Eleanor of Aquitaine began her tumultuous life in Europe’s royal circles as the most eligible bride in the Medieval period. But she didn’t stay that way for long. By the time Eleanor took her last breath, she had led armies, mouldered in a prison cell, endured a scandalous breakup, wed a significantly younger man, supported an illicit revolt, and more. Prepare to bend the knee to the fierce Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Eleanor Of Aquitaine Facts
1. She Endured a Childhood Tragedy
Eleanor became heir when she was just five years old, but it only happened because of a tragic reason. The royal had two siblings: a younger sister named Petronilla and a younger brother named William Aigret. Of course, because William was a boy, he should have been heir to the kingdom of Aquitaine, but all that changed when William died. He was only four years old when he passed.
2. An Illness Ravaged Her Family
The day that Eleanor became next-in-line to the throne should have been the best day of her life, but the exact opposite was true. When William perished of tuberculosis, he wasn’t the only member of the family to fall victim to the disease. Eleanor also lost her mother, Aenor de Châtellerault. At just five years old, the future queen had already lost half of her immediate family.
3. She Made History When She Was Just a Child
When Eleanor came into her inheritance, she became the first and only woman to rule her own duchy. That alone would be enough of an achievement for most people, but Eleanor wasn’t satisfied. She’d go on to live a life that ran the gamut from inspirational and groundbreaking to heartrending and utterly tragic.
4. She Wasn’t Just a Pretty Face
Once she became her father’s heir, Eleanor received an education befitting a future queen. The best teachers in the land tutored the young girl in science, history, literature, philosophy, and languages. She also mastered horseback riding, was an excellent conversationalist, and could play games such as chess, checkers, and backgammon. With skills like this, it’s no wonder that all the noblemen pounced at the chance to wed Eleanor.
5. She was Abducted
With her father’s death in 1137, Eleanor instantly entered the bewildering life of a bonafide world leader. The little girl became the Duchess of Aquitaine and was quickly placed under the “protection” of the King of France, “Louis the Fat.” The king wasted no time in pledging young Eleanor to be his son Louis’ bride.
As a sign of his goodwill and not at all an intimidating show of power, the king sent his son, along with 500 men, to propose to 13-year-old Eleanor and
abduct bring her to the French palace.
6. She Wed for a Dark Reason
The King of France didn’t take Eleanor in out of the goodness of his heart. Eleanor’s territory, the Duchy of Aquitaine, was the wealthiest and largest province in the country—even larger than that of the king. By marrying Eleanor off to his son, the king could get his hands on her lands, and all without having to go to war.
7. In the Blink of an Eye, She Became Queen
Eleanor wed the heir to the French throne, 17-year-old Louis, a mere three months after her father died. And as though that wasn’t enough emotional whiplash, there was way more in store. Just days later, King Louis the Fat contracted a fatally nasty case of dysentery and passed away. On August 8, 1137, Eleanor and young Louis officially became the rulers of France.
8. Her Marriage was Rocky
King Louis was besotted with his new bride, especially admiring Eleanor’s intelligence, beauty, and strength. Eleanor, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as enamored with her husband, specifically struggling with his prim and proper ways. She allegedly proclaimed, “I thought I was wed to a king, now I find I am wed to a monk.” Looks like these two have first-class tickets to bedroom problems.
9. Her Husband was King by Mistake
King Louis was never meant to be king. His spirited older brother died in a freak accident when he was still a teenager, and at the time, the royal family was grooming little Louis for a life in the church. The poor boy had literally been raised by monks; he was meek, unassuming, and awkward. When it came time for him to step up to the throne, he was woefully unprepared. But worse problems lay ahead…
10. She Wasn’t Satisfied By Her Man
When Louis and Eleanor were supposed to get busy and produce an heir, they had the worst time possible. Historical records suggest that Louis, uh, wasn’t the friskiest guy and because of his reluctance to do the deed, the couple didn’t have any children seven years into their marriage. Even so, the people of France blamed the absence of an heir on one person and one person alone: Eleanor.
