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Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor's effigy at Fontevraud Abbey.
Preceded by William X
Succeeded by John
Personal details
Born 1122 or 1124
Poitiers, Bordeaux, or Nieul-sur-l'Autise
Died April 1, 1204(1204-04-01) (aged c. 81/82)
Spouse(s) Louis VII, King of France
Henry II, King of England
Religion Roman Catholicism

Eleanor of Aquitaine (French language: Aliénor d’Aquitaine; Éléonore de Guyenne; 1122 or 1124 – 1 April 1204) was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe during the High Middle Ages, a member of the Ramnufid dynasty of rulers in southwestern France. She became Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right while she was still a child, then later queen consort of France (1137–1152) and England (1154–1189). She was the patron of literary figures such as Wace, Benoît de Sainte-Maure, and Bernart de Ventadorn.

Eleanor's succession to the duchy of Aquitaine in 1137 made her the most eligible bride in Europe. Three months after she became duchess, she married King Louis VII of France, son of her guardian, King Louis VI. As queen of France, she participated in the unsuccessful Second Crusade. Soon after, Eleanor sought an annulment of her marriage,[1] but her request was rejected by Pope Eugene III.[2] However, after the birth of her second daughter Alix, Louis agreed to an annulment in consideration of her failure to bear a son after fifteen years of marriage.[3] The marriage was annulled on 11 March 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters were declared legitimate and custody was awarded to Louis, while Eleanor's lands were restored to her.

As soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor became engaged to Henry, Duke of Normandy, who became King Henry II of England in 1154. Henry was her third cousin (cousin of the third degree), and nine years younger. The couple married on 18 May 1152 (Whit Sunday), eight weeks after the annulment of Eleanor's first marriage, in a cathedral in Poitiers, France. Over the next thirteen years, she bore Henry eight children: five sons, three of whom would become kings, and three daughters. However, Henry and Eleanor eventually became estranged. Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting her son Henry's revolt against her husband, and she was not released until 1189.

Eleanor was widowed on 6 July 1189. Her husband was succeeded by their son, King Richard I, who immediately released his mother. Now queen dowager, Eleanor acted as regent while Richard went on the Third Crusade. Eleanor survived Richard and lived well into the reign of her youngest son John. By the time of her death, she had outlived all her children except for King John and Queen Eleanor of Castile.

Early life

Eleanor's year of birth is not known precisely: a late 13th-century genealogy of her family listing her as 13 years old in the spring of 1137 provides the best evidence that Eleanor was perhaps born as late as 1124.[4] On the other hand, some chronicles mention a fidelity oath of some lords of Aquitaine on the occasion of Eleanor's fourteenth birthday in 1136. This, and her known age of 82 at her death, make 1122 more likely the year of birth.[5] Her parents almost certainly married in 1121. Her birthplace may have been Poitiers, Bordeaux, or Nieul-sur-l'Autise, where her mother and brother died when Eleanor was 6 or 8.[6]

Eleanor (or Aliénor) was the oldest of three children of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, whose glittering ducal court was renowned in early 12th-century Europe, and his wife, Aenor de Châtellerault, the daughter of Aimery I, Viscount of Châtellerault, and Dangerose de l' Isle Bouchard, who was William IX's longtime mistress as well as Eleanor's maternal grandmother. Her parents' marriage had been arranged by Dangerose with her paternal grandfather William IX.

Eleanor is said to have been named for her mother Aenor and called Aliénor from the Latin alia Aenor, which means the other Aenor. It became Eléanor in the langues d'oïl of Northern France and Eleanor in English.[3] There was, however, another prominent Eleanor before her: Eleanor of Normandy, an aunt of William the Conqueror, who lived a century earlier than Eleanor of Aquitaine. In Paris as the Queen of France she was called Helienordis, her honorific name as written in the Latin epistles.

By all accounts, Eleanor's father ensured that she had the best possible education.[7] Although her native tongue was Poitevin, she was taught to read and speak Latin, was well versed in music and literature, and schooled in riding, hawking, and hunting.[8] Eleanor was extroverted, lively, intelligent, and strong-willed. In the spring of 1130, her four-year-old brother William Aigret and their mother died at the castle of Talmont, on Aquitaine's Atlantic coast. Eleanor became the heir presumptive to her father's domains. The Duchy of Aquitaine was the largest and richest province of France; Poitou (where Eleanor spent most of her childhood) and Aquitaine together were almost one-third the size of modern France. Eleanor had only one other legitimate sibling, a younger sister named Aelith, also called Petronilla. Her half brother Joscelin was acknowledged by William X as a son, but not as his heir. That she had a half brother William has been discredited.[9] Later, during the first four years of Henry II's reign, all siblings joined Eleanor's royal household.


In 1137, Duke William X left Poitiers for Bordeaux and took his daughters with him. Upon reaching Bordeaux, he left them in the charge of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, one of his few loyal vassals. The duke then set out for the Shrine of Saint James of Compostela in the company of other pilgrims. He died, however, on Good Friday of that year (9 April).

Eleanor, aged twelve to fifteen, then became the Duchess of Aquitaine, and thus the most eligible heiress in Europe. As these were the days when kidnapping an heiress was seen as a viable option for obtaining a title, William dictated a will on the very day he died that bequeathed his domains to Eleanor and appointed King Louis VI of France as her guardian.[10] William requested the king to take care of both the lands and the duchess, and to also find her a suitable husband.[7] However, until a husband was found, the king had the legal right to Eleanor's lands. The duke also insisted to his companions that his death be kept a secret until Louis was informed – the men were to journey from Saint James of Compostela across the Pyrenees as quickly as possible to call at Bordeaux to notify the archbishop, then to make all speed to Paris to inform the king.

