Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine (ăkwĭtānˈ, ăkˈwĭtān) [key], 1122?–1204, queen consort first of Louis VII of France and then of Henry II of England. Daughter and heiress of William X, duke of Aquitaine, she married Louis in 1137 shortly before his accession to the throne. She accompanied him on the Second Crusade (1147–49). Eleanor bore Louis two daughters, but in 1152 their marriage was annulled. Soon afterward Eleanor married Henry, duke of Normandy and count of Anjou, uniting her vast possessions with those of her husband. Louis VII feared this powerful combination, and when Henry ascended the English throne in 1154, the stage was set for a long struggle between the English and French kings. Eleanor bore Henry three daughters and five sons, and two of the latter, Richard I and John, became kings of England. Because of Henry's infidelities, especially his relationship with Rosamond, Eleanor's relations with her husband grew strained, and in 1170 she established a court of her own at Poitiers. She supported her sons in their unsuccessful revolt against Henry in 1173 and was held in confinement by Henry until 1185. Her efforts helped Richard secure the throne in 1189. While Richard was on the Third Crusade and later held captive in Europe (1190–94), Eleanor was active in forestalling the plots against him by his brother John and in collecting the ransom for his release. She brought about a reconciliation between the two brothers, and on Richard's death in 1199 she supported John's claims to the throne over those of Arthur I of Brittany. Eleanor's court at Poitiers was the scene of much artistic activity and was noted for its cultivation of courtly manners and the concept of courtly love. She was the patroness of such literary figures as Wace, Benoît de Sainte-More, and Chrétien de Troyes. In literature Eleanor has appeared as the jealous murderess of the "fair Rosamond," but she was apparently innocent of this crime. She was an able and strong-minded woman.

See biographies by M. Meade (1980), D. Seward (1986), Z. Kaplan (1987), and A. Weir (2000).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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