Eleanor of Aquitaine - a woman of power in 12th-century Britain


Eleanor of Aquitaine - a woman of power in 12th-century Britain

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) was one of the most powerful and influential figures in the British Royal Family of the Middle Ages. Inheriting a vast estate at the age of 15 from her father, the Duke of Aquitaine, made her the most sought-after bride of her generation.

She would become the queen of both France and England, and the matriarch of one of the most famous squabbling families in history, immortalised in the play and movie The Lion in Winter.

After her father’s death, the beautiful Eleanor was immediately snapped up to be the bride of the future King Louis VII of France.

Eleanor was ultimately unhappy in her marriage and sought an annulment. She had produced no sons, and Louis eventually, and reluctantly, set her free.

She then married Henry II of England. He was 19 and she was 30. Of their 8 children, four of the sons reached adulthood. Two became kings of England – Richard I, known as Lionheart, and his younger brother John.

Henry had many mistresses and the marriage with Eleanor became dysfunctional. Eleanor was supportive when her sons tried to depose their father, and King Henry imprisoned her for 16 years. Meanwhile the battle for the throne continued. The eldest son Henry died of dysentery, and third son, Geoffrey of Brittany, died in a tournament. King Henry himself died in 1189, broken-hearted upon discovering that his favourite child, young John, had also plotted against him.

Eleanor was released from prison by her favourite son Richard I, and ruled in his stead when he was on crusade. She lived well into her son John’s reign, making long journeys across Europe on various missions, and supported John’s claim to the throne over that of her 15-year old grandson Arthur of Brittany (Geoffrey’s son).

Arthur disappeared and was probably murdered by John, and his sister was imprisoned for life. After one last diplomatic mission, which included crossing the Pyrenees and being kidnapped at one point, the elderly Eleanor of Aquitaine retired to a nunnery and died at the age of 82.

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