The king of France, known as Louis the Fat, was also gravely ill at that time, suffering from a bout of (dysentery) from which he seemed unlikely to recover. Despite his immense obesity and impending mortality, Louis remained clear-minded. To his concerns regarding his new heir, Louis, who had been destined for the monastic life of a younger son (the former heir, Philip, died from a riding accident),[11] was added joy over the death of one of his most powerful vassals – and the availability of the most desirable duchy in France. Presenting a solemn and dignified manner to the grieving Aquitainian messengers, he became overjoyed when they departed, stammering in delight. Rather than act as guardian to the duchess and duchy, he decided that he would marry the duchess to his heir and bring Aquitaine under the control of the French crown, thereby greatly increasing the power and prominence of France and its ruling family, the Capets. Within hours Louis had arranged for his 17 year-old son, Prince Louis, to be married to Eleanor, with Abbot Suger in charge of the wedding arrangements. Prince Louis was sent to Bordeaux with an escort of 500 knights, as well as Abbot Suger, Theobald II, Count of Champagne, and Count Ralph.

First marriage

(left scene) 14th-century representation of the wedding of Louis and Eleanor; (right scene) Depiction of Louis leaving on Crusade

On 25 July 1137 the couple was married in the Cathedral of Saint-André in Bordeaux by the Archbishop of Bordeaux.[7] Immediately after the wedding, the couple was enthroned as Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine.[7][7] However, there was a catch: the land would remain independent of France until Eleanor's oldest son became both King of the Franks and Duke of Aquitaine. Thus, her holdings would not be merged with France until the next generation. As a wedding present she gave Louis a rock crystal vase currently on display at the Louvre.[7][11][12] Louis gave the vase to the Saint Denis Basilica. This vase is the only object connected with Eleanor of Aquitaine that still survives.[13]

Louis's tenure as Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony lasted only few days. Although he had been invested as such on 8 August 1137, a messenger gave him the news that Louis VI had died of dysentery on 1 August while he and his wife were making a tour of the provinces. Thus he became King Louis VII of France. He and Eleanor were anointed and crowned King and Queen of the Franks on Christmas Day of the same year.[7][14]

Possessing a high-spirited nature, Eleanor was not popular with the staid northerners (according to sources, Louis's mother Adélaide de Maurienne thought her flighty and a bad influence). She was not aided by memories of Constance of Arles, the Provençal wife of Robert II, tales of whose immodest dress and language were still told with horror.[15]

Eleanor's conduct was repeatedly criticized by church elders (particularly Bernard of Clairvaux and Abbot Suger) as indecorous. The king, however, was madly in love with his beautiful and worldly bride and granted her every whim, even though her behavior baffled and vexed him. Much money went into making the austere Cité Palace in Paris more comfortable for Eleanor's sake.[11]


Eleanor's grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine, gave her this rock crystal vase, which she in turn gave to Louis as a wedding gift. He later donated it to the Abbey of Saint-Denis. This is the only surviving artifact known to have belonged to Eleanor.

Although Louis was a pious man, he soon came into a violent conflict with Pope Innocent II. In 1141, the Archbishopric of Bourges became vacant, and the king put forward as a candidate one of his chancellors, Cadurc, while vetoing the one suitable candidate, Pierre de la Chatre, who was promptly elected by the canons of Bourges and consecrated by the pope. Louis accordingly bolted the gates of Bourges against the new bishop. The pope, recalling William X's similar attempts to exile Innocent's supporters from Poitou and replace them with priests loyal to himself, blamed Eleanor, saying that Louis was only a child and should be taught manners. Outraged, Louis swore upon relics that so long as he lived Pierre should never enter Bourges. This brought an interdict upon the king's lands. Pierre de la Chatre was given refuge by Theobald II, Count of Champagne.

Louis became involved in a war with Count Theobald by permitting Raoul I, Count of Vermandois and seneschal of France, to repudiate his wife Eléonore of Blois, Theobald's sister, and to marry Petronilla of Aquitaine, Eleanor's sister. Eleanor urged Louis to support her sister's marriage to Count Raoul. Theobald had also offended Louis by siding with the pope in the dispute over Bourges. The war lasted two years (1142–44) and ended with the occupation of Champagne by the royal army. Louis was personally involved in the assault and burning of the town of Vitry. More than a thousand people who sought refuge in the church there died in the flames.

Horrified, and desiring an end to the war, Louis attempted to make peace with Theobald in exchange for his support in lifting the interdict on Raoul and Petronilla. This was duly lifted for long enough to allow Theobald's lands to be restored; it was then lowered once more when Raoul refused to repudiate Petronilla, prompting Louis to return to Champagne and ravage it once more.

In June 1144, the king and queen visited the newly built monastic church at Saint-Denis. While there, the queen met with Bernard of Clairvaux, demanding that he have the excommunication of Petronilla and Raoul lifted through his influence on the pope in exchange for which King Louis would make concessions in Champagne and recognise Pierre de la Chatre as Archbishop of Bourges. Dismayed at her attitude, Bernard scolded her for her lack of penitence and interference in matters of state. In response, Eleanor broke down and meekly excused her behaviour, claiming to be bitter because of her lack of children. In response to this, Bernard became more kindly towards her: "My child, seek those things which make for peace. Cease to stir up the King against the Church, and urge upon him a better course of action. If you will promise to do this, I in return promise to entreat the merciful Lord to grant you offspring."

In a matter of weeks, peace had returned to France: Theobald's provinces were returned and Pierre de la Chatre was installed as Archbishop of Bourges. In April 1145, Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, Marie.

Louis, however, still burned with guilt over the massacre at Vitry and desired to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in order to atone for his sins. Fortunately for him, in the autumn of 1145, Pope Eugene III requested that Louis lead a Crusade to the Middle East to rescue the Frankish Kingdoms there from disaster. Accordingly, Louis declared on Christmas Day 1145 at Bourges his intention of going on crusade.


