Episode 87: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Part Two

Posted 17 April 2017 by
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Part one followed Eleanor’s life from her birth through to the big cliffhanger: after divorcing King Louis and heading back to Aquitaine she popped up only a few weeks later married again to 18 year-old, King in Training, Henry FitzEmpress of Anjou.

The newlyweds took the “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission” strategy and didn’t ask their king (Louis) if they could marry but, really? Would he have given it? No, he would not. Henry’s star was rising and his parents were powerful and connected. His mother, Empress Matilda, needs her own episode, she was that powerful and after a lifetime of civil war over the crown of England (Matilda was beat to it by her cousin, Stephen) Henry’s military training was substantial and he was very good at it. But the biggie? When Eleanor’s lands combined with Henry’s they controlled more than half of modern day France.

Eleanor's fancy new seal and one of the few illustrations of her

Eleanor’s fancy new seal and one of the few illustrations of her

Of course there is so much more to Eleanor’s entire story and we cover all of it in the podcast, but within the first couple years of their marriage, Eleanor gave birth to their first child , a son (take that Louis), Henry let King Stephen know, in no uncertain terms, that he was going to be his successor…and then he was.


Boom! Just like that. The new Angevin Empire is what formed after Henry and Eleanor were crowned King and Queen of England

The first 21 years of their marriage went pretty well. After becoming King and Queen of England, Henry cleaned up the mess the civil war had made, instituted a new judicial system, conducted an office bromance with Thomas Becket, slapped down any rebellions, and touched base with Eleanor long enough to father eight children. Eleanor gave birth to five sons and three daughters in various castles throughout their lands. She was a hands-on Queen and toured quite a bit signing documents, settling disputes, and when Louis needed her special touch in Aquitaine (after she had retired from the baby-making business) she headed down there to rule it.

Eleanor in Poitiers Cathedral window (images of her are pretty scarce)

Eleanor in Poitiers Cathedral window

Things started to turn sideways for Henry. He had made his former fancy-pants adviser, Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in hopes of taking some control away from the church by having “his guy” in there. But Becket didn’t play that way and a few years later ended up dead with Henry claiming he had been misunderstood when he shouted something like, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest!?” Huh. Wonder how that could be misunderstood?

His boys, now men, staged a rebellion to take the things that had been promised to them by their father…and Eleanor had her hand in that. The junior Plantagenets were not successful and Henry imprisoned Eleanor for 16 years. He had to die before she was released when their son, Richard, succeeded him. When Richard headed off to his own (failed) Crusade, Eleanor was left to rule in his place, and when he died she helped her last remaining son, John, learn the kingly ropes (although he didn’t take the crown until she was 77!)

This is Evil Eleanor attacking fair Rosamund Clifford, Henry's mistress (an oft repeated an most likely incorrectly twist in Eleanor's story.) Edward Burne-Jones 1861

This is Evil Eleanor attacking fair Rosamund Clifford, Henry’s mistress (an oft repeated an most likely incorrectly twist in Eleanor’s story.)

Eleanor did things at an age when most people of her time were long gone and most women of her time were long silent. She died of natural causes at the age of 82 on April 1, 1204. Although John lost everything that was in France the Plantagenets ruled England for the next 300 years.

The remade effigies of Eleanor and Henry

The remade effigies of Eleanor and Henry


All of the media recommendations for both part one and two are here…and there are a lot. Get comfy and pace yourself!


In addition to the ones we recommend, here is a lovely Goodreads list of history fiction about Eleanor!

alison weir

book marcus bull and catherine leglu

book jean markale

book richard barber


Danny Danzinger

For kids

For kids

book jennifer wright


Miscellaneous Web Finds!

Hair shirt! Here’s a nice write-up of the many uses of the hair shirt (in penance and grammar!) Grammar Party

The most excellent History of the Crusades podcast.

Grandpa, William IX, naughty poetry, and other curiosities of the history of troubadours. 

More grisly details of the murder of Thomas Becket (not, of course, Beckett) Eyewitness to History.

Intel on the significance and influence of the Magna Carta on the US Constitution at the Contitutioncenter.org. 

