The first woman to ask for divorce and lead an army, Eleanor of Aquitaine lived until she was 82 (pretty good considering most died in their 40s). She got a formal education, which was really rare for women in that era. There are rumours that she poisoned her second husband Henry II’s mistress, the Fair Rosamund.
This lady’s bad-ass.
eleanor of aquitaine is my favourite
Well she was also the most powerfull feudal landowner of her time. She was badass.
Er, not so sure about the “leading an army” bit, though there is a story (of dubious veracity, amusing though it is) about her and her ladies-in-waiting riding bare-breasted, like Amazons, to Damascus when travelling as guests on Crusade. Her husband at the time was Louis VII of France, known for a certain amount of prudishness and piety, and was a frankly terrible military leader. There is also a tall tale, spread mainly by monks writing decades after her death and with a grudge against the strong-willed queen, that she had an affair with Saladin on that same (disastrous) Crusade, despite the fact that he would have been eleven at the time. Much more plausible is the claim that she and an uncle living in Antioch had amorous escapades.
She and Louis VII did divorce (or, rather, get an annulment), though it was as much at his instigation (and that of basically everyone else except the Pope) as her own, given that she had, to date, produced only daughters. They had never really gotten along. She was far better matched with her second husband, Henry II of England, though that was not necessarily a boon: it would seem that they were too similar to keep from butting heads constantly.
To Louis’s undoubted chagrin, Eleanor and Henry had five sons together, and three daughters. When the middle few sons were in their teens, Eleanor provoked them into rebelling against their father; her annoyance at not having control of her lands, her annoyance at Henry’s acquisition of a mistress, and a general strain of combativeness have all been posited as reasons for these actions. The boys got off fine, but it was after this that she started getting locked up. As they grew older, she rotated in and out of house arrest in various castles, since Henry couldn’t seem to stand being near her nor getting rid of her.
During Henry’s reign, England’s borders were the largest, I believe, in history: Henry inherited England and lands in France, and Eleanor brought the Aquitaine, roughly a quarter of what is now France. When Louis was still alive and watching them from afar, the extent of his power was, mostly, just around Paris. It was under his son, Philip — product of a second marriage — that France began gaining ground again. Philip was a much stronger ruler than his father in general. (Also there are stories that Richard Coeur de Lion/the Lionheart/the First (Eleanor’s and Henry’s third son) was interested romantically in Philip, in part because when Richard visited Philip in France, Philip allowed Richard to share his bed; but that was as much a sign of solidarity between the two in opposition to Henry during those uprisings as it might have been any sort of romantic interest. Richard is, still, often thought of as gay, having absolutely no interest in his wife and having spent scant time with her (I don’t know if they ever even consummated anything), but he really didn’t seem to have interest in anything other than killing people and doing absolutely bullshit things while running around on Crusades and getting imprisoned in Austria or something for a while and just generally not really being a good ruler considering that he only spent about six months of his ten-year reign as King of England actually in England, and here poor old King John, his baby brother, is the one who everyone says was “the Bad King” even though he was probably just bipolar and sort of lethargic generally but suddenly got really energetic this one time he had to go save his mum from her grandson (who wanted to take over France) and also lost the royal jewels in a swamp in East Anglia but was actually not really that horrible and also signed the Magna Carta though that was mainly because his barons had all of this idiotic beef with him about whether or not wards could be married off to mercenaries and stuff like that… anyway if you want to ship Richard/Philip go watch The Lion in Winter because it’s about all of these people and is great and Philip is played by 19-year-old Timothy Dalton and Richard’s played by Anthony Hopkins and Eleanor’s played by Katherine Hepburn and Henry by Peter O’Toole.)
Eleanor lived far longer than Henry did (he died some time in his 50s), and is recorded as having little to no reaction to news of his death, though of course it meant she could stop hanging around in house arrest. She took a vested interest in the affairs of her sons and their reigns (she ruled England while Richard was doing jackshit abroad), and rode to Castile at 80 years old to decide which of her granddaughters was to marry Philip’s son.
And now to the most pressing issue… that picture is a Pre-Raphaelite painting by Edmund Blair Leighton called “The Accolade” and has nothing to do with Eleanor of Aquitaine whatsoever.
ETA: I feel I must also add that when that mistress, Rosamund Clifford, died, she was living in a convent and was probably mostly out of Eleanor’s reach; the main story about Eleanor poisoning her is some ludicrous stuff about Henry hiding Rosamund at the center of a giant maze and Eleanor going in and offering Rosamund death by either knife or poison. You can imagine the myriad of folk tales that this story is based upon.
Likewise, Eleanor would have not received a “formal education” as we now understand it; rather, she would have been tutored as a child — as, really, most noblewomen of the time would have been.
Also, there is nothing saying either way who was the first woman to ask for divorce. Or, rather, there probably is, but she would not have lived until the Reformation, since divorces were illegal under the Catholic Church and annulments the popular alternative, and only nobles and royalty had the clout and sordid family ties to ask the Pope for annulments and find the half-cousin-once-removed blood relations that made the annulment legally sound.
In summation: I’d hardly call Eleanor “badass”, though she was certainly an extraordinary and intriguing figure. If you want badass, I’d recommend the Empress Maud — she was trying to get herself crowned Queen Regnant of England in the middle of The Anarchy, which despite its name was really a proper civil war. She failed due to the London populace’s misogyny, but she was a stronger character than her opposition, Stephen, and ended up getting one over his side, in the end, when they agreed to make her son, Henry II (everything’s connected!) heir, rather than anyone through Stephen’s line.
Other cool ladies: Hatshepsut, Elizabeth I, Jehanne D’Arc, Isabella D’Este.
Aaaaand this is why I’m in love with Sig.