Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Real Eleanor

From Elizabeth Chadwick:
One of the things that fascinated me about Eleanor and one in which she truly was ahead of our time, even if not her own, was the amount of energy she had and how indefatigable she was right up until her last days.  She died at the age of 80, which was a marvelous span in a period without life-saving operations and medication. Most octagenarians, even the robust ones, these days are swallowing a raft of tablets to keep them up to scratch.

Like many of the medieval aristocracy  Eleanor had a peripatetic lifestyle.  As a girl she would have been constantly on the move throughout Aquitaine with her parents. At 13 she married the soon to be Louis VII and shortly after their wedding in Bordeaux, travelled up to Paris. Then it was back to Poitiers and then a return to France where again, the court was constantly on the move. Around the age of 23, she set off for Jerusalem with her husband on the Second Crusade. This took them down through Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) across the Bospherous, across Anatolia under constant attack, eventually to Antioch and then down the coastal strip to Jerusalem.  Eleanor and Louis returned home 4 years later via Sicily and Rome on what must have been one of the 12th century's most extreme military come sight-seeing expeditions. (Louis just loved his shrines).

Biographer Amy Kelly, coming from a literature rather than history background, among other dubious notions, had promulgated the whole courts of love theory which has now been discredited, although the idea remains dear to the hearts of popular history. Victorian biographer Elizabeth Strickland is responsible for Eleanor's reputation for gadding about on the Second Crusade dressed as an Amazon.  Her source for this scandalous happening goes no further back than 1739. There is no evidence for this story before that date, but it has come to be accepted by many as the truth. (See Inventing Eleanor: The Medieval and Post Medieval image of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Michael Evans).
There is the matter of the scandal of her supposed affair with her uncle Raymond of Poitiers en route to the second Crusade when Eleanor demanded an annulment of her marriage from Louis VII.  I discuss the unlikeliness of this one on my own blog Living The History. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Raymond of Poitiers and the Incident at Antioch  She is also supposed to have slept with her second husband's father Geoffrey le Bel, but since the chroniclers concerned were hell bent on bringing the Angevin monarchy into disrepute and were notorious gossips, it would seem prudent to err on the side of caution in that assessment. Geoffrey is supposed to have warned his son off marrying Eleanor, but since Geoffrey and his father had been desperate for years to get their hands on Aquitaine, I somehow doubt that warning would have taken place.  Indeed, I suspect that Geoffrey would have been keen to see his son marry Eleanor the moment the annulment with Louis VII was announced.

Many of the biographies and online articles (especially the latter) tell us that Eleanor incited her sons to rebel against Henry II because she was enraged that he had taken a young mistress, Rosamund de Clifford, and was treating her like a queen.  Serioulsy?  Eleanor would raise an empire-wide rebellion, dragging her sons into a war with their father because she was jealous of Henry's philandering with a baronial nobody?   It's a bit insulting to promote the idea that a savvy, intelligent woman such as Eleanor was some sort of emotional harpy who would throw over an entire kingdom because her husband, already known for sleeping around, was carrying on with another woman. Would the same be said if she was male?  What about the political machinations that were happening at the time as Henry undermined Eleanor's  authority as ruler of Aquitaine and held their sons firmly under the thumb?  Might that not just have been more pertinent to the situation than a supposed jealous snit over a mistress? (Read more.)


Hans Georg Lundahl said...

What was the motive for the annulment (not personal for seeking it rather than "sanatio in radice" but the canonic one)?

elena maria vidal said...

The marriage was annulled on the grounds of consanguinity.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Ah, yes, Florence changed seven generations to only four - on side closest to latest common ancestor.

Wonder if Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could have married before Florence?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

And thank you for info!

elena maria vidal said...

They could have with a dispensation. They had to have a dispensation anyway because they were second cousins once removed.