women in history - Eleanor of Aquitaine [1122 - 31 March 1204]

Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful and wealthiest women in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. At age fifteen, she married Louis VII, King of France. At age nineteen, Eleanor and three hundred of her ladies planned to tend to the wounded on location during the Second Crusade—which was met with much criticism from the Church*. However, despite the criticism, she and her ladies dressed in armour and carrying lances (though never actually fighting) rode with her husband Louis VII on the march. Eleanor was not fond of her husband (due to estrangement but more importantly Louis’ conflict with her uncle which whom she was extremely close to) and claimed they were related through some family connections prohibited by the Church and therefore null in the eyes of God, Though she and Louis had two daughters together, the marriage was annulled in 1152. Within a year after the annulment, Eleanor married Henry—who would, in two years time, be crowned Henry II, King of England—who was ten years her junior (and to whom, ironically, she was even more closely related to than her previous husband, Louis VII). Over the next fifteen years, she bore Henry five sons and three daughters. Two of her sons would later famously succeed Henry II: Richard I (Richard Cœur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart) and John I (John Lackland). In 1204 Eleanor died and was entombed in Fontevraud Abbey beside her second husband, Henry II, and her son, Richard the Lionheart, where she still lies today. By the time of her death, Eleanor had outlived all of her children except two… as well as making a remarkable and impressive reputation for herself that would last for centuries to come.

(*In the papal bull for the next Crusade, it expressly forbade women to join the expedition, largely in part due to Eleanor and her three hundred ladies.)

My favorite medieval queen!