Eleanor of Aquitaine took up the Second Crusade formally during a sermon preached by Bernard of Clairvaux. However she had been corresponding with her uncle Raymond, king and holder of family properties in Antioch, who was seeking further protection from the French crown. She recruited some of her royal ladies-in-waiting for the campaign, as well as 300 non-noble vassals. She insisted on taking part in the Crusades as the feudal leader of the soldiers from her duchy. The story that she and her ladies dressed as Amazons is disputed by historians, sometimes confused with the account of King Conrad's train of ladies during this campaign (in Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). Her testimonial launch of the Second Crusade from Vézelay, the rumored location of Mary Magdalene´s grave, dramatically emphasized the role of women in the campaign.

The Crusade itself achieved little. Louis was a weak and ineffectual military leader with no skill for maintaining troop discipline or morale, or of making informed and logical tactical decisions. In eastern Europe, the French army was at times hindered by Manuel I Comnenus, the Byzantine Emperor, who feared that the Crusade would jeopardize the tenuous safety of his empire. Notwithstanding, during their three-week stay at Constantinople, Louis was fêted and Eleanor was much admired. She was compared with Penthesilea, mythical queen of the Amazons, by the Greek historian Nicetas Choniates. He added that she gained the epithet chrysopous (golden-foot) from the cloth of gold that decorated and fringed her robe. Louis and Eleanor stayed in the Philopation palace just outside the city walls.

Second Crusade council: Conrad III of Germany, Eleanor's husband Louis VII of France, and Baldwin III of Jerusalem

From the moment the Crusaders entered Asia Minor, things began to go badly. The king and queen were still optimistic – the Byzantine Emperor had told them that the German King Conrad had won a great victory against a Turkish army (when in fact the German army had been massacred), and the troupe was still eating well. However, while camping near Nicea, the remnants of the German army, including a dazed and sick King Conrad, staggered past the French camp, bringing news of their disaster. The French, with what remained of the Germans, then began to march in increasingly disorganized fashion towards Antioch. They were in high spirits on Christmas Eve, when they chose to camp in a lush Dercervian valley near Ephesus. Here they were ambushed by a Turkish detachment; the French proceeded to slaughter this detachment and appropriate their camp.

Louis then decided to cross the Phrygian mountains directly in the hope of reaching Eleanor's uncle Raymond in Antioch more quickly. As they ascended the mountains, however, the army and the king and queen were horrified to discover the unburied corpses of the previously slaughtered German army.

On the day set for the crossing of Mount Cadmos, Louis chose to take charge of the rear of the column, where the unarmed pilgrims and the baggage trains marched. The vanguard, with which Queen Eleanor marched, was commanded by her Aquitainian vassal Geoffrey de Rancon. Unencumbered by baggage, they reached the summit of Cadmos, where Rancon had been ordered to make camp for the night. Rancon however chose to continue on, deciding in concert with Amadeus III, Count of Savoy (Louis's uncle) that a nearby plateau would make a better campsite: such disobedience was reportedly common.

Accordingly, by mid-afternoon, the rear of the column – believing the day's march to be nearly at an end – was dawdling. This resulted in the army becoming separated, with some having already crossed the summit and others still approaching it. At this point the Turks, who had been following and feinting for many days, seized their opportunity and attacked those who had not yet crossed the summit. The French (both soldiers and pilgrims), taken by surprise, were trapped; those who tried to escape were caught and killed. Many men, horses, and much of the baggage were cast into the canyon below. The chronicler William of Tyre placed the blame for this disaster firmly on the amount of baggage (much of it reputedly belonging to Eleanor and her ladies) and the presence of non-combatants.

The king, having scorned royal apparel in favour of a simple pilgrim's tunic, escaped notice (unlike his bodyguards, whose skulls were brutally smashed and limbs severed). He reportedly "nimbly and bravely scaled a rock by making use of some tree roots which God had provided for his safety", and managed to survive the attack. Others were not so fortunate: "No aid came from Heaven, except that night fell."[16]

Official blame for the disaster was placed on Geoffrey de Rancon, who had made the decision to continue, and it was suggested that he be hanged (a suggestion which the king ignored). Since he was Eleanor's vassal, many believed that it was she who had been ultimately responsible for the change in plan, and thus the massacre. This did nothing for her popularity in Christendom – she was also blamed for the size of the baggage train and the fact that her Aquitainian soldiers had marched at the front, thus not involved in the fight. Continuing on, the army became split, with the commoners marching toward Antioch and the royalty traveling by sea. When most of the land army arrived, the king and queen had a profound dispute. Some, such as John of Salisbury and William of Tyre, say Eleanor's reputation was sullied by rumours of an affair with her uncle Raymond. However, this may have been a ruse, as Raymond through Eleanor tried to forcibly sway Louis to use his army to attack the actual Muslim encampment at nearby Aleppo, gateway to recovering Edessa, the objective of the Crusade by papal decree. Although this was perhaps the better military plan, Louis was not keen to fight in northern Syria. One of Louis's avowed Crusade goals was to journey in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and he stated his intention to continue. Eleanor then reputedly requested to stay with Raymond and brought up the matter of consanguinity – the fact that she and Louis were related within prohibited degrees. This was grounds for divorce in the medieval period. Rather than allow her to stay, Louis took Eleanor from Antioch against her will and continued on to Jerusalem with his army dwindling.[17]

Eleanor was humiliated by this episode and maintained a low profile for the rest of the crusade. Louis's subsequent assault on Damascus in 1148 with his remaining army, fortified by King Conrad and Baldwin III of Jerusalem, achieved little. Damascus was a major trading centre that abounded in wealth and was under normal circumstances a potential threat, but the rulers of Jerusalem had recently entered into a truce with the city, which they then forswore. It was a gamble that did not pay off, and whether through military error or betrayal, the Damascus campaign was a failure. The French royal family retreated to Jerusalem and then sailed to Rome and back to Paris.

