Saturday, 23 January 2016

Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen to two kings

27th March 1204 was the day of which Eleanor of Aquitaine died, at the advanced age, for the time, of 82.

She was a very remarkable woman, not least for being married to two kings and being the mother of two more. She was born in Bordeaux, south-west France, in 1122 and became Duchess of Aquitaine at the age of 15. This made her immensely wealthy and highly suitable as the bride of King Louis VII of France, whom she married only three months after becoming a duchess.

Although she bore Louis two daughters, she could not produce a son, and Louis duly divorced her in 1152. It was not long before she was engaged to Henry of Anjou, who was nine years her junior, and she therefore became queen consort of England when Henry became king as Henry II in 1154.

Although she could produce no heirs for the French king, this was not the case in England. She had five sons and three daughters, two of her sons, Richard and John, ascending the throne after Henry’s death.

Henry and Eleanor were estranged in later life when Eleanor took the side of three of her sons in their revolt against Henry. Eleanor was imprisoned in 1173 and not released until after Henry’s death in 1189.

Richard (“The Lionheart”) spent much of his 10-year reign overseas, firstly on crusade and then as a prisoner in Austria. During this time Eleanor acted as regent and was therefore in virtual charge of the country alongside her youngest son John, who succeeded Richard as king in 1199.

Eleanor remained active into old age. When aged 78 she journeyed to Spain to escort her granddaughter Blanche to France where she was to marry the future King Louis VIII. Two years later Eleanor found herself under siege in a castle in her home territory of Aquitaine.

When she died Eleanor was buried  in Fontevraud Abbey, Anjou, alongside her husband Henry and son Richard.

© John Welford

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