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Eleanor's tomb effigy
Duchess of Aquitaine
Reign9 April 1137 – 1 April 1204
PredecessorWilliam X
Queen consort of France
Tenure1 August 1137 – 21 March 1152
Coronation25 December 1137
Queen consort of England
Tenure19 December 1154 – 6 July 1189
Coronation19 December 1154
Bornc. 1124
Bordeaux, Aquitaine
Died1 April 1204 (aged 80)
Fontevraud Abbey[1]
Fontevraud Abbey, Fontevraud
(m. 1137; ann. 1152)
(m. 1152; died 1189)
FatherWilliam X, Duke of Aquitaine
MotherAénor de Châtellerault

Eleanor of Aquitaine (French: Aliénor d'Aquitaine, Éléonore d'Aquitaine, Occitan: Alienòr d'Aquitània, pronounced [aljeˈnɔɾ dakiˈtanjɔ], Latin: Helienordis, Alienorde or Alianor;[a] c. 1124 – 1 April 1204) was Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right from 1137 to 1204, Queen of France from 1137 to 1152 as the wife of King Louis VII,[4] and Queen of England from 1154 to 1189 as the wife of King Henry II. As the heiress of the House of Poitiers, which controlled much of southwestern France, she was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. Militarily, she was a leading figure in the Second Crusade, and in a revolt in favour of her son. Culturally, she was a patron of poets such as Wace, Benoît de Sainte-Maure, and Bernart de Ventadorn, and of the arts of the High Middle Ages.

Eleanor was the eldest child of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, and Aénor de Châtellerault. She became duchess upon her father's death in April 1137, and three months later she married Louis, son of her guardian King Louis VI of France. Shortly afterwards, Louis VI died and Eleanor's husband ascended the throne, making Eleanor queen consort. The couple had two daughters, Marie and Alix. Eleanor sought an annulment of her marriage,[5] but her request was rejected by Pope Eugene III.[6] Eventually, Louis agreed to an annulment, as fifteen years of marriage had not produced a son.[7] The marriage was annulled on 21 March 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters were declared legitimate, custody was awarded to Louis, and Eleanor's lands were restored to her.

As soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor became engaged to her third cousin Henry, Duke of Normandy. The couple married on Whitsun, 18 May 1152 in Poitiers. Eleanor was crowned queen of England at Westminster Abbey in 1154, when Henry acceded to the throne. Henry and Eleanor had five sons and three daughters, but eventually became estranged. Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting the revolt of their eldest son, Henry the Young King, against him. She was not released until 6 July 1189, when her husband died and their third son, Richard I, ascended the throne. As queen dowager, Eleanor acted as regent while Richard went on the Third Crusade.[8] She lived well into the reign of her youngest son, John.


map of France in 1154 with its various domains, including the Duchy of Aquitaine
France, Aquitaine and Poitiers in 1154 with the expansion of the Plantagenet lands

Eleanor's life can be considered as consisting of five distinct phases. Her early life extending to adolescence (1124–1137), marriage to Louis VII and Queen of France (1137–1152), marriage to Henry II and Queen of England (1152–1173), imprisonment to Henry's death (1173–1189) and as a widow till her death (1189–1204).[9]


There is a paucity of primary sources on Eleanor's life.[10] There are no contemporary biographies, and modern biographies are largely drawn from annals and chronicles, generally written by clerics associated with the royal courts. There are very few surviving records from Aquitaine and she is barely mentioned in records of the French court,[11] and appears to have been actively erased from memory.[12][13][14] Consequently, accounts of Eleanor appear largely as a peripheral figure in chronicles of the men around her.[15] Important secular sources from England and Wales include Roger of Howden (d. c. 1203), Walter Map (1130 –c. 1210), Ralph de Diceto (c. 1120 – c. 1202), Gerald of Wales (c. 1146 – c. 1223) and Ralph Niger (c. 1140 – c. 1217). While some were relatively neutral, Map and Gerald were largely satirical polemic, while Niger's criticisms are mainly directed at Henry II rather than Eleanor. Among the chroniclers are also clerical sources, including Gervase of Canterbury (c. 1141 – c. 1210),[16],[17] Ralph of Coggeshall (d. c. 1227), Richard of Devizes (fl. late 12th century) and William of Newburgh (1136–1198).[18] The latter were mainly influenced by their revulsion at the murder of Thomas Becket (1170). Although Richard of Devizes admired Eleanor's perseverance in supporting her son Richard, all of them expressed negative views about women in power and hinted at some darker attributes that eventually led to the "Black Legend" that became associated with her.[12][19]

In the absence of reliable contemporary accounts, myth, legend and speculation have frequently been resorted to, to fill the gaps;[b][22][23][12] "rarely in the course of historical endeavor has so much been written, over so many centuries, about one woman of whom we know so little".[24]

Childhood and adolescence (1124–1137)

Family of origin and education

Eleanor of Aquitaine was descended on her father's side from a long dynastic line of Dukes of Aquitaine (all named William), dating back to the 10th century, who in turn succeeded the Carolingian monarchs of the Kingdom of Aquitaine. Twelfth century Aquitaine was a relatively vast and somewhat ill-defined area of modern-day France, stretching from the Loire in the north to the Pyrenees in the south, and from the Atlantic to the west to the Massif Central to the east. It was one of the wealthiest and most powerful vassal states within France at that time. In contrast, the French kings ruled over a relatively small area around the Île-de-France to the north-west, and the rulers of the surrounding duchies (duchés) and counties (comtés) gave only nominal allegiance to the French crown.[25][26] While little is known of Eleanor's early life or education, but many biographers have speculated from what is known of aristocratic households of the era.[27][25] Her year of birth is not known precisely, and the first mention of her occurs in July 1129.[c][29] Tradition places her birth on one of her parents' visit to Bordeaux, likely at her father's nearby castle at Belin. Other authors suggest Poitiers, Ombrière Palace, Bordeaux, or Nieul-sur-l'Autise.[30][31] While the date of her birth was once given as 1122[32] or 1124, the latter is now generally accepted.[30][33] A late 13th-century genealogy of her family listing her as 13 years old at her father's death in the spring of 1137 provides the best evidence that Eleanor was born in 1124.[28] Although some chronicles mention a fidelity oath of lords of Aquitaine on the occasion of Eleanor's fourteenth birthday in 1136. Her parents are unlikely to have married before 1121.[31] Her age at her death is thus stated as 80[28] or 82.[31]

Eleanor (or Aliénor) was the oldest of three children born to William X, Duke of Aquitaine, son of William IX and Philippa of Toulouse, and his wife, Aenor de Châtellerault, the daughter of Aimery I, Viscount of Châtellerault, and Dangereuse de l'Isle Bouchard. Dangereuse was also William IX's longtime mistress. Eleanor's parents' marriage had been arranged by Dangereuse and William IX. Their other children were Aélith (1125–1151) and Aigret (1126–1130).[d][25]

Eleanor was named for her mother Aenor and baptised as Aliénor from the Latin alia Ænor, which means the other Aenor.[35][31] It became Eléanor in the langues d'oïl of northern France and Eleanor in English,[36][25][37] but the exact spelling was never fixed in her lifetime.[e][38]

Little, if anything, is known of Eleanor's education.[27][25] Eleanor's mother died in 1130, when she was only six, and her younger brother also died in that year.[f][41] The only contemporary record of her education comes from Bertran de Born, the troubadour, who states that she read the poetry of her native tongue.[42][25]

Although the language of Bordeaux and Poitiers was Poitevin, a northern French (langue d'oïl) dialogue, she was soon exposed to Occitan (langue d'oc), the southern dialect and language of the poets and courtiers at the ducal court.[25][g] With the death of her mother and brother, Eleanor became the heir presumptive to her father's domains. The Duchy of Aquitaine was the largest and richest province of France, covering an area corresponding to nineteen departments of modern France and about a third of what was then considered France.[43][44][25]

Inheritance (1137)

In 1137, Duke William X left Poitiers for Bordeaux and took his daughters with him. Upon reaching Bordeaux, he left them at l'Ombrière Castle[25] in the charge of Geoffroi du Louroux, archbishop of Bordeaux,[33][45] a loyal vassal.[46] The duke then set out for the Shrine of Saint James of Compostela in the company of other pilgrims. However, he died on Good Friday of that year (9 April).[25]

