Eleanor of Aquitaine

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Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages. Heiress to the province of Aquitaine, largest and richest of French possessions, she became the target of marriage proposals from all parts of Europe. Aged 15, Eleanor married King Louis VII of France, bringing to the marriage her vast possessions from the River Loire to the Pyrenees, most of what is now the west of France. She took part in the Crusades, with many of her female contemporaries in the role of nurse. Dressed as Amazons, her female contingent was criticized by Church elders as indecorous.

While on Crusade, Eleanor and Louis became estranged. She sided with her flamboyant, handsome Uncle, Raymond of Toulouse, in his desire to capture Edessa. Louis preferred an assault on Jerusalem. When Eleanor declared her desire to go with Raymond to Edessa, Louis ordered her to honor her marriage vows and accompany him. In 1152 the marriage to Louis was annulled, on the grounds of consanguinity. Her vast estates reverted to her, and were considered no longer a portion of the French royal properties.

A year later Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Anjou who was subsequently to become king of England. She was ten years older than he. She bore Henry five sons and three daughters (William, Henry, Richard I "the Lionheart", Geoffrey, John "Lackland", Mathilda, Eleanor, and Joan) over the next thirteen years.

In 1173, Eleanor led a rebellion against Henry, followed by three of her sons. She had grown weary of Henry's numerous sexual dalliances, and by his demand to control her patrimony of Aquitaine and Poitier. The rebellion was put down, and Eleanor was imprisoned for the next fifteen years.

Upon Henry's death in 1189, Richard inherited the throne, and released his mother from prison. She ruled England while Richard went off to Crusade.

Eleanor died in 1204 at the abbey of Fontevrault.

Eleanor and Henry are the main characters in the play, "The Lion in Winter", by James Goldman, which was made into a film starring Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.