Queen Eleanor – The most powerful woman on the face of the earth

eleanor-of-aquitaineEleanor of Aquitaine was the ruler of my region of France for part of the middle ages. She was the most powerful woman of her time. Since, in 1137, Eleanor of Aquitaine was the most eligible heiress in Europe, she was able to marry the future king of France Louis VII (in a cathedral in Bordeaux actually).

Eleanor accompanied her husband on the Second Crusade, travelling to Constantinople and Jerusalem. The Crusade was a failure. Eleanor also failed to produce a son and their marriage was annulled. She went on to marry Henry of Anjou in 1152, who became king of England two short years later. The couple had five sons and three daughters.eleanor-of-aquitaine

For nearly two decades, Eleanor played an active part in the running of Henry’s empire, travelling backwards and forwards between their territories in England and France. It is through their union that Aquitaine (the whole South West quarter of France) became British and remained so until the end of the 100 year war some 300 years later. So you see, I must have English blood in me! How else would you explain my love of Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips and mint sauce? Oh, and London, and Rolls Royces and tea…

Eleanor plotted with two of her sons against the king and was caught. Her son Richard (Richard Lionheart) freed her later when he became king.eleanor-of-aquitaine

In 1199, Richard died and was succeeded by Eleanor and Henry’s youngest son, John. Eleanor’s role in English affairs now ceased, although she continued to be closely involved in those of Aquitaine, where she spent her final years. She died on 31 March 1204 and was buried in the abbey church at Fontevrault next to Henry II.eleanor-of-aquitaine

Katharine Hepburn played the role of Eleanor in a movie called “A Lion In Winter” alongside Peter O’Toole.eleanor-of-aquitaine

Now, going back to what interests you and I most (FOOD) the story of the Norman conquest and the fact that for about two centuries, French was the common language for the English upper classes left a few clues behind.

You see, since the poor spoke English, farmed the land and raised the animals, the animal that you raised kept and English name. While the rich, the ones who bought and feasted on the animals, spoke French. As a result, the animal in a dish has a French name:

You raise sheep, but you eat mutton (mouton in French). You raise pigs, but you eat pork (porc in French)…

On the other end, we still use some English words in Aquitaine: “tu me die” means “you are killing me” for instance…

When you come visit, I will take you to visit a few of Eleanor’s castles and favorite churches ;0)


39 Comments Add yours

  1. Olesya Le says:

    Very interesting! Thank you very much! I have just visited Bordeaux and then Normandie. Will be visiting Loire region soon. Feeling excited!!!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Don’t miss Chenonceau when in the Loire region. Very special place. Great vegetable gardens!

  2. chef mimi says:

    A fabulous read! I just realized that the beautiful wallpaper doesn’t show up when I pull up your blog on my IPad. That’s why I hadn’t noticed it!

  3. The Norman Conquest!! I was an English language major in college and wrote my thesis on the study of “compound words” in Old English, specifically in King Alfred’s Boethius. Until the French influence the English language combined multiple words to create new words such as “king” + “chair” to mean “throne”. I found that quite fascinating but the French-influenced culinary vocabulary you refer to sounds even more interesting. I guess I wasn’t so much into food during university. 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      This is all so interesting Ayako! I’m glad you liked the post!

  4. We have quite a few French words in Scotland too, in addition to those you mentioned – gigot, armoire, ashet, lots more. But then we had Mary who was brought up in France and married to the Dauphin.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Oh yes, Mary was quite an incredible lady of course. But same thing: hundreds of movies made and books written about the kings but almost nothing about these incredible women…

  5. We went to Fontevraud Abby a few weeks ago. It’s quite the place to see.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Never been there but I’d love to!!

      1. Definitely worth a trip! Plus it’s near Saumar and Chinon. A win-win!

        1. My French Heaven says:

          See? There you go!

  6. Vinny Grette says:

    We were taken to a Bastide town in the Dordogne when we were in France recently. We had a delicious dinner, whose highlight was fois gras (what else?). We were told this town was on the English side of the 100 years war. I had forgotten that the English were in France at one time and vice versa. Something like Canada – a little of each!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Maybe you were in the Beynac area of the Dordogne. My favorite place there… Did it have a huge castle on top of a cliff and overlooking the river?

