Passing of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Today marks the anniversary of the death,
in 1204, of Eleanor of Aquitaine. By any
measure employed, she led an incredible life.
Heir to more of what we today think of as
France than was the then king of France, she would both marry and then divorce
Louis VII, King of France. In between the marriage and divorce she would go on
a crusade to the Holy Land. Louis, who
had originally been trained for a career in the church and became heir to the
French throne only upon his brother Phillip’s death, was not tolerant of what
we would today refer to as her high-spirited ways. Allegations that, while in the Holy Land, she
had an affair with her uncle have never been substantiated.
After divorcing Louis on grounds of
consanguinity, she married Henry of Anjou, the heir to the English throne. Upon
his ascension to the English throne there was created, by personal union, the
Angevin Empire. Had she predeceased
Henry, Eleanor’s lands would have been claimed by him. History, however, enjoys a good twist, and
Eleanor significantly outlived Henry.
Eleanor was the mother of three English
kings, the first Henry III, Richard (the Lionheart) I and John. Admittedly, one
can quibble as to whether this Henry III was ever king. He was crowned during
his father Henry II’s lifetime in an effort to secure the succession. He would
never, however, sit upon the throne as a sole monarch as he predeceased his
father. Richard, in his own right, was king of England. Sadly, so was John, to
this day identified by the moniker “Bad King.”
But back to Henry III. Having been crowned king of England, but
deprived of significant lands, income or authority, he bristled at being a
showpiece. In concert with his brothers, the then King of France and the King
of Scotland, he led a revolt against his father. It was ultimately put down,
whereafter Henry II kept Henry III on a short leash. Still, he did not merely
keep Eleanor on a leash. Rather, for 16 years, he kept her prisoner including
in the castle at Old Sarum.
The Angevin Empire would substantially
fall under Bad King John; he simply did not have the wherewithal to hold
together its far flung properties.
Aside from these historic notes,
Eleanor’s influence continues to this day. At her court in Aquitaine they
played the relatively recently imported game of chess, it having arrived from
the Middle East. Eleanor, however, took umbrage at one of the rules and had it
changed. Prior to Eleanor’s intervention, the rules of chess provided that the
king was the most powerful character while the queen had a circumscribed range.
Eleanor decreed, it is said, that those roles be reversed. Her rule continues
to this day.