Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Most Sought After Bride of the 12th Century - Eleanor of Aquitaine -

Eleanor of Aquitaine
1122 - 1204

Imagine inheriting a vast fortune at the age of 15. Now imagine it happened during the middle ages and you were a mere girl. Well that happened to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and it made her the most sought after bride in all of Europe. 

Eleanor was born in France. Her father was William X, the Duke of Aquitaine. He ensured she was well educated, not only in the womanly arts, but also in several languages, literature, horsemanship, and philosophy. He also made sure she understood the intricacies of court life. Why? Well she was his only heir. When her father died, she was only 15 and inherited daddy's title, lands, and wealth. Now rich, the Duchess of Aquitaine, suddenly found herself immensely popular with menfolk. Suddenly under the guardianship of the King of France, and within mere hours, he betrothed her to his heir, Louis VII.
King Louis VII of France
A contingent of no less than 500 men arrived in Aquitaine to deliver the news and take her to the French court. 
Because of the swiftness of their betrothal and marriage, the couple were mere strangers to each other. Mere weeks after their nuptials, her father-in-law the king became ill and succumbed. Eleanor and Louis moved into the cold and austere Cîté Palace in Paris. Eleanor and Louis's coronation took place on Christmas Day.  
Coming from the warmth of southern France, she was ill prepared for cold northern regions. One of the first things she did after she was married was renovate the palace and install built-in fireplaces in nearly every room. Surprised by the pleasant renovation, many other nobles followed suit and installed their own indoor fireplaces.
The first two years of their reign were ones of great conflict. The power struggles came from Count Theobald of Champagne and the Pope. Louis, little more than a youth, inexperienced and brash, made some serious political and military blunders that antagonized his vassals. War soon followed and the devastation was immense. A battle in the town of Vitry, forced thousands to flee or to the refuge of a church. Louis' soldiers set it aflame. It left blood on his hands and guilt plagued him for years. To cleanse himself of sin, he answered the Pope's call for cruade. Eleanor went with him. The journey was dangerous, rough, uncomfortable, and they were beset with misfortune. Eleanor and Louis grew apart and their marriage suffered terribly. The more the public turned against Louis, the more estranged they became until finally they were granted an annulment on the basis of being related by blood. Their two daughters had to remain in Louis' custody. 


Henry II 
She became a sought after prize once again, but not remain unmarried for long. Two months after her annulment, she married Henry II Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. She got along so well with her soon-to-be father-in-law that rumors swirled about there being an affair between them. And despite the fact she was more of a blood relative to Henry than she had been to Louis, they married. Two years later, upon the death of her father-in-law, Henry and Eleanor  became King and Queen of England. 
Fiercely independent, full of energy and spunk, and highly educated, Eleanor was no shrinking violet in the face of conflict. Their marriage was fraught with much bickering and arguments, but despite all that, she bore eight children for Henry. Meanwhile, King Henry became increasingly unfaithful. Bearing children kept her out of the political arena for many years. In 1167, Eleanor separated from Henry and moved her household to Poitiers. 

Now as mistress of her own domain, Eleanor worked hard to create a legend dubbed the Court of Love. She created a court where the expectations were of love and chivalry, with plenty of folklore shared by bards, and with plenty of learned books and poetry. Through song and words, troubadours and writers used their skills to share tales of courtly love with others outside her kingdom. Artists and poets traveled from far and wide to experience life in Eleanor's court.


Henry III
In 1173, Eleanor’s son, Henry, plotted against his father to seize England's crown. Rumors abounded that Eleanor helped her son. She was arrested and imprisoned for treason, spending the next 16 years of her life being moved from castle to castle. The king suspected her of plotting against his interests. He even blamed her for the death of his favorite mistress, Rosamund. 

Young Henry spent years fighting against his father until he became ill in the year 1183. On his deathbed, he begged his father to release his mother. Henry did so and he allowed her to return to England in 1184. Once there, she again participated in the pomp and ceremony of her husband's royal court. 

Five years later, Henry II died and was succeeded by their son, Richard. The first thing Richard did was free his mother from prison and restore to her all her freedoms. When Richard departed to lead the Third Crusade, Eleanor ruled as regent for him. He became known as Richard the Lionheart and returned to England and ruled until his death in 1199. 


Richard the Lion-heart
Next to take the crown was Eleanor's youngest son, John. He sent her to France as his envoy. She offered John her support when her grandson, Arthur, rebelled. 


King John
In her declining years, she retired to the abbey at Fontevraud and took her vows to become a nun. When she died in 1204, she was buried in the abbey.

The Son She Loved. The Betrayal She Faced. The Legend She Became.
The stunning conclusion to the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy!
Imprisoned by her husband. Separated from her children. If King Henry II thought these things would push his queen into submission, he was wrong. Eleanor of Aquitaine refused to give into his tyranny. Freed by his death, she became dowager Queen of England. But the competition for land and power that Henry bred among his sons had grown into a dangerous rivalry that Eleanor must skillfully control. Eleanor would need every ounce of courage and fortitude as she crossed the Alps in winter to bring her son Richard his bride, ransom him from imprisonment and deal with his brother John's treachery. Her indomitable spirit would be tested to its limits as she attempted to keep the peace between her warring sons, fend off enemies, and negotiate a magnificent future for a chosen granddaughter.

Opinion:

Very few authors are able to bring to life from the middle ages as well as Elizabeth Chadwick can. She has a gift for creating deep understanding of her character's thoughts, desires, and motivations. Years of meticulous research into all aspects of medieval life allows the author to enrich the reader's experience through minute details and rich descriptions regarding everyday medieval life, not only of the nobles, but of all social ranks of the time. 

The Autumn Throne is the concluding book in the trilogy of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although you do not necessarily have to read the first two to understand the third book, I preferred to read the entire series to get a well-rounded view of Eleanor of Aquitaine's life. 

Highly recommended. Another 5 star book by this wonderful author who has long been one of my favorites.   

2 comments:

ana@carpe_diem said...

Sounds interesting, indeed. I enjoy reading your reviews.

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...

Thank you so much for reading this bio and review. Eleanor of Aquitaine was quite popular!