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 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.
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.
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: