The Former Queen of France Weds the Future King of England
This is one of the royal weddings where I'd love to have been a fly on the wall. Not for the actual marriage ceremony, mind, but for the moment the lady's former husband found out what she'd done!
Eleanor of Aquitaine's life reads like a soap opera, but though truly unbelievable in places, most of what we know about her is fact. She was regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful women. And, as duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, she was certainly one of the richest.
Aged 15, Eleanor was wed to the King of France, Louis VII. They were close in age but so different in temperament that what should have been a successful union turned into the marriage from hell. Louis was monkish and serious, while his young wife was a beautiful, headstron, vivacious rebel. The two got on like wine and milk.
Matters were not helped by Eleanor failing to give the French king the required heir. This was most likely due to a lack of opportunity on her part, but as most women through the ages, she got the blame.
Eventually, Eleanor had enough of the French court and her unsatisfactory marriage. She began looking for a way out, and soon found one: the fact that she was distantly related to her husband - something the church usually frowned on - and finally, in March 1152 she bid her former husband goodbye and returned to Aquitaine.
The French king, while no longer her husband, was still nominally her liege lord and should have found a new husband for her, or at least have had final approval over her choice. But, always the rebel, Eleanor had different ideas and on May 18th 1152 - just six weeks after her divorce had been finalised - she married a man 12 years her junior. A man, to boot, whom her ex thoroughly disapproved of. Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Normany and Count of Anjou, was a thorn in France's side and the last man Louis would have chosen as a partner for Eleanor.
Because Henry was more than just a man whose lands bordered the French domain and whose family had fought with the French for decades. Through his mother, the Empress Matilda, Henry had a claim to the English throne. And his and Eleanor's lands surrounded most of Louis's possessions. In fact, there was hardly a worse partner for Eleanor to choose, than Henry of Anjou.
Some say, that's precisely why she did it. But I like to believe that there's a bit more to that most scandalous of royal weddings than just revenge on her ex. Henry had a devil-may-care attitude that matched Eleanor's. They were both intelligent, ruthless, and restless. And the chemistry between them was said to be explosive.
The wedding, at Bordeaux Cathedral, was everything Eleanor's married life hadn't been: sumptuous, and rich and as luxurious as befitted her status as one of the world's wealthiest women, former Queen of France and future Queen of England. It had to have been Eleanor's choice, as Henry cared little for luxuries.
And along with a new husband who was to her taste, Eleanor soon gained another revenge on her ex: the barren queen gave her new husband eight children, five of them sons, two of which - Richard the Lionheart and John - would claim the English throne.