Transcript for Episode 412: Eleanor of Aquitaine, a Tumultuous Life

Table of Contents for this Episode

Category: French History

Discussed in this Episode

  • Abbaye de Fontevraud
  • A Lion in Winter movie
  • Thomas Becket

[00:00:00] INTRO

[00:00:00] This is Join Us in France episode 412, quatre cent douze.

[00:00:21] Annie Sargent: Bonjour. I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. French culture, history, gastronomy and news related to travel to France.

[00:00:32] Today on the podcast

[00:00:32] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about Eleanor of Aquitaine or Aliénor d’Aquitaine, as she is known in French. In the episode we go back and forth between her name in English and French, but it’s the same Queen of France and England, and she’s been an integral part of the history of France and England. That’s why it’s so important for you to understand a little bit about who she was and why this woman who lived in the Middle Ages still gets mentioned all over France, 800 years later.

[00:01:06] Podcast supporters

[00:01:06] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app. And you can browse all of that at my boutique JoinUsinFrance.Com.

[00:01:23] Annie Sargent: I pre-recorded this intro before going off on vacation, which means that there will not be any remarks after my conversation with Elyse, but I do have one new patron to thank today.

[00:01:35] Thank you, patrons

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[00:02:34] Newsletter

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[00:03:01] Annie Sargent: Show notes and a full transcript for this episode are on That’s the numeral.

[00:03:10] Next week on the podcast

[00:03:10] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, a trip report with returning guest, Callie Spinney about her trip to Brittany, and you can send questions or feedback to and enjoy this episode.


[00:03:35] Annie and Elyse

[00:03:35] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse.

[00:03:36] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.

[00:03:37] Annie Sargent: We have quite the conversation planned today. You’re going to tell me all about something that I know really very little about.

[00:03:45] Elyse Rivin: I wouldn’t even dare say I know a lot about, I know a certain amount about, but I am so excited to talk about this person.

[00:03:55] Who was Eleanor of Aquitaine?

[00:03:55] Annie Sargent: Why is she that interesting?

[00:03:56] Elyse Rivin: Well, first of all, I guess we should say that what we’re going to do, is talk about Eleanor of Aquitaine. And the name, interestingly of course, is Eleanor in English, Aliénor in French, in Old French. Why does she interest me? Why does she fascinate me? She fascinates me because she was a woman who spent her entire existence trying to be a ruler in a world where women were not allowed to rule. And she was born basically, into a family where they allowed her to have the title of Duchess, which of course, for the Kingdom of Aquitaine, that was as high as you got. But in the 1100s, which is when she lived, she basically lived through the entire 12th century, she was simply supposed to be the wife of, and she lived in an extremely long and very, very, very, very dramatic life.

[00:04:56] Elyse Rivin: So, it’s fun to talk about.

[00:04:58] Who is she associated with?

[00:04:58] Annie Sargent: Right. You will also see her name all over France. Really, when you visit places, she’s associated with a bunch of different places.

[00:05:07] She’s associated with Poitiers,for very good reason, which is, that’s where she was born, that’s actually where she died. And it turns out I did not know, but she was the person responsible for building of the cathedral as it exists today, which was begun under her reign, if you want to call it that, in the late 1100s.

[00:05:27] Elyse Rivin: You and I have both visited her resting place, which is a monastery that’s in the same regionof the Poitou.And it’s very interesting to see, she is in what is called the “gisant”. Which is a, how do you explain that in English? It’s like, it’s a tomb that has a beautiful sculpture on the outside in color, it reminds me of the Egyptian tombs, that were painted with, you know, the faces and the figures and everything on, except that there, it’s really sculpted to be a body and everything else. And she’s laid out there, although I don’t know if there’s much of her left inside, but it’s a place that people visit, hundreds of thousands of people visit it all the time.

[00:06:04] And there are lots of, I believe in the region of Aquitaine, which really, in some sense still exists, she has lots of things named after her.

[00:06:13] So she’s buried at the Abbaye de Fontevraud in the Loire Valley, and it’s a really beautiful place. Now, there’s not that much to see at the Abbaye, but I think it’s a really interesting place to visit and “gisant”… “Giser” means to lie.

[00:06:30] Annie Sargent: So this is where she was laid to rest, I guess. And next to her is her son, Richard Lion Hearted, as they would say in English. I don’t think the French considered him to be Lion Hearted, but he was called Richard Lion Hearted, he was in fact, her favorite son. She had quite a few children, but he was her favorite. And also, interestingly enough,there is the gisant of her husband, her second husband, Henry II. Even though I don’t think he would’ve wanted to be next to her by the end of their lives. They had a rather tumultuous relationship that lasted for quite a long time.

[00:07:07] Why is Eleonor of Aquitaine so important historically?

[00:07:07] Annie Sargent: Wow. Interesting. Well, you’re going to tell me all about that. Why is she so important historically?

[00:07:12] Well, she’s important because her second marriage, it’s really important in the story of her life, but anyway.

[00:07:18] Elyse Rivin: It was her second marriage, she married Henry II Plantagenet, who was the heir to the English throne. It’s very complicated and there were lots of pretenders to the throne, but he in fact, was the one who became King of England.

[00:07:33] Elyse Rivin: So, she’s very important in the history of Europe and the history of England, because by marrying him, England and the Kingdom of England could lay claim to basically the western half of France, because that was part of the, that was were the lands that she inherited as Duchess of Aquitaine.

[00:07:51] Elyse Rivin: And he already was Duke of Normandy. So if you imagine, through alliance, they had Brittany, Normandy, and basically if you cut France in half, East, West, North, South, almost all of the western part up to just about where Paris is, became part of her territory, which became part of the territory claimed by the English kings, which led us to the famous a hundred years war that lasted forever and ever between the English and the French to claim all of these lands.

[00:08:21] Elyse Rivin: So, just by the act of this marriage, she changed the course of history for France for a very long time.

[00:08:28] How did she come into power?

