Well dear readers, here it is. I hand the paper on Eleanor of Aquitaine this evening. Thus, as promised, I shall post it here on the blog. I shall need to do so in installments. One part each day for the next couple days as it is 15 pages long. The full bibliography will appear as the final post.
I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Mimi who read the paper several times. She edited it, corrected spelling, and caught a citation error that has caused me to be in her debt forever! Also to AndreaSophia who also helped hold me accountable to working each day. And lastly, but not least, to the dearest hubster who read it, made some excellent suggestions which have been incorporated and said he’d give me a very good grade if he were the prof. (But he’s biased!)
I hope you enjoy it.
From our twenty-first century perspective, it seems there was nothing unusual about Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was outspoken in her opinions, was intelligent, had an interest in political events, wanted to further the lands of her forbearers, was considered beautiful and went on the Second Crusade with her husband, Louis VII. According to Elizabeth A. R. Brown, she “steered a path through the twelfth century that might forever put the lie to the notion that women had no place in a man’s world until the middle of the twentieth century.”(1) However, as historians viewed her from their understanding of a twelfth century perspective, they indicate she was an unusual medieval noblewoman.
How different a medieval noblewoman was Eleanor? She went on Crusade with her husband, Louis VII. What motivated her to do something that historians have indicated was unusual for women of that century? Influential and outspoken, in terms of women in the twenty-first century, is a common occurrence. Coupling that with an interest in political events and an inherent desire to protect and further family wealth, it would indicate that Eleanor was perhaps ahead of her twelfth century counterparts. She would be a woman who inspired women of the centuries that followed and blazed a trail that would change the history of Western Europe forever.
Alia Aenor, which means “other Eleanor,” was named for her mother and was born in 1122 to two young parents, “William, tenth duke of Aquitaine and eighth count of Poitou,” and “Aenor of Chatellerault.” The daughter became known as Eleanor to distinguish her from her mother. They lived with her paternal grandfather, William IX until his death in 1127. (2) Though Eleanor knew her grandfather for only five short years, she seemed to have inherited some of his character traits, both good and bad.
Though William IX went on crusade, he was “better remembered in his own times for his territorial ambitions, directed chiefly at Toulouse.”(3) William IX was “intelligent, gifted, artistic, and idealistic.” Being one of the first troubadours,(4) who were poets of a sort that used the popular spoken language instead of Latin, and were “irreverent of the Church,”(5) William’s poetry gave voice to his misogynistic thoughts and insecurity. He used women purely for his own pleasure, believed “a woman’s place to be properly in the bedchamber or on a pedestal rather than in the council chamber” and that his “feelings about the opposite sex were dominantly sensual and exploitative and fundamentally insecure.”(6) His poetry clearly reflected these thoughts in offensive ways thus he usually stood on the wrong side of the church, which earned him excommunication from the church.
Eleanor’s mother died when she was just seven years of age. Her father, William X, succumbed to death due to drinking contaminated water while on pilgrimage to St. James at Compostela when she was thirteen, though there seems to be some discrepancy about her age upon his death.(7) Until that time, though the education of girls and women was not the norm, Eleanor’s father saw that she was taught to read in her native language as well as in Latin. She did not learn to write because that was generally left to the noble’s clerks and secretaries. Eleanor probably learned how to manage a household and to do needlework. She enjoyed poetry and the arts, perhaps through the influence of her paternal grandfather. She was an adept horsewoman. Weir noted that in Eleanor’s later life she enjoyed “hawking and kept some royal gyrfalcons at her hunting lodge at Talmont.”(8)
William X had no male heirs. During the twelfth century it was unusual for a daughter to inherit. Realizing this fact, prior to his departure for St. James at Compostela, William gave the care of his lands and guardianship of Eleanor to the King of France, Louis VI. William felt confident that the King would be the only one able to protect Eleanor’s inheritance from those nobles anxious to marry her. The protection of the King would allow her a smooth transition to the ruling seat. When William X died on “Good Friday, 9 April 1137. . . Eleanor [became] Countess of Poitou and Duchess of Aquitaine and Gascony” and his death made her the “richest and most desirable heiress in all of Europe.”(9) One can see why he wanted Eleanor under strong guardianship.
When King Louis VI, also known as Louis the Fat, received guardianship of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s lands and inheritance, he saw a prime opportunity to expand his foothold in France. Not being one to miss such a propitious opportunity, he betrothed Eleanor to his son, Louis VII. If a son was born to Louis VII and Eleanor he thought that would ensure the Aquitanian lands being included in his territories forever. However, according to Bonnie Wheeler, William X had done something quite unexpected. He had included in his will a statement that “honored the prerogative of the Aquitaine and gave that prerogative to women.” Therefore “Eleanor’s lands could not be incorporated entirely into France.” The land would be Eleanor’s sole inheritance and pass to her children. Even when Louis and Eleanor married Aquitaine would not merge with France.(10)
As the second son, Louis VII was destined for the priesthood and not for the throne. His older brother, Philip died in 1131 while riding in a Paris neighborhood.(11) Suddenly at the age of 10, Louis VII found himself faced with a new road to journey in life though “he would never forget that he had first made his vows to champion the church and renounce the world.”(12)
In the year 1137, at the ripe age of 16, Louis VII stood at the side of his father’s sickbed and received instruction on how to comport himself as prince and eventual heir of the throne of France during his trip to retrieve his future bride, Eleanor. His father told him to always remember that he was a prince and eventual king, that he should carry himself with the integrity and the dignity that befitted who he was, and that he should do all he could to treat his vassals and land neighbors with justice and fairness, ensuring that none be provoked to battle.(13) Then King Louis VI gave his son gifts to give to his future wife and queen, Eleanor. When Louis went to fetch Eleanor from her father’s homeland, before anyone else found out that William X was dead, he secured the union of her inheritance.
Accompanying him was Abbe Suger, who was his educator in the cloister, and Thibault of Champagne. Louis’ time in the cloister, to which he was much better suited, did not do much to help educate him for his role as prince, king or husband. Louis was sensitive in nature, kind, and pious, intelligent, straight forward and had a “well-developed sense of honor,” though there were more than a few occasions when he was “given to irrational and even violent outbursts of temper.(14) Author Amy Kelly noted that his behavior “dismayed his mentors [due to his] unpredictable conduct.”(15)
Endnotes:(1) Elizabeth A. R. Brown, “Eleanor as Parent, Queen and Duchess,” in William W. Kibler, ed., Eleanor of Aquitaine: Patron and Politician (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), 3.
(2) Brown, 11.
(3) Brown, 11.
(4) Weir. 8-9.
(5) Anne Fremantle, Age of Faith (NY: Time Inc., 1965) 99.
(6) Brown, 11.
(7) Weir, 19. Weir gave Eleanor’s age as 15 years when her father died.
(8) Weir, 16.
(9) Weir, 20.
(10) Bonnie Wheeler, Lecture 12: Eleanor’s Lineage in The Great Courses: Medieval Heroines in History and Legend, Audio CD, (VA: The Teaching Company, 2002), track 12.
(11) Amy Kelly, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, (MA: Harvard University Press, 1950), 2.
(12) Kelly, 3.
(13) Kelly, 3.
(14) Weir, 23.
(15) Kelly, 7.
To be continued tomorrow…