Aliénor d’Aquitaine, usually known as Eleanor of Aquitaine in English, (1122–1204) was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. As well as being Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, she was queen consort of France 1137–1152 and queen consort of England 1154–1189. She was the patroness of such literary figures as Wace, Benoît de Sainte-More, and Chrétien de Troyes.
Eleanor succeeded her father as suo jure Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitiers at the age of fifteen, and thus became the most eligible bride in Europe. Three months after her accession she married Louis VII, son and junior co-ruler of her guardian, King Louis VI. As Queen of France, she participated in the unsuccessful Second Crusade. Soon after the Crusade was over, Louis VII and Eleanor agreed to dissolve their marriage, because of Eleanor’s desire for divorce and also because the only children they had were two daughters. The royal marriage was annulled in 1152, on the grounds their consanguinity within the fourth degree – which had, of course, been known in 1137. The arrangement was presumably agreeable to both parties – their daughters were declared legitimate and custody of them awarded to Louis, while Eleanor’s lands were restored to her.
Amost immediately Eleanor became engaged to the twelve years younger Henry II, Duke ofNormandy – her cousin within the third degree - marrying him eight weeks after the annulment of her first marriage. In 1154 Henry became King of England, in accordance with the settlement of the long civil war between his mother, the Empress Matilda, and Stephen; Eleanor became Queen of England. Over the next thirteen years they had eight children: five sons, two of whom would become king, and three daughters.
However, Henry and Eleanor eventually became estranged. She was imprisoned in 1173 for supporting her son Henry the Young King’s revolt against her husband, and she remained under restriction until Henry’s death in 1189. After Henry the Young King’s death in 1183 Henry summoned Eleanor to Normandy, seeking her support to resolve a propety dispute between himself and Philip of France over some of the Young King’s propeties. She stayed in Normandy for six months and was thereafter allowed greater freedom but she still had a custodian so that she was not free – this was the setting for The Lion in Winter.
Her husband was succeeded by their son Richard, latter known as the Lionheart, who immediately released his mother from her captivity. As queen mother, Eleanor acted as a regent for her son while he went off on the Third Crusade.
Eleanor survived her son Richard and lived well into the reign of her youngest son King John. By the time of her death she had outlived all of her children except for King John and Eleanor, Queen of Castile.