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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > Christmas 2015 > History Makers: Eleanor of Aquitaine

History Makers: Eleanor of Aquitaine

From teenage duchess to elderly mother of kings, one woman sat at the heart of European politics for six decades. Jonny Wilkes salutes super-shrewd Eleanor of Aquitaine
BRAINS AND BEAUTY There are very few descriptions of the famously attractive Eleanor. Here she This shown in a 14th-century German painting


When her father died in 1137, Eleanor of Aquitaine, still just a teenager, became the most eligible heiress in all of Europe. She was not only beautiful, smart and tenacious, but the 15-year-old had inherited expansive territories in the south of France and a great fortune, making her the ideal choice of wife for the powerful or ambitious young men of the continent.

In a 12th-century world dictated by men, even wealthy women like Eleanor rarely had a say in their own life – the most important roles they could perform were as trading commodities (to be married off as part of political alliances) and to bear male heirs. It therefore seemed that Eleanor’s future as a doting and loyal wife was laid before her and yet, for more than 60 years, she refused to accept this fate. Politically shrewd and dynamic, she skilfully manoeuvred herself to the peak of European politics – rising to be the queen consort of both France and England – and established her own legacy as two of her sons would go on to be kings. Eleanor held her own in a male-dominated society to be, arguably, the most powerful woman of the Middle Ages.

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The Christmas 2015 issue of History Revealed