11. France Detested Her
As though her forced marriage wasn’t bad enough, when Eleanor arrived in the French court, she had even more problems. Louis’ subjects detested the prince’s new bride, and Eleanor hated life at the French palace. The King’s advisors despised Eleanor because she was an educated, opinionated woman. They feared her, so they made sure she felt too hopeless to act up.
12. She Wasn’t Always Popular
Eleanor was a strong-willed woman and she didn’t always get along with all her husband’s friends. She clashed viciously with the eunuch courtier Thierry de Galeran, using her razor-sharp wit to humiliate and mock him whenever possible. Furious, Galeran used his close friendship with Louis to try to turn the king against his bride. The Medieval French court was full of this kind of intrigue, but things would get much more vicious.
13. Her King Made a Brutal Blunder
In 1142, Louis made the biggest mistake of his reign, and unfortunately for Eleanor, it had everything to do with her. Eleanor’s younger sister Petronilla arrived at the French court and quickly fell for the brave veteran Raoul I of Vermandois. There was just one little problem: Raoul was already married. Louis unwisely interfered in Raoul’s marriage and decreed that he could renounce his wife and marry Eleanor’s sister instead.
He didn’t know it at the time, but this decision would destroy hundreds of lives.
14. His Error Had Disastrous Consequences
Unfortunately for Louis, Raoul’s ex-wife was no slouch. Instead, the scorned woman was the niece of the powerful nobleman, Count Theobald II of Champagne, and he was ticked that Louis let Raoul leave his bride. As payback for the King’s actions, Count Theobald joined forces with Pope Innocent II. Church and state were at war again, and this one would be bloody.
15. The Pope Burned Her Husband…
Pope Innocent II didn’t just defeat King Louis’ forces: He also took the foolish king to school. The Pope infamously described Louis not as a formidable world leader, but “a boy in need of instruction.” Then he ex-communicated both Louis and Raoul for their role in the dissolution of Raoul’s marriage. It was the PR disaster of the Medieval period, and it was just getting started.
16. So Her Husband Burned Some Innocent People
To prove to the world that the Pope had no idea what Louis was truly capable of, the young King committed a chilling act. He marched his forces to the town of Vitry and lit the church on fire. The massacre killed 1300 people. A prominent spiritual adviser of the time described Louis as “the devil.” At these words, Louis broke down and repented.
After fighting a bloody war for two long years, Louis gave up and left the battlefield with nothing but regret.
17. She Defied Expectations
King Louis decided that he had to make amends for the senseless deaths at Vitry, and he went to disturbing lengths to redeem his immortal soul. After reconciling with the Catholic church, he announced an extravagant way to repent. He would launch a crusade to the Muslim territory of Edessa and urge its people to convert to Christianity.
18. She Experienced A Humiliating Defeat
In a highly unusual act for both a queen and a woman, Eleanor insisted on accompanying her husband on the 1145 Crusade. Unfortunately for Eleanor and Louis, the crusade was a complete failure. Despite all the pomp and fanfare at their departure, Louis’ army was massacred by Turkish forces. In a humiliating defeat, Louis abandoned his men and fled to Antioch. This was Eleanor’s husband’s first major battle, and it was a complete disaster.
19. She was a Scapegoat
When it came time for the French people to explain the disaster of the second crusade, they didn’t blame Louis’ ineffective leadership. Instead, they pointed their fingers at Eleanor. They said that Eleanor had encouraged other women to come along and distract their husbands on the crusade. If they hadn’t been there, the Holy War would have succeeded. Once again, everything was Eleanor’s fault.
20. She Had a Rumored Affair
During Louis’ doomed second crusade, a dark rumor claimed Eleanor was having an affair with an extremely inappropriate person: her own uncle Raymond, the handsome Prince of Antioch. To add fuel to the fire, when it was time for Eleanor and Louis to move on from Antioch to Jerusalem, Eleanor stunned the court by refusing to accompany the king. Instead, she wanted to stay with her uncle, and possibly her lover.
