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A Remarkable Woman? Popular Historians and the Image of Eleanor of Aquitaine

from II - Interpretations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Michael Evans
Affiliation:
Central Michigan University
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Summary

The word “remarkable” is perhaps the most commonly used adjective in descriptions of Eleanor of Aquitaine. The entry devoted to her in one recent encyclopedia of the Middle Ages opens with the statement that she “was one of the most remarkable women of the twelfth century.” Pick up one of the many popular biographies of her, or even some of the more scholarly works, and you will be informed that Eleanor was an outstanding figure, whose remarkable career distinguishes her from any other woman in what is assumed to be a backward and misogynist age. Eleanor's political career is certainly remarkable enough: wife of two kings; mother of two more (or three, depending on how we count them) and (although this is less frequently remarked upon) of two queens; crusader; rebel; governor and regent. But she has also been viewed as patroness of the troubadours, defender of Occitan national identity, carrier of southern culture to the benighted north, Amazon warrior, and proto-feminist, not including the wilder legends that make her a lover of Saladin, murderess, and demonic mother.

The idea of Eleanor's exceptionalism runs through the popular image of her like letters through a stick of rock candy. Douglas Boyd, in his popular biography of 2004, calls Eleanor “[c]harismatic, beautiful, highly intelligent and literate, but also impulsive and proud.” She “did not conform to preconceptions of medieval European womanhood,” and was an “extraordinary woman” who “lived a remarkable life.”

Type
Chapter
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Studies in Medievalism XVIII
Defining Medievalism(s) II
, pp. 244 - 264
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2009

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