Eleanor of Aquitaine


Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful monarchs of the Middle Ages—the wife of two powerful kings, and the mother of two others, and queen, in her own right, of a great portion of France. With her husband, Henry II, she founded the Plantagenet dynasty in England, and during her lifetime also controlled a great deal of France. She was a controversial character, both in her youth and in her middle age and was often a thorn in the side of her husbands, but a loyal and protective mother.

eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor inherited the Duchy of Aquitaine, one of the largest and most prosperous regions of France, when she was only fifteen. A beautiful and vivacious girl, she was the most eligible heiress in Europe, and ultimately married Louis VII, the king of France. Their marriage lasted ten years, but produced only two daughters. Louis adored his wife, but she was flirtatious and created considerable scandal. She traveled with him on the second crusade, and took three hundred ladies, with large baggage trains with her. During the crusade their marriage broke down entirely due largely to Eleanor's indiscretions, and after a failed attempt at reconciliation, was finally annulled by the Pope.

Eleanor immediately married Henry Plantagenet, who was ten years her junior, and was the heir apparent of England as well as all of Normandy. The combined holdings of Henry and Eleanor therefore included all of England and much of France, and their empire is usually referred to as the Angevin Empire. Although the Plantagenet's eventually lost much of their French holdings, their claim the Angevin inheritance was a major factor in the Hundred Years War, several generations later.

Eleanor produced eight children with Henry II during the early years of their marriage, including five sons. Henry was by no means a faithful husband, but given her own history, the fact that she had many sons, and held much of France in her own right, this did not cause her much alarm. After fourteen years however, Eleanor separated from Henry and moved her court to Aquitaine, taking her younger sons with her. In 1173, her eldest son, Prince Henry was induced by the king of France to rebel against his father, and claim his French dominions early. Eleanor joined in this rebellion, along with her younger sons. The rebellion failed, however, and Eleanor was imprisoned by her husband Henry for the next fifteen years, the remainder of his life.

When Richard ascended to the throne, Eleanor was released from prison. She acted as regent while he was on the Crusades, and arranged for his ransom when he was captured on his way home. In her old age she proved a wise and just ruler, and was a positive influence on her sons. She survived most of her children, and died at the age of 82 during the reign of her youngest son John.

Key events during the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine:

Birth of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Married to Louis VII, king of France
Sets out with Louis on the Second Crusade
Marriage with Louis VII annulled. Eleanor marries Henry Plantagenet
Death of Stephen. Henry Plantagenet claims throne of England.
Birth of Prince Henry, eldest living son of Henry and Eleanor
Birth of Richard, second son of Henry and Eleanor
Birth of John, youngest son of Henry and Eleanor
Eleanor separates from Henry, and moves back to Aquitaine, with John and Geoffrey.
Murder of Archbishop Becket
Prince Henry revolts against his father, with the aid of Eleanor.
Eleanor imprisoned by her husband for fifteen years.
Eleanor released from prison on the death of Henry II.
co-ruled England as regent while Richard was fighting the third crusade.
Death of Richard I in France. John inherits the throne.
Death of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Book Links
Richard I  by  Jacob Abbott

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Second Crusade  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Eleanor of Aquitaine  in  Great Englishwomen  by  M. B. Synge

Short Biography
Henry II Reclaimed kingdoms in England and Normandy after chaotic reign of Stephen. Founded Plantagenet dynasty.
Richard I Son of Henry II. Spent almost his entire reign crusading and fighting in France.
John I Wicked king, murdered his nephew and usurped throne. Forced to sign the Magna Carta.
Prince Henry Eldest son of Eleanor and Henry II, who fought his father for his domains in France
Louis VII of France First husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Warred with the Angevin dynasty.
Bernard of Clairvaux Instigator of the Second Crusade.