|Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful people in feudal Europe. At age 15 she married Louis VII, King of France, bringing into the union her vast possessions in from the River Loire in France to the Pyrenees (near the border of modern Germany).
A few years later, at age 19, Eleanor visited the celebrated Abbé Bernard of Clairvaux at the cathedral of Vézelay to offer him thousands of her vassals for the Second Crusade. Rumour has it that Queen Eleanor was so in favour of the crusades that she appeared at the cathedral dressed like an Amazon and galloped through the crowds on a white horse, urging them to join the crusades. We don't know if this is true, but it is an indication of the way her passion for the crusades is remembered.
While the church may have been pleased to receive her thousands of fighting vassals, they were less happy when they learned that Eleanor, attended by 300 of her ladies, also intended to go with the crusaders. She planned to help ' tend the wounded'.' The presence of Eleanor, her ladies and wagons of female servants, was criticized by commentators throughout her adventure. The women dressed in armour and carried lances, but they never fought.
When they reached the city of Antioch, Eleanor renewed a renewed friendship with her uncle, Raymond, who had been appointed prince of the city. Raymond was only a few years older than Eleanor, and was far more interesting, and by all reports more handsome, than Eleanor's husband, Louis. When Raymond decided that the best strategic objective of the Crusade would be to recapture Edessa, to protect the Western presence in the Holy Land, Eleanor sided with his view. Her husband Louis, however, was determined to reach Jerusalem. Louis demanded that Eleanor follow him to Jerusalem. Eleanor, furious, announced that their marriage was not valid in the eyes of God, for they were related through some family connections to an extent prohibited by the Church. Offended and hurt by her claim, Louis nonetheless forced Eleanor to honour her marriage vows and ride with him. The expedition failed, and a defeated Eleanor and Louis returned to France in separate ships.
On her way home, while resting in Sicily, Eleanor was brought the news that her fair haired uncle Raymond had been killed in battle, and his head delivered to the Caliph of Baghdad. Although her marriage to Louis continued for a time, and she bore him two daughters, the relationship was over. In 1152 the marriage was annulled and her vast estates reverted to Eleanor's control. Within a year, at age thirty, she married twenty year old Henry who became king of England two years later.
Following this, in a papal bull for the next Crusade, the Church forbade women of all sorts to join the expedition. All the Christian monarchs, including King Louis, Eleanor's ex-husband agreed to this. However by this time Eleanor had problems of her own in her marriage to King Henry II of England.
If you want to you can read about what happened to
after she returned from the Crusades.
To read more about the Caliph of Baghdad, link to the story of Shagrat (Shajarat) al-Durr: Queen of the Egyptian Army Back
Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen, Dorsett Press, 1978.
Andrea Hopkins, Most Wise & Valliant Ladies, Collins & Brown, 1997.
Marion Mead, Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography, Penguin, 1992.
Tim Newark, Women Warlords, Blandford Press, UK, 1989.
Adapted with kind permission from Lynn Reese
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