While in the eastern Mediterranean, Eleanor learned about maritime conventions developing there, which were the beginnings of what would become admiralty law. She introduced those conventions in her own lands on the island of Oleron in 1160 (with the "Rolls of Oléron") and later in England as well. She was also instrumental in developing trade agreements with Constantinople and ports of trade in the Holy Lands.


Even before the Crusade, Eleanor and Louis were becoming estranged, and their differences were only exacerbated while they were abroad. Eleanor's relationship with her uncle Raymond, the ruler of Antioch, was a major source of discord. Eleanor supported her uncle's desire to re-capture the nearby County of Edessa, the cause of the Crusade. In addition, having been close to him in their youth, she now showed excessive affection towards her uncle. While many historians today dismiss this as familial affection (noting their early friendship and his similarity to her father and grandfather), many of Eleanor's adversaries interpreted the generous displays of affection between uncle and niece for an incestuous affair. Louis's long march to Jerusalem and back north, which Eleanor was forced to join, debilitated his army and disheartened her knights; the divided Crusade armies could not overcome the Muslim forces, and the royal couple had to return home.

Home, however, was not easily reached. Louis and Eleanor, on separate ships due to their disagreements, were first attacked in May 1149 by Byzantine ships attempting to capture both on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor. Although they escaped this predicament unharmed, stormy weather served to drive Eleanor's ship far to the south (to the Barbary Coast) and lose track of her husband. Neither was heard of for over two months. In mid-July, Eleanor's ship finally reached Palermo in Sicily, where she discovered that she and her husband had both been given up for dead. The king still lost, she was given shelter and food by servants of King Roger II of Sicily, until the king eventually reached Calabria, and she set out to meet him there. Later, at King Roger's court in Potenza, she learned of the death of her uncle Raymond, who was beheaded by Muslim forces in the Holy Land. This appears to have forced a change of plans, for instead of returning to France from Marseilles, they went to see Pope Eugene III in Tusculum, where he had been driven five months before by a revolt of the Commune of Rome.

Eugene did not, as Eleanor had hoped, grant an annulment. Instead, he attempted to reconcile Eleanor and Louis, confirming the legality of their marriage. He proclaimed that no word could be spoken against it, and that it might not be dissolved under any pretext. Eventually, he arranged events so that Eleanor had no choice but to sleep with Louis in a bed specially prepared by the pope. Thus was conceived their second child – not a son, but another daughter, Alix of France.

The marriage was now doomed. Still without a son and in danger of being left with no male heir, facing substantial opposition to Eleanor from many of his barons and her own desire for divorce, Louis had no choice but to bow to the inevitable. On 11 March 1152, they met at the royal castle of Beaugency to dissolve the marriage. Hugues de Toucy, Archbishop of Sens, presided, and Louis and Eleanor were both present, as were the Archbishops of Bordeaux and Rouen. Archbishop Samson of Reims acted for Eleanor.

On 21 March, the four archbishops, with the approval of Pope Eugene, granted an annulment on grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree (Eleanor and Louis were fourth cousins, once removed, and shared common ancestry with Robert II of France). Their two daughters were, however, declared legitimate and custody of them awarded to King Louis. Archbishop Samson received assurances from Louis that Eleanor's lands would be restored to her.

Second marriage

Henry II of England

The marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry of Anjou and Henry's subsequent succession to the throne of England created the Angevin empire.

Two lords – Theobald V, Count of Blois, and Geoffrey, Count of Nantes (brother of Henry II, Duke of Normandy) – tried to kidnap Eleanor to marry her and claim her lands on Eleanor's way to Poitiers. As soon as she arrived there, Eleanor sent envoys to Henry, Duke of Normandy, asking him to come at once to marry her. On 18 May 1152 (Whit Sunday), eight weeks after her annulment, Eleanor married Henry "without the pomp and ceremony that befitted their rank".[18]

Eleanor was related to him more closely than she had been to Louis; they were cousins to the third degree through their common ancestor, Ermengarde of Anjou (wife of Robert I, Duke of Burgundy and Geoffrey, Count of Gâtinais), and were also descended from King Robert II of France. A marriage between Henry and Eleanor's daughter Marie had indeed been declared impossible due to their status as third cousins once removed. One of Eleanor's rumoured lovers had been Henry's own father, Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, who had advised his son to avoid any involvement with her.

On 25 October 1154, Eleanor's second husband became King of England. Eleanor was crowned Queen of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 19 December 1154.[14] It may be, however, that she was not anointed on this occasion, because she had already been anointed in 1137.[19]

Over the next thirteen years, she bore Henry five sons and three daughters: William, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, Matilda, Eleanor, and Joan. John Speed, in his 1611 work History of Great Britain, mentions the possibility that Eleanor had a son named Philip, who died young. His sources no longer exist, and he alone mentions this birth.[20]

Eleanor's marriage to Henry was reputed to be tumultuous and argumentative, although sufficiently cooperative to produce at least eight pregnancies. Henry was by no means faithful to his wife and had a reputation for philandering. Henry fathered other illegitimate children throughout the marriage. Eleanor appears to have taken an ambivalent attitude towards these affairs: for example, Geoffrey of York, an illegitimate son of Henry, was acknowledged by Henry as his child and raised at Westminster in the care of the queen.

The period between Henry's accession and the birth of Eleanor's youngest son was turbulent: Aquitaine, as was the norm, defied the authority of Henry as Eleanor's husband; attempts to claim Toulouse, the rightful inheritance of Eleanor's grandmother Philippa of Toulouse, were made, but they ended in failure; the news of Louis of France's widowhood and remarriage was followed by the marriage of Henry's son ("young Henry") to Louis's daughter Margaret of France; and there was a bitter feud between the king and Thomas Becket, his Chancellor and later Archbishop of Canterbury. Little is known of Eleanor's involvement in these events. It is known that by late 1166, Henry's notorious affair with Rosamund Clifford had become known, and her marriage to Henry appears to have become terminally strained.

