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The Queen of troubadours goes to England: Eleanor of Aquitaine and 12th Century Anglo-Norman Literary Milieu

The Queen of troubadours goes to England: Eleanor of Aquitaine and 12th Century Anglo-Norman Literary Milieu

By Eugenio Manuel Olivares Merino

Into Another’s Skin: selected essays in honour of María Luisa Dañobeitia, edited Mauricio D. Aguilera Linde; María José de la Torre Moreno (ed. lit.), Laura Torres Zúñiga (ed. lit.), 2012

Abstract: The purpose of the present paper is to cast some light on the role played by Eleanor of Aquitaine in the development of Anglo-Norman literature at the time when she was Queen of England (1155-1204). Although her importance in the growth of courtly love literature in France has been sufficiently stated, little attention has been paid to her patronising activities in England. My contribution provides a new portrait of the Queen of Troubadours, also as a promoter of Anglo-Norman literature: many were the authors, both French and English, who might have written under her royal patronage during the second half of the 12th century. Starting with Rita Lejeune’s seminal work on the Queen’s literary role, I have gathered scattered information from different sources: approaches to Anglo-Norman literature, Eleanor’s biographies and studies in Arthurian Romance. Nevertheless, mine is not a mere systematization of available data, for both in the light of new discoveries and by contrasting existing information, I have enlarged agreed conclusions and proposed new topics for research and discussion.

Introduction: Little do we know about the personality of the queen whose wooden funerary effigy lies under the main dome in the Abbey of Fontevrault. Eleanor of Aquitaine died in 1204, though the exact place where she passed from the world is not known for sure: according to some chroniclers, she ended her life in Poitiers; according to others, she was taken to Fontevrault “where she put on the garb of a nun before closing her eyes”. Her hands are holding a book, most probably a prayer book, the Holy Bible – or, why not, a courtly romance… The granddaughter of William IX of Aquitaine – the first known troubadour –, Eleanor, was born in 1122 or 1124, somewhere in the far south of Aquitaine, probably in Bordeaux or Belin, where she spent her early childhood before moving to Poitiers after 1130. “Charming”, “welcoming” and “lively”, as Geoffroi de Vigeois described her, she exercised an unquestionable influence in the development and popularisation of the new courtly sensibility in France. Highly intelligent and well-educated – she probably knew Latin, Eleanor was the great patron of the two dominant poetic movements of the time: the courtly love tradition, conveyed in the songs of the troubadours, and the historical Matter of Britain, best represented in Chrétien de Troyes’ roman courtois.

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