You’ve Got Mail! 

In the novel Aureus, Henry writes five letters to his wife Eleanor. They are revealing. Each missive opens with a newsy tidbit, the hook to read more. Henry does not disappoint. Having conveyed his “press release,” he invariably veers to another subject: his ostracism from the marital bed. In a few sentences, the errant husband presents his case for forgiveness. To summarize, monarchical greatness includes making great mistakes, thereby requiring greatness of understanding by the aggrieved party. His line of reasoning is surely consistent with autocratic thinking.  

But, back to Eleanor: Other than being the object of dinner toasts and occasional bits of gossip,  Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, is absent from this story set in 12th century England. You see, if she were to intrude into its 270 pages, she would likely dominate the entire tale. So she plays a cameo role, assisting the reader in understanding her husband, the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty. In real life. Eleanor was a force. Check out Katherine Hepburn’s movie portrayal in The Lion of Winter, released in 1968. 

Born in 1022, Eleanor became the future heiress of the vast Aquitaine in southwestern France when her brother William Aigret died at age 4. Her father, Duke William, tutored his older daughter in the courtly arts while instilling in her a love of philosophy, literature and languages, though experts generally agree that she never learned to speak English. She was an excellent horsewoman, who enjoyed hawking and hunting, pastimes normally not included in the education of a duchess. By age 15 she had married King Louis V11 of France, who adored her. Eleanor gifted him two daughters. In 1147 she persuaded her husband to allow her to accompany him on the Second Crusade to Jerusalem, where her advice did not prevent his defeat at the hands of the Moslem armies. 

When Henry, Count of Anjou, stopped in for a Paris visit in 1152, Eleanor was fascinated by this 18-year-old dynamo, who was so unlike her pious husband. Conveniently, at that time, she and Louis were divorcing. The issue was consanguinity (being blood relatives). Henry and Eleanor married that same year.  

Eleanor and Henry had eight children, definite proof that “greatness of understanding” prevailed from time to time. However, near the end of their life together, Henry kept Eleanor in a form of house arrest for her participation in their sons’ rebellions against him, but his old queen ironically outlived him by 15 years, seeing two of their sons, Richard and John, become king of England.  

Words used to describe Eleanor in her youth: beautiful, capricious, strong-willed. Words associated with an older Eleanor: tenacious, powerful, brilliant. Eleanor is interred next to Henry in the Fontevraud Abbey in France.