Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Greatest Accomplishments
Born to William X, Duke of Aquitaine, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) is said to have distinguished herself brilliantly in an environment that was rife with conflict in Europe and a never-ending war in the Holy Land. In her mid-teens she inherited her father’s huge and very wealthy territories in what is today’s France. This made her one of the most desired bride in all of Europe, as male princes wanted to lay their hands on those territories of hers.
Eleanor of Aquitaine is famous for marrying twice – first to Louis VII of France in 1137, and second to Henry II of England in 1152. Her high energy and political intelligence augured really well for her considering she lived in a time when women were seen as nothing other chattel.
Major accomplishments of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Delve right into the major accomplishments of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a famous monarch of the High Middle Ages who went by the epithet “Grandmother of Europe”.
One of the most highly sought-after woman in Europe
When she was around 6, her mother and her four-year-old brother William Aigret died in the port city of Bordeaux, France. Following her brother’s death, she became the heir presumptive to her father William X. About ten years later, and upon the death of her father in 1137, Eleanor inherited the vast lands of Aquitaine and became Duchess of Aquitaine. Eleanor’s duchy was arguably the most prosperous and largest duchy in France at the time. This made Eleanor’s role in France and beyond even more pronounced.
According to her father’s will, King Louis VI of France was to act as the guardian of Eleanor. Her father trusted the French monarch to keep her safe from possible kidnapping.
Did you know: The Duchy and Poitou together made up about 30% of the total size of modern France?
She made the Duchy of Aquitaine a force to be reckoned with
As a result of those lands that fell under her control, she became Europe’s most widely sought-after single woman at the time. As many European monarchs and their presumptive heirs tried to woe her, Louis VI of France married her of to his son and heir, 17-year-old Louis (later Louis VII). Louis VI’s goal was to bring the rich and powerful Duchy of Aquitaine under the control of the French monarch.
In a show of elegance and opulence, King Louis VI of France, the legal guardian of Eleanor of Aquitaine, dispatched about 500 men to the court of Eleanor to break the news of his decision to marry her of to his son and heir, Louis.
An influential Queen of France for about 15 years
Eleanor tied the knot with Louis (later Louis VII of France) on July 25, 1137 at the Cathedral of Saint-Andre in Bordeaux. The wedding was presided over by the archbishop of Bordeaux. Even though Louis and Eleanor were crowned Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine, the duchy of Aquitaine and the French crown had earlier agreed that duchy of Aquitaine would remain independent of the king of France pending when the oldest son of the couple inherited the crowns of France and Duchy of Aquitaine.
About three months after her wedding, she and her husband were crowned queen and king of France respectively. Louis had succeeded to the throne of France following the death of Louis VI.
Eleanor of Aquitaine introduced built-in fireplaces
After moving from her home in southern France to her husband’s (Louis VII) home in northern France, Eleanor’s ingenuity led her to incorporate a built-in fireplace into her new home. She, thus, became the first person to do so, as she struggled to adapt to the very cold weather conditions in the north, compared to what she was used to in the south. Soon, the future queen of France’s innovation caught on with many people in France.
As queen of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine was very much a beloved queen in the court of Louis VII, wielding tremendous amount of influence in the French king’s court.
She was involved in the Second Crusade (1147) and other dangerous adventures
After a reckless decision of the French King Louis VII resulted in the deaths of many hundreds of innocent people, Louis tried to make peace with himself and perhaps his creator by answering to Pope Eugene III’s call for a crusade in the Holy Lands in 1145. Riding along with Louis was his dear young wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, along with her ladies.
She went into the crusade as the leader of the soldiers from the duchy of Aquitaine. Even though the crusade did not go as planned, Eleanor’s decision to venture into such a dangerous environment has received enormous praises from many modern historians.
Secured a trade deal with the Byzantine Empire
While staying as a guest at the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus’ court during the crusade, Eleanor was seen in the light of Penthesilea, the mythical queen of the Amazons. Taking advantage of those physical traits and political skills of hers, she was also able to secure very important trade deals with Constantinople while staying in the Byzantine capital.
One of the most influential queens of England
After her second husband was crowned king of England in October 1154, Eleanor was also crowned queen of England in December 1154.
Now Queen of England, Eleanor began putting her plans into action to acquire more power on the continent. Unlike her first marriage, her marriage to King Henry was relatively more stable, producing eight children in about fourteen years. The marriage proved extremely advantageous to her as well, in terms of her quest to influence the affairs of Western Europe. Her relentless energy and political astuteness were some of the reasons why she wielded considerable amount of influence in her husband’s court and beyond.
Eleanor set up a Court of Love to advance the culture of chivalry
As a result of the strain their marriage had to endure from Henry II’s excessive philandering, Eleanor and Henry II separated for some time. In 1167, she moved to her Aquitaine lands in France. Her husband personally escorted her to Poitiers before he proceeded to go on a brief military campaign against the rebellious Lusignan family.
While in Poitiers, she set up a court of love, which served as the center of poetry and courtly life and manners. As mistress of Poitiers, she encouraged her courtiers to practice chivalry. She was aided by her daughter Marie de Champagne, with both women devout followers of the ideas of courtly love, troubadour and chivalry. Kind courtesy to the lessons in manners and courtly love that Eleanor instituted in Poitiers, French courts would come to be famous for chivalry in the centuries that followed.