Eleanor, aged 13, then became the Duchess of Aquitaine, and thus one of the richest and most eligible heiresses in Europe.[47] Since kidnapping an heiress was seen as a viable option for obtaining a title and lands,[48] when William X knew that he was dying, he placed his soon to be orphaned daughter in the care of King Louis VI of France as her guardian.[49][46] William requested of the king that he take care of both the lands and the duchess, and find her a suitable husband.[49] However, until a husband was found, the king had the legal right to Eleanor's lands. The Duke also insisted to his companions that his death be kept a secret until Louis was informed; the men were to journey from Saint James of Compostela across the Pyrenees as quickly as possible to call at Bordeaux to notify the archbishop, then to make all speed to Paris to inform the king.[h][49]

The king of France, known as Louis the Fat,[50] who was in poor health, recognised an opportunity to enlarge his dominions by the acquisition of Aquitaine.[46] His eldest surviving son, Louis, had originally been destined for monastic life, but had become the heir apparent when the firstborn, Philip, died after being thrown from his horse in 1131.[51][52][46]

The death of William, one of the king's most powerful vassals, made available the most desirable duchy in France.[46] Louis, who had long sought ways of increasing the relatively small part of France under his direct control, immediately saw the opportunities provided by his guardianship of Eleanor. He realised the dangers of not swiftly settling the succession of the Aquitainian duchy, while a marriage between his son and heir and Eleanor would add the considerable resources of Aquitaine to the Capetian holdings. Thus, he spent little time in dispatching the young Louis, accompanied by a large retinue, some 500 knights, along with Abbot Suger, Geoffrey II, Bishop of Chartres, Theobald II, Count of Champagne, and Raoul I, Count of Vermandois to Bordeaux to secure the marriage.[46]

Queen of France (1137–1152)

The rock crystal vase belonged to Eleanor's grandfather, William which she gave to Louis as a wedding present, He later donated it to the Abbey of Saint-Denis. Later it was placed in the Louvre
Rock crystal vase given by Eleanor to Louis as a wedding gift


Relatively little is known from the time that Eleanor was Queen of France.[11] On 25 July 1137, Eleanor and Louis were married in the Cathedral of Saint-André in Bordeaux by the Archbishop of Bordeaux. Immediately after the wedding, the couple were enthroned as Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine.[53] It was agreed that the duchy would remain independent of France until Eleanor's oldest son became both king of France and duke of Aquitaine. Thus, her holdings would not be merged with France until the next generation.[52] As a wedding present she gave Louis a rock crystal vase.[i][58]

From Bordeaux, the couple proceeded to Poitiers, arriving on August 1, where after a week of festivities they were invested as Count and Countess of Poitou on August 8.[58] Louis's tenure as Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony lasted only a few days. On their way to Paris, a messenger arrived with the news that Louis VI had died on 1 August and therefore they were now King and Queeen of France.[59] Louis had already been crowned in the Capetian fashion in 1131[52] and on Christmas Day 1137, Eleanor was crowned Queen of France at Bourges.[60]

Eleanor was not popular with some members of the court, including Abbot Suger and Louis's mother Adelaide of Maurienne, who left the court shortly thereafter and remarried. Some courtiers made unfavourable reference to memories of another southerner, Constance of Arles, from Provence, third wife of Robert II, and ancestor of both Louis VII and Eleanor. Queen Constance had had a reputation for being indiscrete in both dress and language.[j][61] Eleanor's conduct was repeatedly criticised by church elders, particularly Bernard of Clairvaux[62] and Suger, as indecorous. Modifications were made to the austere Cité Palace in Paris for Eleanor's sake[63][64] and she was joined by her sister Aélith in Paris, who became known there as Petronilla.[46]

Claim to Toulouse 1141

The County of Toulouse had a complicated history of succession. Eleanor was descended from the Counts of Toulouse through her grandmother, Philippa, Countess of Toulouse. Philippa was the sole child of William IV of Toulouse, but following his death in 1093, it was his brother, Philippa's uncle, Raymond IV (r. 1094–1105) who asserted a right to the title. Philippa then persuaded her husband, William IX of Aquitaine to enforce her right, a struggle that lasted nearly 30 years, finally ending in 1123 with Raymond IV's son, Alfonso Jordan (r. 1112–1148).[65] During this time, control of Toulouse continually changed hands between William IX and his brother's descendants.[66] Philippa's claim was passed on to her son, Eleanor's father, William X of Aquitaine and then to herself. Louis VII attempted to enforce her claim by marching on Toulouse, arriving at the walls on 21 June 1141. Although he laid siege to the city, he was unable to subjugate it and withdrew, after accepting the homage of Count Alfonso.[46] Despite this setback, Eleanor continued to press her claims, with further expeditions in 1159 and throughout her life.[67]

Conflict with the church

Louis soon came into conflict with the church and Pope Innocent II (1130–1143). In 1140 he intervened in the election to the see of Poitiers on finding that a new bishop, Grimoald, had been elected and consecrated without his consent. This was despite the fact that his father had granted the ecclesiastical province of Bordeaux the right to do so and that he himself had approved this. Louis then attempted to prohibit Grimoald from entering the city, thus drawing both the Pope and Bernard of Clairvaux into the dispute. The Pope issued an order to overrule the royal edict but Grimoald died, ending the dispute. The ecclesiastical authorities were aware of the unsuccessful attempt of both Eleanor's father and grandfather to interfere in church matters. However, the Poitiers affair was soon followed by other attempts by Louis to exert his authority.[46]

The most consequential of these occurred when the Archbishopric of Bourges became vacant in 1141. Louis put forward as a candidate his chancellor, Cadurc, while vetoing the one suitable candidate, Pierre de la Chatre, a monk who was promptly elected by the canons of Bourges and consecrated by the Pope in Rome. Louis accordingly bolted the gates of Bourges against the new archbishop on his return. The Pope, recalling similar attempts by William X to exile supporters of Innocent from Poitou and replace them with priests loyal to himself, may have blamed Eleanor for this,[68] but stated that Louis was only "a foolish schoolboy" and should be taught not to meddle in such matters. Outraged, Louis swore upon relics that so long as he lived Pierre should never enter Bourges. An interdict was thereupon imposed upon the royal household and lands, and Pierre was given refuge by Theobald II, Count of Champagne, further annoying the king.[69][46][70]

Louis had been in a situation of increasing conflict with Theobald II,[70] and the Bourges affair, together with a crisis in Theobald's family, brought this to a head. Theobald's younger sister, Eleanor of Champagne, had married Raoul I, Count of Vermandois and seneschal of France in 1125, but the latter had been forming a liaison with Petronilla, the Queen's sister. Raoul eventually deserted his wife, seeking an annulment of their marriage on grounds of consanguinity,[k] to which Louis acquiesced, finding three bishops who agreed that the marriage was invalid and then in 1442 officiated at the wedding of Petronilla and Raoul.[73] Both Theobald, who had taken his sister under protection, and Bernard of Clairvaux protested to the Pope, who convened a council, voided both the annulment and marriage, excommunicated one bishop and suspended the other two. Furthermore, Raoul was ordered to return to his wife. Upon his refusal, both he and Petronilla were also excommunicated and their lands placed under interdiction.[73][46]

Eleanor's assumed role in these affairs led to the first appearance of the Black legend that would be associated with her for centuries. Women, even queens were not expected to concern themselves with such matters, and that therefore she might represent darker powers. Rumours began to associate her with mythical figures such as Melusine.[74] Things took a more salacious turn when it was suggested she was having an affair with Geoffrey of Anjou.[75]

Louis rejected the papal legate's decision and orderd an invasion of Champagne, in a war that would last two years (1142–44) and ended with the occupation of Champagne by the royal army. For a year the royal army laid waste to the Champagne countryside, but since Theobald showed no signs of backing down, Louis took personal charge of the assault in 1143, which focused on the siege of the town of Vitry. More than a thousand people sought refuge in the cathedral, which caught fire, burning alive everyone inside. Horrified at the carnage, Louis returned to Paris, seeking to make peace with Theobald. In return, and with the support of the Pope, he demanded Raoul renounce Petronilla and the interdiction on Raoul and Petronilla was duly lifted, while Louis ordered a retreat. When Raoul refused the king's demands, the royal forces once more invaded Champagne.[76][46]

