"In her life, Eleanor of Aquitaine achieved little of significance". Assess the validity of this statement
There can be no doubt that, from her birth in 1124 (c) to her death in 1204, Eleanor of Aquitaine made a significant contribution to politics and mediaeval life in general, despite numerous obstructions from those around her due to her position as a women or the extent of her actions. In this essay however, I will examine the extent of her influence throughout the different phases of her life in chronological order, as this will allow us to consider the positive and negative effects respectively of each single achievement or trait. To this end, I shall categorise her life into the periods of: Her early years and marriage to King Louis of France, her marriage to King Henry and years of freedom therein, the rebellion of 1173 and her subsequent imprisonment, and her contribution under the reigns of her sons Richard and John. It will be necessary therefore to comment, if she was not influential for a period of her life, upon the reasons and causes for this, as our opinion and conclusions about her must change if she was unable, rather than unwilling to achieve her targets.
Let us first examine her formative years and the consequences of her marriage to Louis. It is here that we see the first example of a man, in this case her husband, limiting her political and personal aspirations at court. In this way, she was only allowed power through her husband, and her influence over him. This is demonstrated through his military campaign of 1141 to fulfil her claim over Toulouse, as well as the annulment of Ralph of Vermandois’ marriage to Count Theobald’s sister so he could marry Eleanor’s sister Petronilla. In both these examples she was unable to wield control in her own right, and therefore the public impression of her would have been negligible in this period, yet we can see that she is the person pulling the strings of power in the royal court. This claim is supported by her reported nature at the time, which included an open and lively personality, and a dominant role in her and Louis’ personal relationship. Further evidence of her impact in the reign of Louis becomes apparent when we look at her involvement in the Second Crusade of 1145. Various historians have argued that amongst her motives for accompanying the crusade was a desire to exercise power in her own right – suggesting she was unable to do so in France at the time. Indeed, during the preparations for the crusade, she was fundamental in encouraging participants - especially knights - from Aquitaine to join; the result of which was that her troops formed the majority of the French contingent. Furthermore, whilst in the Holy Land, and in particular, the court of Prince Raymond of Antioch – her uncle – she was both respected and celebrated as the leader of one of the largest and most powerful Duchy’s in France. She even felt the ability to threaten Louis with the withdrawal of all her troops if he did not agree to support Raymond in his decisions. Throughout this time, we see an unrivalled level of practicality and diplomacy from Eleanor, which shone through best in scenarios, such as in Antioch, where she was unrestricted either by her husband or the social conventions associated with her position. The fact that rumours were spread on the matter of a possible adulterous relationship between her and Raymond shows more effectively not an infidelity on her part, but as recent scholars have argued – the shocked reaction of a people who witnessed a queen acting above her weight.
This is not to say however that she was, in this period, the forefront of French politics. Certainly, I would reference her desire for a divorce, which she expressed whilst crusading in 1145, but which did not happen until 1152 as an example of her ineffectiveness. Indeed, historians have argued that it was Louis and not Eleanor who pushed through the divorce, after having become tired...
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