One of the most influential figures of the Middle Ages, Eleanor of Aquitaine was also one of the most powerful women. She was the most desirable bride of her generation thanks to her inheritance and went on to be the queen of both France and England, and lead a crusade to the Holy Land.
Read on to find out the top most interesting facts about the Captive Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine!
Eleanor of Aquitaine Facts
1. At 15, she was the owner of the richest part of France
Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in modern day south-western France, around the area of Poitiers. It is not certain what her birth year was, either 1122 or 1124.
Eleanor was the eldest daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, and Aenor de Chatellerault, daughter of the Viscount of Chatellerault. She was entitled to inherit all of her father’s domains and did so at the young age of 15, being heir to the largest and richest province of France, an interesting fact about Eleanor of Aquitaine.
2. Eleanor of Aquitaine was married as soon as her father died
King Louis VI of France was designated as Eleanor’s guardian before her father died, as Duke William was concerned for her safety, being fully aware that she would be a highly sought-after single woman. King Louis VI was gravely ill in 1137 when William died, but he was quick to ensure that his son – Prince Louis – would marry Eleanor in the same year. Louis was 17 at the time, and Eleanor 15, and they got married at the Cathedral of Saint-André in Bordeaux.
Not long afterwards, King Louis VI died and his son followed him on the throne of France within the same year.
3. Her wedding gift to Louis is her only remaining artifact
At her wedding, Eleanor gave Prince Louis a rock crystal vase as a gift. Today, this is the only known object to belong to her which remains. It can be seen at the Louvre in Paris.
4. There is no proof of her celebrated beauty
Many accounts exist of Eleanor’s beauty, but we have no way to know what she actually looked like today. Even though many declared her to be beautiful, none of these accounts actually record her features so nobody knows even the basics such as her hair or eye colour. The poet Bernard de Ventadour said she was “gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm”, while Matthew Paris mentioned she had “admirable beauty.”
There is also no painting of her, which is quite unusual given the propensity of royal portraits throughout history, an interesting Eleanor of Aquitaine fact.
5. She was involved in the Second Crusade
Eleanor had a lot of influence on her husband, who absolutely adored and respected her. When he went to Jerusalem in 1147-1149 to fight in the Second Crusade, she wanted to come with him and so she did, along with her ladies-in-waiting.
The Crusade, unfortunately, ended in defeat, with the Siege of Damascus of 1148 culminating in a Muslim victory.
6. There are rumours of an affair with her own uncle
During the Second Crusade, the young King and Queen stopped at the court of her uncle Raymond of Poitiers, at Antioch. The luxurious court apparently appealed very much to Eleanor and she requested to stay there with her uncle at one point. This led to rumours of an affair between her and Raymond – and to Louis taking her from the court against her will.
7. She succeeded in getting her marriage to Louis VII annulled
Eleanor’s marriage to Louis VII became strained when their first child was a daughter, and even more so after the awkward period when there were rumours of her affair with Raymond, her uncle. She wanted to get her marriage annulled based on consanguinity, i.e. because she and Louis were too closely related as cousins of the fourth degree. However, Pope Eugene refused to grant the annulment and they stayed married, having a second daughter in 1150.
By 1152, Eleanor managed to obtain the annulment on grounds of consanguinity, but her two daughters were declared legitimate and Louis VII was granted their custody.
8. She was Queen of England through her second marriage
After a near miss when two men tried to kidnap her on her way to Poitiers, Eleanor sent a message to Henry, Duke of Normandy, to marry her as soon as possible. This unusual marriage request was honoured and, in the same year as the annulment of her marriage to the King of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine became Duchess of Normandy. Two years later, Henry became King Henry II of England and Eleanor was crowned as his Queen. She had 8 children with Henry in the next years of their marriage, a fun fact about Eleanor of Aquitaine.
9. Her marriage to Henry II ended in prison
Three of Eleanor and Henry’s sons revolted against their father in 1173-1174, started off by the fact that one of them, Henry the Young, felt that his father hadn’t granted him enough power. When Eleanor sided with her sons, she was arrested and sent to prison, where she remained for 16 years! She was allowed to come out at special occasions, but couldn’t see her children very often, and stayed in prison until 1189 when King Henry II died. Henry the Young had also died in 1183, so the successor to the throne was Eleanor’s third son, Richard I of England. Luckily for her, he released her as soon as he ascended to the throne.
10. She was Richard the Lionheart’s mother
King Richard I of England is the legendary Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor’s third son with King Henry II. Eleanor was a powerful influence during his reign, forging alliances for him and taking charge of the country as regent during the time that Richard was gone on the Third Crusade.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was extremely influential in her time, and a true example of female empowerment. She never retired and left a very interesting legacy, which permeates through to pop culture and art nowadays.
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