People Liked to Try to Kidnap Her
Modern-day France looked much different in the medieval period: it was dominated by other vassal states that owed their allegiance to the French king while ruling themselves. Eleanor’s father William X didn’t have any surviving sons, so the duchy transferred to her when he died. Eleanor’s inheritance, which made up 25% of modern-day France, made her one of the most eligible women in the medieval period.
Wealthy, unmarried heiresses were ripe for kidnapping in the medieval world: a rich man or ruler could kidnap them and force them into marriage, often by raping them, to claim their inheritance. Medieval literature is filled with the “maiden in the tower” stories that resulted in a knight or lord kidnapping the maiden out of captivity and marrying her, romanticizing the kidnapping and rape that actually occurred to wealthy women of the age.
The king of France, Louis VI, wanted an alliance with Aquitaine: it would increase his landholdings and his wealth. Eleanor’s marriage to the future Louis VII would produce heirs to the French throne, and it would provide France with the wealth and power it needed. William X knew the danger his daughter faced without a marriage contract. When they were children, Eleanor and the future Louis VII became engaged. Soon after her father’s death on pilgrimage in 1137, Eleanor and Louis were married, and within a month of their wedding, Louis VI died, making the teenage newlyweds king and queen of France.
After many years of unhappiness and the birth of two daughters, Louis VII and Eleanor annulled their marriage, and her lands of Aquitaine reverted back to her. After her annulment, on her way home to Poiters, the seat of power of Aquitaine, she managed to escape not one, but TWO captors: Theobald, Count of Blois and Geoffrey Plantagenet, anxious to obtain her wealth and lands. To protect herself from future kidnapping, and to increase her own power, she chose to marry Henry Plantagenet, duke of Normandy and Anjou and the heir to the English throne, the brother of one of her potential kidnappers.