03 November 2009

Noblesse Oblige: Eleanor of Aquitaine Part I

The eagle of the broken bond shall rejoice in the third nestling, the one who would raise his mother's name to great glory.

~The Plantagenet Chronicles

Monarch, mother, and matriarch, Eleanor passed away at Fontevrault Abbey in the year 1204 at the ripe age of 82. This "grandmother of Europe" was titled Duchess of Aquitaine, Countess of Poitiers, Queen of France, Countess of Anjou, Countess of Maine, Duchess of Normandy, Duchess of Gascony, Countess of Nantes, Lady of Ireland, and Queen of England; never before and never since has there lived a lady more majestic in inheritance and more prolific in tales than the infamous Eleanor of Aquitaine. In my fantasy dinner party she reigns at the head of the table. As brilliant as her life may seem to the student of history I would venture to guess that it may well read better that it was lived.
In 1122, Eleanor was born to William X of Aquitaine and Aenor of Chatellerault. Named for her mother, she was christened Alia Aenor (Latin for the Other-Aenor) and it was only as her destiny took her north to England that we are able to recognize the Anglicized version of her name. Aquitaine and Poitiers of the day embodied the doctrine of chivalry and courtly love, and Eleanor developed her lively and intelligent personality within the walls of this romantic milieu. Her grandfather was history first recorded troubadour, and this, one would imagine, had a profound affect the future queen's romantic nature and flirtatious wit.
At the age of 16 she became Queen of France, consort to the monkish Louis VII. They had been married the year before. As a result of the unexpected death of the first born son of the Capetian monarch Louis the Fat, they inherited the kingdom of France. Eleanor, after her father's death, had been left under the guardianship of his over-lord, Louis the Fat, and he took full advantage of his situation. He married her to his son. She, the most eligible bachelorette in Christendom, found herself embellished with titles, wealth, and far reaching adventures.
Louis and Eleanor's relationship was far from traditional. As a sexual and strong minded creature, she soon discovered that the shy, nervous Louis was far from a perfect match. He preferred to spend his days on his knees, in prayer. Eleanor did not. In 1147, she convinced poor, poor Louis to take her on crusade. The Second Crusade began in Vezelay, and it was said that she brought her ladies, dressed them as Amazons, and commanded them to "attend to the wounded". She didn't limit herself. Twice the pious Louis had her imprisoned for opposing him, and she even managed an illicit affair with her uncle, Raymond, in Antioch. I wonder if she had as much fun as she thought she would? Having said that, she probably had less fun at home. She brought forth two daughters, Marie and Alix, and no sons. The problem was, Louis didn't visit her bed that often. Despite the efforts of Pope Eugenius III to force relations between the unwilling couple, he resigned himself and granted the King and Queen of France and annulment based on consanguinity (they were related by the 4th degree). She was 30, and single, but not for long.
Less than six weeks later, in May 1152, she married the dashing, and young, Henry of Anjou. Something tells me they knew each other well before May! He, the son of Matilda of England, and Geoffrey of Anjou, found himself King of England within two years. Henry was 20, and Eleanor was 32. Their combine empire reached from the Pyrenees in the south and the Cheviots in the north, and their Plantagenet offspring would rule over England and the Continent for over 330 years. While Henry was busy passing good laws, Eleanor was having babies. When all was said and done, they had 8 children, 7 whom survived, 4 were boys.

End of Part I

No comments:

Post a Comment