      1. Vinny Grette says:

        We were 40 min south of Bergerac. Our friend is renovating a barn in Devillac and he took us to Monflanquin for dinner. There is a large impressive chateau nearby!

        1. My French Heaven says:

          My dad’s favorite restaurant was in Monflanquin. We used to drive all the way there once a month, usually on a Sunday, just to eat Lobster… Those were the days…

  7. Carl Johnson says:

    Stephane, The children so enjoyed the tour of St Emilion. When asked what they liked best in St Emilion,they both said Stephane. We will plan to see you again next year. Thank You,
    Carl, Elaine, Melanie, Ava, Julia, and Lucy

    1. My French Heaven says:

      It was such a pleasure (as always) to spend time with you and get to know your lovely family a little better. I am sure you are a very proud father and grandfather! Not having kids is my single biggest regret in life. I am so looking forward to seeing you again! I hope Elaine is feeling better!

  8. Eha says:

    Stephane – you make me go back to my childhood In Estonia! As a quarter Swedish and half Baltic baronial: everyone, but everyone spoke French as home language . . . OK, my Mother refused tho’ she could and my home language was German instead of homegrown Estonian . . . well, none my own babyish/childish choices and the mode of expression obviously counted and became English on top of the leaderboard . . . 🙂 ! . . .

  9. ladyredspecs says:

    Living in the colonies, British history was compulsory at school but they only ever taught us about kings! French/British animosity and rivalry dates back a long way but they clearly share the same blood. It is said that history is the story of victorious men, I wonder what the women would have to say……

    1. My French Heaven says:

      It’s crazy when you know that so many great rulers in history were women. Look at Elizabeth the first for instance or Victoria… I would argue that, although not a ruler per say, Elizabeth Windsor has had a huge impact herself…

      1. ladyredspecs says:

        Your absolutely right Stephane, but before Elizabeth II the history books talk more of the men behind the throne than the queens themselves…

        1. My French Heaven says:

          Of course they do. All the bloody battles and common torture make for more interesting stories. In their opinion at least… What’s scary is that it is now the media that decides what is historically relevant…

  10. Adore adore Eleanor of Aquitaine. She features in several of my novels.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I knew you would. Just looking at some of the lovely art work on your novels…

  11. I love history, Stephane, so thanks for reviewing this bit for me. These were certainly some bloody times and often treacherous as well. Family ties were all too often literal ties. Fun to read about but not so much fun to live through.


    1. My French Heaven says:

      I know. I think she spent like 2 decades in jail… One pissed off husband 😜

  12. Conor Bofin says:

    Excellent backstory to give us some idea as to why you are so suave and sophisticated.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Well, since you know I’m neither, I guess I messed up 😉

  13. This calls out for a classic movie Sunday afternoon if it were not summert: A Lion in Winter and the classic Robin Hood, where Richard Lionheart reveals himself dramatically to Errol Flynn – hot tea and a few biscuits (ah, another French word used in English, no cookies for the peasants…). A wonderful reminder how interesting historical figures are and great picture choices, Stéphane.


    1. My French Heaven says:

      It’s funny how many times, when I’m looking to translate a word, it’s almost the same in both languages. I know for sure that 99% of the words ending in “ion” are the same in both languages: revolution, evolution, allocution…

  14. Angeline M says:

    Such interesting history. Always fun to think about the queen plotting against the king with her sons. Fun times back in the day 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I didn’t mean to give you ideas Angeline 😜

  15. papatony08 says:

    Great post! I live in the states, but my family (on my fathers side) came from St Germain France (which I have no clue where that is), but anyway, I have traced my family back to the early 1600’s in St Germain. The family name (well, my great, great, . . . . great, grandfather) was John-Baptiste Sirois dit-Duplisea ya, that’s a mouthful! Now I wonder if Eleanor was my families Queen too?

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I’m sure you have some royal blood in there somewhere 😉 most records having been burnt during The révolution, you were quite lucky to be able to go back that far in your research. I only went back to 1602 …

      1. papatony08 says:

        Gee, I always knew I was royalty . . .lol all kidding aside, I was brought up with the notion (from my family) that I did have royal blood. To bad I can’t physically prove it.

  16. What a grand history you have over there!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      We forget sometimes 😉

  17. Delightful post, as always, Stephane. Thank you.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      My pleasure Kay. Have a lovely day!

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