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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
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!
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.
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.
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.
“I 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: