By Shawn Ramsey
Dissertation Prospectus, Bowling Green State University, 2010
Introduction: Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in 1122 as the Duchess of Aquitaine apparent. Aquitaine, a province of what is today France had vast economic potential, heavily developed resources, and numerous commercial links to ongoing trade with the Middle East via the French monarchs of Jerusalem and extensive Templar presence. Additionally, the nobility of Aquitaine had sustained a rich tradition of lay literacy, virtually uninterrupted since the Carolingian empire. Due to the extremely valuable economic and cultural resources in Aquitaine at that time, Eleanor became first Queen of France; and after divorcing Louis VII on grounds of consanguinity, she became Queen of England when she married Henry II. Both the France of her youth and the Court of Henry II were hotbeds of intellectual and cultural activity. Due to certain political and diplomatic machinations between her and her dynastic progeny who opposed to Henry‟s interests, Eleanor was made a virtual prisoner of Henry II, at odds over both sexual and political decisions. As a result, Eleanor resided at Fontevrault Abbey for over a decade. Upon the death of Henry II, Eleanor acted for a time as regent of England during the captivity of Richard the Lionhearted, and engaged in domestic and international political and diplomatic activity to secure his release. Eleanor has popularly figured in Annals and Chronicles from her own period and, as recently as 2010, in contemporary stories about the legend of Robin Hood. She is referred to in the histories of Shakespeare, and was played by Katharine Hepburn in a dramatization of the period entitled The Lion in Winter. She is a figure who has been the subject of enormous biographical and scholarly inquiry, and about whom there is significant controversy. She died at Fontevrault in 1204, where she was also buried.
I encountered the subject of Eleanor‟s letter to Pope Celestine III while reading for pleasure, in a popular history of the Third Crusade entitled Warriors of God by historian James Reston, Jr. I was at that time attempting to fill my own lack of knowledge about rhetoric in the Middle Ages. This dissertation is a result of that initial inquiry, made to determine why Eleanor of Aquitaine was unaccounted for as a gendered rhetorical figure in history, and the history of rhetoric. This is particularly puzzling, since very short orations by Elizabeth I have been anthologized in collections of women’s rhetorics, such as Available Means edited by Ritchie and Ronald. This prospectus will analyze the apparent absence of Eleanor’s rhetorical activity and writing in the intellectual, rhetorical, and historical context of her time, to underscore her importance for illuminating rhetorical history, and her significance to rhetoric and diplomacy in the Middle Ages generally.
We thank Shawn Ramsey for providing us with this prospectus.