Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Queen and A Mother
By Megane Barreiros
Master’s Thesis, Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès, 2016
Introduction: The mere mention of Eleanor of Aquitaine brings to mind an remarkable woman in many respects. She enjoyed an exceptional longevity for a woman of the High Middle Ages. Eleanor was born in either 1122 or 1124 and died in 1204 around the age of eighty which represents almost twice the life expectancy of her time. This is all the more exceptional since she gave birth to ten children when many women died in childbirth.
Eleanor also wielded great power especially once again for a woman of the Middle Ages. Not only was she twice queen, first Queen of France then Queen of England, a unique situation on its own, but she was also the mother of three kings of England: Henry the Young King, the renowned Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland.
However, Eleanor also had a bad reputation and was known for less glorious feats. Amongst other things, she was notorious for supposedly having had an incestuous relationship with her uncle Raymond of Poitiers. In The Crusades: A Documentary Survey, James Brundage writes that a “dubious relationship … had sprung up between … Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Prince Raymond of Antioch, Eleanor’s cousin”. He does not clearly indicate the nature of said relationship but suggests they do not have the usual relationship cousins should have, either. She also supposedly rode bare-breasted into Antioch during the Second Crusade. Although it does not mean it could not have happened anyway, there are no primary sources to be found that verify that rumor. Primary sources solely indicate Eleanor and her ladies were dressed like Amazons, which David Townsend describes in The Tongue of the Fathers: Gender and Ideology in Twelfth-Century Latin when he writes “we find the queen and her ladies themselves donning Amazon garb”.
Nonetheless, being a good mother is one thing at which historians seem to agree that Eleanor was not good. Ralph V. Turner, one of Eleanor’s biographers reckons that Eleanor’s sons’ “persistent revolts against their father, the fecklessness of young Henry, Geoffrey’s repeated treachery or King John’s cruelty and incompetence … have caused her to be labeled a bad mother centuries later”.
This accusation is not firmly grounded on facts, however. Eleanor had five sons and was often branded a bad mother because of the behavior of three of them but she also had five daughters and her relationship with them is but seldom addressed, let alone taken into consideration in this accusation.