Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine
(ca. 1122–1204)
   Both admired and maligned, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most influential and powerful queens in the entire Middle Ages. Born ca. 1122 in Poitiers or Belin near Bordeaux as the daughter of Duke William X of Aquitaine, she grew up within the context of Occitan TROUBADOUR poetry and became an important patron of this literary culture herself. In 1137 her father died on a Crusade to Santiago de Compostella, but before his death he had expressed his wish that his daughter marry Louis, son of the French king Louis VI. Once the wedding was concluded in July of that year, the relatively small royal house of the Capetians acquired the wealthy territory of Aquitaine. The king died in August, and so the newlyweds entered Paris as the successors to the French throne. Although the marriage seems to have been a happy one, Eleanor strongly supported the secular courtly culture of the south, whereas her husband was highly religious and yet got into a number of conflicts with the church. In 1144 the couple attended the dedication of the new Gothic choir of St. Denis.
   After the dukedom of Edessa in modern-day Macedonia had been occupied by a Turkish ruler, Louis VII, together with the German Hohenstaufen king Konrad III, went on a crusade from 1147 to 1149. Eleanor accompanied her husband, but a deep conflict between the couple threatened their marriage because of differences about the course of the crusade and an open power struggle between them. After their return to Paris, Eleanor, who had in the meantime delivered a second daughter (not a son, who would have been important for the royal succession), insisted on divorce, based on allegedly too close family ties between them. This divorce was granted in 1152, and only two months later Eleanor remarried, exchanging rings with Duke Henry of Normandy, the future HENRY II. In 1153 Eleanor’s two daughters married brothers of the house of Blois, and in the same year Eleanor delivered a boy, named William, who died in infancy in 1156. But William was followed by four brothers and three sisters. In 1154 Henry was elected king of England, and Eleanor soon became actively involved in the government of the new country where she strongly promoted the arts and literature. BENOÎT DE SAINTE-MAURE dedicated his Le Roman de Troie to a “riche dame de riche rei,” which could only have meant Eleanor. In 1155 or 1157 WACE sent a copy of his French translation of GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH’s HISTORIA REGUM BRITANNIAE to the queen. THOMAS OF BRITAIN seems to have dedicated his Tristan and Yseult to the queen sometime before 1173. The troubadour poet BERNART DEVENTADORN (ca. 1125–ca. 1200) spent time at the British court, enjoying her patronage and, as rumors have it, her love. Numerous contemporaries and scandal-hungry posterity often claimed that Eleanor had many erotic relationships, as reflected in the Middle High German stanza “Were diu werlt alle min” contained in the CARMINA BURANA (early 13th century, no. 108 a., fol. 60), but these were probably the result of envy, jealousy, and fear of this resolute, highly intelligent, and independently minded queen who was fascinated by the newest developments in courtly literature which, by her time, began to focus on COURTLY LOVE.
   Henry and Eleanor married their children off to various European noble houses to establish a network of family connections strengthening the British position, but it seems that Eleanor had less to say about it than Henry. She was likewise not involved in the political conflict between the king and the archbishop, Thomas BECKET of Canterbury, leading to Becket’s murder at the hands of some French knights, who committed their act more or less on behalf of the king on December 29, 1170. On a more personal level, Eleanor also seems to have lost her direct influence on Henry, especially because her husband kept a concubine, Rosamund de Clifford, from 1165 until her death in 1176. Between 1168 and 1172 Eleanor set up her own court in Poitiers,where she also began her patronage of CHRÉTIEN DE TROYES, who dedicated his Lancelot to her daughter Marie. The latter is also mentioned in ANDREAS CAPELLANUS’s treatise De amore (The art of courtly love, ca. 1185–90). Eleanor is also documented as the patron of several major art works in Poitiers, such as a stained glass window in the cathedral. In 1173 Henry II’s sons began a rebellion against their father, in which they were openly supported by their mother. Eleanor especially leaned on her son, the future RICHARD I Lionheart, who ruled over his mother’s dukedom of Aquitaine until he was crowned king of England in 1189. But in 1173 Eleanor was captured by her husband’s troops and thrown into prison in England for 10 years, while her sons had to submit to their father’s authority and could not stay in touch with their mother. Eventually she was freed again and participated in various political events. At the same time the conflicts between Henry II and his sons continued until 1187 when the king joined a crusade, but he died on July 6, 1189 before he could depart. Eleanor, who now had free rein, secured the English throne for Richard who was crowned on September 3, 1189. The following year Richard went on a crusade, while Eleanor arranged his marriage with Berengaria, daughter of King Sanchez of Navarra. Eleanor brought the bride to Richard, who was awaiting them in Messina, Sicily, and they were married in Cyprus. The queen mother then returned to Aquitaine and then to England.When Richard was taken prisoner by the Austrian duke Leopold while on his way home from the crusade, Eleanor eventually collected the huge ransom and so made possible the release of her son in 1194. But he died soon after, in 1199. In her old age, Eleanor withdrew to Fontevrault, and died on April 1, 1204, either there or in Poitiers.
   ■ Boyd, Douglas. Eleanor: April Queen of Aquitaine. Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire, U.K.: Sutton Publishing, 2004.
   ■ Carmina Burana: Lateinische und deutsche Gedichte einer Handschrift des XIII. Jahrhunderts. 1847. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1966.
   ■ Owen, D. D. R. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Legend. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.
   ■ Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine by the Wrath of God, Queen of England. London: Jonathan Cape, 1999.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine — 1122? 1204; queen of France (1137 52) as the wife of Louis VII & queen of England (1154 89) as the wife of Henry II …   English World dictionary