21. She Drove Her Husband to the Brink
By this point, Louis was exhausted by the brutality of his crusade. Not only was Edessa, the territory he’d originally gone on the voyage to “save”, now abandoned, he’d lost hundreds of men and now his wife was spending far too much time giggling with her handsome uncle. At a certain point, Louis reached his breaking point. Instead of letting Eleanor stay in Antioch, he forced her to continue to Jerusalem, where he could keep an eye on his bride.
22. She Spoke her Mind
As Louis tried to drag Eleanor off to Jerusalem, she said something that would change European history forever. The furious queen spat that she and her husband shouldn’t travel together as man and wife because they were related “in the fourth and fifth degrees.” In Medieval speak, this was a bombshell. Technically, royals couldn’t wed if they weren’t separated by seven generations. Louis and Eleanor, meanwhile, were only separated by four or five.
After 15 unhappy years with Louis, Eleanor finally had enough: She would try to end their marriage on grounds of consanguinity.
23. The Pope Denied Her
When Louis and Eleanor got to Jerusalem in 1149, they sought audience with the Pope and asked him to grant them an annulment. On paper, it was because they were too closely related, but in reality all the royal couples had intertwined family trees. In actuality, Louis and Eleanor had been married for 15 long years and they still didn’t have a male heir. Plus, on a more basic level, Eleanor simply didn’t love Louis anymore.
To her devastation, the Pope refused to annul the marriage. Soon, all of Europe was buzzing with the couple’s scandalous attempt to split.
24. She Went to Medieval Couples Counselling
After Pope Eugenius III refused to grant Louis and Eleanor an annulment, he decided to play matchmaker and get these crazy kids back together. He hosted the unhappy couple at his residences and showed Louis and Eleanor to a luxurious room covered in silks. As they looked in, they saw one crucial detail: the room was furnished with just one bed. The message was clear: Do your royal duty and get busy.
25. Her Hubby’s Big Campaign was a Bust
Meanwhile, Louis’ big second crusade was dead in the water. The army originally planned to march to Damascus, but the journey had been such a failure that they cut their losses and headed back home. As though things couldn’t get worse, Eleanor and Louis’ ships were attacked on their way back to France, with the royal couple being separated by enemy forces and a vicious storm. But even these perils were nothing compared to the news Eleanor was about to receive.
26. Her Lover Died an Awful Death
While Eleanor was recovering from the attack on her ship, a messenger entered her chambers and delivered some devastating news. Her uncle, and possible lover, Raymond had died in battle. But not only that: He’d departed this earth in an absolutely brutal way. The leader of Aleppo’s forces had beheaded Raymond and sent the head to the leader of Baghdad as a “trophy.”
27. She Lost All Hope
By this point, Eleanor was exhausted. When her husband showed up in Rome and Pope Eugenius once again played matchmaker, she relented. Nine months later, the royal couple had a newborn daughter. The king was disappointed; after all, he needed a male heir. But Eleanor was already hatching a diabolical plan to get out of her miserable marriage.
28. She was a Master Manipulator
Eleanor knew that if she’d given birth to a boy, she’d never be able to dump Louis, so having little baby Alice was a blessing in disguise. The queen used this “failure” to her advantage, continuing to treat Louis coldly and making it clear that their marriage would only bring them both misery. Over time, her ice queen routine took effect. After years of resisting an annulment, Louis and the Pope suddenly changed their mind and granted one to the royal couple.
29. She Had to Abandon her Children
Louis was heartbroken, but Eleanor was delighted. She was finally free. But, there was one enormous catch to her split, and it weighed heavily on Eleanor’s heart. Once she abandoned Louis, she also had to give up all claims to her daughters, including little Alice who wasn’t even two years old at the time.
