Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Badass Women in History: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Every day I go to work, sit in my cube and do what I think is important work. Occasionally I get in a slump where I wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing and if I’m making a difference. So today I’m going to start what I hope is an ongoing series to remind me that in the grand scheme of things I still could do something significant… here’s to dreaming!

This is a series I’d like to call Badass Women in History. In a world ruled predominantly by men, it’s easy to find information about them and their achievements. But women, they play a completely different role, play by a completely different set of rules, and often met a bloody end because of their influence.

Today I’m going to start off with someone everyone should know: Eleanor of Aquitaine. If you’ve heard the story of Robin Hood (and who hasn’t heard the story of Robin Hood) you know of Eleanor: she was the mother of King Richard I and King John.

Eleanor was born in 1122 or 1124 in Aquitaine, a region of France filled with wealth and prominence. At the age of 15 her father make her Duchess of Aquitaine, making her the most eligible heiress of France. So eligible in fact, that she was married to King Louis of France in 1137. She would have two children, both daughters with Louis.

As part of the marriage agreement it was decided that Aquitaine would remain a separate entity outside France until Eleanor’s first son reached majority, which helped solidify her power. Also showing her power was Eleanor’s decision to accompany her husband on the Second Crusade, it is even rumored she dressed as an Amazon.

In 1152 Louis and Eleanor’s disagreements reached a head and she was awarded an annulment. This was after she birthed two children, both daughters. They remained in France.

This is when Eleanor started looking for prospective second husbands, and her sights fell on Henry II. With a claim to the English throne, he seemed to be a good option, even though he was around 11 years younger. On December 19, 1154 Eleanor was crowned queen of England. At this time, England had claim to more land in France than the French King.

Her and Henry had eight children, five boys and three girls. Henry and Eleanor’s marriage was not easy; both were strong willed and both strayed from their marriage. Eleanor took favor to Richard and raised him in Aquitaine where she resided away from her husband. And in 1173 she even joined forces with her four oldest sons and attempted to overthrow Henry. The revolt didn’t work, and Eleanor was locked up until 1189.

Richard ascended the throne after his father’s death (and death of his three older brothers). While on the Third Crusade Eleanor ruled England as regent. Eleanor died in 1204, outliving all her children except John. She was close to 80-years old.

During the twelfth century women didn’t have much power, so for one woman to be queen of two countries, bare 10 children, and live to be close to 80, Eleanor didn’t do too badly for herself.

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