Public opinion was turning against the war and in particular Bernard of Clairvaux was very critical, while Suger advised settling the issues. Innocent II died in September 1143 and was succeeded by Celestine II (1143–1144), who once more lifted the interdiction in an offer of conciliation, at Bernard's suggestion and Louis became more open to negotiation. It was about this time that questions of consanguinity were first raised about Louis and Eleanor's marriage, since he had opposed a number of other marriages on these grounds, including that of Raoul and Eleanor of Champagne. Consequently, a number of negotiations took place over the winter of 1143–1144.[77][46] Finally, Suger hosted a meeting at his newly built monastic church at Saint-Denis during a feast day on April 22, 1144, at which Bernard persuaded Eleanor that her efforts on behalf of her sister were hopeless, and peace was restored, although the couple continued to refuse to separate, and they remained excommunicated till 1148 when Raoul's first marriage was once again invalidated and his second marriage validated. Also the Saint-Denis agreement included Louis withdrawing his opposition to the archbishop of Bourges. The discussion between Eleanor and Bernard also included reference to her apparent infertility (she had had one miscarriage) in 1138,[78][79] and a suggestion that she might be rewarded for her concessions with a child.[l] In April 1145, Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, Marie.[46] On Sunday, June 11, 1144, the king and queen attended the dedication of Saint-Denis, at which time the king donated Eleanor's crystal vase.[81]

Second Crusade (1145–1149)

See also: Second Crusade

Taking the Cross (1145–1147)
Illustration of the ceremony of the taking of the cross at Vezelay, by Sébastien Mamerot, around 1490
Taking the Cross (Sébastien Mamerot c. 1490 )
map showing the route the Second Crusade took
Route of the Second Crusade

Louis remained obsessed over the massacre at Vitry and considered a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but events overtook this desire. The First Crusade (1096–1099) had succeeded in capturing the Holy Land from the Turks and establishing a system of four (largely Frankish) Crusader States to administer the region, known as the Outremer.[m] But this was threatened, when on 24 December 1144, Zengi and the Saracen Turks captured Edessa, capital of one of the Frankish States, making the adjacent States of Antioch, Tripoli and Jerusalem vulnerable.[82] Of these, Antioch was the most vulnerable, and of particular concern since the Prince of Antioch was Raymond of Poitiers, Eleanor's uncle. In the autumn of 1145, Louis had received emissaries from the Outremer, and appeals were also sent to Pope Eugene III (1145–1153). On 1 December the Pope issued a bull requesting that Louis and all faithful Christians of France mount a crusade to rescue the remaining States. In exchange they would receive a remission of their sins. Louis and Eleanor were at Bourges when the message arrived and Louis responded enthusiastically on Christmas Day, that he would lead a crusade. Noting a lack of enthusiasm among the French nobility, Louis postponed further action till Easter 1146, having recruited Bernard of Clairveaux to deliver a message supporting his crusade at Vézelay on 31 March.[83][84][85]

Eleanor of Aquitaine also formally took the cross during Bernard's sermon, which meant leaving her daughter behind. Eleanor recruited some women of the Aquitainian nobility for the campaign as well as some 300 other women who volunteered to help.[86] It was not unusual for women to take part in crusades. From Louis's perspective, there were advantages in including her. As regent to an absent monarch, she could have created problems for Suger, Louis's choice as his administrator, and he needed the support of the Aquitainian nobility. Furthermore, the crusade was ostensibly to come to the aid of her uncle.[87] The presence of women was not without its critics, particularly among clerics, though this may have been influenced by hindsight, given that William of Newburgh's account was written well after the actual crusade.[84][88]

In February 1147, the planning process of the crusade was initiated at Étampes, where it was learned that the emperor, Conrad III would be joining their venture, and requests for safe passages through adjacent lands were sent. Final planning took place at Saint-Denis over Easter that year, on April 20, at which the pope attended. Louis delegated administration of his kingdom to the pope, who appointed Suger regent, with Ralph of Vermandois as co-regent.[84] Eleanor's taking the cross provided the next opportunity for her detractors to construct her legend, with claims that she and her ladies set off for the crusades as Amazonian warriors.[88]

Road to Ephesus (1147)

On June 11 some 25,000 to 50,000 crusaders and Pilgrims gathered at Saint-Denis and began their march, first to Metz and then crossing the Rhine at Worms, and pressing on to Regensburg and the Danube river. There they were met by envoys from Manuel Komnenos (r. 1143–1180), the Byzantine Emperor,[89] and followed the river via Klosterneuburg and through Hungary, reaching Belgrade and the Eastern Empire by mid-August and then, crossing the Danube, to Adrianople and finally Constantinople, five days later, on 4 October 1147.[84][90]

In Constantinople, the French crusaders were obliged to pause and await the arrival of those of their forces that were travelling by sea. While there they received the hospitality of the Emperor, Louis and Eleanor staying in the Philopation palace just outside the city walls. Meanwhile, the German crusaders had gone ahead and crossed the Bosphorus into Asia Minor.[91] Once all their forces were gathered together, the French crossed into Asia on 15 October and proceeded south to thir first stop at Nicaea. Continuing south down the Aegean coast, they discovered that the Germans, who had proceeded directly inland, had suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turks, at the battle of Dorylaeum, and that the Emperor had been wounded. The French, together with the remnants of the Germans continued south on the safer coastal route to Ephesus, via Pergamus and Smyrna, which they reached on December 20. After camping at Ephesus, Conrad and most of the Germans left them, returning to Constantinople by sea. [84][92]

Ephesus to Jerusalem (1148–1149)
Illustration of the crusaders being welcomed at Antioch, by Marmerot
Crusaders welcomed at Antioch (Marmerot)

In January 1148, Louis decided to travel inland towards Laodicea in Phrygia, in order to reach Antalya on the south coast and thus Antioch more quickly. They reached Laodicea on January 6 and then their route took them across the mountains. On the day of their crossing of Mount Cadmus, Louis took charge of the rear of the column, where the unarmed pilgrims and the baggage trains were, while the vanguard was commanded by the Aquitainian, Geoffrey de Rancon, and instructed to set camp on the plateau before the next pass. They reached the summit of Cadmus, one of the highest in their path, but Rancon, in concert with Amadeus III, Count of Savoy and Maurienne, Louis's uncle,[n] chose to continue on through the pass to the next valley, judging it a better campsite.[84][93][94]

Accordingly, when the main part of the column arrived, and approached the pass, separated from both the vanguard and rearguard, they were attacked by the Turkish forces, lying in wait. In the ensuing Battle of Mount Cadmus, the Turks inflicted great losses on the French, while Louis himself, barely escaped. Odo of Deuil describes how he "nimbly and bravely scaled a rock by making use of some tree roots which God had provided for his safety"[95][84] Others were not so fortunate: "No aid came from Heaven, except that night fell."[96][97][94]

The chronicler William of Tyre, writing between 1170 and 1184 and thus perhaps too long after the event to be considered historically accurate, placed the blame for this disaster firmly on the amount of baggage being carried, much of it reputedly belonging to Eleanor and her ladies, and the presence of non-combatants.[84]

Louis was a weak and ineffectual military leader with no skill for maintaining troop discipline or morale, or of making informed and logical tactical decisions.[94][98] Official blame for the disaster was placed on Geoffrey de Rancon, who had made the decision to continue, and it was suggested that he be hanged, a suggestion which the king ignored. Since Geoffrey was Eleanor's vassal, many believed that it was she who had been ultimately responsible for the change in plan, and thus the massacre. This suspicion of responsibility did nothing for her popularity in Christendom. She was also blamed for the size of the baggage train and the fact that her Aquitanian soldiers had marched at the front and thus were not involved in the fight. Eventually, the survivors reached Antalya on January 20.[84][94][99]

Illustration showing Emperor Conrad and Kings Louis and Baldwin at the Council of Acre
Council of Acre: Conrad III, Louis VII, and Baldwin III
Illustration showing the siege of Damascus in 1148
Siege of Damascus

In Antalya, the crusaders found there was a limited number of ships available, and those that were required more money than they were willing to pay. Consequently the royal party sailed from the port with a relatively small group of followers, arriving in Antioch on March 19, well behind schedule. The remainder attempted to complete the journey with great hardship and much loss, only about half of them completing the journey.[100][84]

While the crusaders were initially welcomed, tensions grew between them and Raymond. Raymond's agenda was to attack Aleppo and regain control of Edessa, and hence gain some security, while Louis was determined to press on to Jerusalem, despite the original papal decree being to recapture Edessa.[o] Louis was not keen to fight in northern Syria, and his forces were badly depleted. Furthermore, he had a personal agenda to journey in pilgrimage to Jerusalem.[84][100]

Eleanor's loyalty to her uncle created conflict between Louis and Eleanor.[44] Eventually the French, now only a tenth of their original strength, left Antioch abruptly on March 28, despite Eleanor's protests and attempts to remain with Raymond. These conflicts once again led to the question of consanguinity being raised.[101][84][102] According to John of Salisbury, it was Eleanor who prompted this.[103] The crusaders reached Jerusalem in May, entering by the Jaffa Gate, where they were greeted by Queen Melisende and King Baldwin III. A conference was then held at Acre on 24 June, to discuss strategic plans. This resulted in the disastrous siege of Damascus on 24 July. The crusaders' forced withdrawal after only four days effectively ended the crusade and many of the survivors started making plans to return, but Louis vowed to celebrate Easter 1149 in the Holy Land, despite the pleas of Suger.[104][84]

