Dissatisfied with her new husband and dull life at the palace in France, Eleanor of Aquitaine is determined to find adventure by going with her husband on the Second Crusade.
Eleanor of Aquitaine
The bumpy carriage rocked her back and forth, just as it had done for the past few days. Louis, her new husband, sat across from her, staring blankly out the window. How quiet he is…never speaking two words together. Rearranging her skirts for the sixth time, Eleanor peered out the window, observing Paris with a critical eye. The contrast between her expectations and reality proved extremely disappointing. The dull gray road leading up to the bleak palace sent shivers up her spine. No doubt the rooms would end up the same – cold and colorless. Raindrops fell, only adding to the dullness of her future. If she was in Aquitaine and it was raining, she would watch the little raindrops chase each other from a tower window. Each one would splash into small puddles either in the fields or cobblestone walkways and the forest background made the rain look fresh and cool. Sighing, her heart yearned for Aquitaine. Oh, my beautiful Aquitaine. Eleanor had abandoned the green forests, hidden valleys, and golden fields when she agreed to marry Louis, the son of Louis the Fat, King of Paris. Distracted by her husband’s dead father’s name, Eleanor chuckled. How horrible. Once again recalling fond memories of her old home, she thought of her father. Remembering his bellowing laughter at a banquet one evening, she smiled. How I miss him. “What is it?” Louis meekly asked.
“I was thinking of my father,” Eleanor replied, smiling simply, but brushing the topic off. With an awkward smile, Louis turned his face back to the window while Eleanor evaluated her new husband. His dark brown, straggly hair lay across the dotted gray cape on his bony shoulders. No muscle seemed present on his thin arms and legs, reminding Eleanor of a small paper doll. Her assessment ceased, however, when distracted by a red shirted farmer in the distance, shouting wildly and flailing his arms at his sheep.
At last, the carriage came to a stop. Eleanor opened the small door and gracefully stepped out, taking in a deep breath of the air. Her skillfully braided hair fell below her waist and dark eyes sparkled as she peered up at the great castle. Eleanor sighed with determination. I can always visit Aquitaine – it’s not going anywhere. She reasoned with herself. This has to work. Louis slowly and sheepishly stepped out behind her and escorted her inside. As her limp arm lay on his scrawny one, he led the way. Just as she predicted, the chilled rooms proved that the servants had not bothered to light a fire. The servants in Aquitaine would never do such a thing. As her own servants hauled her trunks up the several flights of stairs to her bedroom, Eleanor walked along the quiet corridors and long halls in search of other servants. After finding them all at rest in the servants’ quarters, Eleanor’s annoyance at their apparent laziness increased as she instructed each to light a fire in the rooms. After a light supper, she retired. As her maid blew out the candle and bid her goodnight, Eleanor stared into the darkness. Could a palace have less color? Every room was gray. No colorful tapestries. No stained glass windows. No paintings. Nothing. It’s really quite disappointing. The only things Eleanor noticed were the statues – great, solid statues that were situated in practically every corner. How dull. Sighing, she made a decision. It will all change, in time. I will change it. And I’m quite sure the whole of France will be grateful to me. Smiling contentedly, Eleanor rolled over and pulled the blankets up past her shoulders.
Throughout the next week, Eleanor was in a flurry of excitement as she organized the servants according to their tasks. “Yes, hang that in my bedroom…and the tapestries go in the ballroom!” Eleanor shouted, hurrying throughout the castle. Redecorating the castle of Paris after her own tastes pleased Eleanor beyond expectation. With her long, light brown hair done up, purple dress swishing at every step, and slender fingers directing each servant, Eleanor smiled joyously. Louis’ irritated mood affirmed Eleanor’s suspicion that he mentally criticized her actions, but she argued, “I cannot bear to live here if we must endure life in bleak colors.” Soon, Eleanor filled the castle with everything present in Aquitaine. However, though she became contented with her now lovely palace, Eleanor’s annoyance and unsatisfied feelings concerning Louis escalated to grow.
He barely ever spoke to her, except on absolutely necessary occasions. Though Louis often gazed at her with an admiration for her beauty, he did not favor her personality. Eleanor’s lively, talented, and willful personality shone brightly in the courts of Paris. She had a love for fashion and sophistication, and her wisdom concerning battle and politics proved especially helpful until the court informed her she was not permitted to advise the king on such matters. Although these rules displeased Eleanor, nothing upset her more than the fact that women were prohibited from participating in the debates and lectures. Until then, she attended every one and often joined in, despite the disapproving glares. However, Eleanor’s unspoken anger left a heavy tension in the courtroom as she stormed out that afternoon, infuriated about the regulation. What a ridiculous rule! And why should women not participate? Despite her beliefs, Louis loved Eleanor, and though he internally criticized her actions, he constantly tried to please her. The next afternoon, as they sat across from each other at the breakfast table, Louis smiled slightly. Clearing his throat, he stated, “My dear, I have arranged a trip to the lower parts of Paris this evening.”
“Today?” Eleanor questioned, setting down her butter knife and fork. “Oh no, quite definitely not. I much rather stay here. I have a book that I’m nearly finished with and I much prefer to read the rest of it.”
Louis’ faint smile faded and he nodded his head in agreement. “Of course…” He was determined to prove himself to her. And he would – someday.
The Second Crusade. Louis fiddled with the feather pen on his desk. Should he take the chance? Eleanor adored knights and chivalry and all that. This would prove his courage. Accepting the position of leading the Second Crusade, Louis prepared his knights. He informed Eleanor at their next meal. “Oh! Louis! Louis this will be such an adventure. I must pack immediately!” Abruptly leaving the table, Eleanor rushed out of the room, leaving Louis in confusion. She plans on going? Alarmed, he began to object, but she turned the corner before he could get two words out. She would know by the end of the night. She had to.
Eleanor packed her belongings in one of her many suitcases that evening. “Jetta, are your things packed? Louis leaves in less than a fortnight, you know,” she asked her handmaid. Continuing the conversation with herself, Eleanor went on, “Oh, what adventure we will experience. So much better than being confined this palace. And imagine! We will be helping the soldiers with battle wounds and scars. I’m sure they will appreciate our help, don’t you think?” Turning to face Jetta, Eleanor spotted Louis, who had just entered the room and awkwardly waited for Eleanor to excuse her servant. “Yes?” Eleanor questioned. After a moment of unpleasant silence, Eleanor let out a dramatic sigh and finally sent her maid away. “You wanted something?” she inquired, exasperated.
“Eleanor, I cannot allow you to accompany me on the crusade,” Louis plainly stated.
Indignant and agitated, Eleanor responded “Why ever not? I won’t cause any problems, and my maids can help attend to the injured. I am going.”
“No, you won’t convince me. I’m going and you can’t stop me,” Eleanor stated. To prevent Louis from continuing with his objections, Eleanor called Jetta back into the room to continue with their packing.