Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Eleanor (1122?-1204)

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ELEANOR, ALIENOR, or ÆNOR, Duchess of Aquitaine, Queen of France and Queen Of England (1122?-1204), is said to have been born in 1122. Her father was William X, duke of Aquitaine; her mother, Ænor de Châtelleraut, died before her husband. Eleanor's grandfather, William IX, the famous troubadour and crusader, had married Philippa, daughter of William, count of Toulouse, and their son, William X, was thus able to bequeath a somewhat shadowy claim over this lordship to his daughter's second husband, Henry II of England (Geoffrey of Vigeois, pp. 304, 299; Chron. Malleacense, p. 403). Through the above-mentioned Philippa, whose mother was the daughter of William the Conqueror's brother, Robert, earl of Montaign, Eleanor was distantly related to her future husband Henry II (Rob. de Monte, p. 509).

William X, duke of Aquitaine, died at Compostella on Good Friday 1137. Before starting on his pilgrimage he had made arrangements for the marriage of his eldest daughter Eleanor to Louis, afterwards Louis VII, eldest son of Louis VI, king of France. By his will, which is preserved in an old chronicle, he bequeathed Aquitaine and Poitou to his prospective son-in-law. The younger Louis assumed the inheritance at Limoges (29 June 1137), and a few days later, probably on Sunday, 4 July, the marriage was celebrated at Bordeaux in presence of the nobles of Gascony, Poitou, and Saintonge (Chron, ap. Bouquet, xii. 115-16 ; Chron. of Tours, p. 1153; Geoffrey of Vigeois, pp. 304-5; Suger, p. 62). By this alliance the whole of south-west Gaul, from the borders of Brittany and Anjou to the Pyrenees, was added to the domains of the new French king (Will, of Newb. p. 102), who his father about 1 Aug. 1137 (Will. of Jumièges, p. 585).

On Easter aay 1146 Louis and Eleanor, moved by the eloquence of St. Bernard, took the cross and started on the crusade, after receiving the pope's blessing at St. Denys, on 8 June 1147 (Suger, pp. 126-7; Ono de Diogilo, 1205-10). The story that Eleanor raised a troop of armed ladies and rode at their head as an Amazonian queen (Strickland, pp. 298-9; Larrey, p. 59; for the origin of this myth, see Nicetas, De Manuele Comneno. p. 80, ed. Bekker, Bonn, 1835) seems to be as purely fabulous as the tales which relate her amours in the Holy Land with Saladin, who was at this time a mere boy of thirteen. It is, however, certain that during this expedition her character was compromised by an intrigue of some kind or other with her uncle, Raymond I, prince of Antioch. This may possibly be no more than the scandal attaching itself to a close intimacy with her kinsman, who was eager to divert the efforts of the crusading host to his own aggrandisement; nor does Suger's letter to the king, in which he commends him for concealing his anger against his wife till after their return to France, enumerate any definite charge. In the latter half of 1149 Eleanor joined her husband in Calabria, whence they returned to their own kingdom by way of Rome(Will, of Tyre, xiv. c. 27; Epp. Sugerii, pp. 518-19).

For more than two years Eleanor continued to live with her husband, and in this period bore him a daughter, Alice, afterwards married to Theobald, count of Blois (Vita Ludov. vii. 126). In 1151 or 1152 they established order in Aquitaine, on the return from which expedition the question of divorce was raised, perhaps for the second time (Chron. of Tours, pp. 1015-16). A church council held at Beaugency under the presidency of Samson, archbishop of Rheims, dissolved the marriage on the plea of consanguinity (21 March 1152), and some contemporary historians declare this action to have been taken with the approval of St. Bernard and Pope Eugenius (Vita Ludov. p. 127; Richard OF Poitiers, p. 101). Although long before the twelfth century came to a close it was currently reported that Louis repudiated his wife for adultery, it seems impossible to admit that such a charge was ever proved against her. The proceedings may perhaps have been due to Louis' disappointment in not having a son to succeed him. If we may trust an early chronicle of the next century, there was no lack of princes ready to espouse the divorced queen. At Blois a nasty night voyage saved her from falling into the hands of Count Theobald; at Tours, whither she fled from Blois, she narrowly escaped being seized by Geoffrey, the brother of her future husband (Chron. of Tours, 1616; cf. Will. of Newburgh,i. 171, and Walter Map, De Nug. Cur, p. 226). There is nothing improbable in these tales, but they probably belong to the same class as Brompton*s legend of her intrigue with Henry II's father, Geoffrey, which Walter Map accepts, although Geoffrey seems to have died m 1152 (Brompton, pp. 1044-5; Hist. Gaufredi, p. 292; Hen. Hunt. p. 283). All, however, that is certain is that she made her way to Poitiers, whence she sent an embassy to Henry, who had just succeeded his father as Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. Dazzled by the prospect of so brilliant an alliance, he accepted ner overtures and married her about Whitsuntide (Gervase of Cant. ii. 149; Rob. de Monte, p. 500).

