Today (1st April) is the anniversary of the death of the most remarkable woman in history. Eleanor of Aquitaine was the only woman ever to wear the crowns of both England and France. A wife of two kings, mother of two kings, grandmother to more kings and great-grandmother to two saints, no less – in short (and if you believe Facebook) she was the woman from whom most of us are descended – or at least claim to be.
On this day in 1204, Eleanor of Aquitaine breathed her last.
Or did she?
Eleanor of Aquitaine was the most incredible woman of the Middle Ages. Beautiful, alluring – and that was just Aquitaine! Her lands and well-documented beauty made her the most irresistible woman to at least two kings (and possibly an uncle).
Eleanor’s Medieval career began with her marriage to Louis VII of France, during which time she gave birth to two daughters, went on Crusade. After liberating Jerusalem from the Muslims it is possible – though quite yukky (author’s words) that she had an affair with her uncle, Raymond of Antioch.
Once back from the Holy Land Eleanor’s taste for conquering was still unsatisfied. Growing bored of Louis, she decided she wanted to see what was on the other side of La Manche (the English Channel to some) where the people were satisfyingly in the throes of Civil War.
She got divorced.
Looking round for a younger, fresher model of husband Eleanor settled on Henry of Anjou – and promptly married him. In just a couple of years Eleanor had conquered Normandy and England and enough sons in the nursery to make up a 5-a-side football (soccer in American) team. Still not done with war, Eleanor did encourage her boys to ‘play-fight’ with their dad. But Henry II wasn’t impressed and sent Eleanor to her room – well, castle (she was a queen, after all).
Eleanor came out of her room once her sons Richard and John became king, one after the other. Ever and ungrateful son, John then put Eleanor in ‘comfortable confinement’ after her grandson, Arthur, had besieged her at Mirebeau. Eleanor was sent to England and spent years wandering around Windsor Castle.
This was the start of Eleanor’s many adventures. Some sources say that in the years to come she would be married to her own grandson, becoming queen of England once again. Not that it worked out so well this time. She wasn’t imprisoned but her grandson Henry III was nowhere near as good a king as his namesake Henry II – and Eleanor got blamed for everything that went wrong.
According to Facebook, she was then captured at sea by her great-grandson, while on her way to her wedding. After years in captivity Edward I would release her to marry her Welsh prince – only to kill said prince in a fit of pique during a war with the Welsh.
Eleanor also had several daughters called Eleanor. One married the king of Castile, another married Simon de Montfort …. the list is endless.
When Eleanor died, fifteen years after her husband, at Fontainbleau, near Lincoln, her husband had her body returned to London for burial. On every stopping point on the journey south, Eleanor’s distraught spouse had a memorial cross erected to her memory. Each cross was imaginatively named the ‘Eleanor Cross’. Eleanor was laid to rest beside her still-living husband at WestFontminstainerbleau Abbey, Frangland – or Engrance (if you prefer).
In short, Eleanor of Aquitaine was the most incredible woman who ever lived. Her life spans most of the Medieval period – and beyond. Whenever you hear mention of Eleanor, it is this Eleanor of whom we all speak, none other. In fact, one wonders if there was ever another….
Now don’t get me started on Henry II….
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