Column

Badass Women

25 March 2020

Name a prominent female figure in history – go! Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth the First; all famous and for good reason. They made big differences in history that men simply couldn’t ignore. I’d like to shed some light on women whose mark on history has been neglected, who changed its tide but haven’t been given their fair share. Maybe they weren’t sexy and didn’t have sway on the course of the Roman Empire. Or maybe, they simply weren’t from the Western hemisphere. Either way, these women were badass in a man’s world, and their stories deserve to be heard. To begin our journey, I’d like to introduce Eleanor of Aquitaine, the sharp witted aristocrat who changed the course of two country’s histories.

 

ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE 

Born during the 12th century, Eleanor of Aquitaine was orphaned at aged 15. Instantly becoming the heiress to her Father’s vast estate, she immediately became the most eligible bachelorette in Europe. Quickly swooped up by the King of France (King Louis VI), within hours he had betrothed her to his heir (another Louis!), and five months later, they became King and Queen of France. No male heirs were produced from this union, and after 15 years the marriage was annulled on terms of being too closely related (did no one investigate this beforehand?). But never fear, within weeks Eleanor had already made other plans for her future. Indeed, here’s a snapshot into the mind of Eleanor of Aquitaine as she moved on from her too-close-for-comfort ex-husband to wed the future King of England (yes, you heard that right- the lady moves on quick). 

“Your majesty, I implore you to listen-”

“Last time I checked, I was no longer Queen. Drop the title.”

The sound of brass on tile fills the desolate hallway as Eleanor paces forwards, the Archbishop close on her heals. 

“Fine, then. Your Highness, please, will you hear my counsel?”

Eleanor pauses in her tracks, sucking in a breath as she turns not to face the man, but the arched windows that line the passage. 

Aquitaine stretches out before her, its beauty incomparable to filthy, cramped Paris. A quaint village had since grown from the old smattering of brick houses that resided outside the estate. It blocked her view of the rolling green hills and crystal clear ocean she’d grown accustomed to seeing, but no matter. She liked the village better. A slight layer of grime coated the once clear glass, her only window into a world beyond courts and confinements. Eleanor’s heart flutters seeing the beauty and prosperity of the land – her land – around her. 

“Duchess?” enquires the Archbishop tenderly. 

She savors the landscape a moment longer before turning to face him. 

“Yes, Archbishop?”

“Will you-”

“Yes, yes, get on with it.”

Eleanor turns on her heel, briskly pacing down the hallway before coming to a pause underneath an archway. The Archbishop quickly spills his wisdom. 

“Your highness, the young Duke of Normandy is a worthy recipient of your hand, but combining the Duchy of Aquitaine with his already vast lands is almost an act of open rebellion! And with your annulment so fresh in France’s mind, God can only forgive so much. I’m sure the Duke will understand you wishing to preserve one last shred of dignity!”

The little man pants slightly, his eyes boring into the back of Eleanor’s head, awaiting a reply. She stares into the archways above, feeling but not yet acknowledging the Archbishop’s burning gaze. An untraceable look passes over her face – is it smugness, contemplation? She swivels slowly to face him, hands clasped, elbows pointed.

“Archbishop, do you know the story of my great grandfather, the honourable William the Ninth?” she enquires softly.

“I…” 

He looks quizzically at Eleanor, her head tilted, a coy smile playing on her lips. She looks as if she were posing for a portrait, regality radiating from her gaze. Resignation flooded the man’s face.

“Yes, your Highness. He was a wonderful man.”

“He wasn’t just a lord, you know. See here?” Eleanor indicated to the words written above her. “I have given up all I loved so much: chivalry and pride; and since it pleases God, I accept it all, that He may keep me by Him.’ My Grandfather wrote that, and my Father had his lyrics carved into some of the doorways.” 

Eleanor steps towards the Arch, fixing him with a piercing stare – her presence fills the room, a Queen in her own right.

“My dear man, I do not seek the Duke’s hand in an act of rebellion, nor to betray the Lord’s faith in me. I do so to secure the legacy of my house in the years to come, and to ensure any of my future sons have the chance to live, not just rule. They will never have to give up things they love, like I have. Do you understand me?”

The Archbishop nods, eyes wide. She takes a step towards him. 

“The Kingdom of France has given my family nothing but grief. I have seen it. I saw it with my Father. I heard the stories from my Grandfather and ancestor’s time. England offers us another chance, another hope.”

The Archbishop’s expression turns stony at the mention of the Kingdom across the sea.

“The Duke is not King yet.”

“Oh, no, Archbishop…but he will be.”

Smiling benignly, she approaches the nearest window, gazing out into the country she would soon have to leave again. Had it somehow become greener? The far off water sparkles in the midday sun, and the brown and blacks of the village seeming even less drab against the bright green hills. Everything Eleanor was going to do, the sacrifices she was preparing to make in order to leave France’s regime, she would do with the memory of her home locked tight within her heart. Closing her eyes, she tilts her head, listening to the faint crashing of waves against Aquitaine’s shores, to the laughter of children in the village, to the rolling of carts over cobbled pavement. Her voice finally pierces the serenity.

“Seeing as I will be a new Queen within a matter of months, maybe you actually shouldn’t drop the title, Archbishop.”

 


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