The sojourn in Antioch and the conflict between the rulers and the resulting rift between the royal couple led to chroniclers, such as John of Salisbury and William of Tyre, hinting at an adulterous and incestuous affair between Eleanor and Raymond, that would become an enduring part of her legend, which in some versions also depicted her as having an affair with a Saracen leader. Contemporary accounts suggest it was her attention to political affairs that was considered the greatest stain on her character.[105][84][106]

Return journey (1149)

After celebrating Easter, Louis and Eleanor set sail from Acre for Italy in separate ships on 3 April but were delayed by both hostile naval forces off the Peloponnesus in May and storms which drove Eleanor's ship as far south as the Barbary Coast, and for a while their whereabouts were unknown. Louis arrived in Calabria on 29 July and eventually discovered Eleanor had reached Palermo, Sicily where she was sheltered by agents of King Roger II of Sicily at his palace there, and it took some time before they could be reunited.[p][104][84]

At King Roger's court in Potenza, Eleanor had learned of the death of her uncle Raymond, who had been beheaded by Nureddin's (Nur ad-Din) Muslim forces at the Battle of Inab, on 29 June. Nureddin then overran most of Raymond's territories in Antioch, setting back the goals of the crusade even further. Instead of returning directly to France, Louis and Eleanor headed north towards Rome and the Pope, stopping at the Abbey of Monte Cassino on 4 October after Eleanor fell ill. Pope Eugenius invited them to stay at his palace at Tusculum, south of Rome, where they arrived on 9 October. Eugenius had been informed by Suger of the couple's marital problems, and that they were no longer having sexual relations. The question of consanguinity, and hence possible anullment was again raised, but was denied by Eugenius, who declared the marriage legitimate by Canon law and urged reconciliation. It is likely that Eleanor's second child was conceived at this time.[107][108] From Tusculum, the couple traveled north through Italy, visiting Rome and then crossing the Alps to reach France and finally arriving in Paris around 11 November 1149, after an absence of two and a half years.[109][84]

Annulment (1152)

In the summer of 1150, Eleanor gave birth to a second daughter, Alix (Adelicia).[84] The lack of a male heir was unprecedented in the Capetian line,[110] and Eleanor was now thirty and had been married for fifteen years. Not only was the likelihood of a son being born to secure the succession seen as remote, but the lack of an heir was perceived as an omen. Abbot Suger had been a strong advocate for the political advantages of the marriage between Louis and Eleanor. When he died on 13 January 1151, the balance changed since Bernard of Clairvaux was a critic of the marriage's consanguinity.[111] A number of nobles and courtiers also advised the king to dissolve the marriage.[112] Later that year, Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou appeared at the court in Paris to pay homage as the new Duke of Normandy, to King Louis. Chroniclers such as Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), William of Newburgh and Walter Map later implied that something happened between Henry and Eleanor (eleven years his senior) that contributed to the dissolution of her marriage.[113][67]

By this stage, her reputation badly damaged, Eleanor's influence at court was waning.[114] Any such dissolution would require a complex political realignment, separating the Aquitanian and Capetian possessions and jurisdictions, and in the autumn of 1151 the couple made a tour of the duchy during which much of the French presence, such as garrisons, was replaced with Eleanor's people.[115] On 11 March 1152, at the royal castle of Beaugency on the Loire, near Orléans, Hugues de Toucy, archbishop of Sens and Primate of France,[q], presided over a synod to consider the matter. Louis and Eleanor were both present, as were the archbishops of Reims, Bordeaux[r] and Rouen and many other bishops and nobility. Archbishop Samson of Reims acted for Eleanor, who did not contest the action.[117][67]

On 21 March, the four archbishops, with the approval of Pope Eugenius, granted an annulment on grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree; Eleanor was Louis's third cousin once removed, and shared common ancestry with Robert II of France (Robert the Pious) and his wife Constance of Arles.[s] Their two daughters were, however, declared legitimate. Children born to a marriage that was later annulled were not at risk of being "bastardised," because "[w]here the parties married in good faith, without knowledge of an impediment, the canonists held that the children of the marriage were legitimate and that the marriage itself was valid up to the day it was declared null".[118] Custody of the daughters was awarded to King Louis, as both custom and law decreed.[t] Archbishop Samson received assurances from Louis that Eleanor's lands would be restored to her.[119][67]

While Eleanor stated that the reason for the annulment was "for reasons of kinship with my Lord, Louis", the event fueled speculation as to her behaviour and added to the growing legend. Equally without evidence are accounts of a distraught discarded wife.[120][117]

Queen of England (1154–1189)

Henry II of England, drawn by Matthew Paris
France 1154–1184 and the Angevin Empire

Marriage, war and family (1152–1154)

Once again a single woman with possessions, Eleanor was at risk of abduction and forced marriage to acquire her domains. From Beaugency, she travelled south towards her court in Poitiers.[u] On her route she narrowly evaded two attempts to kidnap her. The first was by Theobald V, Count of Blois and Chartres on the night of 21 March as she passed through his lands at Blois, but she escaped by taking a boat down the Loire to Tours. Then Geoffrey Plantagenet lay in wait for her at Port-de-Piles, on the border of Touraine and Poitou, but warned at Tours of the plot, she changed her route, avoiding the usual crossing of the Creuse river, she continued downstream to its confluence with the Vienne river,[121] avoiding main roads, and arriving safely at by boat Poitiers.[122][67][123] This rapuit et abduxit was a common practice regarding heiresses, even in her own family.[124]

As soon as she arrived in Poitiers, just before Easter, Eleanor sent envoys to Geoffrey Plantagenet's older brother, Henry Duke of Normandy, asking him to come at once to marry her.[125] Many authors conclude that this fulfilled a prior arrangement made at his earlier visit to the French court. While providing security for her Aquitaine lands, the choice of Henry also made political sense as Anjou lay on the northern border of Aquitaine, thus protecting it and enlarging her joint jurisdiction. She then set about revoking all acts and charters of Louis relating to Aquitaine, and replacing them with her own.[123] The message reached Henry at Lisieux on 6 April. Henry arrived in Poitiers in mid May and on 18 May 1152 (Whit Sunday), eight weeks after her annulment, Eleanor married Henry, nine years her junior, in a quiet private ceremony at Poitiers Cathedral, thereby transferring her Aquitaine lands from Louis to Henry.[126][67][127][128] The ceremony was described as being "without the pomp and ceremony that befitted their rank".[v][130][131] They had kept the arrangements secret, for fear that Louis, who regarded the growing power of Henry and the Angevins with anxiety, would prevent it.[w][128][67]

Eleanor was related to Henry even more closely than she had been to Louis: they were cousins to the third degree through their common ancestor Ermengarde of Anjou, wife of Robert I, Duke of Burgundy and Geoffrey, Count of Gâtinais, and they were also descended from King Robert II of France.[x][72] Her remarriage to Henry provided the next chapter of the legend of her scandalous behaviour, it being implied that she had a previous illicit relationship with him.[y][67]

When Louis VII discovered Eleanor had married his archrival, and knowing Henry was also in line for succession to the throne of England, he was furious and immediately made preparations for war. He also refused to give up the title of Duke of Aquitaine, that he had acquired through marriage to Eleanor, and was now Henry's by the same right, for if Eleanor bore a male heir, his daughters would be disinherited. His subsequent invasion of Normandy marked the beginning of an Angevin-Capetian conflict that would last more than fifty years.[67]

Now, as Duchess of both Aquitaine and Normandy, Eleanor exercised independent power in her court and within her hereditary domains, striking new seals for her charters, both as Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou, but also with the added titles of Duchess of the Normans and Countess of the Angevins. Within a month, Henry departed with the intention of pursuing his claim to the throne of England but now had to deal with Louis's invasion of Normandy, which he easily repelled signing a truce, so that by the autumn of that year he was able to return to Aquitaine. By late 1152, the couple moved to Rouen in Normandy and in January 1153 Henry finally set sail for England. He did not return till March 1154, leaving the now pregnant Eleanor with his mother, the Empress Matilda and his youngest brother, William. On 17 August 1153, Henry and Eleanor's first child, William was born, most likely at Angers.[67]

Queen (1154)

On 25 October 1154, Henry became king of England. A now heavily pregnant Eleanor[134] was crowned queen of England by Theobald of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on 19 December 1154.[135] She may not have been anointed on this occasion, however, because she had already been anointed in 1137.[136] Over the next 13 years, she bore Henry five sons and three daughters: William, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, John, Matilda, Eleanor, and Joan. Historian John Speed, in his 1611 work History of Great Britain, mentions the possibility that Eleanor had a son named Philip, who died young. His sources no longer exist, and he alone mentions this birth.[137]

Eleanor's marriage to Henry was reputed to be tumultuous and argumentative, although sufficiently cooperative to produce at least eight pregnancies. Henry was by no means faithful to his wife and had a reputation for philandering; he fathered other, illegitimate, children throughout the marriage. Eleanor appears to have taken an ambivalent attitude towards these affairs. Geoffrey of York, for example, was an illegitimate son of Henry, but acknowledged by Henry as his child and raised at Westminster in the care of the queen.

