Eleanor’s Inspiration: William X, Duke of Aquitaine
Guest Post by Christy English, Author of
To Be Queen: A Novel of the Early Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most extraordinary women who ever lived. Duchess of Aquitaine at the age of fifteen, married to the King of France only four months later, Eleanor ruled her duchies and holdings at a time when most women were silent, subject to the whims of their husbands and the dictates of the Church. Eleanor of Aquitaine rode on Crusade, took lovers, and sought her freedom from a loveless marriage, approaching the pope himself for an annulment in 1148. After four years of fighting for her freedom, Eleanor won, and was granted an annulment on March 21, 1152.
At a time when women were set aside in nunneries when they did not give birth to a son or please their husbands, Eleanor of Aquitaine left her marriage to one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe with all her personal holdings intact. Ruling as Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou in her own right, Eleanor brokered a second marriage to eighteen-year-old conqueror Henry, Duke of Normandy, who made her Queen of England less than two years later. Eleanor ruled England and most of modern day France at Henry’s side for over twenty years, before raising a rebellion with her sons and being locked away until Henry’s death in 1189.
Even prison could not defeat Eleanor, and she was set free as soon as her favorite son, Richard the Lionhearted, became king. Eleanor ruled in Richard’s stead as Regent as he went on Crusade himself. She lived to see her youngest son, Prince John, crowned King of England before retiring to the abbey she founded at Fontevrault, where she died in 1204.
Abbey of Fontevrault
Eleanor of Aquitaine’s last home
So all this begs the question: how did Eleanor do all this?
The answer is that she had money, power and the political savvy to lead her barons and keep them faithful to her. All these things were gifts from her father who was Duke of Aquitaine before her.
Duke William X of Aquitaine lost his wife, along with his son and heir when Eleanor was only eight years old. He never remarried, but instead raised Eleanor to become Duchess after him. In a world where only men ruled, and only the strongest men could keep their crowns, William X taught Eleanor enough of politics and power that she was able to rule her fighting men and the barons who led them and inspire loyalty in her people no matter who her husband was. Of course, the people of Aquitaine and Poitou were fractious, known for their rebellious streak, but Eleanor’s father taught her how to deal with that as well, how to rule her unruly barons and bring them back into line each time they rose against her husband.
The Great Hall in Eleanor’s Palace at
where Eleanor’s barons swore fealty to her before her father’s death
Eleanor’s father made sure that her property, the Duchy of Aquitaine and the County of Poitou, belonged to her. He arranged her marriage with the heir to the French throne, while making certain that not her husband but her son would inherit her holdings. In the marriage contract it stated that until the day her son was of age, it was not King Louis VII who ruled her lands, but Eleanor.
As her father negotiated her marriage, when Eleanor was fourteen years old, William had his barons come to Poitiers, his capital in the County of Poitou, over the festival of Easter. He arranged for each of his barons to swear fealty to Eleanor as his heir.
His enemies called for him to remarry and father a son, and in 1136 William X went through the motions of considering a betrothal. All the while, his barons swore to follow Eleanor as Duchess after her father’s death.
So when William X, Duke of Aquitaine, died in March of 1137, he left his daughter and heir as prepared as possible for the world she would inherit. A world of warfare and bloodshed, a world where men would try to kidnap and rape her to take her duchy. A world where a woman had to be smarter and stronger than every man around her to survive. Eleanor was that woman. Her father, William, saw to that.
Eleanor was grateful to her father all her life. She named her first son for her father: Prince William, Count of Poitou. Though the little boy died before the age of three, she remembered and honored her father throughout her life for all that he taught her about being a woman born to rule in a world of men.
Now for the giveaway!
Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court