30. Her Prenup Saved Her
Part of the marriage agreement between Eleanor and Louis stated that Aquitaine would retain its independence until Eleanor gave birth to a son. Once that happened, the little boy would become King of France and Duke of Aquitaine. But, as we know, that didn’t go according to plan. Eleanor’s marriage to Louis produced no sons, when they split, her lands and title reverted back to her. Get it, girl.
31. She Had Some Sinister Suitors
A wealthy woman with land was a hot catch in Eleanor’s time, so you’d expect she’d have no problem once she went back on the dating scene. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong: Eleanor was desirable, but to all the worst men: greedy fortune hunters and violent social climbers. While she was on her way home to Poitiers after dumping Louis, not one but two men, Theobald V, Count of Blois and Geoffrey, Count of Nantes attempted to kidnap her. They planned to force her into marriage so they could take her land.
32. Her Second Marriage Made Jaws Drop
Eleanor knew what kind of world she lived in. As long as she was single, sinister men would keep trying to abduct her and steal her money. She needed to act fast. A mere two months after her annulment, Eleanor asked Henry, the future King of England, to marry her for protection. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, even though their union set Europe a titter for two dark reasons.
33. She was a Cradle Robber
Europe’s jaws dropped when they heard that Eleanor wed Henry. At 28 years old, Eleanor was a whopping 11 years older than her boy toy hubby, who was just 19. But not only that, Henry was the brother of Geoffrey of Anjou. Yeah, the same guy who forcibly tried to abduct Eleanor and low-key steal her money through marriage. Awkward…
34. She Made a Good Match…or so it Seemed
Eleanor’s second husband Henry was everything Louis wasn’t. Brave, energetic, ambitious, and supposedly hot-tempered, he and Eleanor were a strong couple and by 1154, they were the king and queen of England. Even better, the duo clearly had bedroom chemistry. Eleanor gave birth to eight children. And for all the stress over her inability to have a boy with Louis, she and Henry had five sons.
It looked like Eleanor and Henry were the perfect match, but things wouldn’t stay rosy forever..
35. She Risked Everything on a Power Play
When Eleanor’s ex King Louis learned that she had married Henry, he was pretty ticked. Not only had she married without his consent, which technically she needed, but the combination of Henry and Eleanor’s lands meant that Henry, who was actually Louis’ subordinate, now had control over half of France. In other words, Eleanor managed to dump the King of France and somehow be more powerful than him.
Louis was furious. And soon, he’d lash out with a vicious gesture.
36. Her Ex Was Furious at Her
Most of Louis’ anger might have come from jealousy, but he had one legitimate reason to be upset with Eleanor. She’d left him by claiming they were too closely related, then gone and married Henry II…who was an even closer relative! The angry French king did what any bitter royal would do: Declare war on his ex and her new boy toy.
Going into battle didn’t work out so well for Louis, who had an awful track record with military strategy. He suffered an embarrassing defeat at Henry’s capable hands.
37. She Re-Entered the Political Arena
Europe wasn’t surprised at Henry’s victory. During his time as king, Henry had proved himself to be a brutal warrior and a fearless world leader. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s accomplishments were less exciting. She’d spent the years pumping out a brood of kids. With that royal duty done, she was ready to re-enter political life.
As tensions between France and England rose, Eleanor returned to Aquitaine, where she acted as a mixture of lieutenant and queen. She was back in the game, with her son Richard in tow. However, back in England, things weren’t going great. Eleanor’s heir Henry the Younger was having a breakdown, and it would change Europe forever.
38. She Had a Rival in the Bedroom
Being faithful was not one of Henry’s strong suits, and he had a number of mistresses over the years. Somewhere in the mid-1160s, he began a secret affair with a mistress known as Fair Rosamund. Few details are known about the real Rosamund, but artists, musicians, and writers of the time filled in the blanks to create a history of mythical proportions.
