Friday, October 21
This is a long post because she is my spirit animal.
I can’t believe that Hollywood hasn’t made a pseudo-historical movie—in which all the actors speak with British accents and wear aesthetically pleasing costumes—about Eleanor of Aquitaine since The Lion in Winter.
Because Eleanor, my friends, is freaking fabulous.
Eleanor was born in 1122AD, known now as the High Middle Ages. It was the time of Robin Hood (a story that Eleanor, as mother of King John, is intricately connected to), the Crusades, mad impressive architecture, and French people.
And out of the land of said French people came William X, Duke of Aquitaine.
In the eventual movie of Eleanor’s life, I think her father William (Guillaume?) will play a significant role. William was a patron of arts and literature and music. This is pretty fab, since practically no one apart from monks read much back then.
“I cannot wait for someone to invent fanfiction.”
Eleanor was his oldest child. Born Aliénor d’Aquitaine, she must have shown a spark of intelligence young. William ensured her thorough education: she was taught not only in both forms of Old French (les langues d’oïl et les langues d’oc), Latin, the arts, and presumably politics, but also in horseback riding, hunting, and hawking.
Like a boss.
Eleanor’s mom and brother died when she was six, putting her in line to inherit Aquitaine, the biggest and most pimpin’ of France’s provinces.
When Eleanor was fifteen, her father set out on a pilgrimage from which he would never return. At fifteen freaking years old, Eleanor became one of the richest and most marriageable people in Europe.
Also the most kidnappable, because stealing an heiress meant stealing a title, back in the good old days. Her father, to protect his daughter, had arranged that upon his death, Eleanor would come under the protection of Louis VI of France—the goddamn king.
Unfortunately, Louis was far more concerned about securing the rich as balls duchy of Aquitaine for himself than he was about the grieving Eleanor. Instead of, you know, protecting her, he married her to his son and took her lands.
That was a jerk move and I’m therefore glad that history remembers you as ‘Louis the Fat’.
William died in April. Eleanor was married to Prince Louis by July. By August 1st, the king had died and Eleanor was now the Queen of France. She gave birth to a daughter some years later.
Eleanor was twenty-three when the Second Crusade began. Not one to sit idly by while the men went on jolly crusade, Eleanor got Aquitainian soldiers and her ladies, and journeyed with her husband to the Holy Land.
The Second Crusade is one of history’s most brutal disasters.
It must have been a defining moment in Eleanor’s life. She would have seen so many things she had never seen before, from life in Byzantium to fields of dead soldiers. Her husband’s failures as a military leader clearly tortured Eleanor: she was imprisoned twice by him for refusing to follow his orders.
They returned home on separate ships. During storms that divided them (wow, the metaphors apparent in that sentence), both ships went missing for two months. When eventually the king and queen found one another again, the filed for annulment with the pope.
The pope, instead, made them sleep with each other.
“You have GOT to be kidding me.”
They thus conceived their second daughter.
With no sons and that whole imprisonment thing between them, the King and Queen annulled their marriage in 1152. Eleanor was thirty. She got her lands back; Louis got her daughters.
Eight weeks later, Eleanor was married to Henry II, Duke of Normandy.
And thus begins the history of one of the most storied families ever. Welcome, dear readers, to the House of Plantagenet.
Two years later, Henry was King of England.
Henry and Eleanor fought and had affairs and incited rumours and fought some more, but over thirteen years they managed eight children. Three of her sons— Henry the Young, Richard the Lionheart, and King John—would be kings.
Eventually, though, the incessant fighting and adultery stopped being sexy and started being annoying, so when Eleanor was forty-five, she peaced to Poitiers.
According to the stories, it is here that Eleanor and her daughter Marie (from her marriage to Louis) encouraged the growth of arts, literature, music, troubadours, courtly love in a court of their own making. Compared to her early days, this would have been a quiet life for Eleanor, free of political intrigue and war.
So of course, it didn’t last.
Eleanor was fifty-one when her sons rebelled against their father. (When you’re the kid of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, you’re allowed to have a rebellious streak). For her encouragement of their revolt, Eleanor was imprisoned by Henry. She would remain imprisoned for sixteen years.
When the revolution failed and Henry the Young died, Eleanor was finally granted some freedom (though she would remain under control of a custodian). Henry died when Eleanor was sixty-six.
With his father’s death, Richard the Lionheart—Eleanor’s favourite son—ascended the throne. Among his first acts was so eradicate any remaining traces of surveillance from his mother’s life. While Richard was in France, Eleanor ruled England in his name.
“Don’t worry, guys—my mom’s got this.”
Eleanor would live to see Richard’s death and the ascension of King John to the throne. In 1201, exhausted by never-ending disputes and wars, Eleanor declared herself a nun and retreated from the public sphere. She died three years later at the age of eighty-two.
Eleanor is a woman who took control of her life and incited some serious change. She directed the course of history and created a powerhouse family (that, granted, liked to stab each other). She was contrary and moody and influential and powerful and—as we see by her reactions during the Crusade and her later retreat from public life—very, very human. This is one amazing woman.
TL;DR: Eleanor of Aquitaine was a bad ass.
So if any screenwriters want to get on making this movie, that’d be much appreciated.