The year 1167 saw the marriage of Eleanor's third daughter, Matilda, to Henry the Lion of Saxony. Eleanor remained in England with her daughter for the year prior to Matilda's departure to Normandy in September. Afterwards, Eleanor proceeded to gather together her movable possessions in England and transport them on several ships in December to Argentan. At the royal court celebrated there that Christmas, she appears to have agreed to a separation from Henry. Certainly, she left for her own city of Poitiers immediately after Christmas. Henry did not stop her; on the contrary, he and his army personally escorted her there before attacking a castle belonging to the rebellious Lusignan family. Henry then went about his own business outside Aquitaine, leaving Earl Patrick (his regional military commander) as her protective custodian. When Patrick was killed in a skirmish, Eleanor (who proceeded to ransom his captured nephew, the young William Marshal), was left in control of her inheritance.

The Court of Love in Poitiers

Palace of Poitiers, seat of the Counts of Poitou and Dukes of Aquitaine in the 10th through 12th centuries, where Eleanor's highly literate and artistic court inspired tales of Courts of Love

Of all her influence on culture, Eleanor's time in Poitiers between 1168 and 1173 was perhaps the most critical, yet very little is known about it. Henry II was elsewhere, attending to his own affairs after escorting Eleanor there.[21]

It is Eleanor’s court in Poitiers that some believe to have been the "Court of Love", where Eleanor and her daughter Marie meshed and encouraged the ideas of troubadours, chivalry, and courtly love into a single court. It may have been largely a court (meaning a place rather than a judicial setting) to teach manners, as the French courts would be known for in later generations. The existence and reasons for this court are debated.

In The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capellanus (Andrew the chaplain) refers to the court of Poitiers. He claims that Eleanor, her daughter Marie, Ermengarde, Viscountess of Narbonne, and Isabelle of Flanders would sit and listen to the quarrels of lovers and act as a jury to the questions of the court that revolved around acts of romantic love. He records some twenty-one cases, the most famous of them being a problem posed to the women about whether or not true love can exist in marriage. According to Capellanus, the women decided that it was not at all likely.[22]

Some scholars believe that the "court of love" probably never existed, since the only evidence for it is Andreas Capellanus’ book. To strengthen their argument, they say that there is also no other evidence that Marie ever stayed with her mother in Poitiers.[21] Andreas wrote for the court of the king of France, where Eleanor was not held in esteem.

Polly Schoyer Brooks (the author of a non-academic biography of Eleanor) suggests that the court did exist, but that it was not taken very seriously and that acts of Courtly Love were just a “parlor game” made up by Eleanor and Marie in order to place some order over the young courtiers living there.[23]

There is no claim that Eleanor invented courtly love, since it was a concept that had begun to grow before Eleanor’s court arose. All that can be said is that her court at Poitiers was most likely a catalyst for the increased popularity of courtly love literature in the Western European regions.[24]

Amy Kelly, in her article “Eleanor of Aquitaine and her Courts of Love”, gives a very plausible description of the origins of the rules of Eleanor's court: “in the Poitevin code, man is the property, the very thing of woman; whereas a precisely contrary state of things existed in the adjacent realms of the two kings from whom the reigning duchess of Aquitaine was estranged.”[25]

Revolt and capture

In March 1173, aggrieved at his lack of power and egged on by his father's enemies, the younger Henry launched the Revolt of 1173–1174. He fled to Paris. From there, "the younger Henry, devising evil against his father from every side by the advice of the French King, went secretly into Aquitaine where his two youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were living with their mother, and with her connivance, so it is said, he incited them to join him".[26] One source claimed that the Queen sent her younger sons to France "to join with him against their father the king".[27] Once her sons had left for Paris, Eleanor may have encouraged the lords of the south to rise up and support them.[28]

Sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May, Eleanor left Poitiers, but was arrested and sent to the king at Rouen. The king did not announce the arrest publicly; for the next year, the Queen's whereabouts were unknown. On 8 July 1174, Henry and Eleanor took ship for England from Barfleur. As soon as they disembarked at Southampton, Eleanor was taken either to Winchester Castle or Sarum Castle and held there.

Years of imprisonment 1173–1189

The obverse of Eleanor's seal. She is identified as Eleanor, by the Grace of God, Queen of the English, Duchess of the Normans. The legend on the reverse calls her Eleanor, Duchess of the Aquitanians and Countess of the Angevins.[14]

Eleanor was imprisoned for the next sixteen years, much of the time in various locations in England. During her imprisonment, Eleanor became more and more distant with her sons, especially Richard (who had always been her favorite). She did not have the opportunity to see her sons very often during her imprisonment, though she was released for special occasions such as Christmas. About four miles from Shrewsbury and close by Haughmond Abbey is "Queen Eleanor's Bower", the remains of a triangular castle which is believed to have been one of her prisons.

Henry lost the woman reputed to be his great love, Rosamund Clifford, in 1176. He had met her in 1166 and began his liaison in 1173, supposedly contemplating divorce from Eleanor. This notorious affair caused a monkish scribe to transcribe Rosamond's name in Latin to "Rosa Immundi", or "Rose of Unchastity". The king had many mistresses, but although he treated earlier liaisons discreetly, he flaunted Rosamond. He may have done so to provoke Eleanor into seeking an annulment but, if so, the queen disappointed him. Nevertheless, rumours persisted, perhaps assisted by Henry's camp, that Eleanor had poisoned Rosamund. Henry donated much money to Godstow Nunnery, where Rosamund was buried.

