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Eleanor of Aquitaine

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Empress Matilda | Eleanor of Aquitaine | Marie de Guise | Marie de Medici | Margaret of York | Elizabeth of York | Queen Anne | Victoria's Children and their Marriages | Mary of Teck | Joanna the Maid of Castille

Eleanor was to become Queen consort to two Kings of Europe who were also the fiercest of rivals. She was born around 1122 in either Bordeaux or the castle at Belin, the elder daughter of Duke William X of Aquitaine. She lived until the age of 82 and was to hold a constant reign of power over both her husbands and her children. She had her first taste of power when she was 15 and her father died; she succeeded him as Duchess in her own right with all his sovereign powers.

Queen of France

In 1137, the year she succeeded to the Duchy of Aquitaine1, she married Louis VII of France2 shortly before he ascended to the throne. She bore him two daughters Marie and Alix; however, theirs was a far from happy marriage. Eleanor is rumoured to have had an affair with Geoffrey of Anjou. Then while accompanying Louis on the Second Crusade to Palestine (1147-49), there is strong evidence that she had an affair with her own uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, who was the ruler of Antioch. These infidelities were enough for Louis to seek an annulment of their marriage, which was granted by the Vatican in March 1152.

Queen of England

As her marriage was crumbling Eleanor had wasted no time in seducing Henry, the young Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou. They were married in Bordeaux two months after her annulment from Louis. Eleanor's son and heir William was born a little more than a year later, in August 1153. However Louis feared the coming together of Aquitaine and Normandy since this union meant that Henry and Eleanor had greater control over France than he did.

Young William unfortunately died in infancy, but the Queen bore eight more children. Five sons - Henry, Richard (Later Richard I - 1189-1199), Geoffrey, Philip and John (King John - 1199-1216), and three daughters - Matilda3, Eleanor (Queen Consort to Alfonso VIII of Castille) and Joan (Queen Consort to William II of Sicily).

Henry succeeded to the throne of England when King Stephen died in October 1154, giving the new King and Queen of England unprecedented power over England and much of France. At the time of the King's coronation in December 1154 at Westminster Abbey, Eleanor was heavily pregnant with their second son, also called Henry. Her coronation there was postponed until December 1158 when it was held at Worcester Cathedral. Upon becoming a Queen once more she remarked 'I am Queen of England by the wrath of God', a reference to her divorce from the King of France.

The age gap between Eleanor and her much younger husband led to him having a number of affairs. After providing a son and heir, and several reserves needed to continue the bloodline, the couple grew apart.

Eleanor and Her Sons

With her sons growing up, Eleanor took it in turns to support them in rebellion against their father and each other. The first was Henry who had been made an associate King with his father. First he fought his brother Richard who had inherited his mother's title of Aquitaine. He then started to rebel against his father who, although granting Henry a title, had not bestowed any land on him. Henry eventually died before inheriting the throne.

Richard inherited from his father in 1189 just before he set out on a Crusade. While he was gone, he did not leave his younger brother John as sole regent. Instead he had appointed William de Longchamp as Chancellor and principal regent. John was furious and with the support of his mother, of whom he was the favourite, and his half brother Geoffrey Archbishop of York, he led a force on London. He swiftly seized it and won over the citizens by allowing them to elect a Mayor.

Richard however forgave his brother his rebellion against his decision and on his deathbed in 1199 nominated him his heir in preference to his young nephew Arthur of Brittany4.

Following the death of her second royal husband, Eleanor continued in her activities, despite her age, taking a keen interest in the affairs of state. She lived to see her favourite son succeed to the throne. She died at Fontevraud in March or April 1204 at the ripe old age of 82. She was buried in the abbey at Fontevraud where her memorial can still be seen.

1The duchy was located in Southwest France.2At that time, the kingdom was just a collection of the inland provinces as most of the outlying Dukedoms, such as Normandy and Aquitaine, still had their autonomy.3From her youngest son Wilhelm descends the House of Hanover who have ruled Britain since 1714.4Son of Geoffrey, who had died in 1186.

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