[00:08:28] Annie Sargent: Now, typically, women did not become, you know, did not come into power. How did she manage that?

[00:08:36] Elyse Rivin: Well, let’s see if we can just start from the beginning a little bit, just to situate this for people who really don’t know anything about her. We’re talking about someone who was born, and by the way, I could almost say Happy Birthday Eleanor, because she was born in 1122. So I’m not sure, they don’t know exactly what the date was exactly, but we could say, Happy Birthday to her because this is her 900th birthday.

[00:09:03] Annie Sargent: Wow.

[00:09:04] Elyse Rivin: Which is really amazing when you think about it, you know? So I was thinking, oh, this is very appropriate that we’re talking about her this particular year. And like all royalty, all through the Middle Ages, up through into the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, she was married off at the age of 15.

[00:09:22] Elyse Rivin: And she was married off first by her father. He designated who she would marry. And I think that she was brought up to be extremely well educated, she was brought up to be married off to somebody very important, because she was in fact the inheritor of this enormous kingdom, even though it was called a dukedome, it was really a kingdom. Because the only legitimate male child was her older brother who died when he was young. So, in the South, unlike in the North,the laws were different, and as we’ve talked about a lot, I think the South had different attitudes towards a lot of things. And so she was the Duchess and she became the ruler of Aquitaine.

[00:10:01] Marriage with Louis VII

[00:10:01] Elyse Rivin: At that point, even though she was very young, her father did die when she was just about 15, it was not just like, Oh yeah, she’s the Duchess, but nevermind. If she had stayed in Aquitaine and married someone from Aquitaine, she would’ve been the ruler, she really would have. But her father wanted to make sure, and this I didn’t know, this is the kind of stuff that when you read about what life is like in the Middle Ages or the early part of the Middle Ages, he made sure that she was betrothed before he died. He was sick and he knew he was going to die, because it was the custom for barons, local lords, who wanted to be the one to marry somebody like her, to kidnap her. I mean, she would’ve been kidnapped and taken away, and by virtue of being kidnapped and therefore being soiled, she would’ve had to have married whoever this was that kidnapped her.

[00:10:49] Elyse Rivin: And so he hastily contacted the King of France, it was another kingdom after all, and said, you got a son who’s 16? My daughter is 15. I want them to get married. And basically, that’s exactly what happened. They signed this contract and a little bit after that he died, and so she went off to Paris and married the son of the king.

[00:11:09] Elyse Rivin: And then the king died very soon after, just several months after they got married, and so, lo and behold, when she was 15 and a half years old, she became Queen of France, and her husband was Louis VII, one of the Louis, Louis, Louis, Louis, you know, there were zillions of Louis in France. And he became king. And this is what makes the story of her life so amazing. I don’t know if she expected, I honestly don’t know. I haven’t read that many really detailed books about it. I don’t know if she really expected that, like in Aquitaine, by virtue of being the wife of the king, that she would really have a lot to say about the governance of the country of France, which was still not a very big country, because all these other places were separate. Normandy was separate, Brittany was separate, all these big territories were basically allied with France, but they weren’t part of really the Kingdom of France. I don’t know if she really anticipated that she would be able to have the power of the ruler, but apparently, she tried very hard to give her opinion and to help govern the country.

[00:12:14] The flamboyant personality of Eleanor of Aquitaine

[00:12:14] Annie Sargent: But the problem was that even though they were close in age, they were very ill matched. What do you mean ill matched?

[00:12:22] Elyse Rivin: Well, apparently, she was young, beautiful, brought up to be very flamboyant, played music, liked to dance, liked to play games like chess, and liked to flirt. She wore gorgeous clothes that were bright colors and lots of jewelry. And the Louis at that point, part of the dynasty of the early Louis apparently, were very, very religious and very strict, and they didn’t wear a lot of color at the court. Poor thing. I just can imagine what it must have been like for her going up to this court that was very sober and where they looked at her like she was a hussie.

[00:13:00] Elyse Rivin: How’s that for an old fashioned word? Because she flirted around and she had all this bright color on her and they were scandalized by her, by what she wore and the way she behaved and everything. And she must have died of boredom probably, you know, it was probably one of those horrible things like, Oh God, I have to do this. But she did, she had to do it, you know.

[00:13:22] Annie Sargent: So she sounds like she was full of beans, like she was, you know, strong personality.

[00:13:28] Elyse Rivin: They say she was a very strong personality. She was headstrong. She was brought up probably to be very spoiled, but she was also very brilliant. And she spoke ancient Latin, she could read Greek. She spoke Occitan, and she knew French, and she was well-read and she probably expected to be in a court that was a brilliant court where there was a lot of intellectual activity, where there’s a lot of literature.

[00:13:56] Eleanor of Aquitaine lived in the times of the Troubadours

[00:13:56] Elyse Rivin: Because this was the time of the troubadours and great literature and poetry in South, in Occitania. And in fact, in the North, there was really nothing like this. It was very sober, much more religious and they were both Catholic, but far more rigid in its religious nature. And apparently, not a whole lot of fun. And her husband who wound up, actually Louis VII wound up living a very long time, but during the time that they were married to each other, he was not apparently very astute and obviously did not have good advisors. And even as a young man, he started making war and getting into problems with all these different nobles in all the different areas, not just the Aquitaine or things like that. And it caused a lot of problems. And apparently, the records show that she would write letters to him and try and convince him to not do certain things, and he didn’t listen to her. And apparently, he was also one of these people who was like, very prissy. And he thought she was too extravagant than she was spending too much money.

[00:15:03] Ill matched marriage

[00:15:03] Elyse Rivin: So they were obviously really ill matched from the very beginning. It took them eight years to have a child, just to give you an idea.

[00:15:09] Annie Sargent: Well, that can happen. I mean, even to people who like each other very much.

[00:15:13] Elyse Rivin: It can happen. But eight years, you know, it’s kind of a long time. I mean, if you imagine, most young men at 16 are feeling their oats, you know, andthere are no histories of him looking elsewhere.

