The feminist movement or women’s liberation society is thought to have developed its initial stages in various countries at different times in Western Europe and North America. In the present day, scholars attest that the initial spores of feminism blossomed during the Enlightenment period from (1685-1815). The enlightenment period questioned the old feudal regime and power structure of the upper-class statement. In the period following the enlightenment, many views developed, however, feminism proved to be the most controversial and consistent impression-a-movement recognized today as one of the definitive oppositions towards a patriarchal administration. The purpose of this research paper is to challenge the historical intellectuals by identifying an earlier start period to feminism by illustrating the iconic High Middle Ages Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine life. The thesis statement eclipses the ideologies and struggles of the Victorian era by outlining Eleanor economic freedom, political independence and social freedom through courtly love all resulting in one woman achieving more for women than in any period of our existence. I am confident that my thesis holds up against the scholars, my conclusion briefly explains the historian’s arguments to feminism having it roots in the late nineteenth century along with supporting my evidence for the High Middle Age period.

Keywords: Feudal, feminism, Aquitaine, Poitiers

Eleanor of Aquitaine Rise of Feminism

Eleanor of Aquitaine was heiress to one of the richest domains in medieval Europe. In the twelfth century, the county of Poitou and the Duchies of Aquitaine and Gascony covered a vast region to the south-west of what is now France, encompassing all the lands between the river Loire in the north and the Pyrenees in the south. (Weir, 2007, p.3) Upon the sudden death of her father William X, Eleanor obeyed his testimony by marrying Louis V11 of France. The marriage consisted of all elements of feudalism. The nobility paid homage to Kings, rather than the nation. Feudalism required a lord to defend his territories. On occasion, a powerful Baron, Duke or Count might throw down his pledge of allegiance to fight against his own King for land. In the early twelfth century the kingdom of France found itself in a struggle for supremacy with feudal vassals who had extended their territory becoming stronger than the crown whose authority had little weight outside of the royal demesne. (Weir, 2007, p. 22) marriage to Eleanor provided an army, ships and vast wealth for Louis V11. Feudal marriages bestowed certain privileges to the husband. For example, a woman property would be controlled and taken by her husband. All women took a servitude position towards the spouse, and a man could beat his wife at will. However, Aquitanian laws favoured women in cases of land rights and adultery. Therefore, when William X died in 1137, bequeathing his daughter Eleanor to the future Louis V11. (Weir, 2007, p. 23) The marriage contract established that the lands were to pass to Eleanor or any children she had with Louis. Queen Eleanor, ruled her lands independently from her husband, however, bestowing large amounts of money to strengthen her husband’s territories and to build thousands of ships for the invasion of Jerusalem. Eleanor marriage to Louis lasted fifteen years. The union provided two girls for Louis V11. For a time, everything seemed right. However, during the secound crusade in March 1148, Louis had rushed Eleanor away from Antioch suspecting her if an adulteress involvement with Raymond of Antioch. Reddy (2012, p. 56). Upon return to France Eleanor and Louis tried to reconcile, however, they divorced three years later. It was Eleanor who engineered the divorced and handled the settlement. Eleanor divorced Louis on the grounds he was a fourth cousin. Eleanor convinced the pope to annul the marriage based on God not bestowing a male heir due to the sin of marrying her cousin. All of Eleanor lands were awarded back to her. Less than two months later Eleanor married the Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, Henry Plantagenet, who thereby acquired Aquitaine. Louis thus found himself confronted by a shrewd and aggressive vassal who ruled western France from the English Channel to the Pyrenees. Two years later Henry became King Henry II of England. (Louis V11, 2004, para. 4).   In comparison to 19th century Victorian England, Eleanor would have seemed like a harlot. Men were now allowed to divorce their wives for adultery, whereas women had very limited excuses to gain a divorce, henceforth the sexual double standard because it laid down different grounds for divorce. Going back to Eleanor period women faced the penalties, however, Queen Eleanor, was shrewd and vigorous enough to deal with the Pope and her first husband. Scholars such as Nancy Hewitt state that Feminist ideas and social movements emerged in Europe, Great Britain, and the United States due to the liberal writings of Stuart Mills. (From Wollstonecraft to Mill, 2002, para 1). Furthermore, a feminist is term developed in the 19th century to identify the goals of equality and the ongoing struggle of middle-class women. Eleanor of Aquitaine was far from a liberal middle-class woman. She was a princess and with Merovingian bloodline, she would have been entitled to all the privileges the world could offer in 12th century Europe.


