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I am going to celebrate one historic heroine of mine a day, for the duration of #WomensHistoryMonth
March 1st. Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204CE). Duchess of Aquitaine. Queen of France. Queen of England. Warrior. Lawmaker. Giver of international conventions. Patron of arts. Cultural innovator. Regent of England. Mother of 3 Kings. A thread.
Eleanor dad was the Duke of Aquitaine, a land in modern France. It was somewhere between a quarter and a third of French territory, and the Dukes of Aquitaine were so rich and powerful that they treated the kings of France, technically their feudal lords, as equals. Lannisters.
Eleanor was the 1st of 3 kids: 2 girls and a boy. Her younger bro was heir to the Duchy because of patriarchy. Well, we call it "male preference primogeniture". The oldest male is first in line, followed by all his brothers by age, then sisters by age.
Sadly, her brother died in childhood. With no other boys in sight, Eleanor became her dad's heir. She was maybe 10.
A couple of years later, when she was an early teen, her dad fell terminally ill on pilgrimage in France. His last moments were filled with fear for Eleanor. Why?
Because she was bound to get kidnapped. In those days, if a man wanted to marry a rich heiress, and nobody agreed, it was perfectly normal to abduct her, and demand as ransom her hand in marriage (and her lands, of course). The Duke knew that without him, this was Eleanor's fate.
So on his deathbed, Duke William X of Normandy wrote a will, naming King Louis of France as Eleanor's guardian & protector, and pleading with the king to keep her safe, and find her a fitting husband at the right time.
Then he died.
The King of France was ALSO dying. When he read the will, he said "I don hammer dying minute hammer!"
On his deathbed, he named his son, also Louis, as Eleanor's husband. He sent the young lad down to Aquitaine with some soldiers for a sharp-sharp wedding. No time to sew asoebi.
So teenage Eleanor was now duchess of Aquitaine, and married to the Heir to the throne of France.
Her husband was shocked to find that the men of Aquitaine refused to swear loyalty to him. Only to their duchess. He was duke in name only.
That didn't last long. King Louis soon died.
Long live king Louis. And his Queen, Eleanor. Queen of France.
They moved north from Aquitaine to Paris.
It was a culture shock for Eleanor, and she hated the royal court as much as its ladies hated her.
Years passed. Her husband was a bit of a rash & incompetent king. He got himself into a dispute with the Pope, ending with Louis slaughtering a town, & having to make penance. The Pope suggested a Crusade, & Louis accepted. Eleanor insisted on coming along.
A few hundred men of Aquitaine signed up to fight behind Eleanor in the Crusades. She joined King Louis's contingent, and they marched and sailed for the Holy Land.
On the way, they were ambushed by Turks at some points, and Eleanor and her men were in the thick of battle.
In the Holy Land, Eleanor & her husband clashed over strategy. Louis wanted to take Damascus. Eleanor instead wanted to support her uncle, Raymond of Antioch, in taking Aleppo. Louis accused her of mekweing her uncle. After all he Louis was her cousin.
Louis pulled rank as Head of house. He took Eleanor captive, and marched on Damascus. Where his army was beaten senseless.
Defeated, the couple sailed back to Europe.
On separate ships.
They went to ask the Pope for an annulment. The Pope refused. They had a daughter, so OBVIOUSLY the marriage had been consummated. The Pope now became marriage counsellor. To "save the marriage", he had them mekwe in front of him, on an expensive bed. 2nd daughter conceived.
The marriage kept deteriorating. Louis wanted to remarry so he could have sons. They got the help of 4 archbishops who finally convinced the Pope. The matter of the couple being third cousins was suddenly remembered. Marriage annulled due to "consanguinity" (shared blood).
Louis returned Aquitaine to Eleanor, now just a duchess again.
On her way back to her Duchy, several lords attempted to kidnap her (remember, heiressnapping was normal). Her and her bodyguards fought them off bravely, until she got to Aquitaine.
Eleanor was no fool. She knew this would keep happening. So she wrote to Henry, Duke of Normandy, her younger cousin.
"Come and marry me ooo", she wrote.
He did. In 1152, they married.
Unlike her first husband, Henry listened to Eleanor. She was older, and a former queen.
Henry inherited the duchy of Normandy from his dad Geoffrey, but Eleanor convinced him he could inherit something bigger that had been denied his mother: the throne of England.
Henry's mum, Matilda, was the only child of King Henry I of England. When he died, her cousin Stephen snatched the crown from her, because patriarchy.
Eleanor now convinced Henry to fight for his mother's claim to the throne.
Henry returned to England with an army.
Henry & Stephen fought a civil war known as The Anarchy. By its end, they made a deal:
Henry would accept Stephen as the true king.
Stephen would name Henry his heir.
So, to make peace, Henry betrayed his mother, and Stephen his son and former heir.
Game of Thrones dey learn.
About a year later, sudden illness killed Stephen.
Suddenly, Henry was King of England.
Eleanor was queen again.
In this period, Eleanor gave us one of the earliest documents in maritime law: the Rolls of Oléron. She appears to have been inspired by the maritime conventions she witnessed on her voyages to and from the Crusades.
The Rolls are the first Sea Laws for Western Europe.
Early in Henry's reign, she was a key adviser. They had 5 sons and 3 daughters. 3 of them died young.
The survivors were:
Young Henry, Matilda, Richard, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan, John.
Among them 3 kings and 3 queens.
Over time, Henry and Eleanor's marriage broke down. He grew less willing to follow her lead, and she didn't grow more willing to let him rule.
Also, he was quite the philanderer. Menaskom.
When they were of age, Eleanor convinced her first 3 sons to take up arms against their dad
The young princes were in open rebellion. Richard and Geoffrey declared their older brother, Young Henry, King.
Old Henry said "I don't blame you. It's your mother I blame", and locked her up in a castle. She remained his prisoner for 16 years.
Eventually, 2 or 3 rebellions later, Young Henry tired out his dad. The two Henries signed a pact, that they would reign together as co-kings, and young Henry would rule alone after dad died.
The first of Eleanor's sons became (co-)King of England.
But Henry The Young King, as history knows him, would never rule alone. Illness took him before his parents.
When Henry II finally died, Eleanor's captors freed her, and she rode around England, securing support of lords for her favourite son Richard.
So Eleanor secured a second son on the throne of England.
Richard was a warrior so brave and strong that you probably know him by his nickname: Richard Coeur de lion. Richard the Lionheart.
King Richard spent most of his early reign abroad, first as leader of the Crusades, and then as a hostage. Eleanor was the leading figure among the great lords who ruled on his behalf, often signing decrees.
When Richard died, unwed and childless (because Richard the Lionheart, bravest warrior-king, macho man, was gay), her third son, John, became King.
During the reigns of her husband and sons, Eleanor ensured that 2 of her daughters married kings. Joan married the King of Sicily. Eleanor married the King of Castile (Spain). Matilda married the Duke of Saxony.
But Eleanor's most lasting contribution to global culture took place in the middle years of her marriage to Henry. After the estrangement, but before her sons' revolt, Eleanor returned to her own lands, and resided at the castle in Poitiers.
At Poitiers she kept a court that attracted some of the best writers and musicians of the time. They produced, with her patronage, some of the works that popularized the concepts of chivalry and courtly love.
Our notions of romance can be traced to her "Court of Love".
Eleanor became a nun in her final days. In death, she was buried with her second husband and third son, Henry II and Richard I, kings of England.
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