During the period from Henry's accession to the birth of Eleanor's youngest son John, affairs in the kingdom were turbulent: Aquitaine, as was the norm, defied the authority of Henry as Eleanor's husband and answered only to their duchess. Attempts were made to claim Toulouse, the rightful inheritance of Eleanor's grandmother Philippa of Toulouse, but they ended in failure. A bitter feud arose between the king and Thomas Becket, initially his chancellor and closest adviser and later the archbishop of Canterbury. Louis of France had remarried and been widowed; he married for the third time and finally fathered a long-hoped-for son, Philip Augustus, also known as Dieudonné—God-given. "Young Henry", son of Henry and Eleanor, wed Margaret, daughter of Louis from his second marriage. Little is known of Eleanor's involvement in these events. By late 1166, Henry's affair with Rosamund Clifford had become known,[138] and although much speculation has arisen that this precipitated a break in their relationship, the evidence does not support this.[z][139]

In 1167, Eleanor's third daughter, Matilda, married Henry the Lion of Saxony. Eleanor remained in England with her daughter for the year prior to Matilda's departure for Normandy in September. In December, Eleanor gathered her movable possessions in England and transported them on several ships to Argentan. Christmas was celebrated at the royal court there, and she appears to have agreed to a separation from Henry. She certainly left for her own city of Poitiers immediately after Christmas. Henry did not stop her; on the contrary, he and his army personally escorted her there before attacking a castle belonging to the rebellious Lusignan family. Henry then went about his own business outside Aquitaine, leaving the Earl of Salisbury, his regional military commander, as her protective custodian. When the latter was killed in a skirmish, Eleanor, who proceeded to ransom his captured nephew, the young William Marshal, was left in control of her lands.

"The Court of Love" Poitiers (1168–1173)
The Palace of Poitiers, the seat of the counts of Poitou and dukes of Aquitaine in the 10th through to the 12th centuries, where Eleanor's highly literate and artistic court inspired tales of Courts of Love.

Of all her influence on culture, Eleanor's time in Poitiers between 1168 and 1173 was perhaps the most critical, yet very little is known about it. Henry II was elsewhere, attending to his own affairs after escorting Eleanor there.[55] Some believe that Eleanor's court in Poitiers was the "Court of Love" where Eleanor and her daughter Marie meshed and encouraged the ideas of troubadours, chivalry, and courtly love into a single court. It may have been largely to teach manners, something the French courts would be known for in later generations. Yet the existence and reasons for this court are debated.[140]

In the 12th century The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capellanus (Andrew the Chaplain), refers to the court of Poitiers. He claims that Eleanor, her daughter Marie, Ermengarde, Viscountess of Narbonne, and Isabelle of Flanders would sit and listen to the quarrels of lovers and act as a jury to the questions of the court that revolved around acts of romantic love. He records some twenty-one cases, the most famous of them being a problem posed to the women about whether true love can exist in marriage. According to Capellanus, the women decided that it was not at all likely.[141]

Some scholars believe that the "court of love" probably never existed since the only evidence for it is Andreas Capellanus's book. To strengthen their argument, they state that there is no other evidence that Marie ever stayed with her mother in Poitiers.[55] Andreas wrote for the court of the king of France, where Eleanor was not held in esteem. Polly Schoyer Brooks, the author of a popular biography of Eleanor, suggests that the court did exist, but that it was not taken very seriously, and that acts of courtly love were just a "parlour game" made up by Eleanor and Marie in order to place some order over the young courtiers living there.[142]

There is no claim that Eleanor invented courtly love, for it was a concept that had begun to grow before Eleanor's court arose. All that can be said is that her court at Poitiers was most likely a catalyst for the increased popularity of courtly love literature in the Western European regions.[143] Amy Kelly provides a plausible description of the origins of the rules of Eleanor's court: "In the Poitevin code, man is the property, the very thing of woman; whereas a precisely contrary state of things existed in the adjacent realms of the two kings from whom the reigning duchess of Aquitaine was estranged."[144][145][146]

Revolt and imprisonment (1173–1189)

Revolt of 1173

In March 1173, aggrieved at his lack of power and egged on by Henry's enemies, his son by the same name, the younger Henry, launched the Revolt of 1173–1174. He fled to Paris. From there, "the younger Henry, devising evil against his father from every side by the advice of the French king, went secretly into Aquitaine where his two youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were living with their mother, and with her connivance, so it is said, he incited them to join him."[147] One source claimed that the queen sent her younger sons to France "to join with him against their father the king."[148] Once her sons had left for Paris, Eleanor may have encouraged the lords of the south to rise up and support them.[55]

Sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May, Eleanor left Poitiers, but was arrested and sent to the king at Rouen. The king did not announce the arrest publicly and for the next year the queen's whereabouts were unknown. On 8 July 1174, Henry and Eleanor took ship for England from Barfleur. As soon as they disembarked at Southampton, Eleanor was taken either to Winchester Castle or Sarum Castle and held there.

Imprisonment (1173–1189)

Eleanor was imprisoned for the next 16 years, much of the time in various locations in England. During her imprisonment, Eleanor became more and more distant from her sons, especially from Richard, who had always been her favourite.[140] She did not have the opportunity to see her sons very often during her imprisonment, though she was released for special occasions such as Christmas. About four miles from Shrewsbury and close by Haughmond Abbey is "Queen Eleanor's Bower", the remains of a possible triangular timber castle which is believed to have been one of her prisons.

Henry lost the woman reputed to be his great love, Rosamund Clifford, in 1176. He had met her in 1166 and had begun their liaison in 1173, supposedly contemplating divorce from Eleanor. This notorious affair caused a monkish scribe to transcribe Rosamund's name in Latin to "Rosa Immundi", or "Rose of Unchastity". The king had many mistresses, but although he treated earlier liaisons discreetly, he flaunted Rosamund. He may have done so to provoke Eleanor into seeking an annulment, but if so, the queen disappointed him. Nevertheless, rumours persisted, perhaps assisted by Henry's camp, that Eleanor had poisoned Rosamund. It is also speculated that Eleanor placed Rosamund in a bathtub and had an old woman cut Rosamund's arms.[44] Henry donated much money to Godstow Nunnery in Oxfordshire, where Rosamund was buried.

In 1183, the young King Henry tried again to force his father to hand over some of his patrimony. In debt and refused control of Normandy, he tried to ambush his father at Limoges. He was joined by troops sent by his brother Geoffrey and Philip II of France. Henry II's troops besieged the town, forcing his son to flee. After wandering aimlessly through Aquitaine, Henry the Younger caught dysentery. On Saturday, 11 June 1183, the young king realized he was dying and was overcome with remorse for his sins. When his father's ring was sent to him, he begged that his father would show mercy to his mother, and that all his companions would plead with Henry to set her free. Henry II sent Thomas of Earley, Archdeacon of Wells, to break the news to Eleanor at Sarum.[aa] Eleanor reputedly had a dream in which she foresaw her son Henry's death. In 1193, she would tell Pope Celestine III that she was tortured by his memory.

King Philip II of France claimed that certain properties in Normandy belonged to his half-sister Margaret, widow of the young Henry, but Henry insisted that they had once belonged to Eleanor and would revert to her upon her son's death. For this reason Henry summoned Eleanor to Normandy in the late summer of 1183. She stayed in Normandy for six months. This was the beginning of a period of greater freedom for the still-supervised Eleanor. Eleanor went back to England probably early in 1184.[55] Over the next few years Eleanor often travelled with her husband and was sometimes associated with him in the government of the realm, but still had a custodian so that she was not free.

