This page describes all my favourites:

My favourite royal in history:

Eleanor of Aquitaine (~1122-1204)

Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine was an intelligent and emancipated woman living in the dark middle ages. Although it is a conventional rule that all ladies of high rank should be described as beautiful, all sources agree that Eleanor of Aquitaine really was beautiful. In addition, she was the richest heiress of France and became successively Queen of France and England.

Eleanor was a granddaughter of William IX of Aquitaine (1070-1127), who was one of the first and most famous troubadours. He was a cheerful man and an ardent lover of women, who joined the First Crusade. Later he "abducted" the wife of the viscount of Châtellerault, Dangereuse, and although he could not marry her, Dangereuse managed to have her daughter Aenor married to his eldest son William X (1099-1137) in 1121. They had two daughters, Eleanor and Petronilla, and a son, William Aigret. Eleanor resembled both William IX and Dangereuse; she possessed the same intelligence, gaiety, restlessness and will power. The court of William IX was the centre of western European culture: the ducal family was entertained by jongleurs, storytellers and troubadours. Unlike most of her contemporaries, male and especially female, Eleanor was carefully educated and she was an excellent student. Eleanor's happy childhood ended with the subsequent deaths of her mother, her little brother and - in 1137 - her father.

The orphaned Eleanor was the richest heiress in France thus a marriage was arranged for her to its King, Louis VII (1121-1180). Louis had been brought up for an office in the church, but he had become heir to the French throne after the death of his elder brother. He was a weak, dull, grave and pious man and he and the lively Eleanor were ill matched. Louis never understood his young wife, but he appears to have adored her with a passionate admiration. It wasn't until 1145 that a daughter, Marie, was born. Meanwhile, Eleanor was eager to govern her own duchy, since she knew the troublesome Aquitainians better than anyone. However, Louis' councillor, the Abbot Sugar, resented female influence in governmental matters.
When Louis went on the Second Crusade to Palestine, Eleanor raised a company of women to join her and thus she accompanied her husband to the Holy Land. In Antioch Eleanor was warmly received by her uncle Raymond, who reminded her of her happy childhood in Poitiers. Eleanor and Raymond were of the opinion that Jerusalem could best be secured by driving back the Turks in the north, but Louis VII rejected the plan and a quarrel followed. Quietly Louis began preparations for his departure and after dark Eleanor was forcibly conducted from Antioch. Soon the crusade became a complete failure and even Louis' brother Robert quickly rushed home. On their way back to France, Louis and Eleanor visited the pope to plead for a divorce. Instead, the pope tried to reconcile them and induced them to sleep in the same bed again.

Back in France their marriage was worse than ever and Eleanor was horrified to realise that she was pregnant. After the birth of a second daughter in 1150 and the death of Louis' chief minister, Eleanor was no longer the only one who wanted a divorce. She finally got it in 1152. She was still the richest heiress of France and on her way from Paris to Poitiers she had to outwit two would-be seducers. By then Eleanor had fallen in love with Duke Henry Plantagenet of Normandy (1133-1189), who was her junior by eleven years. Their marriage, barely 8 weeks after her divorce, made Henry master of most of today's France. With Eleanor's support Henry became King of England too in 1154.
Although Eleanor's first marriage had resulted in only two daughters born in fifteen year, Eleanor bore Henry five sons and three daughters. As the children grew up and Henry openly took mistresses, the couple grew apart. Eleanor was 44 years old, when she gave birth to their youngest son, John Lackland. By then she had discovered the existence of Rosamund Clifford, the most famous of Henry's mistresses. Later Henry arranged a fiancee for his homosexual son Richard Lionheart. She was a daughter of Louis VII and his second wife. While she was educated at the English court, her fiancee ignored her and his father, Henry, seduced her.

In 1169 Henry sent Eleanor to Aquitaine to restore order as its duchess. Once more the ducal palace at Poitiers became the centre of all that was civilised and refined. Troubadours, musicians and scholars were welcomed at Poitiers. There, in 1170 Eleanor reconciled with her first born daughter Marie of France, countess of Champagne. Marie's protégé, Chrétien de Troyes, composed, at Marie's suggestion, the romance of Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. In addition, Marie had a "code of love" written down in thirty-one articles. They described feminist ideas far beyond the 12th century cult of chivalry. In addition, Eleanor sponsored the "courts of love" in which men having problems with the code of love could bring their questions before a tribunal of ladies for judgement. At Christmas 1172 Henry summoned his wife and sons to his court. When in 1173 their sons revolted against their father, Eleanor backed them and was subsequently imprisoned by Henry until his death in 1189.

By then three of their sons had already died and Henry's successor was Eleanor's favourite son, Richard I Lionheart (1157-1199), who appreciated his mother's advice. When he went on crusade, Eleanor became regent. Although Richard was a homosexual, he was supposed to provide England with heirs, so Eleanor escorted his bride-to-be to Sicily. When Richard was killed in 1199, he was succeeded by his youngest brother, John Lackland (1166-1216). Eleanor returned to Aquitaine and retired in the abbey of Fontevraud. She remained busy and active and personally arranged the marriage of her Castilian granddaughter to the grandson of Louis VII. Thus she lived to be about 82, an extraordinary age in the middle ages.

Copyright © 1996 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved.



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My other favourite royals in history are the mad monarchs Charles II of Spain (1661-1700) and Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1866).

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