Eleanor of Aquitaine: the medieval queen who took on Europe’s most powerful men

Henry II and Richard I are among England's most celebrated kings. But when it came to resourcefulness, political nous and sheer staying power, neither were the equal of the woman that bound them, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Professor Lindy Grant examines the extraordinary and colourful life of one of the medieval world's most powerful women...

Two scenes from the Chronique de St Denis, late 14th century. The left-hand scene depicts the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France in 1137. The scene on the right shows Louis departing by ship to go on the Second Crusade in 1147. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

When Richard the Lionheart inherited his father’s realms in 1189, 
one of his first acts as king was to release his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, from imprisonment.

But Richard did a lot more than just free Eleanor from the house arrest under which she had languished for 15 years: he entrusted her with the governance of England while he secured his continental realms. And so the newly liberated queen-mother was soon progressing around the kingdom with a ‘regal’ court, judging cases and organising the release of prisoners – a traditional demonstration of magnanimity by a new ruler.

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