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Eleanor of Aquitaine

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Eleanor was imprisoned in Old Sarum Castle on several occasions between 1173 - 1189, one of many locations where she was held on the orders of her husband, 'Old' King Henry II, for allegedly plotting against him. 

Eleanor was one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages. Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, she would go on to become Queen-consort of France and later Queen of England.

Image right: Eleanor depicted on one of the kneelers in St Lawrence Church.

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Eleanor was the elder daughter of William, tenth Duke of Aquitaine. The exact date of her birth is unknown, but she was raised in one of Europe's most cultured courts and given an excellent education. She later became an important patron of poets and writers.

The death of Eleanor's only brother, and of her father in 1137, left her with a vast inheritance. At just 15-years-old, she had suddenly become the most eligible heiress in Europe. That same year she married Louis, heir to Louis VI of France, who shortly afterwards became king as Louis VII. The couple had two daughters.

In 1147, Eleanor accompanied her husband on the Second Crusade, travelling to Constantinople and Jerusalem. The Crusade was a failure and relations between Eleanor and her husband, already poor, deteriorated even further. Eleanor's failure to produce a son contributed considerably to this tension, and in 1152 they were divorced.


Two months later Eleanor married Henry of Anjou, who in 1154 became King Henry II England. The couple had five sons and three daughters. For nearly two decades, Eleanor played an active part in the running of Henry's empire, travelling backwards and forwards between their territories in England and France.

In 1173 two of Eleanor's sons involved her in a plot against their father, and as a result Henry imprisoned her. After Henry's death in 1189, his eldest son, Richard I, ordered his mother's release. Despite her age (now in her mid-sixties, which was considered elderly in the 12th century) Eleanor became very closely involved in government. In 1190, she acted as regent in England when Richard went to join the Third Crusade. She even played her part in negotiations for his release after he was taken prisoner in Germany on his way home.

In 1199, Richard died and was succeeded by Eleanor and Henry's youngest son, John. Eleanor's role in English affairs now ceased, although she continued to be closely involved in those of Aquitaine, where she spent her final years. She died on 31 March 1204 and was buried in the abbey church at Fontevrault next to Henry II.

Source - BBC History website
Accessed 17 May 2017

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