A Right Royal Divorce

On March 21, 1152, four archbishops, acting with the pope’s approval, annuled the marriage between King Louis VII and Eleanor of Acquitaine, thus clearing the way for Eleanor to become one of England’s most notable queens.

Louis and Eleanor married in 1137 and had two daughters together, neither of whom could inherit the French throne, due to Salic Law. Louis was desperate for a son and Eleanor was desperate to marry her lover, Henry, Duke of Normandy, so they appealed to the pope, who eventually granted the anulment due to consanguinity (Louis and Eleanor were third cousins once removed). Six weeks after the anulment, Eleanor married Henry, despite the fact that she was 12 years older than her new husband and they were even more closely related than she and Louis were. They had eight children together, but the marriage between two such strong-willed people was, unsurprisingly, difficult and argumentative.

 In 1154, Henry became King of the English and was crowned, along with Eleanor, in December. Their relationship became increasingly strained over the years, and eventually Eleanor left England to return to her own castle in Poitiers. There, she and her daughter Marie are thought to have encouraged the development of the notions of Courtly Love and chivalry.

In 1173, Eleanor is said to have encouraged the revolt of her son, Henry, against his father. As a result, she was arrested and imprisoned by her husband for 16 years. After young Henry’s death in 1183, she began to have more freedom, even traveling to Normandy for 6 months. For the next few years, she traveled often with her husband, although she always had a custodian with her. When Henry died in 1189, Eleanor’s favorite son, Richard, became king. One of his first acts was to release his mother from her imprisonment. While Richard was away from his realm (which was most of his reign), Eleanor ruled as regent. She lived to see another son, John, become king and died in 1204. She was buried beside her husband, Henry, and son, Richard in Fontevraud Abbey.

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