39. She Had No Mercy
One of the most popular myths surrounding Rosamund is that she was killed by a vengeful Eleanor. The legend states that Henry built his favorite mistress a home in the center of a garden maze at Woodstock palace. When he was in the mood for Rosamund’s company, he would find her by following a red string. The plan worked perfectly, until Eleanor caught on…
40. You Didn’t Want to Cross Her
When Eleanor figured out that Henry was seeing Rosamund behind her back, she made her way to the center of the maze and found her husband’s mistress. Once there, Eleanor supposedly offered her romantic rival a brutal choice—she could die by a dagger to the heart, or by drinking poison. Which did she prefer?
In reality, Rosamund died at a nunnery, but the story sure adds to Eleanor’s tough-as-nails reputation.
41. Her Family Was Plagued by Tragedy
With five sons, it seemed like Eleanor’s political legacy was guaranteed but by 1189, the family had endured so many tragedies that only two of the boys remained. The couple’s firstborn William died when he was just three years old. Years later, in a freak accident, their son Geoffrey was trampled to death during a jousting tournament in Paris. But the most startling death belonged to the couple’s heir, Henry the Younger.
42. Her Marriage Tore Itself Apart
Henry Jr. and his father didn’t have the greatest relationship. Henry II loved power and resisted giving his heir even minor lands and responsibilities. Over the years, Henry the Younger grew resentful. When dear old dad decided to give some of Henry Jr.’s castles to his little brother John, Henry lost it. He was 18 years old, ready to rule, and stymied by his controlling dad. And little Henry wasn’t the only one who had issues with the king….
43. Her Sons Played a Dangerous Game
Eleanor and Henry’s other songs, Richard and Geoffrey, weren’t too happy with their father either. The boys teamed up and hatched a daring plan: They would revolt against their dad, overthrow him, and seize the throne. One night, while little Henry and his father were doing business, the heir snuck out of the fortress and abandoned his dad, instead running off to another court.
And as if that wasn’t insulting enough, wait until you hear about the identity of Henry’s preferred father figure.
44. Her Family Was Too Close For Comfort
Henry the Younger had married a French princess whose dad just so happened to be an old friend of ours: King Louis, Eleanor’s ex. After Eleanor dumped him, he shacked up with a new bride and had even more daughters, one of whom married Eleanor’s son with her own second spouse, King Henry II.
So not only had young Henry abandoned his father, he’d defected to an enemy’s court. And the bad news would keep coming…
45. Her Family Turned On Each Other
Between 1173 and 1174, two people joined forces with young Henry and King Louis. In a shocking twist, they were none other than the king’s sons, Richard and Geoffrey. Together, the boys plotted to overthrow their father and seize the throne. And what was Eleanor doing while the men in her family turned on each other? Let’s just say that Mommy Dearest supported her children’s rebellious phase.
46. She Played the Game of Thrones
By pledging allegiance to her kids, Eleanor took the top spot on her husband’s personal enemies list, but if we’re being honest, it wasn’t like Eleanor and Henry’s marriage was going great before then either. In 1167, the couple began to grow apart, so by 1173, their once-fiery passion had turned ice cold. Because of this, when Henry heard that his 13 and 14-year-old sons Richard and Geoffrey had suddenly teamed up with his rebellious heir, he knew exactly who was behind their defection.
Eleanor hadn’t just tagged along with her son’s revolt. She’d manufactured it herself. Henry was furious and he wouldn’t rest before he got his revenge.
47. Dark Rumors Swirled about her Children
At the time, the conflict between Henry and his sons threw Europe into a frenzy. Multiple people came to believe that Henry and Eleanor’s sons weren’t truly their own, but the “Devil’s Brood” birthed by the daughter of Satan. Of course, in reality, this wasn’t true. The real reason behind Eleanor’s betrayal was much darker.
48. She Betrayed Her Husband
To this day, historians aren’t sure why Eleanor turned on her husband. Some people point to the dramatic Rosamund story, while others insist on a twisted tale of political betrayal. Henry II was obsessed with keeping power to himself, even if he promised territories and responsibilities to the people around him. Just as Henry’s selfishness had infuriated his heir, it festered resentment in his wife. When Henry gave up Eleanor’s claim to the land of Toulouse, she had enough. She took power into her own hands and plotted against her husband.