[00:15:29] Eleanor’s first child

[00:15:29] Elyse Rivin: It’s just that he was not particularly interested. And apparently, she didn’t do very much to interest him. It sounds like she basically was happy pretty much being left alone for a certain amount of time. So it was not until 1145 that they actually had a child. And she had a girl. One of the things that is really remarkable about Eleanor of Aquitaine is that in her life, she had 10 children, which was really standard, I have to say, in terms of the number of pregnancies for a woman who was fertile and who was married at a relatively young age. But what was really, truly remarkable was that of her 10 children, only one did not live to be an adult. Andthe average number of children to survive in the 1100 was about one out of three.

[00:16:18] Annie Sargent: Then she did much better than average.

[00:16:20] Elyse Rivin: She did much better than average, and she must have had a very good health.

[00:16:24] Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII go on a Crusade

[00:16:24] Elyse Rivin: I mean, she must have really been a sturdy person who really was able to withstand lots of things because on top of everything else, right after giving birth to her first daughter, she and her husband, that is Louis VII, they went on a crusade.

[00:16:39] Elyse Rivin: And in those days,we’ve talked about the crusades in a couple of other episodes, in those days, there was a good chance you weren’t going to come back alive, and it was either from getting sick or from getting killed in a battle. But she gave birth and six months later, she didn’t bring up any of her children. They were given to women to nurse them, and then they were given to other people to take care of.

[00:17:01] Elyse Rivin: And basically, for someone who was royalty, she probably saw them occasionally, but she certainly did not do hands-on raising of her children.

[00:17:10] Elyse Rivin: So she and her husband, Louis VII, went off to this crusade because he had actually created a massacre. It was something that she had tried to avoid. He was fighting with all of these nobles in the Northeast and in the East, maybe not purposely, but because of poor decisions, the soldiers that he sent off actually created a terrible massacre. And the Pope basically told him that if he did not want to be excommunicated, he had to do penance because it was really terrible what had happened. And so being religious, he said, well I’ll go on a crusade, which was a way of doing penance.

[00:17:49] Annie Sargent: And she basically said, Okay, I’ll go with you. But according to all of the documents that were written by people who went with them on this crusade, it was only the second one. She took her entire court. She had trunkloads of clothes. As far as she was concerned, it was like going on a trip. It was like, Oh, we’re going to go to the Orient. How much fun can this be? I mean, I can’t imagine that she was really that frivolous, but apparently, it was really strange because she had wagonloads of clothing and she had all these ladies in waiting who came with her. And she scandalized everyone along the way, because she didn’t take anything seriously. She had a strong personality, but my guess is that she was also, certainly at that age, she was probably really a bit of a spoiled brat, you know, as well. Right, right.

[00:18:38] Elyse Rivin: This is what happened. Now, there are various versions of this story.

[00:18:42] Rumors about Eleanor beeing unfaithful

[00:18:42] Elyse Rivin: To add to all of the scandal attached to Eleanor of Aquitaine, there were rumors circulating, that she was sleeping around during this crusade. So here’s her husband, this very pious and probably not very much fun king, who has gone off to do this crusade as a way of doing penance for something that was a terrible thing.

[00:19:05] Elyse Rivin: And she’s basically observing the customs of thesecultures that she’s never encountered before, which apparently, really did make a difference, because she wrote a lot about some of the customs of the places, and she learned things that she was able to bring back to both France and then eventually, to England that helped with laws later on. She was certainly conscious of the world she was in, but she really was in another mode of behavior.

[00:19:33] Elyse Rivin: And so there were these terrible rumors about her being unfaithful. There was a whole scandal surrounding her.

[00:19:39] Annie Sargent: But probably there was just story. I mean, how likely is that?

[00:19:43] Elyse Rivin: I read two other articles and two other things where they said, it was probably jealousy and the fact that a lot of the people that were in the French court hated her because she did not conform to their idea of what she should behave like. And she clearly spent her entire life not caring what people thought.

[00:20:04] Annie Sargent: Yeah, that’s a good point.

[00:20:05] Eleanor asks for an annulment from the Pope

[00:20:05] Which is probably, honestly, one of the things I like the most about her, because even when you’re that high up the chain, it is hard to just do your own thing and not care what other people think about you and say about you. And she really didn’t. And it was during this crusade that she actually had an emissary write to the Pope, mind you, remember now she’s had a child that’s maybe not quite a year old. And she wrote to the Pope and she said, I want an annulment. And in those days, there was no such thing as divorce.

[00:20:36] Elyse Rivin: But even when you had children, if you were powerful enough and you could find a legitimate enough reason, you could convince the Cardinals and the Pope to give you a divorce. And the Pope wrote back and said, no, I’m not giving you a divorce. I’m not annulling your marriage, you two have to try and work this out. You know, trying to do marriage counselor. And also, because it would’ve been very disruptive to all the alliances that were being made between Aquitaine, France and Brittany and Normandy and all these other places.

[00:21:07] Annie Sargent: But it was her idea?

[00:21:09] Elyse Rivin: It was her idea. And this is one of the things that has gone down in history, that has made her so remarkable, because in the other cases of annulments, it was always the man who instigated the annulment so that he could marry someone else.

[00:21:25] Second daughter

[00:21:25] Elyse Rivin: And in this case, she was the one that went to the Pope and asked for the annulment. But when he told her no, they managed to go back to France on separate ships. Apparently, they’d had this terrible fight, and they went on separate ships. They both got sick and she was actually captured for a while.

[00:21:43] Elyse Rivin: I mean, you know these crusades, I know we’ve talked about them before, but basically, it was about two years out of their lives going in, coming back. And when they both got back they met upin southern France and eventually went back up to the Ille de France area. And lo and behold, she got pregnant again. He tried again. She tried again.

[00:22:02] Elyse Rivin: But she had another girl.