Louis, who had hoped that his daughters would inherit the principality of their mother, now made war upon the young duke. A fever soon brought this contest to a close, and next year (1153) Henry was able to invade England. In 1154 he became king of England, and was crowned with his wife (17 Dec.) by Archbishop Theobald (Gervase of Cant. ii. 147-8, 159-60; Rob. de Monte).

Eleanor's second son, Henry, was born at London in March 1155, Matilda at London in 1156, Richard at Oxford in September 1157. Towards the end of 1158 she crossed over to Cherbourg, after Geoffrey's birth in September, to spend Christmas there with her husband. Eleanor was born at Falaise in 1161, Joan at Angers in October 1165, John in 1166 (Rob. de Monte, sub ann.)

In 1159 Henry attacked Toulouse under shelter of his wife's claims; and sixteen years later these claims were to some extent admitted, when Raymond V did homage to the king and his two elder sons at Limoges in February 1173 (Roger of Hoveden,i. 217, ii. 47; Brompton, p. 1051). During the long years of the Becket controversy Eleanor does not appear prominently; but a letter from John of Salisbury warns the archbishop that he must not look to the queen for help (1165). Five years later she seems to have been privy to the whole course of events relating to the coronation of the young Henry, and indeed to have had the business of detaining the young wife at Caen while her eldest son was being crowned in England laid upon her (Epp. Joh. Sarieb, ap. Bouquet, xvi. 242,431 .)

The peculiar position in which Eleanor stood with regard to Aquitaine may have influenced Henry II when in 1168, after the revolt of the Counts of March and Aquitane , he left her in the disturbed district under the care of Count Patrick of Salisbury (Rob. de Monte, p. 517). Two years later it was at her intercession that the king invested his son Richard with the duchy (about August 1170) (Geoffrey of Vigeois, p. 318; Roger of Hoveden, ii. 5, 6). Her affection for her children induced her to abet them in the great rebellion of 1173, if indeed she was not, as some contemporary accounts assert, the prime mover of the revolt. Eleanor had prepared to follow her three elder sons in their flight, and had even put on man's attire to facilitate her escape, when she was seized by the king's orders and put under strict guard, from which she was not fully released till her husband's death sixteen years later (Gery. of Cant. i. 242; Rob. de Monte, p. 521). A letter is still preserved that must have been written about the spring of 1173, when she was already contemplating this step, in which the Archbishop of Rouen urges her to return to 'her lord and husband before things get worse,' and warns her that it is really herself and her sons that she is injuring by her conduct (Epp, Petri Bles. ap. Bouquet, xv. 630). For the next sixteen years the chroniclers are almost silent as regards the queen. Somewhere about Easter 1174 she was led into England along with her daughter-in-law. According to Geoffrey of Vigeois her place of confinement was Salisbury; another account makes it Winchester. Probably she was not treated with great severity, for though we find Henry negotiating with the papal legate (c. October 1175) about a divorce from his 'hated queen,' she was apparently still produced in public for occasions of ceremony. Thus she was present at the concord between Henry and his sons in December 1184; and in the following spring Richard restored Poitou to her at his fathers command. According to one writer she was released from prison in this year (1185) at the request of Baldwin, the newly elected archbishop of Canterbury. Possibly, too, the dying petition of the young king Henry (d. 11 June 1183), in which he entreated his father on behalf of his captive mother, may have softened the old king's heart; added to which, since the death of Rosamond (about 1176), he had perhaps no longer the same inducements to seek a divorce (Geoff, of Vig. p. 331; Rob. de Monte, p. 523; Gervase of Cant. i. 256; Roger of Hoveden, ii. 288, 304; De Morte &c, Henrici Jun. ap. Stevenson, Ralph of Coggeshall, pp. 267, 273).

The death of her husband (6 July 1189) freed Eleanor even from the semblance of restraint. In the days that elapsed before the coronation of Richard it was her efforts that secured the recognition of her son in England and the peace of the country. She made a royal progress through the land; she released the county prisoners from the gaols; and received oaths in her son's name. In earlier days men had seen the fulfilment of Merlin's prophecies when the 'eagle of the broken treaty' urged her sons to their revolt against her husband; now they found a more generous application of the prophecy, and imagined that in thus preparing for the coronation of her third-born son the same eagle 'was rejoicing in her third nesting' (Rog. of Hoveden, iii. 4; Ralph de Dic. ii. 67; cf. Rich, of Poitiers, ap. Bouquet, xii. 420; Epp, Joh. Sarisb. ap. Bouquet, p. 534).

