She Survived Childbirth Ten Times, a Major Victory in the Medieval World
Eleanor’s contributions of wealth and prestige should have made her an equal partner in her marriage to Henry, but she was still his wife, and she needed to produce heirs. After a disappointing turn as the queen of France who didn’t produce any legitimate male heirs, Eleanor had eight children with Henry; five of them were sons, which must have been a thorn in Louis’ side.
The medieval age wasn’t a good time to live in: the life expectancy was low, and the child mortality rate was high. Eleanor of Aquitaine seems to be the exception: she lived into her 80s, having ten children by both of her husbands, and nine of them lived to be adults.
Much like her experience with her first husband, and despite the potential for great wealth and power that her new marriage had, Eleanor lost her power as soon as she became queen, even over her own lands. Both Louis and Henry fought over the rights to her lands of Aquitaine until 1157. Over the next ten years, Henry acted as duke of Aquitaine without Eleanor’s approval or her contributions.
Henry was power-hungry: her sophistication and reputation as a former queen meant nothing to him. Eleanor ruled by his side, but she made no real decisions. She didn’t get control over Aquitaine back until 1168, after she couldn’t have children anymore, further indicating that her value to him was as a wife and mother to future kings. Her reputation as a powerful ruler that we have of her today didn’t begin until she was in her later years during the reigns of her sons Richard and John.