Grumpy Eleanor of Aquitaine on Facebook


Can’t go on the Eleanor of Aquitaine tour? Neither can we (right now, anyway) but reading about it is the next best thing! Sharon Kay Penman blog

Fontevraud is a hotel! If you go, post a picture there on Instagram with #historychicksfieldtrip so we can live vicariously!


Jinkies! Eleanor’s character sure appears in a lot of movies and television shows! Eleanor’s IMDB list.

There is a famous movie about Eleanor, Henry and three of the boys starring Katherine Hepburn (and a remake starring Glenn Close). It’s got some really fabulous one liners.

know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We’re a knowledgeable family.”

And here is the promised The Lion in Winter, compare and contrast:

Katherine Hepburn



Glenn Close



Episode 86: Eleanor of Aquitaine Part One

Posted 26 March 2017 by
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You voted for Eleanor of Aquitaine in our last Guaranteed Content Poll. Excellent choice! The Queen of both France and England, and the mother of royalty, she contributed more than looking pretty in a crown – she ruled. And by that we mean, she RULED!


Eleanor’s seal

Eleanor was born in 1122 in Aquitaine- a huge swath of southwestern, modern-day France – andwas the first daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine and his wife Aenor. A sister, Aelith (called the more pronounceable, Petronilla) and a brother, William, would follow in short order. Her mother and younger brother died when Eleanor was young, which made her the heir presumptive to Aquitaine.

A bit of Medieval geography for ya.

A bit of Medieval geography for ya. (wikicommons)

Eleanor’s story is packed full of some juicy tales of affairs, schemes and politically motivated marriages…so full that it’s going to take us two episodes to tell them all = both factual and speculative (which is a nice word for “gossip.”) In that first paragraph? A nice one about William X’s father and Aenor’s mother being lovers-married-to-others and arranging the marriage between their two unenthusiastic children.

See what we mean?

Eleanor was a bit spoiled during her childhood. Educated, accomplished, charming, witty, beautiful, smart…and spoiled. That childhood ended when she was 15: her father died and she became the most eligible bachelorette in Christendom. Her father had made plans for her to marry King Louis VI’s teenage son, Louis VII, a mutually advantageous, political union. He had stipulated that Eleanor’s property was always to be in her name ntil it was passed to her sons (this is foreshadowing, by the way), and with his death, the plan was put in motion. As soon as the younger Louis could drag his entourage from Paris to Bordeaux (where she was holed up for safekeeping) the two were wed.

And then his father died. The King is dead; long live the King.

Louis VII had been fast-tracked through King School, hadn’t quite completed the requirements for graduation but he had the crown on his head and the Queen at his side. Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, Countess of Poitou and Queen of France. Excellent! Teenagers in charge, what could possibly go wrong?

Really wrong. Paris wasn’t anything like the sophisticated Aquitaine of Eleanor’s youth and she struggled to clean the place up, introduce modernization and arts to court, all while a series of poor decisions on the new king’s part didn’t start their rule off on the best foot. To make things more complicated, there were no babies born in the first seven years of marriage. Not good.

This is the only relic from the marriage of Eleanor and Louis VII...a re-gifted vase. (pronounced, "vaaahzze.")

This is the only relic from the marriage of Eleanor and Louis VII…a re-gifted vase. (pronounced, “vaaahzze.”) (wikicommons)

At the open house of the Cathedral of Saint-Denis, she let a man come up with a plan she had JUST told him about…which led–sorta- to the birth of Eleanor and Louis’ first baby, a girl named Marie. (If you’re in the neighborhood, in Paris, you can visit that cathedral! Here’s a link Basilica de Saint-Denis.)


A major eff…mess-up on Louis’ part led to the death of a thousand innocent villagers- he knew he was on the wrong path and decided that the right one was from Paris to Jerusalem, leading the Second Crusade. We give you a Crusades primer in the show–the super simplified version: A series of territorial, political and holy wars between European Christians and Muslim Turks over control of the Holy Lands.

“Sounds like a great couples’ adventure,” said Eleanor. (Probably.)

Whatever her reasons, Eleanor and a few hundred other noble wives and women of lessor rank set off with the Crusaders. It began well enough, but didn’t take long to go sideways. It was a rough “adventure” and, after two years, both the Crusade and the marriage of Eleanor and Louis had fallen apart.