[00:22:04] Annie Sargent: So was this girl number two?

[00:22:05] The annulment

[00:22:05] Elyse Rivin: She had girl number two, poor thing, born in 1151,right after she, you know, basically within a year of her coming back from the second crusade. And at this point, Louis VII who probably really wanted to get rid of her but was ashamed of the idea of the scandal attached to an annulment, because after two children he decided she was never going to give him a boy, which of course was because at that time and for so long, nobody believed that it was the man that was responsible for having a boy and not the woman.

[00:22:38] Elyse Rivin: He said, Okay. So they both wrote to the Pope and the reason they gave, and this is what makes it so really ironic, is that they gave us a reason that they were too close as cousins.

[00:22:50] Elyse Rivin: And they were actually cousins to the fourth or fifth degree, which is not that really close as cousins, you know. I mean, that meant that the relationship, the ancestors they had in common was like five generations back or something like that. And this time, I’m not even sure why, but the Pope accepted that it was necessary to give them an annulment.

[00:23:10] Elyse Rivin: Oh wow. They got an annulment of their marriage. She was married to him for 15 years. 15 years!

[00:23:17] Annie Sargent: That’s a long time to just annul the marriage.

[00:23:20] Elyse Rivin: So she’s 30 years old, he’s 31. She’s just had her second child with him. And they get an annullment of their marriage and she signs a paper that allows her children, her two girls, to be left to be brought up by Louis VII and his court and his family. She never basically sees them again until they’re adult.

[00:23:42] Henry II Plantagenet

[00:23:42] Elyse Rivin: But this is the moment. Okay. It turns out, that before they went on the crusade, during the time when she was holding court, you know, with her King husband. And you know, the court moved around a lot, all these gorgeous chateaus in the Loire Valley and whatever. There was this very flashy young man who was coming to the court. And he was the new young king, the new young Duke of Normandy. And his name was Henry, Henry. And he was the, actually the great grandson of William the Conqueror. I mean, he was direct lineage of William the Conqueror, and he was young and viril and very fiery in personality and apparently, very good looking, and charmed everybody and was very clever. And she laid her eyes on him, and apparently, something happened, you know.

[00:24:35] Annie Sargent: Like fireworks or something?

[00:24:38] Elyse Rivin: Fireworks. I can just see this scene, you know, where in the middle of all these ladies waiting with these long robes and these things these veils flowing off their heads. I mean, I was brought up on these fairy tales, I’ve never gotten over them, you know, it’s like this whole world. Whatever happened, I don’t know if he flashed on her, see this is the problem. She flashed on him. The problem was, she was married to the King of France, and the second problem, was that he was 10 years younger.

[00:25:08] Well, you know, that’s not a problem necessarily.

[00:25:10] Elyse Rivin: It’s not a problem necessarily. It didn’t have to be a problem because obviously, a lot of these marriages, especially of these royals, you know, the ages were often very weird in terms of one and the other.

[00:25:22] Marriage to Henry

[00:25:22] Elyse Rivin: But what happened was she gets an annulment, and eight weeks later she and Henry get married.

[00:25:31] Annie Sargent: Well see, she knew what she wanted. Again, she knew what she wanted.

[00:25:34] Elyse Rivin: She knew what she wanted. And apparently, according to all the documents that there are, she is the one that proposed to him.

[00:25:44] Annie Sargent: Well, when you know what you want, go get it, woman.

[00:25:47] And this was what she was like, Eleanor of Aquitaine. She got what she wanted, but she got more than what she bargain for.

[00:25:56] Oh.

[00:25:57] The richest man in Europe

[00:25:57] With Louis VII, she got much less than what she wanted. With Henry II Plantagenet she wound up having a lot more than she bargained for. Now Henry, so here we are, there, they’re 21 and 31 years old. She’s still gorgeous, right? She’s still brilliant and beautiful and he’s fiery. That’s what the way they described him in all the things, you know, he was just fiery, you know, I could just imagine.

[00:26:24] Elyse Rivin: But he was also ambitious. He was the Duke of Normandy. He wasthe heir to the English throne and he was interested in becoming the most powerful man in Western Europe. And by marrying Eleanor of Aquitaine, who brought him the entire rich Kingdom or Dukedome of Aquitaine plus the Poitou area, plus all of these areas that are part of the western part of France. By adding all of that to Normandy and parts of Brittany and England, he became the most powerful and richest man in Europe.

[00:27:01] Eleanor of Aquitaine kept her lands when she divorced

[00:27:01] Annie Sargent: So in a way, when she divorced her first husband, Louis VII, she kept all of that land. It was still hers, right?

[00:27:10] Elyse Rivin: Oh, very good question. In fact, in the marriage contract with Louis VII that was written up by her father, who must have really loved her a lot, because he really wanted to protect her, it was stipulated in the marriage contract that the Anjou and the Poitiers area, would go to the French Kingdom, but not the rest of Aquitaine. And she remained sole heiress to Aquitaine, which meant when she divorced him, which is really what happened, she could take Aquitaine to her next husband.

[00:27:45] Right. That’s a big deal.

[00:27:46] Elyse Rivin: It’s a big deal. And it clearly had a lot to do with whatever, who knows, honestly, I have no idea what his sentiments were originally for her. She certainly was attractive enough that it would not have been an unpleasant thing to marry her. She was clearly enamored of him on top of everything else.

[00:28:07] Elyse Rivin: But I think also, from what I could read, and I’m actually going to go back and read some more because this fascinates me so much. My impression is she was in love with him and she figured that because he was so much younger that she could have more influence on him and help him rule this enormous empire, which was the empire of his dynasty, which was the Plantagenet. That was the name of their dynasty.

