[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Eleanor was the eldest daughter and heir of Duke William X of Aquitaine and Aenor of Châtellerault.** Her father’s death in 1137 left her and her sister under the guardianship of King Louis VI of France, who promptly married her to his son Louis shortly before dying himself.
The fifteen years of their marriage were unhappy ones for Eleanor. She did not get along with her mother-in-law Adelaide of Maurienne or with her husband’s courtiers. Her experiences on the Second Crusade both broadened her mind and highlighted the strain in her marriage. Eleanor finally got her divorce in 1152, when Louis arranged for his relatives to “inform him” that his marriage was consanguineous.***
Though the duchy of Aquitaine was rightfully Eleanor’s, Louis attempted to keep his title as duke for another two years, fighting with Eleanor and her new husband Henry of Anjou (soon to be King of England and chosen as her husband by Eleanor herself),**** before giving it up in 1154. Eleanor spent much of the next 13 years bearing children (six of whom survived to adulthood) and acting as Queen Regent of England while Henry was abroad. She took over sole administration of Aquitaine in 1166. It was in this time period that she started assisting her sons Henry and Richard in their rebellion against their father. As a result, her husband Henry had her seized and held in confinement until 1183, when he gave her control of Aquitaine again but kept her guarded.
Henry’s death in 1189 freed her completely. She ruled England while her son Richard was away on the Second Crusade and then continued to rule while he was imprisoned in Germany. When her son John rebelled, she made peace between the brothers. She remained involved in the affairs of the kingdom after Richard’s death and John’s ascension to the throne, trying (somewhat successfully) to keep him in line. She died at the monastery of Fontevraud in 1204. She was buried there with an effigy of her holding a book, probably commissioned by Eleanor herself before her death.
*The more lurid stories of “courts of love” and her adultery with her uncle, for example, are all later inventions
**Eleanor was named for her mother, but was called “alia Aenor,” the other Aenor, which later shifted to Alienor or Eleanor. She is the first recorded person to have used this name. In other words, one could say that every Eleanor in the world was named for her.
***There is plenty of evidence that both he and Eleanor already knew, up to and including special permission from Pope Eugenius to remain married despite being third cousins once-removed. Consanguinity was merely a cover for the fact that Louis wanted to be rid of a wife who had given him no sons in 15 years, only two daughters.
****He wasn’t king, or even the official heir when she married him. He was made heir by the Treaty of Winchester in 1153 and became king on the death of King Stephen in 1154.
Wheeler, Bonnie and John C. Parsons. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Turner, Ralph V. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England. Yale University Press, 2009.
Eleanor of Aquitaine - Women in World History
Eleanor of Aquitaine - Wikipedia