Fact of the day: 13th October

On this day in 1162 Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile (d. 1214) was born.

When she was 14 years old, before 17 September 1177, Eleanor was married to King Alfonso VIII of Castile in Burgos. The marriage had been arranged some years earlier; the couple were betrothed in 1170 but, because of Eleanor’s youth at that time, the wedding was delayed.

Her parents’ purpose in arranging the marriage was to secure Aquitaine’s Pyrenean border, while Alfonso was seeking an ally in his struggles with his uncle, Sancho VI of Navarre. In 1177, this led to Henry overseeing arbitration of the border dispute.

Around the year 1200, Alfonso began to claim that the duchy of Gascony was part of Eleanor’s dowry, but there is no documented foundation for that claim. It is highly unlikely that Henry II would have parted with so significant a portion of his domains. download (12)

At most, Gascony may have been pledged as security for the full payment of his daughter’s dowry. Her husband went so far on this claim as to invade Gascony in her name in 1205. In 1206, her brother John, King of England granted her safe passage to visit him, perhaps to try opening peace negotiations. In 1208, Alfonso yielded on the claim.

Decades later, their great-grandson Alfonso X of Castile would claim the duchy on the grounds that her dowry had never been fully paid.

Of all Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughters, her namesake was the only one who was enabled, by political circumstances, to wield the kind of influence her mother had exercised.

In her own marriage treaty, and in the first marriage treaty for her daughter Berengaria, Eleanor was given direct control of many lands, towns, and castles throughout the kingdom.

She was almost as powerful as Alfonso, who specified in his will in 1204 that she was to rule alongside their son in the event of his death, including taking responsibility for paying his debts and executing his will.

It was she who persuaded him to marry their daughter Berengaria to Alfonso IX of León. Troubadours and sages were regularly present in Alfonso VIII’s court due to Eleanor’s patronage.

When Alfonso died, Eleanor was reportedly so devastated with grief that she was unable to preside over the burial. Their eldest daughter Berengaria instead performed these honours. Eleanor then took sick and died only twenty-eight days after her husband, and was buried at Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas.

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