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Useful Notes / Eleanor of Aquitaine

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"By the wrath of God, queen of England."

Eleanor (or Aliénor) of Aquitaine (1122-1204) was one of the most influential and flamboyant women of the High Middle Ages. As duchess of Aquitaine (South-West France) in her own right, she was the wealthiest heiress in Europe at the time. At the age of fifteen she was married to Prince Louis of France, who just days after the wedding became King Louis VII. She accompanied Louis on the Second Crusade, which proved to be a fiasco. The royal couple gradually drifted apart, and upon their return to Europe, the marriage was annulled.

Shortly afterward, Eleanor married Henry of House Plantagenet, Duke of Anjou and Normandy, who was eleven years her junior. Henry later succeeded to the throne of England as King Henry II. Eleanor added her territories—Aquitaine, Poitou, and Gascony—to Henry's, and the subsequent Angevin Empire extended from the Pyrenees mountains to the southern border of Scotland. At the time of her marriage to Henry, Eleanor was regarded as the World's Most Beautiful Woman note  and, as Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine (along with her connection to the court of France via her two daughters with Louis VII), the most powerful woman in Europe as well. Their marriage produced five sons and three daughters, but by 1167 Eleanor and Henry were living separate lives, with Eleanor ruling her own territories. In 1173, she supported her sons in a rebellion against Henry, which failed and caused Eleanor to spend the next 16 years as a political prisoner of her husband. While sons rebelling against their father was a familiar (if unwelcome) phenomenon, a wife openly rebelling against her husband was unheard of.

Upon Henry's death in 1189, Eleanor's favorite son Richard, became King of England and released his mother. Eleanor acted as regent while Richard was away on the Third Crusade—and given that he barely spent any time in England, Eleanor was the real ruler of the country during Richard's 10-year reign. And all the while, she had to keep her youngest son, John, from grabbing territory (fun fact: John had been Henry II's favorite). When Richard was captured by the Duke of Austria and held for ransom, Eleanor raised the money to free him.

Eleanor began trying to retire to an abbey at the age of 72, only to be pulled out of retirement multiple times to go help her sons. When John succeeded Richard, it was his turn to ask Eleanor for help, as her grandson Arthur of Brittany now had designs on the throne. She also found time to marry off her granddaughter, Blanche of Castile, to the king of France. Blanche would prove to be a badass queen in her own right, ruling as regent for her son, King Louis IX (aka St. Louis).

Eleanor lived to 82 (quite a rarity for anyone in the Middle Ages), outlasting all but two of her children. She finally retired to the abbey of Fontevrault, where she died and now lies alongside Henry and Richard and her daughter, Joanna. Eleanor would be the last queen consort of England with an ex-spouse who was still living until Charles III's consort Camilla Shand in 2022, over 800 years later.

Portrayals of Eleanor of Aquitaine in fiction:

  • Most notably, The Lion in Winter (the play and movie). Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar for her portrayal of Eleanor. It was also made into a TV movie with Glenn Close as Eleanor.
    • Fun Fact: Hepburn was a direct descendant of Eleanor through BOTH Eleanor's marriage to King Louis AND to King Henry.
  • King John by William Shakespeare, where she is credited as "Queen Elinor".
  • A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, a children’s book by E. L. Konigsburg.
  • Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine in The Royal Diaries, which ends with her accession to the French throne as Louis's wife.
  • Courts of Love, a historical novel by Jean Plaidy.
  • Has a cameo in Pamela Kaufman's Shield of Three Lions and plays a more significant role in its sequels Banners of Gold and The Prince of Poison. Later, Kaufman wrote a separate book, The Book of Eleanor, in which Eleanor appears as the main character and narrator.
  • Eleanor appears in several Robin Hood adaptations, including:
    • Ridley Scott's film Robin Hood, where she was played by Eileen Atkins.
    • She also appears in The Outlaw Chronicles as the guardian of Marian, supporter of Robin and patron of Alan's musical mentor, Bernard de Sezanne.
    • The episode "Treasure of the Nation" from the BBC series Robin Hood. She was played by Lynda Bellingham.
    • The Disney film The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, where she's played by Martita Hunt.
    • In a bit of a crossover, she appears in the 1997 miniseries of Ivanhoe, played by Siân Phillips, where she eventually intercedes to enforce a type of peace between the squabbling Richard and John.
    • Even gets a nod (though not an appearance) in Disney's animated Robin Hood (1973)—she's the "mommy" Prince John keeps calling for.
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine appears as a lord of the Kingdom of England faction of Europe 1200. Being a lord, she occasionally leads armies (and fight herself) on the field, despite her being 78 at the time.
  • Eleanor is a significant character or driving force in several of Sharon Kay Penman's historical novels and mysteries.
  • She appears in the French web series Confessions d'Histoire, played by Armelle Deutsch.
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine appears in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm as a playable leader for both England and France (making her the first leader in Civilization games to lead two different civilizations). Her unique ability allows her to apply loyalty pressure in foreign cities which allows the foreign cities to automatically join her empire instead of becoming a free city. Her ability is based on love through nobility and chivalry.
  • She's also a playable character in Crusader Kings II as a countess controlling 3 provinces: Bordeaux, Poitiers, and Saintonge (though if you play with the start dates a bit you can get her unmarried and with all her titles making for a very interesting gameplay). Depending on the start date, she's either married to Louis or Henry.
  • Frequently appears in the novels of Elizabeth Chadwick, including a trilogy (The Summer Queen, The Winter Crown, The Autumn Throne) dedicated to her life story.