Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Judy Duncan

From the view point of the twenty first century, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 -1204) appeared to have everything a person could possibly want: power, prestige, property; opportunities afforded her because of her aristocratic status. Was this really the case? No, she was a political pawn in a world of male domination; her marriages to Louis VII, King of France and later to Henry II, King of England were arranged to acquire and control property as well as to cement political allegiances. Her main duty as wife of a King was to produce children, in particular a male heir. What was her reward for fulfilling her duty? Scandalous insinuations and whisperings meant to diminish her reputation; sixteen years of imprisonment in a rundown castle on a desolate outcrop of land. Events such as these would subdue anyone.

Keller talks about how rank shaped destiny for women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc and Héloïse. It is “tempting to view her as a […] proto-feminist”.[1] Or was Eleanor simply fulfilling her duty and following her own nature? Paraphrasing Keller, Eleanor left no letters or other types of personal correspondence; scholars and historians are left to rely on chroniclers who vilify her, or writers who venerate her; none of these genres gives insight into her true character.

By her late sixties, Eleanor was widowed (1189) and yet she still had the fortitude to rule England until her son Richard I could assume his duties. Additionally, she aided Richard I in “suppressing [his brother] John’s revolt”.[2] Only then did she enter Fontevraud Abbey to retire. Fontevraud seems to have been the perfect choice for a woman like Eleanor – it was a dual sex monastery – an abbess was in charge, even over the men.[3] This role reversal – unusual for the time, may have held an appeal for Eleanor, she would have been ensconced in a place where cultural boundaries and expectations were being challenged.

Our perspective would lead us to feel pity for Eleanor, living out the remainder of her life in Fontevraud Abbey, a life style that we imagine to be cloistered and controlled. But rather than considering this yet another kind of imprisonment, I believe it gave Eleanor a kind of freedom; she was no longer under the control of her father, husband or sons. She could freely express herself, her character could blossom, she was in charge of her being – and what a great freedom this must have been? We can only imagine!

I believe that it is safe to assume that the time Eleanor spent at Fontevraud was a time she treasured above all else;  this is where she is buried – her place of eternal rest.

[1] Keller, Jane Eblen, (1999), Three Orders, Three Women, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 11:2, PP. 251-257.

[2] Ward, Jennifer, (2006) Women in England in the Middle Ages, Carnegie Publishing, PP. 134.

[3] Simmons, Loraine N., The Abbey Church at Fontrevaud in the Later Twelfth Century: Anxiety, Authority and Architecture in the Female Spiritual Life, Source: Gesta, Vol. 31, No. 2, Monastic Architecture for Women (1992), PP.99-107 Published By: The University of Chicago Press.

Bibliography

Bibliography

Keller, Jane Eblen, (1999), Three Orders, Three Women, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 11:2, 251-257, DOI: 10.1080/10402659908426261

Seward, Desmond. (1978) Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Queen Mother, David & Charles, Vancouver.

Simmons, Loraine N., The Abbey Church at Fontrevaud in the Later Twelfth Century: Anxiety, Authority and Architecture in the Female Spiritual Life, Source: Gesta, Vol. 31, No. 2, Monastic Architecture for Women (1992), PP.99-107. Published By : The University of Chicago Press http://www.jstor.org/stable/767043

Swabey, Ffiona. (2004) Eleanor of Aquitaine, Courtly Love, and the Troubadours, Greenwood Press, London.

Turner, Ralph V., (1988) Eleanor of Aquitaine and her children: an inquiry into medieval family attachment, Journal of Medieval History, 14:4, 321-335, DOI: 10.1016/0304-4181(88)90031-0.

Ward, Jennifer, (2006) Women in England in the Middle Ages, Carnegie Publishing, Lancaster.

Advertisements

About Hélène Cazes

www.helenecazes.info
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s