Eleanor of Aquitaine
One of the most significant consequences of the feminist movement in the twentieth century has been the widespread re-examination and revision of past historical accounts of important events and eras. Feminist scholars and others sympathetic to the need to remove patriarchal bias from our collective understanding of the past have conducted extensive studies of events, documents, and artifacts that had long gone unexamined. The studies were undertaken in a reclamatory effort to restore a more balanced portrayal of history, in which the influence and impact of women is rendered more fully and accurately.
Even prior to the heightened level of feminist scholarship that was being conducted in the last several decades, Eleanor of Aquitaine was a moderately well known historical figure, in that her name was fairly recognizable to those with a passing familiarity with medieval history. In addition, several popular culture portrayals of Eleanor of Aquitaine increased recognition among non-specialists. Despite this, however, the prevailing view of Eleanor and her historical significance has long been somewhat reductive and one-dimensional. This discussion will seek to present an accurate overview and interpretation of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s role in the governance and politics of medieval Europe.
The discussion will be predicated upon the assertion that Eleanor of Aquitaine, in addition to her central importance as a political actor, was also a proto-feminist figure who effectively transcended the narrow parameters circumscribing female decorum during the medieval period. A chronological overview of the life and accomplishments of Eleanor of Aquitaine will be presented within this conceptual framework. Finally, in conclusion, an overarching assessment of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s historical significance will be presented.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in 1122 in the politically significant region of Aquitaine of medieval France to a family of the ruling class that had produced no male heir. While in many aristocratic families, this would be viewed as a tragic shortcoming, Eleanor was viewed as a blessing and as such, was afforded many of the educational and experiential opportunities typically reserved for male progeny .
Eleanor’s father, William X, was the Duke of Aquitaine, and he allowed Eleanor a wide degree of license in her educational pursuits and activities. These years of learning would help Eleanor navigate the complex political situations she encountered in the various roles she filled throughout her lifetime, which included being the Duchess of Aquitaine, the Duchess of Guienne, the Queen of France, the Duchess of Normandy, and the Queen of England.