In 1183, the Young King Henry tried again to force his father to hand over some of his patrimony. In debt and refused control of Normandy, he tried to ambush his father at Limoges. He was joined by troops sent by his brother Geoffrey and Philip II of France. Henry II's troops besieged the town, forcing his son to flee. After wandering aimlessly through Aquitaine, Henry the Younger caught dysentery. On Saturday, 11 June 1183, the Young King realized he was dying and was overcome with remorse for his sins. When his father's ring was sent to him, he begged that his father would show mercy to his mother, and that all his companions would plead with Henry to set her free. Henry II sent Thomas of Earley, Archdeacon of Wells, to break the news to Eleanor at Sarum.[29] Eleanor reputedly had had a dream in which she foresaw her son Henry's death. In 1193 she would tell Pope Celestine III that she was tortured by his memory.

King Philip II of France claimed that certain properties in Normandy belonged to his half-sister Margaret, widow of the young Henry, but Henry insisted that they had once belonged to Eleanor and would revert to her upon her son's death. For this reason Henry summoned Eleanor to Normandy in the late summer of 1183. She stayed in Normandy for six months. This was the beginning of a period of greater freedom for the still-supervised Eleanor. Eleanor went back to England probably early in 1184.[28] Over the next few years Eleanor often travelled with her husband and was sometimes associated with him in the government of the realm, but still had a custodian so that she was not free.


Upon the death of her husband Henry on 6 July 1189, Richard was his undisputed heir. One of his first acts as king was to send William Marshal to England with orders to release Eleanor from prison, who found upon his arrival that her custodians had already released her.[30]

Eleanor rode to Westminster and received the oaths of fealty from many lords and prelates on behalf of the king. She ruled England in Richard's name, signing herself "Eleanor, by the grace of God, Queen of England". On 13 August 1189, Richard sailed from Barfleur to Portsmouth, and was received with enthusiasm. Eleanor ruled England as regent while Richard went off on the Third Crusade. Later, when Richard was captured, she personally negotiated his ransom by going to Germany.

Eleanor survived Richard and lived well into the reign of her youngest son King John. In 1199, under the terms of a truce between King Philip II of France and King John, it was agreed that Philip's twelve-year-old heir-apparent Louis would be married to one of John's nieces of Castile. John deputed Eleanor to travel to Castile to select one of the princesses. Now 77, Eleanor set out from Poitiers. Just outside Poitiers she was ambushed and held captive by Hugh IX of Lusignan, which had long ago been sold by his forebears to Henry II. Eleanor secured her freedom by agreeing to his demands and journeyed south, crossed the Pyrenees, and travelled through the Kingdoms of Navarre and Castile, arriving before the end of January 1200.

King Alfonso VIII and her daughter, Queen Eleanor of Castile, had two remaining unmarried daughters, Urraca and Blanche. Eleanor selected the younger daughter, Blanche. She stayed for two months at the Castilian court. Late in March, Eleanor and her granddaughter Blanche journeyed back across the Pyrenees. When she was at Bordeaux, where she celebrated Easter, the famous warrior Mercadier came to her and it was decided that he would escort the Queen and Princess north. "On the second day in Easter week, he was slain in the city by a man-at-arms in the service of Brandin",[27] a rival mercenary captain. This tragedy was too much for the elderly queen, who was fatigued and unable to continue to Normandy. She and Blanche rode in easy stages to the valley of the Loire, and she entrusted Blanche to the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who took over as her escort. The exhausted Eleanor went to Fontevraud, where she remained. In early summer, Eleanor was ill and John visited her at Fontevraud.

Tomb effigies of Eleanor and Henry II at Fontevraud Abbey

Eleanor was again unwell in early 1201. When war broke out between John and Philip, Eleanor declared her support for John, and set out from Fontevraud to her capital Poitiers to prevent her grandson Arthur I, Duke of Brittany, John's enemy, from taking control. Arthur learned of her whereabouts and besieged her in the castle of Mirabeau. As soon as John heard of this he marched south, overcame the besiegers and captured Arthur. Eleanor then returned to Fontevraud where she took the veil as a nun.

Eleanor died in 1204 and was entombed in Fontevraud Abbey next to her husband Henry and her son Richard. Her tomb effigy shows her reading a bible and is decorated with magnificent jewelry. By the time of her death she had outlived all of her children except for King John of England and Queen Eleanor of Castile.


Contemporary sources praise Eleanor's beauty.[7] Even in an era when ladies of the nobility were excessively praised, their praise of her was undoubtedly sincere. When she was young, she was described as perpulchra – more than beautiful. When she was around 30, Bernard de Ventadour, a noted troubadour, called her "gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm," extolling her "lovely eyes and noble countenance" and declaring that she was "one meet to crown the state of any king."[10][31][32] William of Newburgh emphasized the charms of her person, and even in her old age, Richard of Devizes described her as beautiful, while Matthew Paris, writing in the 13th century, recalled her "admirable beauty."

However, no one left a more detailed description of Eleanor; the color of her hair and eyes, for example, are unknown. The effigy on her tomb shows a tall and large-boned woman with brown skin, though this may not be an accurate representation. Her seal of c. 1152 shows a woman with a slender figure, but this is likely an impersonal image.[7]

Popular Culture

Books and dramas

Eleanor and Henry are the main characters in James Goldman's play The Lion in Winter, which was made into a film starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn in 1968 (for which Hepburn won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama). The film was remade for television in 2003 with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close (for which Close won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress In A Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Miniseries or a Movie).

The depiction of Eleanor in the play Becket, which was filmed in 1964 with Pamela Brown as Eleanor, contains historical inaccuracies, as acknowledged by the author, Jean Anouilh.

In 2004, Catherine Muschamp's one-woman play, Mother of the Pride, toured the UK with Eileen Page in the title role. In 2005, Chapelle Jaffe played the same part in Toronto.

The character "Queen Elinor" appears in William Shakespeare's King John, along with other members of the family. On television, she has been portrayed in this play by Una Venning in the BBC Sunday Night Theatre version (1952) and by Mary Morris in the BBC Shakespeare version (1984).