Even though Papal Couples Therapy resulted in the birth of a second child, another girl, Alix, both parties had enough. Louis wanted a son, Eleanor wanted away from her monk of a husband and, citing consanguinity (too closely related for God’s blessing) they were granted an annulment. Louis got custody of the girls, Eleanor got out of town and headed back toward the property that she brought into the marriage that was hers, alone, again.

Yadda yadda, two months later 30 year-old Eleanor turned up married to the handsome, 18 year-old Henry, Duke of Normandy…and next in line to inherit the throne of England.

How did this happen so quickly? What’s “yadda yadda?!”

Come back for part two and we’ll tell you.

All media recommendations will be on the shownotes for part two.

You’ll have three weeks before that posts, plenty of time to fall in love with this book:





Because Beckett promised:



Episode 85: Artemisia Gentileschi

Posted 4 March 2017 by
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There are people who define Artemisia’s life by the trauma she endured, it’s where they begin her story and where they return time and time again.

We aren’t those people. While her rape as a teenager must have influenced her, what this Master Baroque painter did after that is where we spend most of this episode. (We do suggest that an adult preview the audio of this episode before letting kids listen.)

Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting

Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting


Episode 84: Ida B. Wells

Posted 11 February 2017 by
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Ida B. Wells- born a slave, educated in a post-Civil War south and left to care for her family at an early age. She grew to become a teacher, a writer, a crusader for civil rights, a suffragist, a wife and mother. A woman of strength and character who dared to speak up and challenge those who desired to oppress others, even when her own safety was at risk.

How could we not talk about a woman like this?


Episode 83: Lucille Ball, Part Two

Posted 28 January 2017 by
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In Part One, Lucille Ball worked her way up the entertainment ladder, married, had a baby and launched a new television show (which seems like enough for a full life,) but Lucille’s life was about to get MUCH fuller.


After I Love Lucy debuted in 1951, Lucille rapidly achieved the superstar status that she had worked over half her life for. (And for those of you looking for inspiration from women of experienced age…she was 40 when the show began AND when she had her first child.) You wanted the lyrics to the theme song so you could sing along, right? (more…)

Episode 82: Lucille Ball, Part One

Posted 31 December 2016 by
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She was named Lucille Désirée Ball at birth, used the stage name Diane Belmont, married an Arnaz and a Morton but the only name we really need? Lucy. To talk about her life from its roots in upstate New York to her legacy as an American icon–we’re going to need a couple episodes.

1945 glamour and darker hair! Yankee Army Weekly

1945 glamour and darker hair! Yankee Army Weekly

Lucille was born on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, NY to Henry and Désirée Ball who quickly moved her to Montana and then Michigan where Henry found work. But by age five her father had died and her mother took her back to Jamestown right before her little brother, Fred was born. She had a bit of a bounce-around childhood: some of the time she lived with her maternal grandparents, some with her step-grandparents and some of it in a big multi-generational house with her mom, step-dad, brother, aunt, cousin and grandfather.

House in Celoron, NY. courtesy 59Lucylane.com

Grandpa Hunt’s big house in Celoron, NY.  Courtesy 59Lucylane.com

Lucille started her long climb to stardom with teenage years as a bobbed-wild girl, a quick, failed trip to a New York City drama school and attempts at live theater and chorus lines. She finally found her people (and steady work) as a dress model for Hattie Carnegie in New York City.

It's always " Bette, Bette, Bette..."

It’s always ” Bette, Bette, Bette…”

A high profile job as a cigarette ad model led to her first step on the ladder of success in Hollywood! Her six- week contract as a showgirl morphed to six months then a year. While she always considered the Jamestown area ” home” she was able to move her family to the sunshine of California.


“The Goldwyn Girls” That’s her! First of many uncredited or bit parts for Lucille

Of course we go into a lot more detail in the show- her Adventures in Hair Color, her successful steps forward and her crushing steps backward, her family dynamics, people who gave her a boost up the ladder, and little bits of trivia along the way. Lucille’s was no overnight stardom story–she worked HARD and SMART for years and took as many jobs as she could, learning and honing her comedic and acting skills along the way.