Widowhood (1189–1204)

aerial view of Fontevraud Abbey
Fontevraud Abbey

Upon the death of her husband Henry II on 6 July 1189, Richard I was the undisputed heir. One of his first acts as king was to send William Marshal to England with orders to release Eleanor from prison; he found upon his arrival that her custodians had already released her.[55] Eleanor rode to Westminster and received the oaths of fealty from many lords and prelates on behalf of the King. She ruled England in Richard's name, signing herself "Eleanor, by the grace of God, Queen of England". On 13 August 1189, Richard sailed from Barfleur to Portsmouth and was received with enthusiasm. Between 1190 and 1194, King Richard was absent from England, engaged in the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1192, and then held in captivity by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. During Richard's absence, royal authority in England was represented by a Council of Regency in conjunction with a succession of chief justiciarsWilliam de Longchamp (1190–1191), Walter de Coutances (1191–1193), and Hubert Walter. Although Eleanor held no formal office in England during this period, she arrived in England in the company of Coutances in June 1191, and for the remainder of Richard's absence, she exercised a considerable degree of influence over the affairs of England as well as the conduct of Prince John. Eleanor played a key role in raising the ransom demanded from England by Henry VI and in the negotiations with the Holy Roman Emperor that eventually secured Richard's release. Evidence of the influence she wielded can also be found within the numerous letters she wrote to Pope Celestine III regarding Richard's captivity. Her letter dated 1193, presents her strong expressions of personal suffering as a result of Richard's captivity and informs the Pope that in her grief she is "wasted away by sorrow".[150]

Eleanor survived Richard, who died in 1199, and lived well into the reign of her youngest son, King John, whose succession she worked to ensure. That year, under the terms of a truce between King Philip II and John, it was agreed that Philip's 12-year-old heir-apparent Louis would be married to one of John's nieces, daughters of his sister Eleanor of England, queen of Castile. John instructed his mother to travel to Castile to select one of the princesses. Now 77, Eleanor set out from Poitiers. Just outside Poitiers she was ambushed and held captive by Hugh IX of Lusignan, whose lands had been sold to Henry II by his forebears. Eleanor secured her freedom by agreeing to his demands. She continued south, crossed the Pyrenees, and travelled through the kingdoms of Navarre and Castile, arriving in Castile before the end of January 1200.

Eleanor's daughter, Queen Eleanor of Castile, had two remaining unmarried daughters, Urraca and Blanche. Eleanor selected the younger daughter, Blanche. She stayed for two months at the Castilian court, then late in March journeyed with granddaughter Blanche back across the Pyrenees. She celebrated Easter in Bordeaux, where the famous warrior Mercadier came to her court. It was decided that he would escort the queen and princess north. "On the second day in Easter week, he was slain in the city by a man-at-arms in the service of Brandin",[151] a rival mercenary captain. This tragedy was too much for the elderly queen, who was fatigued and unable to continue to Normandy. She and Blanche rode in easy stages to the valley of the Loire, and she entrusted Blanche to the archbishop of Bordeaux, who took over as her escort. The exhausted Eleanor went to Fontevraud, where she remained. In early summer, Eleanor was ill, and John visited her at Fontevraud.

Tomb effigies of Eleanor and Henry II at Fontevraud Abbey in central France

Eleanor was again unwell in early 1201. When war broke out between John and Philip, Eleanor declared her support for John and set out from Fontevraud to her capital Poitiers to prevent her grandson Arthur I, Duke of Brittany, posthumous son of Eleanor's son Geoffrey and John's rival for the English throne, from taking control. Arthur learned of her whereabouts and besieged her in the castle of Mirebeau. As soon as John heard of this, he marched south, overcame the besiegers, and captured the 15-year-old Arthur, and probably his sister Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany, whom Eleanor had raised with Richard. Eleanor then returned to Fontevraud where she took the veil as a nun.

Eleanor died on 31 March 1204 and was entombed in Fontevraud Abbey next to her husband Henry, her son Richard and daughter Joan.[152] Her tomb effigy shows her reading a Bible and is decorated with representations of magnificent jewellery; such effigies were rare, and Eleanor's is one of the finest of the few that survive from this period.[153] However, during the French Revolution the abbey of Fontevraud was sacked and the tombs were disturbed and vandalised – consequently the bones of Eleanor, Henry, Richard, Joanna and Isabella of Angoulême were exhumed and scattered, never to be recovered.[153] By the time of her death she had outlived all of her children except for King John of England, who died in 1216, and Queen Eleanor of Castile.


Contemporary sources praise Eleanor's beauty.[55] Even in an era when ladies of the nobility were excessively eulogised and praised, their praise of her was undoubtedly sincere, though probably based on hearsay.[154] When she was young, she was described as perpulchra—more than beautiful. When she was around 30, Bernard de Ventadour, a noted troubadour, called her "gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm", extolling her "lovely eyes and noble countenance" and declaring that she was "one meet to crown the state of any king".[55][155] William of Newburgh emphasised the charms of her person, and even in her old age Richard of Devizes described her as beautiful, while Matthew Paris, writing in the 13th century, recalled her "admirable beauty", a common practice at the time, and "a woman of wonderful appearance, more beautiful than moral" and a "wonderful lady, most beautiful and astute".[156] Richard of Devizes was similarly exuberant, but not all were in agreement. William of Tyre dismissed her as "uxorem quae una erat de fatuis mulieribus".[ab] Another chronicler describes her as avenante, vaillante, courtoise.[ac][154]

Depictions of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Carved heads thought for a long time to represent Eleanor and Henry, but now thought to be anonymous figures
12th century capital carving ascribed to Eleanor and Henry[ad]
Carved statues of king and queen at Chartres Cathedral thought to represent Eleanor and Henry, but now thought to be Old Testament figures
Jamb statues Chartres Cathedral
ascribed to Henry II and Eleanor[ae]
Twelfth century donor portrait of Eleanor in her later years
12th-century donor portrait
Psalter, Royal Library of the Netherlands
Stained glass window at Poitiers Cathedral allegedly portraying Eleanor in a crucifixion scene
Stained glass window, Poitiers Cathedral, said to represent Eleanor[159]
Mural from a chapel at Chinon, said to represent Eleanor on horseback
Mural, Chapelle Sainte-Radegonde, Chinon. The figure on left of central group has been alleged to be Eleanor[160]

In spite of all these words of praise, no one left a detailed description of Eleanor, for instance the colour of her hair and eyes are unknown. Such details were of little interest to contemporary chroniclers, and portraiture was not a characteristic of the time, while contemporary descriptions were largely rhetorical.[161] The effigy on her tomb (almost certainly not a true portrait) shows a tall and large-boned woman with brown skin.[154] Her seal of c. 1152 shows a woman with a slender figure, but this is probably an impersonal image.[55] Images of Eleanor are common throughout history but since there are none from her lifetime, these are purely speculative. Some romanesque carvings, such as those at the Cloisters in New York and Chartres[162] and Bordeaux cathedrals have been attributed to her but these cannot be substantiated.[158][156][161]

Popular culture


Portrait of Eleanor by Frederick Sandys
Queen Eleanor
Frederick Sandys, 1858
National Museum Cardiff [af][163]

Many representations of Eleanor of Aquitaine, or allusions to her have appeared over the centuries. Examples include Frederick Sandys 1858 painting, Queen Eleanor[163] and Judy Chicago's installation The Dinner Party (1979) featuring a place setting for Eleanor.[164] She was also commemorated on a French €0.50 postage stamp in 2004, the 800th anniversary of her death.[165]

Fiction and poetry

There have been many fictionalised accounts of Eleanor of Aquitaine over a long period of time. These include Jean Plaidy's 1987 autobiographical The Courts of Love (fifth in the 'Queens of England' series).[166] Norah Lofts also wrote a fictionalized biography of her in 1955, entitled in various editions Queen in Waiting or Eleanor the Queen, and including some romanticized episodes—starting off with the young Eleanor planning to elope with a young knight, who is killed out of hand by her guardian, in order to facilitate her marriage to the King's son.[167] Kristiana Gregory wrote a fictionalised diary, Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine (The Royal Diaries series, 2002) .[168]

Eleanor also features in the works of many historical novelists. These include The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883) by Howard Pyle as Queen Catherine[169] and F. Marion Crawford's novel of the second crusade Via Crucis (1899).[170][171] She is the subject of A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, a 1973 children's novel by E. L. Konigsburg.[172] and Margaret Ball's Duchess of Aquitaine: A novel of Eleanor (2006).[173]

