Eleanor of Aquitaine

In the process of reading the book Stealing Heaven, The Love Story of Abelard and Heloise by Marion Meade, I was surprised to see that Abelard actually crossed paths with Eleanor of Aquitaine.

I had not remembered this from my reading Eleanor of Aquitaine, A Biography, by Marion Meade (Penguin Books, 1977).  So I dug up my copy of the book and, sure enough, found that crossing-of-paths discussed on its page 48.

Seeing this 1977 book again, one I had read in the mid-nineties after a trip to the Fontevraud Abbey, in turn reminded me of that trip from about 14 years ago. It was before I had begun this website and discovered digital photography.

But Eleanor had stuck in my mind, and my website was incomplete without her photo. So when I had the opportunity to drive from Paris to Fontevraud just a couple of years ago, I seized it and took my one photo of Eleanor (her likeness, that is, on her grave).

Another item I had not remembered from my reading long ago was the meeting between Eleanor and Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard, the Saint, was rather mean and critical where Heloise was concerned, and he was Abelard’s second undoing. But when Eleanor met with this misogynist, she worked a bargain with him, according to this biography by Meade.

She promised to guide her husband into a more righteous path and he promised to implore the Lord to let her have an heir. According to Meade, she kept her end of the bargain, but the child she bore was a girl, not what was considered an heir in those times (see pages 64-67 in the biography by Meade).

I loved the description of Eleanor by Bernard (on page 65 of Meade’s book). He addressed her in an impersonal way suggesting she was like the . . . "daughters of Belial who put on airs, walk with heads high and, with mincing steps, got up and adorned like a temple,” . . . .  He also wrote this classy phrase suggesting she borrowed her . . .”appearance from the furs of animals and the work of worms.”

Meade observes that: “It is ironic that the only surviving physical [word-]portrait of Eleanor comes from a man who viewed her as a Babylonian harlot” . . . .

While I was looking for things I had forgotten, I looked for her description of the courts of love that Eleanor hosted, and was reminded of things that, when I read this book in earnest in the mid-nineties, I was not as interested in as I later became.

So I was surprised, this time, by Meade’s declaration that the book by the cleric Andreas Capellanus was actually dictated by Eleanor’s daughter, Marie, and reflected the thought of both Eleanor and Marie (pp. 252-253). When he had a chance to do so, Capellanus added the epilogue denouncing the book and all females that is part of the current version.

Meade characterizes the book in a way I would not, really, because I have a different set of sensibilities. She says of the book that it almost seems . . . “like a manifesto for some Amazon culture.”

Where I got seriously hung up with the Capellanus book is in its prescription that if you, noble-man, can’t contain yourself, then go rape a peasant girl. But for goodness-sake don’t tell her you love her. That sort of talk is reserved for noble ladies whom you must always respect and obey.

So what I had laid at the feet of poor Andreas C. I should have laid at the feet of Eleanor and Marie!

Class trumped sex in their minds! They were trying to protect noble ladies, like themselves. Peasants were peasants, born to be used.

I tend to take that personally, being a peasant.  But OK, Eleanor and Marie, you were a product of your time even though you (and I, previously) thought you were not!

Maybe the same is true for me, I can’t know.

These were the only things I looked at this time, in this fine biography.  But I will keep it close, for further reference.  

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