Don't smoke, Kids.

Don’t smoke, Kids.  Flickr

Speaking of not paying one’s dues…although Lucille had dated (for networking or fun…who are we to judge? But we do talk about it) nothing prepared her for the whirlwind and electric romance with a young, new-to-show-business Cuban musician with a flashy smile and big personality named Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III–“Desi” for short. “Lucy” was his nickname for Lucille and passion, in all it’s incarnations, ruled their relationship. In no time they had eloped and settled into married life.

And separated life.

And almost divorced life.

And, many times, reconciliation life.

Lucille’s career went up, then down…until a stint on a very popular radio show led to a chance at a CBS TV show for her. But she wanted to work with Desi (heck, she wanted to know where Desi was all the time.) CBS said America wouldn’t believe an interracial couple were really married (uh, duh? They had been married for almost 10 years. America can’t be that dumb.) (Don’t answer that.)

Lucille and Richard Denning in My Favorite Husband

Lucille and Richard Denning in My Favorite Husband

The two came up with a strategy to prove that America would not only believe they were a couple (the easy part) but they would adore and be highly entertained by them (the trickier part.) While they were creating that environment across the country in live shows, they were also trying to create a family. And, because this is how life works out, Lucille gave birth shortly after they filmed the pilot for I Love Lucy, to their first child, Lucie Désirée Arnaz (creative with the names, right?)

Movie career- check!

Marriage and family-check!

Launch herself into history? Come back for Part Two and we’ll talk about all that.



Most of the media recommendations will be on the shownotes for Part Two, but we thought you might enjoy these that are relevant to Part One:

The ranch house with the coveted orange and avocado trees is no more…but this post on the San Fernando Valley blog has a very thorough search for it and a TON of pictures that you’re going to want to see.

And here is the original pilot, it didn’t air but sold the show to Phillip Morris and proved that–oh. shock.– they are believable as a married couple and funny as all heck.

And Lucille singing and dancing just after she met Desi, in Dance, Girl,Dance

And the fight scene we talked about! See you again in Part, Two!

Episode 81: Mulan

Posted 10 December 2016 by
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Once a season we take a historical look at a fictional woman and this season we have to get in the Way, Way, Way Back Machine to follow the life of Mulan.

Mulan as depicted in He Dazi's album Gathering Gems of Beauty

Mulan as depicted in He Dazi’s album Gathering Gems of Beauty

The story of Mulan goes back a whole lot farther than 1998 when the Disney version introduced her from their very tall, very American stage–the origins of her story go back into SINGLE DIGIT AD. Fact or folktale? More than likely Mulan was not a real person but that’s admit  since her story is beloved in China. She could have been real, but her story has been told so many times and for so many years that if she didn’t really exist we can Velveteen Rabbit her to life?


Episode 80: Queen Nzinga

Posted 22 November 2016 by
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Just your ordinary Princess to Queen tale: born into a royal family, rose to power, protected her people and country for generations with little more than her bravery, wits, bow and arrow and gallons of blood spilled and some, perhaps, consumed.


Episode 79: Lizzie Borden Revisted

Posted 29 October 2016 by
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Is there a better time to revisit our favorite Victorian More-Than-Likely Murderess, Lizzie Borden, than right now? We think not.


Lizzie Borden took an axe gave her mother 40 whacks, when the evil deed was done, she gave her father 41.


Episode 78 : Shirley Chisholm

Posted 26 October 2016 by
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We wrap up our short series of “women who ran for the US Presidency before Hillary Clinton” with Shirley Chisholm!

Photo Credit: John O'Halloran, US News & World Report

Photo Credit: John O’Halloran, US News & World Report

Shirley St. Hill was born in 1924 in Brooklyn, NY to Charles and Ruby St. Hill. Her parents were both immigrants from the West Indies and they made a painful decision to send Shirley and two of her sisters to live their early youth on her grandmother’s farm in Barbados.

Shirley’s education was solid: prestigious Girl’s High in Brooklyn, Bachelors degree in Sociology with a minor in Spanish from Brooklyn College, Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education from Columbia… she was smart, she was quick, she was well spoken, well read and well, she had a dynamic personality wrapped in a very petite frame.