Thursday, March 21, 2013

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Scandal of Raymond of Antioch

By Christy English

Eleanor of Aquitaine was plagued by many scandals in her lifetime. During her years in the Parisian court, she was always held up as an example of a queen who was lacking: a woman who lacked a son, a woman who lacked piety, a woman who would not keep her god-given place in the world, namely beneath her husband's boot.

I love this modern rendering of Eleanor, because it shows her strength,
but I always want to ask, where is her wimple?

Eleanor lived her life for herself, keeping her eyes on her own goals, but this strength and certainty and the need to follow her own path kept her surrounded by scandal all of her life. She never faced the wrath of the Church and her enemies more than when she visited her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, now become Raymond, Prince of Antioch.

During the Second Crusade, the French army spent only ten days in her uncle's city, but a great scandal began there that  followed Eleanor for the rest of her life, a scandal that continued to plague her even once she had left Louis VII and his court far behind and to become Queen of the English.

The story says that Eleanor and Raymond became lovers while pious King Louis was out praying at every shrine he could find. The cuckolded husband, upon discovering Eleanor and Raymond, dragged his wife out of the castle in the dead of night, threatening to raze the city to the ground if Eleanor did not leave that place at once.

We do know that Eleanor and Louis did leave suddenly, in the dead of night, and as far as history tells us, Eleanor never saw her uncle again. We know that during the few days she spent in Antioch, she loved the place, and felt at home among the people there, a mix of Poitevens, Franks, and Greeks, a place where Christians had come together to hold the Kingdom of Antioch against the incursions of the Saracens to the north. Eleanor began to ask for an annulment for her barren marriage to Louis during this time, offering to stay behind in Antioch while the rest of the Crusaders continued on toward Jerusalem.

Louis, who adored his wife, would not leave her behind. He would not return to her bed until the Pope himself put him there, but he did not accuse her of infidelity. Of course, many of his courtiers did, just not always in his hearing.

So the question is: Did Eleanor have an affair with her uncle Raymond?

Most modern historians and historical fiction writers answer this question with a resounding NO, and take great offense when the question is asked. They feel as if this story is just one more way in which Eleanor is maligned by her enemies, the old hatreds reaching down from the past to paint her in whorish colors even today.

And there are others, like myself, who say that we simply do not know. As much as I adore Eleanor, as much reading as I have done about her while writing about her life, I find Eleanor of Aquitaine a mystery and an enigma. I have found Eleanor a law unto herself, a woman who does not always reveal the twists and turns of the paths of her mind.

For my part, I feel as if a subject so intimate as the lovers she may or may not have taken during her married life is really none of my business. Nor is it any of our business, we who love her and read about her now. Though Eleanor is a public figure, there are some things in life that always are and always will be private.

That said, as I work on a novel, I am a partner with the character who comes to work with me. And Eleanor as I understand her insisted on keeping Raymond in the story in the role as her lover, a role that many people find offensive and wrong, historically and morally.

I live by the adage "The book is the boss," and whenever I am working with Eleanor, that means that on creative decisions, Eleanor gets final say. The character makes the call, and I agree to live with the fall out. My novel TO BE QUEEN differs from what is currently in fashion historically, and I can live with that.

The historical Raymond lost his life to a Saracen blade in June, 1149. I dedicate this entry to him. To his valor, his courage and his faith, his belief that the impossible is only impossible until someone lifts his hand to do it.

 Christy English is the author of the historical novels THE QUEEN'S PAWN and TO BE QUEEN published by NAL. She has also written the Regency romances, HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE and LOVE ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT from Sourcebooks Casablanca.


  1. I don't know very much more about Queen Eleanor other than she was the queen of two countries. I feel sorry for Eleanor and Raymond if the did love each other.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Really enjoyed that post Christy, thanks for sharing.

  3. I don't know very much about Queen Eleanor either, but now I'm definitely intrigued! Thanks for this post!

  4. It was an interesting choice for you to make as a writer and I enjoyed your book. Even if I didn't agree with all the choices you made (like the Raymond affair) I thought you did well to maintain the integrity of the character as you understood her, and that respect very much resonated throughout. I have to smile at this post because while I also have always liked that painting that Duncan Fripp did of Eleanor, the lack of wimple bugs me, too! Now if anyone could get away with going wimple-commando, Eleanor could have, but I do think wimples were rather flattering for women of a, uhm, certain age....


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