She figures prominently in Sharon Kay Penman's novels, When Christ And His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, and Devil's Brood. She appears briefly in Here Be Dragons. Penman has also written a series of historical mysteries in which Eleanor, in old age, sends a trusted servant to unravel various puzzles. The titles are The Queen's Man, Cruel as the Grave, Dragon's Lair, and Prince of Darkness.

E.L. Konigsburg's young adult novel A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver takes place in Heaven of the late 20th century, where Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Matilda, and William the Marshall are waiting for King Henry II to be admitted to eternity at last. The Abbot Suger stops to chat with Eleanor and stays to wait, too. To pass the time, the four recall Eleanor's time on Earth. The flashbacks on earth are set during the Middle Ages in France and England, with a brief trip to the Holy Land. The flashbacks trace the highlights of Eleanor's life from 1137 (when she is 15 years old and about to wed Louis Capet, soon to be King Louis VII of France) to her death in 1204. Her life encompasses the rule of England by her husband Henry II and by her sons Richard and John. Originally published in 1973, the novel was put back in print by Atheneum in 2001.

Christy English's historical novel, The Queen's Pawn, published in April 2010, depicts Eleanor of Aquitaine from 1169–1173, during her marriage to King Henry II of England and her relationship with Princess Alais of France. In April 2011, English published a second novel, To Be Queen, which is another historical novel centered on Eleanor of Aquitaine's life. This novel covers the years 1132–1152, from before she became Duchess of Aquitaine until the end of her first marriage to Louis VII of France. Also published in April 2010 was Alison Weir's novel The Captive Queen, which details Eleanor's life from when she first met Henry II of England to her death in 1204.

Eleanor is associated with Nicole des Jardins in Arthur C. Clarke's series Rendezvous with Rama. She is often cited as a role model for Nicole along with Joan of Arc.

Jean Plaidy has written about her in several novels. Courts of Love is written from a first person perspective in Plaidy's Queens of England series, and in The Plantagenet Saga, Eleanor of Aquitaine is featured in The Plantagenet Prelude, Revolt of the Eaglets, The Heart of the Lion, and Prince of Darkness.

Eleanor of Aquitaine has a book in The Royal Diaries series, Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine. The books in the series are written as a fictional diary of a royal written in their earlier years.

In 2013, Elizabeth Chadwick published the first of three announced books about the life of Eleanor, called The Summer Queen.

Film, radio and television

Eleanor has featured in a number of screen versions of Ivanhoe and the Robin Hood story. She has been played by Martita Hunt in The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), Jill Esmond in the British TV adventure series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955–1960), Phyllis Neilson-Terry in the British TV adventure series Ivanhoe (1958), Yvonne Mitchell in the BBC TV drama series The Legend of Robin Hood (1975), Siân Phillips in the TV series Ivanhoe (1997), and Tusse Silberg in the TV series The New Adventures of Robin Hood (1997). She was portrayed by Lynda Bellingham in the BBC series Robin Hood. Most recently, she was portrayed by Eileen Atkins in Robin Hood (2010).

In the film The Lion in Winter, Eleanor is played by Katharine Hepburn, while Henry is portrayed by Peter O'Toole. The film is about the difficult relationship between them and the struggle of their three sons Richard, Geoffrey and John for their father's favour and the succession.

She has also been portrayed by Mary Clare in the silent film Becket (1923), based on a play by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Prudence Hyman in the British children's TV series Richard the Lionheart (1962), and Jane Lapotaire in the BBC TV drama series The Devil's Crown (1978), which dramatised the reigns of Henry II, Richard I and John.

Eleanor is played by Jane Lapotaire in Mike Walker's BBC Radio 4 series Plantagenet (2010).


Eleanor and Rosamund Clifford, as well as Henry II and Rosamund's father appear in Gaetano Donizetti's opera Rosmonda d'Inghilterra with a libretto by Felice Romani, which was premiered in Florence, at the Teatro Pergola, in 27 February 1834. A recording made by Opera Rara (1994), features Nelly Miricioiu as Eleanor and Renée Fleming as Rosamund.

Family Tree

William IX.
Philippa of Toulouse
William X. of Aquitaine
Aenor of Chatellerault
Louis VII of France
Eleanor of Aquitane
Henry II of England
Marie of Champagne
Alix of Blois
William IX.of Poitiers
Henry the Young King
Matilda of Saxony
Richard I.
Geoffrey II.
Eleanor of Castile
Joan of Sicily
John, King of England



Issue of Eleanor & Henry

Name Birth Death Marriage(s)
By Louis VII of France (married 12 July 1137, annulled 21 March 1152)
Marie, Countess of Champagne 1145 11 March 1198 married Henry I, Count of Champagne; had issue
Alix, Countess of Blois 1151 1198 married Theobald V, Count of Blois; had issue
By Henry II of England (married 18 May 1152, widowed 6 July 1189)
William IX, Count of Poitiers 17 August 1153 April 1156 died in infancy
Henry the Young King 28 February 1155 11 June 1183 married Margaret of France; no surviving issue.
Matilda, Duchess of Saxony June 1156 13 July 1189 married Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony; had issue
Richard I of England 8 September 1157 6 April 1199 married Berengaria of Navarre; no issue
Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany 23 September 1158 19 August 1186 married Constance, Duchess of Brittany; had issue
Eleanor, Queen of Castile 13 October 1162 31 October 1214 married Alfonso VIII of Castile; had issue
Joan, Queen of Sicily October 1165 4 September 1199 married 1) William II of Sicily 2) Raymond VI of Toulouse; had issue
John, King of England 27 December 1166 19 October 1216 married 1) Isabella, Countess of Gloucester 2) Isabella, Countess of Angoulême; had issue

