Eleanor of Aquitaine – Twice a Queen (Part two)

Glenn Close as Eleanor in The Lion in Winter (2003)(Screenshot/Fair Use)

Written by Taylor.

Read part one here.

From the start of their marriage, it was very apparent that Louis and Eleanor were not a match-made-in-heaven. They had opposite upbringings, interests, and temperaments. Louis was gentle and pious while Eleanor was worldly and passionate. Even the royal couple had different ideas when it came to politics. Raised by monks (and was in training to be a monk before unexpectedly becoming heir to the French throne), Louis had no experience in government and politics. In thanks to her duchy-of-origin (with lax rules for the women), Eleanor had some understandings of political matters. Due to their intense incompatibility, it’s not surprising that Louis and Eleanor didn’t have children immediately.

Despite the numerous obstacles between them, Louis did have feelings for Eleanor. He gave her many gifts and let her have her way when it wasn’t causing the French court any grief. The same couldn’t be said for Eleanor. While her feelings about Louis weren’t documented, Eleanor’s behaviour during her first marriage showed she wasn’t highly impressed or head over heels in love with him. Again, they were very different.

Eleanor’s independent and often headstrong personality made her many enemies at her adopted court. The French nobles did not fully trust her and Eleanor’s mother-in-law, Adelaide of Maurienne, strongly disliked her from the start. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most well known religious figures of the 12th century, criticised Eleanor for dressing too extravagantly.

Her loyalty to her younger sister Petronilla also caused her much strife with the French court. In the early 1140s, Petronilla was involved in an affair with the married Count Raoul of Vermandois. Refusing offers of marriage from other high-born men, Petronilla wanted Raoul to annul his marriage to Eleanor of Blois and marry her. Eleanor supported both her little sister and Raoul and brought pressure on Louis to annul Raoul’s marriage. After a two-year-long battle with Champagne (who was related to Eleanor of Blois), Raoul’s marriage to Eleanor of Blois was annulled, and he and Petronilla married. Eleanor was able to win this battle, but it came at a costly price.

After nearly eight years of marriage, Eleanor gave birth to a girl, named Marie, in 1145. Even this joyous occasion didn’t make Louis and Eleanor any closer.

Hearing of the loss of the city of Edessa in 1147, Louis decided to join the second Crusade (without consulting his French advisers). Also without consulting Louis’ advisers, Eleanor also wanted to “take the Cross”, possibly viewing the Crusade as a great opportunity to get away from the rigid French court.

The Second Crusade was a complete disaster for Louis and his allies. Eleanor and her ladies were sent back to the French court due to malicious rumours about her having an incestuous affair with her uncle, Raymond of Antioch.

It was also clearly obvious that the royal marriage was at its breaking point. Eleanor herself wanted out of this marriage with Louis, but Pope Eugenius III had other plans for them. He prohibited any mentioning of the issues of consanguinity (being too closely related to each other for the Church’s liking) to dissolve their marriage. Louis was personally thrilled with this news. As for Eleanor, she gave up on the hope of escaping her unhappy marriage (for now). During this time, Eleanor gave birth to her second daughter, Alice, in 1150.

For the next two years, Eleanor remained in the background while Louis was busy fighting with his newest foe, Duke Henry of Normandy, the eldest son of Matilda, the Lady of the English and grandson of King Henry I of England.

It was a few years after Alice’s birth that Eleanor re-kindled her hope of escaping her marriage and the French court. According to the traditions of the French court, Queens who were mothers of sons held more power and prestige. Queens who were mothers of daughters, on the other hand, were seen as weak and a burden. Knowing that the writing was on the wall, Louis decided to let Eleanor (and the duchy of Aquitaine) go. In March of 1152, Eleanor’s marriage to Louis was annulled on the grounds of consanguinity.

The newly liberated Duchess of Aquitaine was again one of the wealthiest heiresses of medieval Europe. She was in her late twenties and had many childbearing years ahead of her. These two aspects made her a grand prize to the many high born suitors in medieval Europe.

About eight weeks after her marriage to Louis was annulled, Eleanor married the nineteen-year-old Henry, Duke of Normandy and Anjou on May 18, 1152. While Henry was very different from Louis, he and Eleanor went on to have a very turbulent 36-year marriage.1

Read part three here.

  1. Additional reading:
    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 2743 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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