In Sharon Kay Penman's Plantagenet novels, she figures prominently in When Christ and His Saints Slept (1995), Time and Chance (2002), and Devil's Brood (2008), and also appears in Lionheart (2011) and A King's Ransom (2014), both of which focus on the reign of her son, Richard I, as King of England. Eleanor also appears briefly in the first novel of Penman's Welsh trilogy, Here Be Dragons (1985). In Penman's historical Justin de Quincy mysteries, Eleanor, as Richard's regent, sends squire Justin de Quincy on various missions, often an investigation of a situation involving Prince John. The four published mysteries are the Queen's Man (1996), Cruel as the Grave (1998), Dragon's Lair (2003), and Prince of Darkness (2005).[174] Other novels include Elizabeth Chadwick's Eleanor trilogy The Summer Queen (2013), The Winter Crown (2014), and The Autumn Throne (2016).[175] Ariana Franklin features Eleanor in her Adelia Aguilar twelfth century mysteries. In 2008, in The Serpent's Tale (The Death Maze),[176] in 2010 in A Murderous Procession (The Assassin's Prayer)[177] and 2020 in Death and the Maiden.[178] She is also a character in Matrix by Lauren Groff (2021).[179]

Eleanor is also an allegorical figure in Ezra Pound's Cantos.[180]

Drama, film, radio and television

Katharine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor in The Lion in Winter (1968)

Elinor is a character in Shakespeare's The Life and Death of King John.[181] Una Venning played the role in the Sunday Night Theatre television version of this in (1952)[182] and Mary Morris in the BBC Shakespeare version (1984).[183]

Eleanor has featured in a number of screen versions of the Ivanhoe and Robin Hood stories. She has been played by Martita Hunt in The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), Jill Esmond in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955–1960), Phyllis Neilson-Terry in Ivanhoe (1958), Yvonne Mitchell in The Legend of Robin Hood (1975), Siân Phillips in Ivanhoe (1997), Tusse Silberg in The New Adventures of Robin Hood (1997), Lynda Bellingham in Robin Hood (2006) and most recently by Eileen Atkins in Robin Hood (2010).

Eleanor was played by Mary Clare in Becket (1923), and by Pamela Brown in the 1964 Becket. Henry II and Eleanor are the main characters in James Goldman's 1966 play The Lion in Winter[ag] and Katharine Hepburn played Eleanor in the 1968 film The Lion in Winter.[ah] Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart played Eleanor and Henry in the 2003 version.[187]

Eleanor was played by Prudence Hyman in Richard the Lionheart (1962), twice by Jane Lapotaire in the The Devil's Crown (1978) and again in Mike Walker's BBC Radio 4 series Plantagenet (2010). In the 2014 film Richard the Lionheart: Rebellion, Eleanor is played by Debbie Rochon. In the BBC Radio 4 Eleanor Rising Rose Basista plays Eleanor and Joel MacCormack King Louis (2020–2022).[188]


Eleanor of Aquitaine is thought to be the chunegin von Engellant (Queen of England) mentioned in the 12th century poem "Were diu werlt alle min," in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.[189][190] Queen Eleanor's Confession, a traditional 17th century Child Ballad, is a fictional account of Eleanor, Henry II and William Marshal.[191] Eleanor (as Eleonora di Guienna) and Rosamund Clifford, as well as Henry II and Rosamund's father, appear in Gaetano Donizetti's opera Rosmonda d'Inghilterra (libretto by Felice Romani) (1834). Flower and Hawk is a monodrama for soprano and orchestra, written by American composer, Carlisle Floyd in 1972, in which Eleanor relives memories of her time as queen, and at the end hears the bells that toll for Henry II's death, and in turn, her freedom.

Video games

In the 2019 video game expansion Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, Eleanor is a playable leader for the English and French civilizations.[192]


Sources: [139][193][194][7][55][195][196][197][71][198][199]


Eleanor of Aquitaine's ancestors
Dashed lines indicate non-marital union
Dotted lines indicate distant descent via intermediate generations[ai]
Coloured boxes indicate line of consanguinity between Eleanor and Louis
Robert II
c. 972–1031
c. 986–1032
of Kiev
c. 1030–1075
Henry I
Robert I
of Burgundy
of Anjou
c. 1018–1076
of Toulouse

de La Marche

c. 1020–1071
de Mortain

c. 1031–1095
de Montgomery
d. 1085
William V
de Bourgogne
c. 995–1068
de Bouchard
de Blaison
de Trèves
Hugues I
de Châtellerault
c. 1030–1058–
de Thouars
c. 1017–1093
William IV
William VIII
de l'Isle Bouchard
1053–c. 1082
Boson II
c. 1050–1092
c. 1055–1093
William IX
Aimery I
William X
m.(1) 1137-1152
Louis VII
Eleanor of Aquitaine
m.(2) 1152
Henry II


Consanguinity of Capetian and Angevin lines}
Note: Coloured boxes indicate lines of descent from Robert of France and Constance of Arles
Robert II
of France

c. 972–1031
c. 986–1032
Henry I
of France

Robert I
of Burgundy
Philip I
Matilda of Flanders
c. 1031–1083
c. 1056–1104
Louis VI
c. 1081–1137
Henry I
of England

c. 1068–1135
of León and Castile

c. 1080–1126
William IX
Empress Matilda
c. 1102–1167
Alfonso VII
William X
m.(1) 1137-1152
Louis VII
m.(2) 1154–1160
m.(1) 1137-1152
Eleanor of Aquitaine
m.(2) 1152
m. 1152
Henry II
m. 1154–1160
c. 1136–1160

Family relationships

Eleanor's relatives

of Toulouse

de La Marche

c. 1020–1071
William IV
of Toulouse

de Mortain
Raymond IV
of Toulouse
William IX
of Aquitaine

Humbert II
of Savoy
William X
of Poitiers
c. 1105–1149
of Blois

c. 1045–1102
of Normandy

c. 1067–1137
Amadeus III
Louis VI
c. 1081–1137
Theobald II
of Champagne

of England

c. 1045–1102
m.(1) 1137-1152
Louis VII
Eleanor of Aquitaine
m.(2) 1152
Henry II
1125–c. 1151
m. 1142–1151
m.(1) 1125–1140
Count of Vermandois

c. 1085–1152
m.(2) 1142–1151
of Champagne

m. 1125–1140


Medieval family tree with modern titles
Children of Eleanor and Henry, with Modern Sub-titles
Name Birth Death Marriage(s)
By Louis VII of France (married 12 July 1137, annulled 21 March 1152)
Marie, Countess of Champagne 1145 11 March 1198 married Henry I, Count of Champagne; had issue, including Marie, Latin Empress
Alix, Countess of Blois 1150 1198 married Theobald V, Count of Blois; had issue
By Henry II of England (married 18 May 1152, widowed 6 July 1189)
William IX, Count of Poitiers 17 August 1153 April 1156 died in infancy
Henry the Young King 28 February 1155 11 June 1183 married Margaret of France; no surviving issue.
Matilda, Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria June 1156 13 July 1189 married Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria; had issue, including Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor
Richard I of England 8 September 1157 6 April 1199 married Berengaria of Navarre; no issue
Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany 23 September 1158 19 August 1186 married Constance, Duchess of Brittany; had issue
Eleanor, Queen of Castile 13 October 1162 31 October 1214 married Alfonso VIII of Castile; had issue, including Henry I, king of Castile, Berengaria, queen regnant of Castile and queen of León, Urraca, queen of Portugal, Blanche, queen of France, Eleanor, queen of Aragon
Joan, Queen of Sicily October 1165 4 September 1199 married 1) William II of Sicily 2) Raymond VI of Toulouse; had issue
John, King of England 24 December 1166 19 October 1216 married 1) Isabella, countess of Gloucester 2) Isabella, countess of Angoulême; had issue, including Henry III, King of England, Richard, king of the Romans, Joan, queen of Scotland, Isabella, Holy Roman Empress


Seal of Queen Eleanor with her portrait and inscribed in Latin - Eleanor by the Grace of God, Queen of England and Duchess of Normandy
Seal of Queen Eleanor[aj][200][201]

The life of Eleanor of Aquitaine has inspired a large canon of literature, reflected in popular culture. This has varied considerably from scholarly research to romantic fictionalised history, and everything in between. Nicholas Vincent writes that this includes "the very worst historical writing devoted to the European Middle Ages" and concludes that "the Eleanor of history has been overshadowed by an Eleanor of wishful-thinking and make-believe".[202] Legends about her started during her lifetime and rapidly grew, and much of it appears in the chronicles of the late twelfth century which constitute almost all that is known of her.[10] Most of these paint her in an unfavourable light, yet none are actually first hand accounts.[203] Many of the accounts of her life are composed "so distant in time and place" from the events as to have little credence,[204] and chroniclers were more concerned with their messages than an accurate setting out of facts.[205] Messages, that were laden with ideology.[206] In Eleanoor's case the ideology was largely negative.[207] The aspects of her life most valued by modern romanticisation were those her contemporary commentators found most unacceptable in her position. Most of these were clerics, like William of Tyre, John of Salisbury, Mathew Paris, Helinand de Froidment and Aubri des Trois Fontaines and based their assessments on "the common talk of the day".[208] In this way, gossip and rumour, ofter prefaced by ut dicibatur (as it was said)[74] became included in the records of the times and then into later histories and biographies.[209] Among modern biographies, one of the first by Amy Kelly (1950),[57] while relying on literary sources but not historical records[210] is "legend focussed" and highly romanticised in a way that cannot be substantiated.[211][212][213]