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine — For other Eleanors of England, see Eleanor of England (disambiguation) Infobox British Royalty majesty consort name = Eleanor title = Duchess of Aquitaine; Countess of Poitiers Queen consort of the Franks Queen consort of the English caption =… …   Wikipedia

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine — 1122? 1204, queen of Louis VII of France 1137 52; queen of Henry II of England 1154 89. * * * born с 1122 died April 1, 1204, Fontevrault, Anjou, Fr. Queen consort of Louis VII of France (1137–80) and Henry II of England (1152–89), the most… …   Universalium

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine — noun queen of France as the wife of Louis VII; that marriage was annulled in 1152 and she then married Henry II and became Queen of England (1122 1204) • Instance Hypernyms: ↑queen * * * Eleanor of Aquitaine [Eleanor of Aquitaine] (1122–1204) a… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine — El′ea•nor of Aq′uitaine [[t]ˈɛl ə nər, ˌnɔr[/t]] n. big 1122?–1204, queen of Louis VII of France 1137–52; queen of Henry II of England 1154–89 …   From formal English to slang

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine — /ˌɛlənər əv ˈækwəteɪn/ (say .eluhnuhr uhv akwuhtayn) noun 1122?–1204, queen of Louis VII of France (1137–52); queen of Henry II of England (1154–89); mother of King Richard I and King John of England …   Australian English dictionary

  • Eleanor of England (disambiguation) — Eleanor of England may refer to:* Leonora of England (1161 ndash;1214), queen consort of Castile (Spain), wife of Alfonso VIII of Castile; daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine * Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany (1184 1241), daughter of… …   Wikipedia

  • Eleanor — f English: from an Old French respelling of the Old Provençal name Alienor, which has been taken as a derivative of HELEN (SEE Helen), but is probably of Germanic derivation (with a first element ali other, foreign). The name was introduced to… …   First names dictionary

  • Eleanor — also Elinor, from Provençal Ailenor, a variant of Leonore, introduced in England by Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 1204), wife of Henry II. The O.Fr. form of the name was Elienor …   Etymology dictionary

  • Aquitaine — [ak′wə tān΄] 1. historical region of SW France: orig., a division of Gaul; later, a duchy under the French crown, passed to English control when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II; returned to France after Hundred Years War 2. metropolitan… …   English World dictionary

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