Eleanor’s Court of Love had huge impact on the arts, literature, music, and literature and among others. What actually transpired during her reign over Poitiers threads a fine line between legend and myth. According to 12th-century French author Andreas Capellanus (André le Chapelain), Eleanor and her courtiers often acted as arbitrators to marriage and love disputes, listening to the arguments of couples and lovers.
Sadly her Court of Love in Poitiers came crumbling down after she was captured and imprisoned during the last few years of her husband Henry II’s reign.
Powerful regent to her son Richard the Lionheart
Eleanor’s second husband Henry II of England passed away on July 6, 1189. The next in line to the throne, Richard, succeeded Henry II. Crowned Richard I (later known as Richard the Lionheart), the new king of England quickly ordered the release of his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Eleanor received numerous oaths of fealty from English lords upon arriving in England. She would go on to serve as co-regent to her son. And in the four years (1190-1194) that Richard I was away from England, partly due to the Third Crusade, Eleanor served as the ruler of England, signing her name “Eleanor, by the Grace of God, Queen of England”.
Secured the release of her son Richard I of England
Eleanor was very industrious when it came to raising the ransom asked for by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor who had taken Richard I captive. She was able to negotiate effectively to obtain the release of the English king.
Senior envoy to France
Richard I returned to England and ruled until his death in 1199. Eleanor’s youngest son, John, was crowned king of England after Richard’s death. Hoping to bring hostilities between England and France down, King John appointed Eleanor his senior envoy to France.
She tried to broker peace between England and France
As part of her efforts to reconcile the differences between King John of England and King Philip II of France, who by the way was her second husband’s son, Eleanor worked very hard using diplomacy. In 1200, she arranged for a marriage between Philip II’s 12-year-old heir and one of her granddaughters Blanche from the court of Castile.
When one of her grandson, Arthur of Brittany, took arms against King John, Eleanor came to the defense of Anjou and Aquitaine. This enabled King John to secure his lands in France. Historians also note how bravely she acted when it came to the defense of King John during a conflict between England and Philip II of France.
Most famous as the “Grandmother of Western Europe”
She was the wife and mother of quite a number of European monarchs; hence her name “Grandmother of Europe”. She was queen of two very influential European monarchs: she was queen of France from 1137 to 1152 as the wife of King Louis VII of France, and then queen of England from 1154 to 1189 as the wife of King Henry II.
Out of her ten children, two went on to become kings of England – Richard I (also known as Richard the Lionheart) and King John. The rest married princess and princes across Europe. For example, her first two daughters (by her first husband Louis VII) – Marie of France and Alice of France – were Countess consort of Champagne and Countess consort of Blois respectively. Similarly, her fourth son, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, married Constance, the daughter of Duke Conan IV by his wife, Margaret of Huntingdon, a sister of the Scottish kings Malcolm IV and William I.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was undoubtedly one of the most famous and most powerful women in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages (1000-1250 AD). The nuns that she lived with in her final years described her as a monarch “who surpassed almost all the queens of the world.”
Great admirer of arts and literature
Eleanor of Aquitaine supported the art works of many artists and writers, including Norman poet Robert Wace (also known as Wace Beniot de Sainte-Maure) and troubadour poet Bernart de Ventadorn (Bernat del Ventadorn).
A great number of writers and troubadours all across France trooped into her Court of Love in France. Eleanor of Aquitaine is, therefore, credited by many historians for advancing culture and the arts in France.
Did you know: Eleanor of Aquitaine survived not just her husband but all ten children except for King John of England and Queen Eleanor of Castile?
Eleanor of Aquitaine wielded considerable influence in Western Europe
Due to her political intelligence and high energy, she was able to influence the political and social landscape of Europe in the 12th century. What makes it even more astonishing was that she achieved all those feats at a time when women were seen as nothing more than chattel.
More Eleanor of Aquitaine Facts
- During her reign as the queen of France, she was known as Helienordis.
- The duchy of Aquitaine was a highly sought-after territory by many European monarchs. This explains why many of those monarchs wanted the beautiful and quite capricious Aquitaine woman’s hand in marriage since her childhood. In term of size, Aquitaine, located in southern France, was also one of the largest in France.
- By virtue of her marriage to Louis VII of France, Eleanor was queen of France for fifteen years.
- France’s Louis VII and Eleanor became estranged during the Second Crusade. Her husband had grown very jealous while they stayed in the court of her uncle Raymond of Poitiers at Antioch. Additionally, the couple’s inability to produce a male heir put a huge strain on the marriage that was already on the rocks. Following her divorce from Louis VII in 1152, her Aquitaine lands reverted back to her.
Facts about Eleanor of Aquitaine
Name at birth: Eleanor of Aquitaine (or Eleanor of Guyenne)
Born: c. 1124
Place of birth: Poitiers, Bordeaux, southwestern France
Died: April 1, 1204
Place of death: Fontevrault-I’Abbaye, France
Father: William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitiers
Mother: Aénor of Châtellerault
Siblings: Petronilla of Aquitaine, William Aigret
Spouses: Louis VII of France (1137-1152), Henry II of England (1152-1204)
Duchess of Aquitaine: 1137-1204
Queen consort of France: 1137-1152
Queen consort of England: 1154-1189
Children (by Louis VII of France): Marie and Alix
Children (by Henry II of England): William, Henry, Richard (the Lionheart), Geoffrey (duke of Brittany), John, Matilda, Eleanor, and Joan