1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eleanor of Aquitaine
ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE (c. 1122–1204), wife of the English king Henry II., was the daughter and heiress of Duke William X. of Aquitaine, whom she succeeded in April 1137. In accordance with arrangements made by her father, she at once married Prince Louis, the heir to the French crown, and a month later her husband became king of France under the title of Louis VII. Eleanor bore Louis two daughters but no sons. This was probably the reason why their marriage was annulled by mutual consent in 1151, but contemporary scandal-mongers attributed the separation to the king’s jealousy. It was alleged that, while accompanying her husband on the Second Crusade (1146–1149), Eleanor had been unduly familiar with her uncle, Raymond of Antioch. Chronology is against this hypothesis, since Louis and she lived on good terms together for two years after the Crusade. There is still less ground for the supposition that Henry of Anjou, whom she married immediately after the divorce, had been her lover before it. This second marriage, with a youth some years her junior, was purely political. The duchy of Aquitaine required a strong ruler, and the union with Anjou was eminently desirable. Louis, who had hoped that Aquitaine would descend to his daughters, was mortified and alarmed by the Angevin marriage; all the more so when Henry of Anjou succeeded to the English crown in 1154. From this event dates the beginning of the secular strife between England and France which runs like a red thread through medieval history.
Eleanor bore to her second husband five sons and three daughters; John, the youngest of their children, was born in 1167. But her relations with Henry passed gradually through indifference to hatred. Henry was an unfaithful husband, and Eleanor supported her sons in their great rebellion of 1173. Throughout the latter years of the reign she was kept in a sort of honourable confinement. It was during her captivity that Henry formed his connexion with Rosamond Clifford, the Fair Rosamond of romance. Eleanor, therefore, can hardly have been responsible for the death of this rival, and the romance of the poisoned bowl appears to be an invention of the next century.
Under the rule of Richard and John the queen became a political personage of the highest importance. To both her sons the popularity which she enjoyed in Aquitaine was most valuable. But in other directions also she did good service. She helped to frustrate the conspiracy with France which John concocted during Richard’s captivity. She afterwards reconciled the king and the prince, thus saving for John the succession which he had forfeited by his misconduct. In 1199 she crushed an Angevin rising in favour of John’s nephew, Arthur of Brittany. In 1201 she negotiated a marriage between her grand-daughter, Blanche of Castile, and Louis of France, the grandson of her first husband. It was through her staunch defence of Mirabeau in Poitou that John got possession of his nephew’s person. She died on the 1st of April 1204, and was buried at Fontevrault. Although a woman of strong passions and great abilities she is, historically, less important as an individual than as the heiress of Aquitaine, a part of which was, through her second marriage, united to England for some four hundred years.
See the chronicles cited for the reigns of Henry II., Richard I. and John. Also Sir J. H. Ramsay, Angevin Empire (London, 1903); K. Norgate, England under the Angevin Kings (London, 1887); and A. Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, vol. i. (1841). (H. W. C. D.)