Eleanor of Aquitaine

The kingdom of France after Eleanor’s marriage to the Plantagenet king, Henry II

The reclining effigy in polychrome tuffeau of Eleanor with Henry II behind her, at Fontevraud. She is represented here in her thirties, wearing the royal crown and shown, for the first time in the West in medieval times, as a woman reading. (She is probably reading a psalter).

Eleanor of Aquitaine was born around the year 1122 and died on April 1st 1204 at the Abbey of Fontevraud. She was the eldest daughter of Guillaume X, the last duke of Aquitaine and Gasgogne and his wife, Eleanor of Châtellerault.

The year 1137 was very eventful for Eleanor of Aquitaine. When she was only 15 years old, her father died and she became Duchess of Aquitaine. On July 25th 1137, she married the future Louis VII, the son of the king of France, Louis VI. Then, the same year, Louis VI died and the young couple became duke and duchess of Aquitaine as well as king and queen of France.

Although he had acquired the title of Duke of Aquitaine when he married, Louis VII never had any control over the dukedom. It was Eleanor herself who would manage the region. She soon became involved in politics and curtailed the increasing influence of Abbot Suger over the impressionable Louis VII.

In 1145 their first daughter was born, then in 1147 the king led the Second Crusade following Bernard de Clairvaux’s appeal and took Eleanor to the Orient with him. What happened on this Crusade? Count Raymond de Poitiers’ attitude to his niece Eleanor was such that the king became jealous. Some people thought that Eleanor of Aquitaine had an affair with her uncle, but what is sure is that the married couple were angry with each other.

On their return from the crusade, it seemed that there was a reconciliation. In spite of the birth of their second daughter, however, and without Suger’s influence, the relationship soured once again. The shadow of a separation hovered over the royal couple and Eleanor of Aquitaine reminded the king that their close family ties were unsuitable from a religious point of view; it was certain that they would no longer be able to live together.

It was in 1151 that Eleanor met Henry Plantagenet, son of the Count of Anjou: he was eleven years younger than her. On 21st March, 1152, the Synod of Beaugency annulled the marriage between Louis VII and Eleanor. France consequently lost the duchy of Aquitaine which, when joined with the existing Plantagenet possessions (Anjou, Maine, Normandy) became a great threat to Louis VII. On May 18th, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet in Poitiers. At the beginning of the year 1154, Henry Plantagenet became king of England and ascended to the throne under the name of Henry II.

Initially, Eleanor of Aquitaine lost all political power. Henry II had no intention of letting her involve herself in his affairs, including those of the duchy of Aquitaine. He relegated her to the single role of motherhood: she had eight children with him (William, Henry, Matilda, Richard, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan, John), which made ten children in all counting the two from her first marriage.

Her exclusion from politics did not last, however. In 1170, her son, Richard, was proclaimed duke in Aquitaine and she acted as regent. Annoyed by the misconduct of her husband with a woman called Rosamund Clifford, she instigated a plot which would pit Richard and Geoffrey against their father Henry II, and this with the blessing of Louis VII.

Henry II’s reaction was swift and he had Eleanor arrested and imprisoned for almost fifteen years, first at Chinon, then in Salisbury and other English castles. She was set free on Henry II’s death, on July 6th 1189, by her son Richard the Lionheart who had become king.

When she was sixty-seven years old, Eleanor became involved in politics once more. Together with the chancellor Guillaume Longchamp, she was in power during Richard’s absence when he left on the Third Crusade. She was also obliged to cope with the rebellion led by her youngest son, John Lackland, during the winter of 1192–1193.

On his way back from the crusade, Richard was captured by Duke Léopold of Austria. Richard had humiliated the duke in the Orient and had handed him over to the head of the empire, Henri VI. Henri VI asked for a huge ransom, certainly in order to please Philippe II Auguste, the French king, who had been upset when Eleanor of Aquitaine opposed him during Richard’s absence. It is worth noting that during the third crusade, back in France long before Richard, Philippe Auguste formed an alliance with John Lackland with the aim of putting him on the English throne.

Eleanor did not waste any time and with the help of the English she found the money to pay the enormous ransom and had Richard freed in Mayence in February 1194. The king now able to reign once again, Eleanor of Aquitaine retired to the Abbey of Fontevraud. However, in 1199 her son Richard was fatally wounded during the siege of Châlus in the Limousin region. Eleanor saw him just before his death and negotiated with him for his brother, John Lackland, to become king despite the possibility of Richard’s son, Arthur of Brittany, having a claim to the throne.

She then went to Castille and returned with her grand-daughter, Blanche. Blanche would marry the future Louis VIII and so become the mother of Louis IX, known as Saint Louis. During this journey, wishing to avoid Philippe Auguste’s troops, she

took refuge in the castle of Mirebeau; she was besieged by her grandson, Arthur of Brittany and it was Jean Lackland, her youngest son, who would come to free her.

In March 1204, Château-Gaillard fell to Philippe Auguste’s troops and so the king of France seized the territory of Normandy. Eleanor of Aquitaine died on 31st March or 1st April, 1204. She was about 82 years old. Her body lies in the Abbey of Fontevraud in the Plantagenet sepulchre.