[00:28:35] Elyse Rivin: And within a year of being married, she was pregnant again. She was clearly in very good health, because between the ages of 31 and the 44 she had eight children. And in the first eight years, she had five of them. And the only one who did not live to be an adult was the first son who lived to be three years old and then died of some kind of disease. But every other child was very healthy, and within all of that time period, while she was having one child after the other, and basically a lot of the time was being pregnant, she made an attempt to follow Henry wherever he was, because he moved from one part of his enormous empire to another, went back and forth to England. She would go with him to England, although she apparently hated England. As far as she was concerned, England was filled with rustic uncouth people, the weather was awful. She was used to the South with the sun and the colorful things. And neither of them spoke English. You know, from when William the Conqueror went over to the British Isle, the ruling family did not speak what became English for over 250 years.

[00:29:50] Elyse Rivin: They only spoke French, and it was the peasants who spoke these other weird, horrible languages, you know.

[00:29:57] Annie Sargent: Well, and she was probably raised in Occitan.

[00:30:00] Elyse Rivin: And she was raised in Occitan, in beautiful Latin languages, you know. Andshe gave birth to her first daughter in England, but quickly. It was like, get me out of here.

[00:30:09] Elyse Rivin: And went back across toshe loved the Poitiers, it was one of the places that she would return to the most, even though she would go down to Bordeaux and other parts of Aquitaine, but Poitiers was probably the place that she loved the most. But what happened was, what started out, I think from her point of view as being a magnificent golden future.

[00:30:28] Elyse Rivin: It didn’t last a very long time before she discovered several things, which really turned her into somebody probably, probably a bit bitter, I would guess. I mean, I don’t know if people wrote about what her behavior was really like. It would be really interesting to read documents of people who knew her at the time, because one of the things that happened was she discovered that from the get go, her darling handsome young viril husband had lots and lots of mistresses.

[00:30:57] Annie Sargent: Well, yes. It usually goes together, doesn’t it?

[00:31:00] Unfortunately does. And especially when you are a royalty and you’re a guy and you can get away with it. But he went so far as to insult her by having one of his mistresses give birth within three weeks of when she gave birth to her first child.

[00:31:17] Annie Sargent: Yeah, not cool at all.

[00:31:19] She wanted more power and he didn’t go along with it

[00:31:19] Elyse Rivin: He was clearly not worried about what she thought about any of this, really. And the other thing was, which is probably more, more definitive in terms of how things evolved eventually between them, was that her attempts to convince him that she could govern and make decisions, did not work out. And what happened was that he was authoritative enough in his personality, that when he realized that what she wanted to do was really be a co-ruler with him, basically what he said to her was, you are my wife, but I am the king.

[00:31:58] Elyse Rivin: You can give me suggestions, but there is nothing that’s going to happen without my approval. You cannot make any decisions on your own. And this is what eventually became the source of the real tension between them, which led to what really are tragic, tragic things that happened later on in their lives. Now, they stayed married, they were married in 1151, and they stayed married until he died, which was in 1189. So they were married for what, 38 years?

[00:32:29] Right, but she wanted more of the power.

[00:32:32] Elyse Rivin: She wanted more power. She wanted control. She wanted to rule Aquitaine, number one. And when in 1154, he made her, he coronated her Queen of England, when he became officially King of England, she thought she was really going to be a co-ruler of this incredibly enormous empire. And apparently, he got tired of her interfering, he got tired of her, whether her choices and her ideas were good or not, I don’t even have any idea. But he was clearly the kind of man who under any circumstances did not like the idea that she wanted to share whatever the power was, whatever the ideas were.

[00:33:14] Elyse Rivin: And of course, we’re talking about kings and queens in a time whenthey had absolute authority over everything.

[00:33:21] But Aquitaine was hers. She didn’t even get to rule Aquitaine.

[00:33:25] Elyse Rivin: No. When he couldn’t deal with her anymore, and he did move around a lot, and of course, they all moved around a lot anyway to all their different chateaus. But he had to constantly negotiate and calm down all of the lords in the different parts of his empire, because everybody was fighting for control and everybody was fighting to be the next ruler. And in England, which unlike France, was never really a United Kingdom, the barons, what they call The Great Barons, were really the rulers of each of what became now, what are the counties, you know, the shires in England. They had enormous amounts of control and authority, and it was far more in that sense. It was like England was, it had a king, but he couldn’t do anything without the approval of the majority of the barons. So he was constantly going back and forth across the Channel to negotiate with barons. And some of them were on his side, and some of them were trying to make war with him to usurp him.

[00:34:22] Elyse Rivin: So his life was this constant moving around and negotiating and making sure that somebody didn’t plot against him on this side or on this side. It cannot have been very easy to live like that, no matter what.

[00:34:35] She tried to turn her sons against their father

[00:34:35] Elyse Rivin: But she, little by little, became very disillusioned. Now knowing that all of her children,by the time they were teenagers, they, you know, in those days a teenager was considered to be a full adult. So what you have is that by the time her children, especially her male children, are in their late teens, she’s actually started thinking about convincing her sons to try and take the power away from their own father.

[00:35:04] Annie Sargent: Okay, that’s a bit much.

[00:35:07] Elyse Rivin: Well, it’s Greek tragedy, It really, I mean, really, the story of her life with her husband and these children is really like one of these things from classic Greek tragedies.

[00:35:19] The Lion in Winter

[00:35:19] This was what happened, there’s a very famous movie, American movie, called The Lion in Winter. An old movie with a wonderful actress, Katherine Hepburn, That tells the story of a true event, and this was the moment where everything kind of changed and changed forever in her life.

[00:35:34] Elyse Rivin: In 1173, so we’re already moving on a bit, you know, she’s been married to him for over 20 years. All of her kids are at least marriageable or married off already. All of her girls have been married off. Her sons are all somewhere between young adolescent and young adult. And Henry is more and more somewhere else and more and more having problems in England and everything else. And he hasvery enormous, huge, theological and theoretical dispute with a man who had been his childhood friend, named Thomas Beckett, who is the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. Who was someone that he had grown up with, it was someone that he knew from when he was a little child, and who had been as a young man, very liberal and more in the spirit of south of Occitania and all of this.

