Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life of love and leadership

Known for her strength and beauty, the stature of Eleanor of Aquitaine was rare in a medieval man’s world

The noblewoman led a long, extraordinarily eventful life of achievement, writes Jane Hanks

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122- 1204) lived to be 82 years old, which at that time was remarkable in itself, but what she did with her life was even more remarkable.

A wealthy and powerful women in her own right, she first married King Louis VII of France and had two daughters but eight weeks after she got that marriage annulled, she married another cousin, 11 years her junior, King Henry II of England, with whom she had five sons and three more daughters.

Three of her sons became kings (Henry the Young King, Richard the Lionheart, and King John), and two of her daughters became queens (Queen Eleanor of Castile, and Queen Joan of Sicily); she led countless armies into battle, went on crusades; was a noted patron of the arts; was imprisoned for 16 years for inciting rebellion against her second husband; outlived all her children except John and Eleanor, and finally, in her late 70s, took the veil.

The precise dates are uncertain (but accurate to within one to two years) but the main facts of her life are indisputable. Her true personality is less clear and although it is commonly agreed that she was probably very beautiful, no-one even knows if she was blonde or brunette.

Born into a rich, powerful family, ...

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