49. She Made History with a Vicious Act
Before Eleanor betrayed Henry, no European queen had ever waged war against her own husband.
50. She went on a Secret Mission
Eleanor began to gather her forces, working alongside her ex-husband and three sons to mount a formidable defence against King Henry II. There was just one more thing left to do: She had to get to Paris to join the French court and command her troops. She disguised herself in men’s clothing and began the perilous journey. She didn’t know it at the time, but the trip would be her downfall.
51. She Became a Prisoner
As Eleanor snuck through France en route to Paris, she was shocked to find herself suddenly surrounded. Henry’s forces had tracked her down. With the queen in their clutches, they had no mercy. They took Eleanor captive, without publicly announcing the arrest, and imprisoned her in various castles and fortresses for 16 long, brutal years.
52. She Suffered a Brutal Defeat
In the meantime, Eleanor’s sons and their forces were vigorously fighting against their father, but despite their best efforts, the King’s incredible military and clever planning came out on top. Henry II defeated his sons’ revolt and “made nice” with some dark gestures. First, he gave his sons unfortified castles (so that they couldn’t resist his forces if they tried to rebel again), then he cowed them into submission by reminding them that he held their mother hostage. Once a warrior, Eleanor was now a prisoner queen.
53. She Re-Entered Royal Life in the Worst Way
Over the next decade, Henry would periodically release his prisoner-bride Eleanor for holidays and diplomatic occasions when her presence was needed. By 1184, it became clear that the only way Henry could retain his power was if Eleanor was at his side. After years in France, he finally brought her back to England. But don’t get too excited. Though Eleanor was no longer in isolation, she was still a prisoner. She even had a jailer who monitored and limited her movements.
The queen had become a mere pawn. But Eleanor wouldn’t accept defeat lying down.
54. Her Son Refused to Go Quietly
Eleanor’s sons may not have been imprisoned like the queen, but their lives weren’t exactly great after the failed rebellion either. They still had very little actual power…well, except for Richard who ruled Aquitaine with an iron fist. As Henry the Younger watched his little brother exercise more power than he’d ever had, he once again grew resentful. He allied with unhappy nobles in Aquitaine and waged war against his brother Richard and his father Henry II.
Spoiler alert: Henry the Younger should have learned his lesson the first time to tried to defy his dad.
55. She Endured Endless Grief
Henry the Younger became gravely ill on the battlefield. As he suffered from a humiliating and painful bout of dysentery, he begged for his father’s forgiveness, but the king was unmoved. Prince Henry died at just 28 years old, having never made up with his father. When the king heard that his heir was no more, he looked more kindly on the boy.
One of the prince’s last requests had been for Henry to treat Eleanor with leniency. Bowed by grief, the King acquiesced and Eleanor made a surprise appearance at the English court. It looked like he’d finally forgiven her, but appearances can be deceiving…
56. Her Sons Turned the Kingdom Upside Down
Even though Eleanor could move around a bit more freely, she was still at Henry’s beck and call. And even though the queen was used to her confined life, even she found the next few years hard to stomach. It turns out that her sons had inherited their dad’s “I love war” gene in a big way. In 1184, Richard began to fight his little brothers Geoffrey and John over the territory of Aquitaine. Eleanor’s dysfunctional family was at it again, and the consequences of their feud would be disastrous.
57. She Went From Queen to Pawn
Henry had enough of his sons’ incessant fighting. He gathered Richard, Geoffrey, and John and forced them to make up. When they resisted, the king produced his trump card: Henry trotted out his imprisoned wife to remind his sons that he held Eleanor’s life in his hands. The boys immediately agreed to put a lid on it.
Henry had more humiliations in store: To make sure none of his sons felt entitled to Aquitaine, the land transferred back to Eleanor, but in appearance only. It was Henry who now controlled the territory through his hostage-bride.
