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Eleanor of Aquitaine

Title social-status: 
duchess of Aquitaine, countess of Poitou (from 1137), queen of France (1137-52), duchess of Normandy and countess of Anjou (from 1152), queen of England (from 1154).
Biography: 

Eleanor was duchess of Aquitaine and countess of Poitou in her own right and took active control of the duchy in 1168. She was queen of France as the wife of Louis VII, duchess of Normandy, countess of Anjou, and queen of England as the wife of Henry Plantagenet. Her grandfather, Guillaume IX of Aquitaine/VII of Poitou, was the first known Provençal poet and Eleanor brought that rich cultural heritage as well as the rich western territories of Aquitaine and Poitou to both her marriages. Though she was married young and did not rule her lands independent of a husband, she served as regent intermittently for both husband and sons through a long and active life.(1) In her first marriage, Eleanor and the king of France had two daughters, Marie countess of Champagne, and Alix countess of Chartres and Blois; in her second marriage with the king of England, she had five sons and three daughters: William (1153), Henry (1155), Matilda (1156) duchess of Saxony, Richard (1157), Geoffrey (1158), Eleanor (1161) queen of Castile, Joanna (1165) queen of Sicily and countess of Toulouse, John (1166). From her own and her children’s marriages, she was related to many of the ruling houses of Europe. When her first marriage ended in divorce in March 1152, Eleanor eluded other suitors and sent to the husband she chose, Henry, eleven years her junior, whom she married in May 1152. She served as regent for Henry in the early years of their marriage, while she was giving birth to their children, and took active control of Aquitaine in 1168, but her involvement in her sons’ revolts against their father led to her imprisonment in 1174, and it was not until Henry’s death in 1189 that she again took an active public part in the political lives of her remaining sons, Richard and John, and in negotiations for royal marriages, though she had assumed nominal control of Aquitaine from Richard in 1185. When Richard was captured by Leopold V of Austria on his return from crusade in 1193, Eleanor pressed others to work for his release and raised the ransom to free him while she exercised direct authority in the kingdom.(2) She continued to involve herself in public affairs from his release in 1194 to his death in 1199, the year she retired to the monastery of Fontevrault, “that citadel of feminine authority” (Brown, 12), but even from there she took action: she recognized Philip Augustus, king of France, as overlord of Poitou, and in turn received her son John as her vassal for the land; and she led mercenaries to Anjou to support John against adherents of her grandson Arthur. A number of charters were issued by Eleanor, some published by M.P. Marchegay, “Chartes de Fontevraud concernant l’Aunis et la Rochelle,” Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartes, 19 (1857-8).

Biographical notes: 

(1) H.G. Richardson notes that Eleanor issued charters as duchess of Aquitaine and countess of Poitou throughout her life, sometimes with her son Richard, who was invested with both, sometimes alone, “The Letters and Charters of Eleanor of Aquitaine,” The English Historical Review, 291 (1959), 199. For details on Eleanor’s life and political activities, see Elizabeth A.R. Brown, “Eleanor of Aquitaine: Parent, Queen, and Duchess,” Eleanor of Aquitaine, Patron and Politician, ed. William Kibler (Austin: University of Texas, 1976).
(2) H.G. Richardson “The Letters and Charters of Eleanor of Aquitaine,” The English Historical Review, 291 (1959), 201, fn.11, cites a remark from Gervase of Canterbury about this period: “ex mandato reginae Alienor, quae tunc temporis regebat Angliam” (“from the command of queen Eleanor, who at that time ruled England”).