Political Accomplishment

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life began after she returned to France from her travels on the Secound Crusade. With her union with Henry 2nd, the royal couple had eight children, five sons, and three daughters. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine remained heavily involved in the ruling of King Henry II’s vast empire in France and England. (Eleanor Aquitaine, 2005, para 1). She is the only woman in history that could say she married two Kings, and this lady had two sons who became Kings of England. It was this period that witnessed Eleanor greatest victories and defeat. When Henry 2nd took a younger lover, she did not roll over and played dead like most Victorian women. Eleanor engineered a mutual separation moving back to Aquitaine to govern her lands.   More important than Eleanor’s resentment was her consummate ambition for personal power. She believed that with one of her sons on the throne, she would rule England. In 1173, Eleanor was imprisoned for financing the rebellion of her children against their father. (Eleanor Aquitaine, 2005, para 16). Her incarceration ended 16 years later with the death of Henry. She took over the administration of England and her lands across the channel on behalf of the new King. In fact, when the Duke of Austria captured Richard it was Eleanor who negotiated the bond money and release. It would be difficult to find a Victorian feminist who did so much for her nation with admiration from her men and women from every societal caste structure within the provinces of Norman English rule. Eleanor political abilities served to subdue the powers of the Church along with effect control of territories in England and France. Her political battles with Henry 11 forever, survive in movies and plays. The social restructuring of a Kingdom with the teachings of courtly love, forever, changed the way men and women interacted.




Courtly Love 1

The structure of Courtly loves served to create reactionaries in Northern France. The most powerful of opposition being the church. Courtly Love is a social sexual being identifiable to nobles, troubadours, and townspeople. Courtly Love is the medieval version of romantic love.

An art form and way of life that served to challenge the church and society that popularized the conception of sexual desire as a kind of appetite. (Reddy, 2012, p.3). Courtly Love involved much more than romance; there was 31 laws or code to be followed. Some of the codes protected the married woman. For example, the code Marriage is no real excuse for not loving. It seemed all of the medieval marriages practiced an agreement. Nobody married for love only for wealth and security. Courtly Love opened the door for terms such as gentlemen. In today’s world, the term gentlemen describe a man who wed for love rather than money. The last rule states nothing forbids one woman loving two men or one man by two women. Courtly love enables male and females to explore and enjoy carnal pleasures. According to some scholars, Courtly love soon pervaded the literature of Europe. The German minnesinger lyrics and court epics such as Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan und Isolde (c. 1210) are evidence of its power. Italian poetry embodied the courtly ideals as early as the 12th century, and during the 14th century, their essence was distilled in Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura  (Ency, 2016). Courtly Love added to the noble game of jousting in that Knights went into a tournament wearing a lady colour.

Image result for courtly love art

The culture of Courtly Love is passed down to lower classes which implement the traditions dances of the nobility yet at a lower scale of grandeur. The culture and ideology are alive in books,  movies, and theatres. The basis of every story being a woman who has an obstacle in her path and a man tries to rescue or help. Usually, this woman is unattainable because of status, but the man must find a way to overcome these obstacles. Today this is found in every aspect of a life mired in the action of liberalism.


Feminism. In conclusion, the fixation with feminism occurring in the Victorian is not misguided if you believe that feminism as its beginnings in a rising of the middle and liberal classes. Eleanor achieved greatness because of the beauty, intelligence and noble birth. History shows a hand full of women who possessed the qualities of Queen Eleanor. However, neither of these women can make the claims she has. She ruled two countries as Queen; she travelled to the holy land to wage war, this woman was the sovereign of one of the richest kingdoms in Europe, and she successfully fought the church winning legal battles to keep her land and possession. I would add that feminism is a movement for every woman. Many Upper-Class women succumbed to abuse and unwanted sexual intercourse from husbands. Eleanor accomplishments guide the world today.




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