58. Her Son Waged War on her Husband
Richard was furious that he’d been ousted from Aquitaine, the territory he’d ruled for years. He teamed up with Philippe, the new French king, and publicly turned on his father King Henry yet again. Father and son went through an exhausting (and deadly) series of fights and reconciliations until 1189, when the men turned to all-out war.
59. The End was Nigh
By this point, Henry was almost 60 and the years of endless conflict weighed on him heavily. He had felt weak for months, but one final blow was still in store. After consistently nurturing his favorite son, young Prince John, Henry heard that John had joined Richard’s forces instead of his own. Heartbroken and defeated, Henry II died with his two remaining sons united against him.
60. She Made a Comeback for the Ages
With the death of King Henry, Richard finally got the power he had craved for so long. As England’s new king, one of his very first acts was to properly free his mother from her quasi-imprisonment. His next act was to make Eleanor, now 65 years old, his regent. She would rule in Richard’s stead while he was away leading the third crusade.
After 15 years of imprisonment, Eleanor was a true queen once again.
61. Her First Act Was Heartbreaking
One of the first things Eleanor did when she finally escaped her prison was extend her good fortune to her subjects. The queen declared that all jails would be emptied. As one historical source put it, the queen knew first-hand that “confinement is distasteful to mankind” while freedom is “delightful.”
62. She Was a Domineering Mom
How powerful was Eleanor? Let me give you a sense of how little she could be messed with. When her son John got grumpy about not being on the throne, he teamed up with Prince Philippe of France and seized England when King Richard was away on the third crusade. John was determined to make a scene…until Eleanor taught him a lesson.
The queen handled the tense situation with masterful efficiency. She threatened to take away her son’s English palaces, leading John to slink away with his tail firmly between his legs.
63. Her Son was Held Hostage
Thanks to her troublesome sons, Eleanor didn’t have any down time. As soon as she’d handled the whole John situation, more drama entered: German rulers were holding her son Richard captive, leading Eleanor to enter an expensive bidding war to bring him back home. While Eleanor was desperate to pay the ransom and free her beloved son, Richard’s enemies kept offering his captors more money to keep holding him hostage.
But after a masterclass in political negotiation, Eleanor got her way. She managed to out-manoeuvre multiple high-powered men and free her son in the process.
64. She Had It All…
After Eleanor made a victory tour through England with her son Richard, she pulled off one more triumph: Making her troublemaker son John reconcile with his older brother. As the boys embraced after so many years of fighting, Eleanor felt at peace, but her series of royal triumphs would be interrupted with a tragedy more devastating than anything she’d faced before.
65. Her Joy was Short-Lived
Eleanor certainly must have loved all of her children (or at least the ones she had with Henry), but Richard was by far her favorite. She gave him Aquitaine to rule over as its future duke, never imagining that neither Henry the Younger nor Geoffrey would live to become king. Richard was also most like his mother and inherited her love of music and poetry.
Their profound bond was strong, but such intimacy made the family’s next tragedy especially hard to endure.
66. She Lost Everything
After a short time as king of England, Richard’s rule came to a heartbreaking end. At just 41 years old, Eleanor’s beloved son died after a crossbow bolt snagged his left shoulder during a castle siege. Once the bolt was ripped out, the wound quickly became infected. He died just two days later—but his devastated mother was able to make it to the site to see him before he ultimately passed. He passed in her arms in 1199.
67. Her Son Made a Heartbreaking Final Gesture
Before his death, Richard summoned the man who had shot him. To his shock, the shooter turned out to be a mere boy. When asked why he had shot the King of England, the child spat out that Richard had killed his father and brothers, and so he was seeking his revenge. He thought he was facing certain execution, but Richard’s final words stunned him.
