Eleanor of Aquitaine and Her Power

“She did not lose a single tooth. And she died without a single moan”. Anonymous quote from the 12th century about Eleanor of Aquitaine

The messenger knocked gently on the door of her chambers in the Château de Chinon in the middle of France, but he still managed to startle Eleanor.

—My lady, the king has summoned thee for a family meeting. He requests thy presence. Your majesty.

She definitely did not expect it. She imagined that Henry II, her husband, was wanting to tell his family who would inherit his empire. It would be an odd family reunion… Henry Plantagenet was impulsive, but certainly clever as well. Half of his kingdom came from his marriage to Eleanor, who had completely shifted the balance of power in Christendom.

Back in 1152, Louis VII, Eleanor’s husband and at that time the king of France, had repudiated her. It was exactly what Eleanor wanted, tired of the prison that her life had become living with the “monk king”… the name she used to draw his ire.

She had always been an indecipherable mystery to the young king, this much was clear to her. Just as she was for her second husband, the gallant and arrogant Henry II, monarch of England. There was something about her that had always escaped them, something that frightened them and kept them distanced from her, as if they did not know what to expect.

This is how Henry must have felt when his children, instigated by Eleanor herself, tried to dethrone him. How difficult that must have been for him… But there were never any regrets: A mother must fight for her children above anything and anyone else. And now there was, she sensed, one last battle to be fought.

Richard, Geoffrey, John… Eleanor knew exactly who should reign, for whom she was willing once more to give everything she had. Richard, the apple of her eye, had to assume the throne, at all costs. Richard, who would become known as the Lionheart, would be a just and bold ruler, more skilled in command than John… But Henry also had an element of unpredictability. Perhaps that is why she was so attracted at the time by that beardless 18-year-old monarch who was 10 years Eleanor’s junior…

She picked up her clothes, her jewels… She never took off the bracelet that her uncle Raymond gave her during the Crusades in Antioch… Eleanor was still young, but she had lived longer than any queen in France or England. The wife of two kings and mother of kings… she would even become the grandmother and great-grandmother of kings.

She was surprised at how difficult it was for her to leave Chinon. Of all the courts in which she had lived, her castle in exile had become her most beloved home. Free from the king’s bonds, she had turned it into a place of pilgrimage for the bards and troubadours of Europe. Their songs softened its hard stone walls, making her punishment more bearable.

She recomposed herself, preparing for the meeting with her husband and his new lover. Nothing would reveal her disdain… Eleanor would be queen again, powerful, beautiful, fascinating and charming. The mother of eight children of Henry II. She would be herself again for her children, for Richard, and for the future of the empire she had helped to forge.

And then, when she had fulfilled her duty, when she had convinced her husband to name Richard as his successor, she would return to the peaceful bustle of her troubadour court, the true legacy she wanted to leave for her beloved land, and for posterity. And maybe someone, someday, would sing about the most powerful woman in Europe. The woman who did not yield even to the two kings who dared to take her for a wife. The woman who recovered the melodious voice of the troubadour in the Middle Ages.

In summary, we would to highlight these aspects of the biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine:

  • Self-confidence, if built on a solid foundation, is a platform enabling a person to stand firm against the onslaught of life.
  • It is wise to develop personal assertiveness so as not to be ruled by what is politically correct in the time period in which one lives.
  • Connecting with oneself, such as through the cultivation of artistic sensibility, is vital for having one’s own perspective on the challenges of life.
  • It is a good practice in family business to skip the eldest son in the line of succession if there are reasons to do so.

Prof. Luis Huete