[00:36:22] The power over Church

[00:36:22] And little by little for reasons I really do not know, maybe because of a lot of decadence going on around him, I don’t know. But as he got older, he became stricter and stricter in terms of the rigor of the Catholic church.

[00:36:35] Elyse Rivin: And Henry II, so Eleanor’s husband, he was in the midst of trying to really convince a bunch of barons to side with him and make sure that nobody tried to take his throne away from him. But he promised them that they would have authority over the Church, which is of what happens later on with Henry VIII finally, you know, when he breaks with the Catholic Church. And when Thomas Beckett found out about this, because he is the Archbishop, he wrote to the Pope and basically, Henry II got into a lot of trouble. And there was this potential for really, almost a civil war between the barons faithful to Henry II and those who were more Catholic and faithful to the Church. And so, somehow, some of his knights, got the impression, because there was a trial that was actually held afterwards andsome of his knights that were faithful to him, really got the impression that what Henry II wanted was to get rid of Thomas Becket. I mean, this is really like every movie we’ve ever seen, you know, about these kinds of things, you know?

[00:37:41] Elyse Rivin: And so three of his noblemen assassinated Thomas Beckett in the Cathedral of Canterbury. It was an enormous event in the history of what happened in England, and that was in the year 1173.

[00:37:54] Elyse Rivin: And Henry II was threatened with excommunication and he was put on trial by the Church. And what happened was that they found him not guilty in the sense that he could prove that he didn’t give the order to do this, but they told him that he had to do penance.

[00:38:12] Elyse Rivin: But Eleanor, who was the whole time this happened, back in Aquitaine, when she found out, she used it as an excuse to rally three of her sons. Not the youngest, because the youngest stayed faithful to his father basically until the very, very end. But she rallied three of her sons to her side, and she actually created an army to fight against her own husband to take power away from him.

[00:38:41] Alliance with her ex-husband Louis VII

[00:38:41] Elyse Rivin: And in order to do so, she went back to her ex. Her ex-husband, Louis VII.

[00:38:47] Elyse Rivin: Wow.

[00:38:48] Elyse Rivin: And she said to him. He by this time, was on his third wife, he went through three wives and wound up having lots and lots of children and had a couple of sons and whatever. But he accepted to make an alliance with her. And so she betrayed her own husband and she created this army. And she actually tried to take back parts of these lands that were in Normandy and in Anjou and all these other places. And Henry, I don’t know how, I really don’t know, but in spite of all the problems he was having, he managed to win all the battles that were held in this one particular, it all took place in one year, between her various armies and her three adult sons who had each created an army. Andhe managed to defeat them all, every single time. And when all of this was over, he convinced his three sons to swear allegiance to him, to do a kind of mea culpa and, Daddy, we are sorry. I mean, they didn’t get punished, they didn’t get put in prison, nothing happened to them. They got back the lands that they were promised as long as they promised forever for the rest of their lives to be faithful to their daddy, who was the king. But that is not what happened with Eleanor.

[00:40:03] Annie Sargent: Okay. Okay. You lost me there for a second. So, now you’re talking about the sons of Henry the second.

[00:40:07] Elyse Rivin: I’m talking about their sons together.

[00:40:09] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:40:10] Her sons and Henry II sons. They’re their sons. She had five sons, one died in childhood. So the other four lived to be adults and she has one that’s her favorite, and that is Richard.

[00:40:24] Elyse Rivin: And from the beginning, for whatever reason, he was the third son. I don’t remember even if he was the, because there were girls in between. There were three girls and five sons. But whatever, for whatever reason, all her life, her favorite son was Richard, who was the next to the last of the sons. There were two that were older than him that lived to be adults. So she convinced these three sons to fight with her and create an army to take the control away from her husband, Henry II.

[00:40:53] Annie Sargent: Wow.

[00:40:54] Elyse Rivin: And only the last one, who for a long time, his name is Jean sans terre, because he was the last son, his father did not give him any land.

[00:41:06] Elyse Rivin: So, one son got Brittany, one son got Normandy, one son got control of Aquitaine, which was Richard, England was given to the barons, and poor John, who was the very last child actually, he was the last of all of the children. He had nothing, and yet he was the one through his entire life that stayed faithful and loyal to his father.

[00:41:26] Annie Sargent: Okay, so eventually, the sons don’t really get in trouble for that, Eleanor does.

[00:41:32] Henry tries to have the marriage annuled

[00:41:32] Well, in the end of 1173, Henry II tries to get their marriage annuled.

[00:41:40] Elyse Rivin: Again. This time, here’s his wife, they’ve had all these eight children together. He must be furious that she tries to create an army to actually take the power away from him, right? The Pope says, forget it, you know, this is not going to happen. So what does he do? He captures her and he puts her in prison.

[00:42:01] Eleanor is imprisoned for 15 years

[00:42:01] Annie Sargent: Yes. Whoa.

[00:42:03] Elyse Rivin: And Eleanor of Aquitaine spends 15 years. 15 years in prison.

[00:42:10] Annie Sargent: Wow, that’s incredible.

[00:42:11] Elyse Rivin: She goes, he takes her to, first at prison in Chinon, which is near the Loire Valley. Apparently, during the 15 years, she was moved around a lot and she wasn’t always, I mean, it wasn’t like she was in this horrible dungeon. I mean, she was basically in a castle somewhere, but she couldn’t go out and she couldn’t really do things. I mean, she was basically held in a castle.

[00:42:31] Elyse Rivin: And he moved her around all the time. He moved her to a castle in England. He moved her back to different castles in his territory. But in his territory, which meant Normandy, Brittany and in England, not in Aquitaine, because he was worried that in Aquitaine there would be lords who would be faithful to her that would actually try and release her.

[00:42:52] Annie Sargent: Now, I assume during that time, they didn’t have any more children?

