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History & Religion

Eleanor of Aquitaine

The first Queen of France. Two of her sons Richard and John went on to become Kings of England. Educated, beautiful and highly articulate, Eleanor influenced the politics of western Europe through her alliances and influence over her sons.

  • Born: 1122, France
  • Died: 1 April 1204, Poitiers, France

Early life

Eleanor’s year of birth is not known precisely: a late 13th-century genealogy of her family listing her as 13 years old in the spring of 1137 provides the best evidence that Eleanor was perhaps born as late as 1124.

On the other hand, some chronicles mention a fidelity oath of some lords of Aquitaine on the occasion of Eleanor’s fourteenth birthday in 1136.

This, and her known age of 82 at her death make 1122 more likely the year of birth. Her parents almost certainly married in 1121.

Her birthplace may have been Poitiers, Bordeaux, or Nieul-sur-l’Autise, where her mother and brother died when Eleanor was 6 or 8.[6]

Eleanor (or Aliénor) was the oldest of three children of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, whose glittering ducal court was renowned in early 12th-century Europe, and his wife, Aenor de Châtellerault, the daughter of Aimery I, Viscount of Châtellerault, and Dangereuse de l’Isle Bouchard, who was William IX’s longtime mistress as well as Eleanor’s maternal grandmother. Her parents’ marriage had been arranged by Dangereuse with her paternal grandfather William IX.

Eleanor is said to have been named for her mother Aenor and called Aliénor from the Latin Alia Aenor, which means the other Aenor. It became Eléanor in the langues d’oïl of northern France and Eleanor in English.

There was, however, another prominent Eleanor before her—Eleanor of Normandy, an aunt of William the Conqueror, who lived a century earlier than Eleanor of Aquitaine.

In Paris as the queen of France, she was called Helienordis, her honorific name as written in the Latin epistles.

By all accounts, Eleanor’s father ensured that she had the best possible education.[7] Eleanor came to learn arithmetic, the constellations, and history.

She also learned domestic skills such as household management and the needle arts of embroidery, needlepoint, sewing, spinning, and weaving.

Eleanor developed skills in conversation, dancing, games such as backgammon, checkers, and chess, playing the harp, and singing.

Although her native tongue was Poitevin, she was taught to read and speak Latin, was well versed in music and literature, and schooled in riding, hawking, and hunting.

Eleanor was extroverted, lively, intelligent, and strong-willed. Her four-year-old brother William Aigret and their mother died at the castle of Talmont on Aquitaine’s Atlantic coast in the spring of 1130.

Eleanor became the heir presumptive to her father’s domains. The Duchy of Aquitaine was the largest and richest province of France. Poitou, where Eleanor spent most of her childhood, and Aquitaine together was almost one-third the size of modern France.

Eleanor had only one other legitimate sibling, a younger sister named Aelith also called Petronilla. Her half-brother Joscelin was acknowledged by William X as a son, but not as his heir. The notion that she had another half-brother, William, has been discredited.

Later, during the first four years of Henry II’s reign, her siblings joined Eleanor’s royal household.