Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Friday, October 13, 2017

Eleanor of England, "Noble and Much Loved"

Eleanor Plantagenet, queen of Castile (born 13 October 1162)

The daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her second husband, Henry II of England, Eleanor of England, or Eleanor Plantagenet, was born in Normandy. She was the sixth child--and second daughter--of the English king and queen, though she had two elder half-siblings, the French princesses Marie and Alix, who had been born to Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was queen of France, the wife of Louis VII.* 

A thirteenth-century
depicting Eleanor,
queen of Castile
Eleanor Plantagenet's childhood was filled with movement, as the royal couple traveled through the extensive holdings of the Angevin empire, which included not only Henry's England and parts of Wales and Ireland, but also his continental holdings as well as Eleanor's vast inheritance--she controlled more of France than the French king.

In 1174, when the English princess was twelve years old, she was married to Alfonso VIII of Castile. By the terms of her marriage, Eleanor was granted political control over significant holdings throughout her husband's kingdom.

Perhaps aware of how crucial this power was to her life as queen of Castile, Eleanor was to negotiate similar terms for the first marriage of her daughter Berengaria, who would eventually rule Castile as queen regnant. (Her daughter Blanca, later Blanche, would come to serve as queen regent for her husband, Louis VIII of France.)

But that was in the future. As for Eleanor, her husband recognized her abilities, and in his will of 1204, he indicated that, if he were to die while his son and heir was still a minor, his wife was to rule as regent of Castile alongside of their son, Ferdinand. 

Despite his careful provisions and Eleanor's evident ability, she was never to rule Castile--or, at least, never to rule Castile for long. She did become regent, but she died less than a month after Alfonso, on 31 October 1214. 

Since Ferdinand had predeceased his father, the new king of Castile was Henry I, just ten years old. His sister Berengaria, well prepared by her mother, assumed the role of regent of Castile. After her brother's death, she inherited the throne of Castile, ruling as its queen.

Eleanor, queen of Castile, is buried Abbey of Santa MarĂ­a la Real de Las Huelgas, Burgos, Spain, her tomb right next to that of her husband, Alfonso VIII.

The tomb of Eleanor of England, queen of Castile
(just behind is Alfonso's tomb)

There is no biography of Eleanor Plantagenet, but a great deal of information about her can be found in biographies of her mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and of her daughter, Berengaria. There are several scholarly biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but I like Amy Kelly's Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings. There are fewer choices for Eleanor Plantagenet's daughter, but luckily there is Janna Bianchini's The Queen's Hand: Power and Authority in the Reign of Berenguela of Castile and Miriam Shaddis's Political Women in the High Middle Ages: Berenguela of Castile and Her Family.

Of these, Shaddis's work is a particularly good source for you if you're interested in her mother, Eleanor Plantagenet. Shaddis includes two useful chapters: "Mothering Queenship: Leonor of England, Queen of Castile, 1161-1124" and, focusing on the importance of marital arrangements for Berengaria's later success, "Documenting Authority: Marriage Agreements and the Making of a Queen." 

*The marriage between Eleanor and Louis had been annulled in 1152, after Alix's birth. Eleanor had sought the annulment, using the birth of her two daughters as the reason for ending her marriage to Louis: she had been married for fifteen years and had produced no male heir.  When the pope granted her request, finally, it was on the grounds of consanguinity--although the marriage was dissolved, the couple's two daughters were declared legitimate. Freed of her first marriage, Eleanor of Aquitaine immediately married Henry and promptly gave birth to a son, William, in August 1153.

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