[00:42:55] Elyse Rivin: They had no more children, no. She had her 10 children. I mean, but don’t forget by 1181 she’s 60 years old, she’s done. But by that time, her daughters, all of them, including her two daughters left with Louis VII, they are all married, and they appeal to Henry II to try and ease the conditions of her confinement, if you want to call it that. Because even from prison, she was allowed to write letters. She was allowed to have people come visit her. And even from prison, she continued to plot against her husband.

[00:43:26] Elyse Rivin: She would send out emissaries, she would send out to her lords in Aquitaine who pledged allegiance to their dying day to her. She actually tried to convince two of her sons, Richard and Henry, the younger, who were the two that were still around because another one had actually died by then, to see if they would start an army and fight again against their father.

[00:43:47] Henry dies and Eleanor is released

[00:43:47] Elyse Rivin: She never ever gave up. And she stayed basically enclosed in one chateau or another, constantly writing letters, constantly having people come and see her and constantly plotting against this man that she had been madly in love with, until he died in the year 1189. And that was the year she was released.

[00:44:11] Annie Sargent: Okay, so she outlives him.

[00:44:13] The King of France takes back Normandy and Brittany

[00:44:13] Elyse Rivin: She outlived him. She not only outlived him, but this is where the ultimate irony is in the history. When Henry II dies in 1189, he’s the king of England, he’s the King of Brittany, Normandy, Aquitaine. He is so powerful. His kingdom is basically a little bit divided up. And because he has died and his sons are not as strong as he is, the King of France decides it’s time that he can take back some of this territory. So he goes to war with the sons and he manages to take back Brittany and Normandy.

[00:44:53] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:44:54] Richard is King of England and King of Aquitiane

[00:44:54] Elyse Rivin: And what’s left is Aquitaine, which is under the control of her son, Richard, her favorite son, and of course, England.

[00:45:01] Elyse Rivin: So Richard, he’s the older of the two sons that are left. Because the other three sons have all died now in battle or whatever. I mean, as adults, but they’ve all died. They’ve all, had children, but they’ve all died. Richard is now technically, King of England and King or Duke of Aquitaine.

[00:45:20] Elyse Rivin: But Richard couldn’t care less.

[00:45:23] Eleanor becomes the de facto ruler of England and Aquitaine

[00:45:23] Annie Sargent: What do you mean?

[00:45:24] Elyse Rivin: He wants to go off on a crusade. His third crusade. Richard couldn’t care less about being King of England. He couldn’t care less about ruling Aquitaine. And so Eleanor in her sixties, becomes the defacto ruler of England and the defacto ruler of Aquitaine.

[00:45:45] Elyse Rivin: Well, that took a long time but she got there.

[00:45:47] Elyse Rivin: She got there. And it lasted for 10 years. Basically, from 1189 until 1199, Richard, who apparently there was question about whether or not he actually liked men rather than women.

[00:46:03] Elyse Rivin: In fact, he did not care about getting married. He never had children. She forced him to marry a princess of, I think one of the Spanish Kings. He couldn’t have cared less. He couldn’t have cared about anything except being a knight and going off to fight, and specifically to fight in the crusades. This is where the stories of Robin Hood come from.

[00:46:24] Richard dies coming back from a crusade

[00:46:24] Elyse Rivin: This is a Jean sans terre and Richard de Lion Hearted. All of this is the part of the whole mythology that grew up with the stories of Robin Hood, waiting for the good king to come back from the crusades and all of this.

[00:46:37] Elyse Rivin: Well, it turns out that Richard was a jerk, basically. I mean, in terms of not caring at all about any of this stuff. So she had her final, in the last part of her life, she actually had a period of 10 years where she could rule. And she did indeed rule. She ruled until 1199. And what happened in 1199 was that Richard died.


[00:47:00] Elyse Rivin: He died in the crusade. He actually got sick coming back from one of the crusades.

[00:47:04] King John of England

[00:47:04] Elyse Rivin: I think he made it back to England and then died very soon after that, which meant that it was her youngest child, the one that she had actually favored the least, Jean sans terre who became King. And he became King John of England, and he actually is the one who was responsible, he was the king at the time of the Magna Carta.

[00:47:28] Elyse Rivin: It was thanks to him that there was the beginning of a constitutional monarchy and that the barons were allowed to have certain powers, and that the famous Magna Carta was written in England, which became the basis for all the law that followed in England, and that was in 1199. Well, by 1199, she was really an old lady, and so she had originally tried, she still never gave up.

[00:47:52] Elyse Rivin: She really, at first was trying to figure out if she could find a way of not having him be king. I don’t know why she didn’t love this last child of hers.

[00:48:01] Elyse Rivin: But finally, she accepted the fact that he was the king that was going to be the one, and she spent her last couple of years actually traveling around.

[00:48:10] Eleanor dies at the age of 82 at her chateau in Poitier

[00:48:10] Elyse Rivin: Apparently, she was on horseback at the age of 80, traveling around all the domains, convincing the different lords and the barons to be loyal to her son, John, the one who was finally the king, The Good King John. And then she retired toher chateau in Poitier and that is where she died two years later at the age of 82.

[00:48:32] Annie Sargent: Wow, what a life she had. That’s an incredible life, and so long ago. And you know what surprises me, is how close and interwoven the history of France and England really are.

[00:48:42] Elyse Rivin: Oh yes.

[00:48:44] Annie Sargent: I mean, you don’t realize that, unless you look at the Middle Ages, but it’s like they’re all together.

[00:48:48] Elyse Rivin: They’re all together. And in fact, the more I was reading this, the more I was thinking, ah, that’s why there’s constantly this heritage of the English claiming parts of France. That’s why the hundred years war. That’s why the influence of the English still, there’s this sense of, there’s this kind of like ghostly, shadowy feeling that yes, the English they had part of France. Yes, the French really were the ones who made England what it is today. I mean, you’re absolutely right, there is absolutely no separation between the two, in the end, between the two of them.

