Quotes from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life

Alison Weir ·  480 pages

Rating: (12.3K votes)


“In this martial world dominated by men, women had little place. The Church's teachings might underpin feudal morality, yet when it came to the practicalities of life, a ruthless pragmatism often came into play. Kings and noblemen married for political advantage, and women rarely had any say in how they or their wealth were to be disposed in marriage. Kings would sell off heiresses and rich widows to the highest bidder, for political or territorial advantage, and those who resisted were heavily fined.

Young girls of good birth were strictly reared, often in convents, and married off at fourteen or even earlier to suit their parents' or overlord's purposes. The betrothal of infants was not uncommon, despite the church's disapproval. It was a father's duty to bestow his daughters in marriage; if he was dead, his overlord or the King himself would act for him. Personal choice was rarely and issue.

Upon marriage, a girl's property and rights became invested in her husband, to whom she owed absolute obedience. Every husband had the right to enforce this duty in whichever way he thought fit--as Eleanor was to find out to her cost. Wife-beating was common, although the Church did at this time attempt to restrict the length of the rod that a husband might use.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life


“Court life for a queen of France at that time was, however, stultifyingly routine. Eleanor found that she was expected to be no more than a decorative asset to her husband, the mother of his heirs and the arbiter of good taste and modesty.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life


“There can have been no doubt in Eleanor's mind as to what was expected of her as a wife. In her day, women were supposed to be chaste both inside and outside marriage, virginity and celibacy being highly prized states. When it came to fornication, women were usually apportioned the blame, because they were the descendants of Eve, who had tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden, with such dire consequences. Women, the Church taught, were the weaker vessel, the gateway to the Devil, and therefore the source of all lechery. St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: "To live with a woman without danger is more difficult than raising the dead to life." Noblewomen, he felt, were the most dangerous so fall. Women were therefore kept firmly in their place in order to prevent them from luring men away from the paths of righteousness.

Promiscuity--and its often inevitable consequence, illicit pregnancy--brought great shame upon a woman and her family, and was punishable by fines, social ostracism, and even, in the case of aristocratic and royal women, execution. Unmarried women who indulged in fornication devalued themselves on the marriage market. In England, women who were sexually experienced were not permitted to accuse men of rape in the King's court. Female adultery was seen as a particularly serious offence, since it jeopardized the laws of inheritance.

Men, however, often indulged in casual sex and adultery with impunity. Because the virtue of high-born women was jealously guarded, many men sought sexual adventures with lower-class women. Prostitution was common and official brothels were licensed and subject to inspection in many areas. There was no effective contraception apart from withdrawal, and the Church frowned upon that anyway: this was why so many aristocratic and royal bastards were born during this period.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life


“From whom but the Devil did this advice come under which you are acting? Those who are urging you to repeat your former wrongdoings against an innocent person are seeking in this not your honour but their own convenience. They are clearly the enemies of your crown and the disturbers of your realm.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life


“After the dedication, Eleanor saw Bernard privately, probably at her own request. He came prepared to offer more spiritual comfort, thinking that she too might be suffering qualms of conscience over Vitry, but he was surprised to learn that she was not. Nevertheless, several matters were indeed troubling her, not the least the problems of her sister. She asked him to use his influence with the Pope to have the excommunication on Raoul and Petronilla lifted and their marriage recognised by the Church. In return, she would persuade Louis to make peace with Theobald of Champagne and recognise Pierre de la Chatre as Archbishop of Bourges.

Bernard was appalled at her brazen candour. In his opinion, these affairs were no business of a twenty-two-year-old woman. He was, in fact, terrified of women and their possible effects on him. An adolescent, first experiencing physical desire for a young girl, he had been so filled with self-disgust that he had jumped into a freezing cold pond & remained there until his erection subsided. He strongly disapproved of his sister, who had married a rich man; because she enjoyed her wealth, he thought of her as a whore, spawned by Satan to lure her husband from the paths of righteousness, and refused to have anything to do with her. Nor would he allow his monks any contact with their female relatives.

Now there stood before him the young, worldly, and disturbingly beautiful Queen of France, intent upon meddling in matters that were not her concern. Bernard's worst suspicions were confirmed: here, beyond doubt, was the source of that "Counsel of the Devil" that had urged the King on to disaster and plunged him into sin and guilt. His immediate reaction was to admonish Eleanor severely.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life



“Giraldus claimed that he had heard about Eleanor's adultery with Geoffrey from the saintly Bishop Hugh of Lincoln, who had learned of it from Henry II of England, Geoffrey's son and Eleanor's second husband. Eleanor was estranged from Henry at the time Giraldus was writing, and the king was trying to secure an annulment of their marriage from the Pope. It would have been to his advantage to declare her an adulterous wife who had had carnal relations with his father, for that in itself would have rendered their marriage incestuous and would have provided prima facie grounds for its dissolution.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life


“The formal education of women was rarely considered important. Girls of good birth were taught domestic skills at home or in a convent, and rarely learned to read and write, for it was feared that if they did they would waste their talents writing love letters or reading romances that led to promiscuity.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life


“Perhaps the Queen's prayers, and those of Bernard, had been efficacious, or perhaps Louise had been more attentive in bed, for during 1145--the exact date is not recorded--she bore a daughter, who was named Marie in honour of the Virgin. If the infant was not the male heir to France so desired by the King--the Salic law forbade the succession of females to the throne--her arrival encouraged the royal parents to hope for a son in the future.

Relationships between aristocratic parents and children were rarely close. Queens and noblewomen did not nurse their own babies, but handed them over at birth into the care of wet nurses, leaving themselves free to become pregnant again.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life


“Arthur managed to speak to his grandmother [Queen Eleanor of England], demanding that she evacuate the castle with all her possessions and then go peaceably wherever she wished, for he wanted to show nothing but honour to her person. The Queen replied that she would not leave it, but if he behaved as a courtly gentlemen, he would quit this place, for he would find plenty of castles to attack other than the one she was in.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life


“The King ruled in consultation with his chief nobles, who fromed the nucleus of what was in effect a military aristocracy, whose power was centered on the castles they used to subdue and dominate the land.”
― Alison Weir, quote from Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life



About the author

Alison Weir
Born place: in London, The United Kingdom
Born date January 1, 1951
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