In the absence of much reliable information about Eleanor herself, biographers have largely focused on the people around her and the political and cultural events of her time. Her importance lies not so much on who she was, as what she was. In the words of one chronicler "wife of two kings, and mother of three", while her longevity allowed her to be an influence on many people who had shorter life spans.[154]

It was not uncommon in contemporary literature, for authors to dedicate their works to nobility, seeking favours, but this does not imply the latter were involved with or were responsible for the work being produced. But this has led to much speculation as to whether allusions to Eleanor appeared in such work. Thus, Philippe de Thaon presented a copy of his bestiary to Eleanor in 1154, including a dedication seeking her to use her influence on the king to advance his family interests.(Turner 2009) Layamon, in his translation of Wace's Brut, one of many retellings of the Arthurian legend, claimed it was dedicated to Eleanor.(Turner 2009)[214] Eleanor's daughter, Marie commissioned Chrétien de Troyes to produce a French version of the legend.[215]

See also


  1. ^ For Helienordis, see Ego Helienordis, Francorum regina, et Willelmi ducis Aquitanici filia - I Eleanor, Queen of the Franks, and daughter of William Duke of Aquitaine. Letter of 28 December 1140,[2] also Ego Helienordis, Dei gratia humilis Francorum regina (1151).[3] The spelling of Eleanor's name varies widely in the Latin chronicles, for instance Alienorde in the Chroniques de Touraine, but Alianor in Gervase of Canterbury
  2. ^ Two types of legend characterise her legacy, usually referred to as the "Black Legend" and the "Golden Myth".[20][21]
  3. ^ Few families kept records of their children's birth and the dating of a new year was also inconsistent[28]
  4. ^ The existence of an illegitimate half brother named Joscelin has been discredited[34] Another half brother, William, has also been claimed without evidence
  5. ^ Suger spells Eleanor's name Aanor, others Alienor, or occasionally Helnienordis
  6. ^ Biographers have argued that her father would have wanted her to have a good education, which might have included subjects such as arithmetic, astronomy, history and music as well as domestic skills, sports,[39] riding, hawking, and hunting[40]
  7. ^ Biographers have suggested that she would also have been taught to read and speak Latin, and to be acquainted with literature[25]
  8. ^ The authenticity of William X's alleged will, setting out these supposed conditions, is dubious at best.[46] Abbot Suger is the main source for these events
  9. ^ The rock crystal vase originally belonged to Eleanor's grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine. Louis donated Eleanor's vase to Suger, who in turn offered it to the Basilica of St Denis. Later it came into the possession the Louvre[54] museum in Paris.[55][56][57] This vase is the only object connected with Eleanor of Aquitaine that still survives.[58]
  10. ^ [Adelaide] perhaps [based] her preconceptions on another southerner, Constance of Provence ... tales of her allegedly immodest dress and language still continued to circulate among the sober Franks.[7]
  11. ^ The church forbid divorce, but grounds of consanguinity allowed a marriage to be annulled as if it had never happened. While consanguinity was common among the aristocracy, who had limited marital options, it was rarely proposed as an impediment to marriage. Instead, it provided a convenient route for them to escape unsatisfactory marriages[71][72]
  12. ^ Bernard said to Eleanor "My child, seek those things which make for peace. Cease to stir up the king against the Church, and urge upon him a better course of action. If you will promise to do this, I in return promise to entreat the merciful Lord to grant you offspring"[80]
  13. ^ Outremer: Literally "overseas"
  14. ^ Louis's mother, Adelaide, was the younger sister of the Count
  15. ^ The crusade had been prompted by the siege and subsequent capture of the crusader state of Edessa in 1144 by the Turkish ruler Zengi
  16. ^ Both destinations were part of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily
  17. ^ The title of the Archbishop of Sens was Primate of the Gauls (primat des Gaules et de Germanie)
  18. ^ The Archbishop of Bordeaux (1135–1158) was Geoffrey III du Loroux who had been the celebrant at their marriage in 1137[116]
  19. ^ King Robert and Queen Constance were Eleanor and Louis's great, great, great grandparents
  20. ^ The two children were rapidly affianced by their father and sent away[67]
  21. ^ From Beaugency to Poitiers, a distance of 190 km
  22. ^ Translation is probably by Weir. Newburgh gives "pactum conjugale inierunt, minus quidem solemnitur ratione personarum"[129] ("united by the conjugal tie, which was solemnized not very splendidly, in proportion to their rank")
  23. ^ By custom, vassals were supposed to request permission to marry from their overlords
  24. ^ A marriage between Henry and Eleanor's daughter Marie had earlier been declared impossible due to their status as third cousins once removed[132]
  25. ^ Innuendos about Eleanor's sexuality formed part of contemporary views on women, power and its sexualisation[133]
  26. ^ Eleanor was well aware of her husband's infidelities, and this was even an expectation of the spouses of aristocrats[139]
  27. ^ Ms. S. Berry, senior archivist at the Somerset Archive and Record Service, identified this "archdeacon of Wells" as Thomas of Earley, noting his family ties to Henry II and the Earleys' philanthropies.[149]
  28. ^ A wife who was of the foolish women
  29. ^ Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal [157]
  30. ^ Langon Chapel, Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum, wrongly attributed to Eleanor and Henry for a long time, but actually a common feature of romanesque architectural carving[158]
  31. ^ Couple to right, on left of right door on Royal Portal
  32. ^ Eleanor is allegedly on her way to murder Rosamund Clifford
  33. ^ The play deals with the difficult relationship between the monarchs and the struggle of their three sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John for their father's favour and the succession.[184]
  34. ^ Hepburn won the third of her four Academy Awards for best actress in 1969 for The Lion in Winter.[185] She also won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama.[186] Peter O'Toole played Henry II in both this and Becket
  35. ^ Louis VII was descended from Robert II and Henry I via Philip I and Louis VI
  36. ^ Eleanor by the Grace of God, Queen of England and Duchess of Normandy



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Historical sources[edit]
Biography (chronological)[edit]


  • Bouchard, Constance Brittain (2003). Eleanor's divorce from Louis VII: The uses of consanguinity (Chapter). pp. 223–236., in Parsons & Wheeler (2003)
  • Brown, Elizabeth A R (2003). Eleanor of Aquitaine reconsidered: The woman and her seasons (Chapter). pp. 1–54., in Parsons & Wheeler (2003)
  • Huneycutt, Lois L (2003). Alianora Regina Anglorum: Eleanor of Aquitaine and her Anglo-Norman predecessors as queens of England (Chapter). pp. 115–132., in Parsons & Wheeler (2003)
  • McCracken, Peggy (2003). Scandalising desire: Eleanor of Aquitaine and the chroniclers (Chapter). pp. 247–265., in Parsons & Wheeler (2003)
  • Pappano, Margaret Aziza (2003). Marie de France, Aliénor d'Aquitaine, and the Alien Queen (Chapter). pp. 337–368., in Parsons & Wheeler (2003)
  • Parsons, John; Wheeler, Bonnie (2003a). Prologue (Chapter). pp. xiii–xxix., in Parsons & Wheeler (2003)

Articles and theses[edit]




Eleanor of Aquitaine House of PoitiersBorn: 1124 Died: 1 April 1204 French nobility Preceded byWilliam X/VIII Duchess of the Aquitainians 9 April 1137 – 1 April 1204with Louis VII of France (1137–1152)Henry II of England (1152–1189)Richard I of England (1189–1199)John of England (1199–1204) Succeeded byJohn Countess of Poitiers 9 April 1137 – 1 April 1204with Louis VII of France (1137–1152)Henry II of England (1152–1153)William IX (1153–1156)Richard I of England (1169–1199)John of England (1199–1204) Royal titles Preceded byAdelaide of Maurienne Queen consort of the Franks 12 July 1137 – March 1152 Served alongside: Adelaide of Maurienne (25 July – 1 August 1137) VacantTitle next held byConstance of Castile VacantTitle last held byMatilda I of Boulogne Queen consort of the English 25 October 1154 – 6 July 1189 Served alongside: Margaret of France (1172–1183) VacantTitle next held byBerengaria of Navarre