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  • Eleanor’s Lovers September 26, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    Eleanor of Aquitaine (obit 1204) was a powerful and self confident woman living in an age when women were supposed to be anything but. Her home in the south of what is today France gave greater property rights to daughters and wives, property rights that Eleanor knew how to manipulate. She had some wild male ancestors enriching her gene pool, including that prime loon and poetic genius William IX of Aquitaine.

    Then there were her lovers. Eleanor enjoyed carnal relations  with, in her eighty odd years: Louis VII of France, Geoffrey of Anjou, his son Henry of Anjou – later King of England, Raymond of Poitiers and Saladin – all pretty big notches on a twelfth-century bed-post. She killed, most histories assure us, Henry II’s mistress, fair Rosamund: that while not a sexual act per se suggests a certain ruthlessness in matters of the heart. And she rode bare-breasted to crusade, pretending to be an Amazon.

    Now modern fictional depictions and, indeed, many historical accounts go along with ‘Easy Eleanor’ and show the twice queened one as being loose with her favours: the implication is that if she slept with Saladin and Henry II then there will also have been many a gardener in Damascus and a horny gamekeeper or two in the Ile de France.

    But Beach has spent the last few hours looking at the contemporary sources and is shocked to learn that while Eleanor was never lilly-white, she only had two proven lovers in her lifetime and both of these she married.

    Those two lovers/husbands were, of course, Louis VII of France and Henry II of England. Certainly, Eleanor’s escape from Louis through a clause of canon law on incestuous marriages was a master-stroke and daring for its time. Beach has never understood why Louis let Eleanor get away from him, especially as he lost a third of France in the process. She must have been extraordinarily persuasive.

    But after that the image of Eleanor jumping from mattress to mattress depends on late or snide sources. Saladin, for example, was twelve when Eleanor was in the Holy Land: it is true that Henry was a few years younger when they married but really…

    There are, shall we say, ‘loud whispers’ about her intimacy with her uncle Raymond (who was also younger than her) from contemporary sources. But how easy would it have been for Eleanor and Raymond to really ‘parlay’ in the claustrophobic world of a medieval castle while her husband was lodged there too? The argument when it came was between Eleanor and Louis not Louis and Raymond. And didn’t these ‘slanderous’ sources have their reasons for lying?

    Much the same can be said of her supposed affair with Geoffrey.

    The bare-breasted crusader is based on a misunderstanding. And even the death of fair Rosamund depends on a  sixteenth-century ballad. In other words, far from being a human trampoline, Eleanor emerges as a woman who made one unusual decision in her sentimental life – to leave her first husband, the tedious Louis. And presumably, like sparks off a flint, all other rumours came or were backdated on that simple fact and perhaps also her association with troubadour poetry.

    Beachcombing is, he must confess, going to miss slutty Eleanor. Being a history geek several distant teenage fantasies revolved around her: it was a moonlit night when word came down from the royal chamber that the queen wanted to see the monastic scribe Beachcoombe etc etc.

    And the lesson? It is one thing to beat men at their own game: it is another to let them write your history…

    Any other historically besmirched women: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com