Eleanor of Aquitaine – Twice a Queen (Part 3)

Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor in The Lion in Winter (1968)(Screenshot/Fair Use)

Written by Taylor.

Read part one here.

Read part two here.

Eleanor first met Henry in Paris while she was still Queen of France. According to contemporary sources, there was an instant attraction between the two. Henry’s father, Geoffrey of Anjou, warned him not to fall under Eleanor’s spell, but Henry didn’t listen. From the first time meeting Henry, Eleanor decided immediately that she wanted him to be her next spouse.

As to not arouse suspicion from the French court, the new royal couple kept their matrimonial plans a secret. Even though he now gained Aquitaine from his new wife, Henry still had to fight for the English crown (in his mother’s name).

Louis was furious when he found out about Eleanor’s new marriage to Henry. He sent his army to the duchy of Normandy to get rid of Henry, but Henry defeated the French army with absolute swiftness.

In 1153, King Stephen gave up the fight for the English crown and recognised Henry as his heir. On 19 December 1154 Eleanor and Henry were crowned as the new King and Queen of England at Westminster Abbey.

Unlike her first marriage, Eleanor found out that she and Henry had a lot in common. They were both headstrong, energetic, intelligent, shared many interests, and even shared a high libido.

While their marriage began well, it was also apparent that this would not be an equal marriage. Henry wanted Eleanor to focus on her domestic duties and not to interfere with English politics (However, Henry let Eleanor have some limited autonomy in Aquitaine). In other words, one could say (and excuse my French) he kept a tight leash on her. Eleanor’s independent lifestyle at this point in her life was reduced significantly.

Henry and Eleanor went on to have eight children together: William in 1153, Henry (the Young King) in 1155, Matilda in 1156, Richard in 1157, Geoffrey in 1158, Eleanor in 1161, Joanna in 1165, and John in 1166. With the exception of William (who died young), all of Henry’s and Eleanor’s offspring grew up into adulthood.

It was the late 1160s when the royal couple was starting to show signs of estrangement. Eleanor stayed in Aquitaine more often while Henry remained either in England, Normandy, or Anjou depending on the matter he was dealing with. To this day, there have been many speculations and possibilities as to why Eleanor and Henry split. Some say Eleanor’s age was a factor (she was in her mid-to-late forties at the time) while others say she preferred living in Aquitaine since it fitted her lifestyle and personality. Whatever the reason, they decided to live separately.

By 1173, it was obvious that the remaining flames in Eleanor and Henry’s marriage were beginning to burn out. But there was another family event that would put an end to the formally passionate couple for good.

In that same year, their three eldest sons (Henry, Richard, and Geoffrey), went into full rebellion against their father (with Eleanor and Louis’s backing). For years, they had become resentful of their father for not giving them more freedom and liberties. Why Eleanor supported her sons’ rebellion wasn’t documented, but one could make an educated guess that she had some built-up anger and resentment towards her husband. He reduced her independent role by not letting her interfere in English, Norman, and Angevin politics. She probably wasn’t extremely thrilled when Henry controlled her every move.

Henry forgave his sons, but he did not forgive his estranged wife. As a punishment, Henry had Eleanor imprisoned somewhere in England. Unfortunately, little is known about her 16-year-long confinement.

In 1189, almost immediately after Henry died, Eleanor’s beloved son Richard released her from her confinement. She was one of the people who planned and participated in Richard’s coronation later that year. She also toured around England in hopes of gaining support for Richard.

While Richard was out crusading in the East and during his imprisonment, Eleanor ruled England (under his name of course). She conducted business in English matters by using her own seal. She founded a hospital for the ill and impoverished in Surrey. She even intervened in her youngest son’s attempts in seizing his brother’s crown in 1191. This was the first time in her nearly seventy years that Eleanor was able to exercise power without anyone objecting.

Eleanor’s last years were very busy, to say the least. She played a role as a matchmaker in finding a spouse for King Philip of France’s heir Louis and visited the Castilian court (in search of a future Queen of France) in 1200. A few years later, Eleanor was unfortunately caught up in Arthur of Brittany’s (her grandson) and John’s squabbles that nearly cost her life.

Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine and former Queen of France and Queen of England, died on 1 April 1204. She was in her early eighties, a remarkable age in the Middle Ages.1

  1. Sources:
    Castor, Helen. She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. Harper Perennial, 2011.

    Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life. Ballantine Books, 2001.

About Moniek Bloks 2747 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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