In the spring of 1190 Eleanor accompanied her son and his betrothed bride, Alice of France, to Normandy. On 30 March 1191 she brought Richard's future wife, Berengaria of Navarre, to Sicily; and three days later started back home by way of Rome, where she had an interview with Pope Celestine III on the matter of Geoffrey's election to the see of York. The Christmas of this year she spent in Normandy at Bonneville. She reached Portsmouth 11 Feb. 1192 (Rich, of Devizes, p. 55). A little later in the same spring she prevented John from crossing to France, as she suspected he was meditating some treachery towards his brother. In the same spirit she exacted an oath of fealty from all the lords of the realm to the same king (Lent 1192). When the news of Richard's captivity arrived, she was the very soul of the resistance offered to the contemplated invasion of Philip and John. Her commands brought all the English, noble and ignoble, knights and rustics alike, to guard the south-eastern coast (Easter 1193). She assumed the custody of Wallingford Castle and Windsor from the doubtful fidelity of John, who had now returned to England (April). It was to her that Richard wrote his orders about the collection of his ransom, and it was with her seal that the money-bags were stamped for protection when it was raised. In December the king called her to his presence; at Mayence, on 2 Feb. 1194, she was present when the emperor displayed the fatal evidence of her youngest son's complicity in the plot against his brother; and lastly, it was into her keeping that the captive king was delivered two days later (Rog. of Hoveden, iii. 4, 5, 32, 95, 100, 179, &c.; Ralph de Dic.. ii. 67, &c.; Gervase of Cant. i. 515; Rich, of Devizes, p. 557).

In the same year she attended the great council of Nottingham (30 March 1194), and on 17 April was present at Richard's solemn recoronation in St. Swithin's Church, Winchestor. In 1198 she was accused of being privy to the attempted escape of Philip, bishop of Beauvais, Philip Augustus's cousin (Rog. of Hoveden, iii. 231, iv. 40-1).

It was owing to Eleanor's influence that Richard had consented to pardon his brother John; and on the death of this king (6 April 1199) the aged mother at once exerted herself to secure the succession of her youngest son. When the barons of Anjou declared for her grandson Arthur, she joined Richard's mercenary leader Marchadeus, and laid waste the district. Early in the next year, though now almost eighty years old, she started for Castile, to make arrangements for the marriage of Alfonso's daughter Blanche, her own grandchild, with Philip Augustus's son Louis, afterwards Louis VIII. On her return she spent Easter at Bordeaux (9 April), and soon alter, 'worn out with the toils of her journey and old age,' betook herself to the abbey of Fontevraud, which already sheltered the bodies of her husband and two of her children. From this seclusion she was called once more by the outbreak of war between John and Philip in 1202. She was staying at Mirabeau, with only a scanty guard, when her grandson Arthur, accompanied by Geoffrey de Lusignan and Hugh Brown, laid siege to the castle, and would have had to surrender had not the king, hearing of her position, made a night march to her assistance, and taken her assailants captive (about 30 July 1202). Two years later Eleanor died (1 April 1204), and was buried at Fontevraud (Will. of Newburgh, ii.424; Rog. of Hoveden, iii. 367, iv. 84, 89, 96, 107; Matt. Paris, ii. 488; Rigord, ap. Bouquet, xvii. 55; Ralph of Coggeshall, p. 135; Annals of Waverley, p. 256).

Eleanor had two children by her first husband, Louis VII: Mary (d. 1198), who married Henry, count of Champagne; and Alice, who married Theobald, count of Blois. Her sons by Henry II have been mentioned above, except her first-born, William (1153-1156). Her daughters by Henry were Matilda (1156-1189), who married Henry of Saxony; Eleanor (1162-1214), who married Alfonso III of Castile; and Joan (1165-99), who married first William II of Sicily, and secondly Raymond of Toulouse.

[Authorities quoted above. They are nearly all to be found in the great collections of Bouquet and Migne. William of Newburgh and the English historians are quoted from the Rolls Ser. edition; Geoffrey of Vigeois from Labbé, Bibliotheca MSS.; Robert de Monte from Perte, vol. vi. The Chronicle of Tours is printed in Martène and Dorand's Amplissima Collectio. Walter Map's De Nugis Curialium has been edited for the Camden Society by T. Wright. For Brompton see Twysden's Decem Scriptores. For the Historia Gaufredi in Marchegay's Comtes d'Anjou; Richard of Devizes for the English Historical Society.]

T. A. A.