In a castle in Berlin, in the year 1122, a baby girl with blue eyes and blond hair was born to the duke and duchess of the most important area of France: Aquitaine. This beautiful child was to become the Duchess of Aquitaine and the Queen of France, the Duchess of Normandy and the Queen of England. Eleanor of Aquitaine was arguably the most interesting woman of her time. She influenced many of her time period?s most powerful men.
Eleanor was born to be a leader. Her father, William X, Duke of Aquitaine, had no male heir and felt lucky to have a daughter like Eleanor. Her intelligence impressed him, so he saw to it that his daughter received the best schooling possible. She turned out to be an excellent student. After her mother died when she was eight, Eleanor spent most of her time with her father. Eleanor accompanied her father all over Aquitaine, learning at an early age how an important kingdom should be ruled. Eleanor was devastated when her father died in 1137. Despite her sadness, there was also a good side to his death: she had become the richest heiress in France. Because of her young age and the fact that she was a woman, many people doubted her right to rule Aquitaine. This left her in a dangerous position, so for protection she was engaged to the prince, Louis VII. When Prince Louis became King, Eleanor was fifteen and she became Queen of France.
Eleanor ruled as queen for fifteen years. To her dismay, she discovered that the queen had little power in the ruling of France. Because Eleanor was such and ambitious woman, the king?s advisors feared her influence over the king. Eleanor turned to politics when her royal status was not enough to win an argument. She wisely remembered the influence she still had in Aquitaine over its powerful dukes who had never liked Louis, following him only because of his alliance with Eleanor. When Louis decided to head the Second Crusade in 1147 and the Queen announced that she would accompany him, the king?s advisors were against it. Eleanor argued that the men of Aquitaine would be willing to join the expedition if she were to set an example for them by going. The advisors thought this was logical reasoning and they needed more men to join, so Eleanor was aloud to join them in their journey.
Since the beginning of their marriage, Eleanor found her weak, dull husband very little to her liking so she spent much of her time traveling with out him. Forced to spend time together during their journey to the Holy Land, Eleanor and Louis began to fight. They quarreled over her plan to protect Jerusalem by driving back the Turks in the North. Louis ignored her advice and arranged for Eleanor to be sent home against her will. Both the crusade and their marriage failed shortly after. In 1152 Eleanor petitioned the Pope to annul her marriage to Louis on the pretext that they were too closely related by blood. The King and his advisors forced Eleanor was to give up her two daughters, Marie and Alix, and tearfully, Eleanor said good-by and returned home.
Reverting back to her position as Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor once again held the power over her land. She realized she was now in the same place she had been fifteen years earlier and once again would be forced to marry, but this time she was in a position to chose her next husband. She selected Henry Plantagenet of Anjou, Duke of Normandy, the second most powerful area in France, who was also in line to become the King of England. In 1154, the pair was crowned in Britain and Henry became King Henry II. Eleanor had now gained the most powerful position, after that of the king. She now ruled both Aquitaine and England. Also, unlike her first husband, Henry valued her opinion and took her advice.
Eleanor and Henry had eight children, three of which would help their mother cause their father?s downfall. Ruling both countries in his place while he was off conquering other lands, the King and Queen drifted apart. Their marriage was doomed when Eleanor discovered that her husband had had several affairs. Bitter that she had been deprived of the right to rule for so many years, she devised a plan to overthrow the King. In 1173 with the help of her sons John, Richard, and Geoffrey Eleanor succeeded in her plan. Fearing her ambitions Henry II had Eleanor imprisoned until his own death in 1189.
Eleanor helped her son Richard rule England and when he died, she did the same for John. Although unlike Richard, John resisted her help, she continued to keep him out of trouble by making orders in his name without his knowledge. Eleanor spent the last years of her life traveling between England and France bringing the two countries together and making peace in England. She spent most of her last days in shelter for women called Fontevrault and was buried at the abbey in 1204 at the age of eighty-two.
Eleanor had a passion for the arts in any form, and throughout her life she brought them with her wherever she went. Used to her family’s exciting castle in Aquitaine, the young Eleanor found the Paris castle boring. Eleanor quickly brought it to life. She loved learning, and invited great minds from all over the country to her court. She regularly attended lectures of the famous theologian Abelard. Eleanor introduced far more to Paris than just intellectual things. She introduced Paris to the culture she had known at home: music, fine tapestries, new fashions, dancing, and good food. When she married Henry and moved to England, the Queen once again turned the dismal English castle into a center for those interested in the arts. The days were filled with tournaments and plays, and the nights with feasting. Everything was celebrated in the honor of love. Most importantly, everywhere Eleanor went, she supported something almost unheard of in the time: respect for women.
Eleanor achieved so many things in her time that it was unheard of for a woman to do in her time. Having been Queen of two countries during her life she contributed a lot to keeping the peace and establishing fair rule in both of her countries. Also Eleanor was one of the first women to speak out for women?s rights and take action for fairer treatment for women. Eleanor of Aquitaine will always be remembered as one of the great women in history.