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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 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 Plantagenet, Duke of Anjou and Normandy who 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. 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 virtually 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 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 into her eighties (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.


Tropes associated with Eleonor of Aquitaine:

  • Balance of Power: Aquitaine was rich and a large territory. After she left France to marry the king of England, it fell into English hands, which greatly affected the balance of power in France. Parts of the duchy remained in English hands until near the end of the Hundred Years War. This always gave England an interest in the region and caused endless problems for France.
  • Betty and Veronica: Louis VII is Betty and Henry II more of a Veronica.
  • Blue Blood: Was herself of high nobility, but married two kings and all subsequent monarchs of England descended from Eleonor.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Her sons loved rebelling against their father and each other.
  • Cool Old Lady: Often portrayed as such. The also travels across the Pyrenees as the age of eighty to fetch her granddaughter Blanche, who would marry the future Louis VIII.
  • Courtly Love: A frequent theme in troubadour culture, and one which her grandfather converted to after writing more bawdy verses in his younger years.
  • Culture Clash: Eleanor was from the very sophisticated and art-loving Aquitaine. Her grandfather was the famous troubadour duke William IX. The more business-like French court did not know what to make of her. There was an even bigger difference with the English. Like many queens of England who hailed from southern France or Spain, she influenced the culture there.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Her grandfather William IX divorced and then married another wife. When he then set up his mistress at court, wife number two went to a convent where she befriended wife number 1, who then set out to avenge wife number 2 when she died and remaining a thorn in William's side. That's just the portion that deals with her grandparents. It went From Bad to Worse as we reach her generation and then that of her children, culminating in the likely murder of her grandson Arthur by her son John, as they fought over the succession.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Averted. She supported her sister Petronilla who also had a less than conventional marital track record. Petronilla also stayed with Eleanor during her imprisonment.
  • Heir Club for Men: Averted with Aquitaine, which she ruled in her own right. In France, this was probably one of the main contributors to her divorce from her first husband— fifteen years of marriage and they only had two daughters to show for it. Eleanor went on to have five sons with her second husband, while it took Louis two more wives to just to get one.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Averted. She was known to have been very beautiful and charming in reality.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Compared to most French and English queens before her, she was definitely this.
  • Idiot Ball: Louis VII letting Eleanor go, also meant he let the Aquitaine fall into his biggest rival's hands. When her second marriage turned sour as well, Henry did not make the same mistake and imprisoned her instead of letting her leave.
  • It Runs in the Family: Like Eleanor and Henry, their children and grandchildren tended to be colourful characters.
    • Her wish to rule, while being a woman, was most strongly echoed in her granddaughter Blanche of Castile. She ruled France as regent and successfully saved her young son Louis IX from a rebellion. This while Blanche's sister Berengaria acted as regent and also briefly ruled Castile in her own right.
    • Eleanor's maternal grandmother was Dangereuse de l'Isle Bouchard. That name should tell you all.
    • She herself went on crusade, and so did her son Richard Lionheart. Her grandson Richard of Cornwall went as well and had some successes through diplomacy instead of fighting.
    • Averted with her daugher Eleanor, who had a happy marriage with the king of Castile and a stable family life. The younger Eleanor was very politically influential, though.
  • Mama Bear: When Richard was captured on his way back from the Holy Land, she did everything to have him released, including raising an enormous ransom and fulminating against the Pope when he didn't do enough for her taste.
  • Momma's Boy: Richard Lionheart, of all people. The first thing he did after becoming king was releasing his mother from captivity. He also left her to rule England while he went on crusade.
  • Parental Favoritism: Was known for liking Richard best.
  • Renaissance Man: Though living centuries before 'the' Renaissance, the twelfth century was considered to have had a renaissance too. The Southern French culture she brought up north to the French and English courts contributed to this as well. She was also widely travelled, having been to the Holy Land on crusade amongst other locations.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Famous!: Though a favorite subject of gossip, even in church chronicles, Eleanor was respected as well. Not following rules and clashing with popes was a thing in her family.
  • The Tourney: Her eldest son, the Young King, was known to have travelled going on tourneys for years.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Though Louis VII was very impressed and influenced by Eleanor at the beginning of their marriage, they both became this for each other. Even the Pope's attempt at marriage counselling could not save the marriage in the end.
  • Woman Scorned: Proud and beautiful Eleanor did not take Henry's infidelities well. According to legend, she found one of Henry's lovers in a labyrinth and killed her.

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 series, 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 sequel Banners of Gold.
  • 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.
    • Even gets a nod (though not an appearance) in Disney's animated Robin Hood—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. She's portrayed as quite a Magnificent Bitch.
  • 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. 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.


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