Her Second Marriage Created a Scandal…and an Empire
The pope agreed to annul Eleanor and Louis’ marriage in March 1152 because they were third cousins, too closely related for the Church to be comfortable with it. Eleanor got Aquitaine back, and she was a wealthy heiress again. Knowing she needed protection, she quickly contacted Henry, the duke of Normandy and Anjou, and asked him to marry her. Henry may have been considering this move himself, and he jumped at the chance to marry one of the most eligible women in the kingdom.
Eleanor’s choice for her second husband was a problem: as the rulers of French vassal states, Henry and Eleanor needed permission to marry from the king of France, and there was little chance that Louis was going to approve the marriage. Henry and Eleanor married quickly, less than two months after her annulment, in a clandestine marriage that was hastily done and nowhere near the ceremony that was considered proper for two people of their stations.
Considering the speed by which she married Henry, it indicates that, when she met Henry when he visited the French court in 1151, Eleanor and Henry came to an understanding during his visit that if her annulment came through, they could marry: the medieval version of “I’ll call you.” The speed of Eleanor’s second marriage implies that she knew he needed a wife, she needed protection, and the combination of their lands was a lucrative power play.
Becoming even more powerful when he became king of England in 1154, Henry’s marriage to Eleanor created the Angevin Empire, which included Henry’s lands in England, Normandy, and Anjou, as well as Eleanor’s lands in Aquitaine. The newlyweds now had more lands than the king of France, and their descendants would rule England for the next three hundred years.
Louis was furious over the marriage. His marriage to Eleanor had been annulled on grounds of consanguinity, but Henry and Eleanor were even more closely related: they were second cousins. Joined by other French vassals who were just as threatened by Henry’s increased wealth and lands, Louis VII declared war on both Henry and Eleanor for marrying without his permission; much like the Second Crusade, it ended in a humiliating defeat for the French king.