See also

  • List of longest-reigning monarchs


  1. Meade, Marion. “Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography”. Penguin Books, 1977, p. 106
  2. Meade, Marion. “Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography”. Penguin Books, 1977, p. 122
  3. 3.0 3.1 Marion Meade, Eleanor of Aquitaine: a biography, Penguin Books, 1977 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Meade" defined multiple times with different content
  4. citation, Ralph Turner: Eleanor of Aquitaine p.28
  5. citation Weir, Alison: Eleanor Of Aquitaine: A Life p.13
  6. (French) Biographie d'Aliénor d'Aquitaine
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, Ballantine Books, 2001
  8. Ros Horton, Sally Simmons; Women Who Changed the World; Quercus, 2007
  9. Elizabeth Chadwick, [1], Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Brother Who Never Was
  10. 10.0 10.1 Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine: by the wrath of God, Queen of England, Jonathan Cape, 1999
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Fiona Swabey, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Courtly Love, and the Troubadours, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004
  12. Amy Ruth Kelly, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the four kings, Harvard University Press, 1978
  13. citation Weir, Alison: Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life p. 25
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Bonnie Wheeler, John Carmi Parsons; Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady; Palgrave Macmillan, 2003
  15. Meade, Marion (2002). Eleanor of Aquitaine. Phoenix Press. p. 51. "...[Adelaide] perhaps [based] her preconceptions on another southerner, Constance of Provence...tales of her allegedly immodest dress and language still continued to circulate amongst the sober Franks." 
  16. Meade, Marion: Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography, page 100, Hawthorn Books, 1977
  17. Natasha Hodgson, Women, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narrative (Boydell, 2007) 131–134 on Eleanor's 'adultery
  18. Chronique de Touraine
  19. Martin Aurell, The Plantagenet empire, 1154–1224, Pearson Education, 2007
  20. Weir, Alison, Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, pages 154–155, Ballantine Books, 1999
  21. 21.0 21.1 Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine: a Life. New York: Ballantine, 2000. Print.
  22. Capellanus, Andreas. The Art of Courtly Love. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Joseph Laurence Black. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2009. Print.
  23. Brooks, Polly Schoyer. Queen Eleanor, Independent Spirit of the Medieval World: a Biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1983. Print.[page needed]
  24. Kelly, Amy. "Eleanor of Aquitaine and Her Courts of Love." Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 12.1 (1937): 3–19.
  25. Kelly, Amy. "Eleanor of Aquitaine and Her Courts of Love." Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 12.1 (1937): 12.
  26. William of Newburgh, Book II, Chapter 7
  27. 27.0 27.1 Roger of Hoveden
  28. 28.0 28.1 Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alison Weir 1999
  29. Ms. S. Berry, Senior Archivist at the Somerset Archive and Record Service, identified this "archdeacon of Wells" as Thomas of Earley, noting his family ties to Henry II and the Earleys' philanthropies (Power of a Woman, ch. 33, and endnote 40).
  30. Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alison Weir 1999.
  31. Nancy Plain, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the High Middle Ages, Marshall Cavendish, 2005
  32. Mark Turnham Elvins, Mark of Whitstable, Mark of Whistable Staff; Gospel Chivalry: Franciscan Romanticism; Marshall Cavendish, 2005
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England, Ralph V. Turner (2009)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady, John Carmi Parsons & Bonnie Wheeler (2002)
  • Queen Eleanor: Independent Spirit of the Medieval World, Polly Schover Brooks (1983) (for young readers)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography, Marion Meade (1977)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, Amy Kelly (1950)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen, Desmond Seward (1978)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, Alison Weir (1999)
  • (French) Le lit d'Aliénor, Mireille Calmel (2001)
  • The Royal Diaries, Eleanor Crown Jewel of Aquitaine, Kristiana Gregory (2002)
  • Women of the Twelfth Century, Volume 1 : Eleanor of Aquitaine and Six Others, Georges Duby
  • A Proud Taste For Scarlet and Miniver, E. L. Konigsburg (1973)
  • The Book of Eleanor: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Pamela Kaufman (2002)
  • The Young Lion, Blanche d'Alpuget (2013)
  • The Courts of Love, Jean Plaidy (1987)
  • Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Robert Fripp (2006)
  • The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love: A Critical Study of European Scholarship, Roger Boase (1977), Manchester University Press
  • Duchess of Aquitaine, Margaret Ball (2006), St. Martin's Press
  • The Queen's Pawn, Christy English (2010), New American Library
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine - The Young Life : Alienor, Mark Richard Beaulieu (2012)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine - The Journey East : Helienordis", Mark Richard Beaulieu (2012)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine, Curtis Howe Walker (1950)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine, Regine Pernoud, Collins; 1st ed. edition (1967)
  • Eleonore van Aquitanië 1122-1204, een bijzondere vrouw in het zomertij der middeleeuwen, Guus Pikkemaat, Aspekt BV (2011) (in Dutch)

External links

Eleanor of Aquitaine
House of Poitiers
Born: 1124 Died: 1 April 1204
French nobility
Preceded by
William X/VIII
Duchess of the Aquitainians
9 April 1137 – 1 April 1204
with Louis the Young (1137–1152)
Henry Curtmantle (1152–1189)
Richard the Lionheart (1189–1199)
John Lackland (1199–1204)
Succeeded by
Countess of Poitiers
9 April 1137 – c. 1153
with Louis the Young (1137–1152)
Henry Curtmantle (1152–1153)
Succeeded by
William IX
French royalty
Preceded by
Adelaide of Maurienne
Queen consort of the Franks
12 July 1137 – March 1152
Served alongside: Adelaide of Maurienne
(25 July – 1 August 1137)
Title next held by
Constance of Castile
English royalty
Title last held by
Matilda I of Boulogne
Queen consort of the English
25 October 1154 – 6 July 1189
Served alongside: Margaret of France (1172–1183)
Title next held by
Berengaria of Navarre

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