68. Her Son’s Last Wishes Were Denied
Richard said to him were an act of mercy. “Live on, and by my bounty behold the light of day,” the King said, forgiving the boy and sending him away with 100 shillings. Tragically, Richard’s royal pardon may have been immediately betrayed: one source reports that a vicious captain named Mercadier went against the King’s wishes, flaying the boy alive and hanging him in revenge.
69. More Drama Lay Ahead
Despite being the only remaining son of Henry and Eleanor, John was not next in line to the throne after Richard’s death. Instead, Geoffrey’s son Arthur had been named Richard’s heir when the boy was just two years old. When Richard passed, the Archbishop of Canterbury convinced the English barons to trust the country to an adult instead of an actual toddler. But if they knew what John was going to do next, they might have taken their chances with Arthur…
70. Her One Remaining Son was a Troublemaker
John was an impulsive ruler, if you couldn’t already tell, and poor Eleanor had to clean up more than a few of his messes. On one occasion, John made a scandalous marriage to Isabelle of Angoulême, who was just 12 years old. As if that wasn’t enough of a PR disaster, Isabelle was already engaged to another nobleman, and John was already married!
But because Isabelle ruled over convenient French territories, all bets were off. John would have her, come what may.
71. Her Fortunes Changed for the Worse
John’s dicey marriage had brutal consequences. Years later, through Isabelle’s territories, John was making a not-so-subtle play for the French lands that Eleanor had already pledged to King Philippe. Understandably, Philippe was not about to let John take away his territory. He goaded 15-year-old Arthur, who was originally supposed to be Richard’s heir, into a terrible action. Arthur assembled his forces and got ready for battle.
Eleanor immediately travelled to France to assist John, but the moment she arrived at the castle keep in Mirebeau, Arthur trapped her. He thought he’d have the last laugh, but he was wrong…
72. The Family Intrigue Became Bloody
The next morning, John and his men stormed the Mirebeau. They immediately rescued Eleanor, but they had a far darker fate in mind for her abductor Arthur. John gave his nephew Arthur a taste of his own medicine by capturing and imprisoning the boy—but abduction alone didn’t satisfy John’s need for revenge.
73. Her Son Made a Fatal Error
When the would-be king Arthur “disappeared,” Europe buzzed with dark rumors that Arthur wasn’t just being held captive indefinitely. The boy was dead, and that wasn’t all. Apparently, John had personally killed him in a fit of rage. When he realized what he’d done, the king panicked and dumped his rival’s body in the Seine river.
74. She Spent Her Final Days in a Surprising Place
At this point, John had alienated all his allies with his temper and catastrophically bad impulse control. At another time, Eleanor might have leapt into action and saved England from its unwise king, but by now, she was in her 80s and exhausted by life’s hardships. No one could blame her for wanting to get away from all the court drama. In 1202, she withdrew from royal life and lived in seclusion as a nun at Fontevraud.
John would have to handle this crisis for himself. Spoiler: he did so very poorly.
75. She Died in the Middle of a Catastrophe
In John’s incapable hands, England all but crumbled. It’s almost a mercy that as this happened, Eleanor was so close to death that she may not have understood how much of a failure her last son was. On March 31, 1204, the indomitable queen breathed her last breath. But before she exited this earth, she had made arrangements for one final “gotcha.”
76. She Got the Last Laugh
Eleanor is buried at Fontevraud next to her husband Henry II and her son Richard the Lionheart. Given everything Henry subjected Eleanor to, you’d think she wouldn’t want to spend eternity next to him, and you’d be right. That’s why, even in death, she managed to get in one last dig at her tool of a husband. Eleanor had her tomb effigy built a few inches higher than her husband’s, elevating her above him for all time.
77. Her Life was No Fairy Tale
A common trope in medieval literature was the image of the maiden in the tower being rescued by a gallant knight who would then marry her. This fantasy was a romantic version of what actually happened, which was that wealthy women like Eleanor were in constant danger of being kidnapped, assaulted, and forced into marriage for their inheritance. As we know, poor Eleanor dealt with this threat herself when two “gentlemen” attempted to make her their hostage-bride.