[00:49:23] EleShe anor is the mother, the grandmother, and the great grandmother of every ruling family in Western Europe.

[00:49:23] Elyse Rivin: What is really even more remarkable is that in her life, aside from this incredible desire to rule, by virtue of having had all these children, she married off every single one of them, except for the Richard who never had children, and then the first one who unfortunately died young. She married every single one of them off to some royal family.

[00:49:47] Elyse Rivin: Her great-grandson was St. Louis. She was basically the mother, the grandmother, and the great grandmother of every ruling family in Western Europe.

[00:49:58] Annie Sargent: That’s incredible. So she has a huge legacy, really.

[00:50:01] She had a stong interest in Maritime Law

[00:50:01] Elyse Rivin: A huge legacy. And the bit about when she went on the crusade, one of the things I learned doing the research for this, was that she was obviously a very intelligent and observant person. Because when she went to the Middle East, which of course they all called the Orient, she discovered that in Egypt, and I don’t know if, I don’t really know what the other empires were at that time there, that they had written down Maritime Law. That is, they had rules and regulations for navigation, for all the things that are concerned with shipping and things.

[00:50:34] Elyse Rivin: And she took these documents back with her toher realm. And this, of course is even before she married Henry II. And those documents became the basis for Maritime Law in England and in France. And to this day, it is because of those documents that the rules and the regulations about the things at sea exist.

[00:50:57] Elyse Rivin: And so it’s really thanks to her, you know? She had her hand in a lot of stuff.

[00:51:01] Elyse Rivin: She had her hand in a lot of stuff.

[00:51:03] How did Eleanor look like?

[00:51:03] Elyse Rivin: The one thing I would like to know is, what did she really look like?

[00:51:09] Elyse Rivin: From what you said, she sounds like she was a beautiful person, but I don’t know. But there’s interestingly, the thing about it is that since she was born, they have had biographies, books, I mean novels, plays, poetry, theater pieces, paintings, every kind of cultural creation about her, right? I think there’s even an opera about her. But there are no drawings or paintings from when she was alive.

[00:51:38] Annie Sargent: Really, that’s bizarre, because queens didn’t they get painted?

[00:51:42] Elyse Rivin: Well, I think that in the 1100s, they really didn’t do even what we’d call a relatively realistic painting portrait. You know, they just didn’t, I guess at the time. So, there is nothing that really gives an impression of what she looks like.

[00:52:00] Elyse Rivin: It’s just that people, it’s funny, if you ask 10 people, what is beautiful, you’ll get 10 different descriptions, right? So, I don’t know, I don’t know if she was blonde or brunette or, you know, it would be just fascinating to have an idea of what her allure was, because once you get later on into the, like 1300-1400s, yes, there actually are portraits that were painted, and so we get an idea of what some of them looked like. That weren’t all very pretty, you know, necessarily. Some of the rulers were chinless with big noses and stuff like that, you know. But I just, it’s kind of like, what did this woman look like that spent her entire life, 82 years, determined to be a ruler and having had to fight so much to doing all these things to try and just have this moment in her life, it’s kind of incredible.

[00:52:54] Annie Sargent: Well, Elyse I’ve learned a lot today, and it’s funny, because it puts together a lot of bits and pieces that were kind of not connecting in my head. Because you do see her name pop up in a lot of places you visit, whether it’s in the Southwest here or anywhere in France. Apparently, she had her fingers into a lot of pots and so she got around a lot.

[00:53:16] Elyse Rivin: Oh, she got around a lot. Of course, she moved around a lot. But she was considered to be one of the patrons of poetry and the troubadours and of literature. I mean, she was a person who was a Grand Patron of the Arts and was responsible for having all of this wonderful stuff happen at the courts and things like that.

[00:53:33] Elyse Rivin: I mean, she was, when she wasn’t just in her mode for “I want power,” she was also a fascinating cultured woman, you know? But she was probably not the greatest mom in the world, you know? I mean…

[00:53:46] Annie Sargent: Well, when you have 10 kids, can you really do it justice?

[00:53:50] I don’t know. I mean, it sounds like, at least she brought them into the world and they were all healthy. I guess you can say that.

[00:53:56] Annie Sargent: Yes, that’s a big one.

[00:53:58] Elyse Rivin: I mean, her granddaughter, Blanche the Castille was St. Louis’s mom, right? They all got married so young. I mean, can you imagine? So she’s got her daughters who were get married at 15-16. And so of course, you know, she’s a great grandmother by the time she’s like 50 years old.

[00:54:11] Elyse Rivin: Right. And when it came time to marry, okay, now I don’t even remember, so it was Louis IX was, so it was Louis VIII, she went to Castille and she had these two granddaughters. And one of them was Blanche, and the other one was, I don’t remember her name. I don’t know why she chose her, she was the younger of the two.

[00:54:28] Elyse Rivin: But she said, you’re the one. And she took her and she literally took her and took her back up to Paris and she was married off to Louis VIII. And she, Blanche the Castille, wow, she took after her grandma, I mean, she was really a powerhouse as well.

[00:54:43] Elyse Rivin: So…

[00:54:44] Elyse Rivin: We can’t tell that story as well today, because this episode is getting very long. No,No, but no, no, no, but you’re absolutely, I mean, let’s put it this way. She was like tentacles, you know, she was like everything that had happened, that happened for centuries afterwards in Western Europe, had something to do with something that happened in her life, you know?

[00:55:05] Annie Sargent: Well, I’m very glad that I got to learn about her today. Thank you so much for sharing all of this information, and I’m sure you’re going to keep wondering about this for a long time.

[00:55:15] Elyse Rivin: Yes. I may even do a drawing and show people what I think she looked like. How is that?

[00:55:19] Annie Sargent: Sounds wonderful. Merci, Elyse.

[00:55:21] Elyse Rivin: You’re welcome, Annie.

[00:55:22] Annie Sargent: Au revoir.


[00:55:23] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2022 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial, No Derivatives license.

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Category: French History