Troubadours et jongleurs à la cour d'Aquitaine,

 

Aliénor d'Aquitaine ferme la dynastie des comtes-ducs qui se succèdent à Poitiers, sous le nom de Guillaume ou Guilhem à partir de la moitié du Xème siècle. L'autorité des comtes de Poitou sur le duché d'Aquitaine confère à Poitiers un très grand prestige. Les comtes-ducs y résident et les plaids qu'ils tiennent dans la cité rassemblent les grands seigneurs, les dignitaires ecclésiastiques du Poitou, d'Angoumois, du Limousin, de Saintonge, de nombreux chevaliers et officiers de la maison du duc. Ces cours plénières étaient des occasions de cérémonies et de fêtes où accouraient des bateleurs et musiciens.

 

Les Guillaume qui régnèrent en Aquitaine pendant un siècle et demi ont été les promoteurs d'une "renaissance" que l'on retrouve dans de nombreux domaines. La naissance de la poésie des troubadours marque en cela le domaine culturel. Cette poésie unique et en langue romane marque à la fois la la vie de cour et la complexité d'un art nouveau. Dès Guillaume IX dit premier des troubadours, le lien avec le Limousin est éminent. Eble, vicomte de Venadorn et compagnon du comte Guillaume IX, était appelé el cantador pour ces riches cansos. Eble II se targuait de faire concurrence au comte Guillaume en matière de faste et d'élégance, le jugeant peu prodigue pour un si grand prince.

 

Les cours  de Poitiers et de Ventadorn furent les premiers cercles où furent accueillis les troubadours et les jongleurs dans la première moitié du XIIème siècle. La cour d'Eble de Ventadorn fut un centre attractif de la poésie courtoise où se formèrent plusieurs générations de troubadours. Parmi ces derniers, Bernard de Ventadorn éclipsera ses maîtres et deviendra l'un des plus grands chantres de l'amour du Moyen Age ; parmi les grandes dames chantées par Bernard de figurent les vicomtesses de Ventadorn et de Narbonne, et Aliénor d'Aquitaine " la plus belle femme du monde" selon ses vers. Celle-ci accueille Bernard à sa cour de Poitiers à partir de 1153. Il suit alors ses déplacements vers la Normandie et l'Angleterre où il assista vraisemblablement au couronnement de Westminster en 1189. Près de sa  dame où éloigné d'elle, il fut toujours le plus sincère adorateur et le royal époux en prit ombrage ...

 

En effet, certains chroniqueurs ont prétendu que Bernard s'éprit d'Aliénor, mais dissimulant sous des noms d'emprunt les dames de ses pensées, le maître incontesté du salut d'amour, s'il chanta la princesse, ne la nomma que rarement. Si la poésie de Bernard de Ventadorn se distinguait par des accents de sincérité non dissimulés, elle reste un jeu noble où la reine qui inspire l'amour est élevée sur un trône inaccessible. Le troubadour prie d'ailleurs son jongleur Hugonet d'aller chanter ses vers à la reine des Normands. Bernard fit néanmoins le voyage outre-Manche et se rendit auprès d'Aliénor dont la royale couronne ne modifia pas les sentiments à l'égard des poètes ; elle les recevait à ses cours de Londres, Winchester ou Slisbury. Bernard fréquenta les milieux courtois des Plantagenêts que connut aussi Chrétien de Troyes, et l'influence exercée par le troubadour sur le trouvère aurait eu pour origine une rencontre à cette cour. Bernard qui était en Angleterre dès décembre 1154, a bel et bien pu participer aux cérémonies du couronnement. Il souhaite abréger son séjour parce qu'il désire rejoindre son Aimant, senhal sous lequel on a parfois voulu reconnaître Aliénor.

 

Bernard revint à Poitiers lorsqu'Aliénor, devenue régente d'Aquitaine pour son fils Richard de 1169 à 1174, y tint à nouveau sa splendide cour. A cette époque qui est une des plus fastes de sa vie, la reine est entourée de ses propres enfants et de toutes sortes d'hôtes : poètes, clercs et beaux esprits qui participent aux liesses qu'elle préside. De concert avec sa fille aînée, la comtesse Marie de Champagne qui a exercé un si grand rôle dans les arts, Aliénor inspire à cette aimable société le goût de la poésie courtoise. La musique des troubadours y est en grand honneur, et la vicomtesse Ermengarde de Narbonne, autre grande inspiratrice de la poésie d'Oc, apparaît dans ce cénacle où brillent Bernard de Ventadorn et le chevalier-poète de Sainteonge Rigaut de Barbezieux.

 

Aliénor était alors la maîtresse en droit de l'Aquitaine : c'était sous sa tutelle que son jeune fils Richard bénéficiait des prérogatives ducales. Mais pour avoir contribué à fomenter contre son mari le roi Henri II la grande révolte poitevine de 1173 à 1174, elle fut enlevée et retenue captive en Angleterre pendant douze ans. La nombreuse cour de la duchesse fut dispersée. Bernard dut quitter Poitiers et se rendit auprès d'Ermengarde de Narbonne dont il fit souvent l'éloge avant d'aller demeurer chez le comte de

de Toulouse Raymond V, autre célèbre prince pour ses prodigalités aux troubadours.

 

(Source -  Aliénor d'Aquitaine et les troubadours / Gérard Lomenec'h)

 

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