Forget Anne Boleyn. Where are all the TV series on Eleanor of Aquitaine?

by Louise Quick

The world needs to get over Anne Boleyn. The Tudor Queen was trending on Twitter again recently, due in part to the fact last month marked 485 years since she met her untimely end, but also because of the new three-part series all about the second wife of Henry VIII, featuring actress Jodie Turner-Smith, on Channel 5.

People the world over are obsessed with the history of Anne Boleyn and the big man, Henry VIII, and with good reason. The history of the Tudors is like a real life soap opera, with enough marriage, divorce, murder, and scandal to make Eastenders seem tame.

Now, I’m a big fan of the Tudors and am feminist enough to know we should never pit one woman against another. However, all that drama isn’t solely found in the Tudor era. British royalty has existed for a good 1,000 years (and then some), and each era has its own scandal to rival Albert Square and, more importantly, some amazing Queens who deserve some limelight!

Take Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example. Almost four centuries before Anne and Henry had locked eyes, Eleanor of Aquitaine was using her power and influence to shape countries, stir up rebellions, and rule alongside four kings of Europe.

Painting ‘Queen Eleanor’ by Frederick Sandys, 1858

At 15 years old, the young Duchess essentially became the most eligible woman in Europe when she inherited a chunk of land in southern France, called Aquitaine (which explains her name). That land was important because, as Eleanor well knew, a woman with land is a woman with power.

She soon married and, combining their territories, she ruled as Queen alongside King Louis VII of France. Their marriage only lasted 15 years and was notoriously unhappy – even the Pope apparently acted as pseudo marriage counsellor at one point. But during that time Eleanor was actively involved in running their kingdom and even accompanied her husband across Europe in the Second Crusade.

Wedding of Eleanor & Louis

However, the young royal clearly had an exit strategy, because just two months after her first marriage was annulled she married Henry of Anjou, better known as King Henry II of England. Yes, Eleanor had divorced the King of France for the King of England.

Again, she was involved in ruling their kingdom and later essentially set up her own court in her homelands of southern France, known as the ‘court of love’. How Henry felt about his wife setting up a ‘court of love’ away from him, I’m honestly not sure. However, it’s said that it was a cultural hub where ideas of ‘chivalry’ were if not established then certainly popularised.

Slightly less ‘lovely’ was the fact that it was from France that she planned a coup along with her teenage sons to overthrow her husband. When Henry II caught wind of the plan he was understandably not too thrilled and, despite her power and influence, the English Queen found herself imprisoned for a good decade.

It was only on her husband’s death that Eleanor was brought back into the fold. Now in her late 60s, you might think she’d accept an easy retirement but no, instead, she ruled England alongside her son and King, Richard the Lionheart. Her expertise must have been appreciated, given that Richard spent most of his reign crusading around Europe and the Middle East. 

After Richard, Eleanor even assisted her youngest son, King John, but was understandably less hands-on given she was pushing 80. The fact she lived until she was 82 years old still boggles my mind – this was the 12th century!

What’s more impressive is how this medieval Queen achieved that rare thing in history: she was a woman who wielded power yet managed to survive.

So why aren’t there a thousand TV dramas about her? The powerful 12th century woman who was Queen of France, Queen of England, ruled alongside two husbands and two sons, was involved in crusades, politics, culture, and survived imprisonment. 

I’m not saying Anne Boleyn isn’t fascinating, but maybe she could share some limelight with the mighty Medieval queens too!

Eleanor of Aquitaine effigy
(image: Wikimedia Commons _ Adam Bishop)

Recommend Reading:

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, by Helen Castor

‘The Female Rulers of Medieval France,’ by Sara Cockerill – https://www.historytoday.com/archive/feature/female-rulers-medieval-france 

‘Eleanor of Aquitaine Marries Henry of Anjou,’ by Richard Cavendish – https://www.historytoday.com/archive/eleanor-aquitaine-marries-henry-anjou 


About the Author:

Louise Quick is an experienced multimedia journalist, content writer, and proud history nerd.

She completed her Public History MA from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2018. Her MA project featured a YouTube cookery series, recreating Edwardian vegetarian recipes in a bid to highlight the little-known fact that many of Britain’s Suffrage campaigners were vegetarians. The project was called ‘Suffrage Eats’, (a pun she is far too proud off).

Before her MA, Louise worked as a lifestyle journalist in Dubai, but returned to the UK to pursue her love of history. She has since written forThe Guardian and All About History, and produced educational video series for Historic Royal Palaces and History Bombs.

 

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