanor The You Can’t Keep A Tough Woman Down Era
Although Eleanor was not riding about leading armies Henry had little doubt about who was doing the major plotting and after he’d showing his sons that The Old Man still ‘had it’ he chivalrously locked up Eleanor in various castles in England from 1174; though he did allow her out at Christmas. At this time Henry developed a great passion for one Rosamund Clifford and made much of her, hoping it might provoke Eleanor into asking for a divorce. It didn’t. In 1176 Rosamund died; suddenly. After this episode at Christmas time on hearing Eleanor was out again many nobles excused themselves back to their own castles, or brought in extra retinue, or walked about in armour.
Eleanor- The Glory Years Era
In 1183 Henry The Younger due to be king died. He begged his father to let Mum out, and under the rules of chivalry you had to be memorable when dying or to someone dying Henry (Dad) did so, but kept Eleanor very close, which was a mixed blessing as she kept getting involved in government and making clever decisions.
In 1189 after Richard and John (Henry’s favourite) rebelled against him Henry promptly died. As it was well-known Richard was her favourite son, Eleanor was really released. When he left England in 1190 to fight..Anyone…anywhere, for a few months Eleanor ruled in his name, and sometimes signed things in her own name; nobody argued. When a proper body of Nobles was set up to run the country, she gave them lots of advice and mostly kept John under control, again nobody argued. John thought his luck was in upon hearing Richard was captured by Austrians, but Eleanor foiled that by going about raising the ransom, again nobody argued.
Eleanor Tidies Up Europe Era
In 1199 John finally got to be king, and maybe thinking that England deserved him, Eleanor stepped up her campaign of marrying members of her immediate family to other folk to ensure that least in the western bit of Europe everyone who could rule was related to someone else who could rule. She did not let little things like being captured by gauche young nobles slow her down, she gave them a footling bit of land or some minor niece in marriage. Except for her besieging grandson Arthur who was already married and had land, she let his Uncle John sort him out, just to remind people No One argues!!. So quitting while she was ahead she became a nun and took vows…of what has not been recorded. She died in 1204, and everyone wondered just what would happen next. Well in England they had John.
Eleanor The Legacy
After she died all the alliances fell apart, because presumably people felt safe to argue. She was buried next to Henry II, just to remind his supporters who had been queen. Although as noted lots of sour old contemporary commentators made ill remarks about her (out of ear shot or after she was dead), within a couple of centuries playwrights, composers and novelist were falling over themselves to at least give her a walk-on part.
This tradition still continues to this day.
And nobody got their hands on The Aquitaine!!