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Part 3: The Duchess

Eleanor of Aquitaine

The quintessential medieval queen

Abbaye Royale
de Fontevraud

Eleanor was born in 1122. Her life spanning the rest of the twelfth century promotes her to the forefront of our narrative. Becoming Queen of France at only 15 years of age from 1137 – 1152. At 30, Queen of England (1152 – 1189) and Queen Mother to King Richard and King John till her death in 1204. Being an ancestor of our present queen, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth the Second resounds into the twenty-first century as powerful women with the reins of destiny firmly in their grip.

Eleanor, the eldest child of Duke William of Aquitaine, the tenth of that name, along with brother William and sister Petronilla, came from a long line of autonomous nobility owing nominal allegiance to the kings of France after the dissolution of Charlemagne’s empire. France at that time was not yet a nation but a patchwork of duchies and counties paying homage to Louis the Sixth (the Fat, because of his extreme corpulence). Normandy, Anjou, Brittany, Champagne, Touraine, Angouleme and of course Aquitaine being the largest patch in our quilt. Rebellions were rife and exactions sparse as the coffers of the royal household remained modest at best.Eleanor’s grandfather, Duke William IX, has the distinction of being claimed the first troubadour, (singer/songwriter) – a profession of esteem today – after he returned from his disastrous foray to the Holy Land in 1101 on the heels of the First Crusade and its sucessful capture of Jerusalem. His army of ten thousand was devastated along the way in Anatolia (Turkey) falling prey to the Seljuk Turks. Those who were not killed outright were enslaved for the remainder of their lives. Fortunately for the Duke, he and a contingent limped into Antioch where he was welcomed by the Prince. It could be presumed his exposure to the enlightened way of life in Outremer, with strange musical instruments, poetry and exotic lifestyle had a profound influence on the Duke. What is certain is he returned to Aquitaine bearing a pineapple sized chunk of pure quartz, hollowed out and fashioned into an ewer which is featured in the Medieval Wing of the Louvre in Paris.

Her father, Duke William X, also disregarding the sanctity of the Church, rode his horse into the church of the most distinguished priest (and soon to be saint), Bernard of Clairvaux during mass. The outrage was followed by a curse proclaiming the Duke dead within the year. Which came to pass when in retribution for his sin, Duke William, traversing the Pyrannes mountains and following the el Camino way, died. His body being transported and interred at Santiago de Compostela near the bones of the Apostle Saint James.

Eleanor’s brother, William, heir to the duchy, had passed away prior to this event leaving Eleanor the right to succeed. She was fifteen years old and placed in the custody for protection with the Bishop of Bordeaux.

To be continued.

The Eleanor

Of the one million artefacts in Le Louvre “The Eleanor” is the pride of the Medieval Wing and the only one directly connected to Eleanor of Aquitaine. This jewel encrusted vase with a pineapple sized rock crystal container was a wedding gift to Louis VII from Eleanor in 1137.

The text around the base inscribed by Abbot Suger reads, in Latin, ‘Hoc vas sponsa dedit Aanor Regi Ludovico, Mitadolus avo, mihi Rex, sanc ti sque Sugerus.’

Translates to: ‘Eleanor his wife gave this vase to King Louis, Mitadolus gave it to her grandfather, the King gave it to me, I, Suger, give it to the saints.’

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