On Eleanor, love, and hatred

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Piraeuse on DeviantArt

So, last night someone asked me whether or not Eleanor of Aquitaine is among my Disir, and the question made me stop to think, because this is something I have gone back and forth on, in my head, for some time now.  On the one hand, I do admire her greatly, and indeed she was a very great lady: a stunning beauty, exceptionally learned and cultured (not only a woman of her time but for one of any time),  the ruler of a duchy in her own right, the mother of the entire Plantagenet line (as wife of the first Plantagenet king), a patroness of the arts (especially the troubadour tradition, which made Henry insanely jealous), and very pious (when married to her first husband, the spineless Louis VII, King of the Franks, she organized and largely financed his crusade to Jerusalem; it was a disaster, but that was not her doing).  She was also extremely strong willed, astonishingly so for her day, and on her own initiative left her first husband to marry the young, virile, equally passionate and fiery Henry Plantagenet.  (As a sidenote, this Henry reminds me of Odin in so many ways, not least because of his formidable mother, the Empress Matilda, but also because of his legendary temper, restless drive, pragmatism, and sheer brilliance.)

On the surface of things, all of the above would seem to give plenty of reason to add Eleanor to my Queens.  After all, I too left my first husband to marry the love of my life, my king, and I too am a fiery, strong-willed woman with artistic leanings.  We have a lot in common, more so than I have with some of my other Queens.

On the other hand—and this is the thing that has given me pause thus far—Eleanor came to hate her husband.

Odin is well aware that He is a ruthless bastard, and that this has caused many of His people to grow to hate Him over time.  It’s something He has always warned me about, and something I assumed could never happen to me, because I know how much I love Him.  Any yet, the deepest enmity is often rooted in the deepest love, and no one one can hurt you like someone who was once a close friend because they know all the right buttons to push.  (I know this from mortal-world experience, unfortunately.)  Eleanor loved Henry passionately too, but over the years, they found that they had butted heads so many times that they had somehow forgotten, along the way, to treat each other in a loving manner.  And yet, because of her power and vast holdings, but perhaps also because part of him still loved her, Henry could not and would not give her up—just as Odin has assured me He will never give me up even if I should come to hate Him.

As I said, I had always dismissed this idea as something that could never happen, not to me—yet it did happen to Eleanor, and when I was fighting with Odin a couple of months back I had the sudden realization that it could happen, but only if I allowed it to, only if I allowed myself to be blinded enough by my own stubbornness and willfulness that I forgot how much He loves me.  Because He would never return my hatred, but He would accept it; it would break His heart, but He would accept it.  I was reminded of a scene from The Lion in Winter (one of my favorite movies of all time; go watch it—both versions—if you haven’t) in which the usually razor-tongued Eleanor, in a moment of despair, asks Henry, “How did we get to where we are now, from where we began?”  And Henry tiredly replies, “One step at a time.”  That is how hatred grows; it must be, for it is how love and trust grow, too.  And you can simply stop at any point along that path.

And so, as a reminder of this, but also for her own considerable merits as a person, I have decided to adopt Eleanor as one of my Disir.  (And she has given her consent.)  She will serve as a reminder to me not only of what a queen can be, but also as what I, personally, do not want to become.  (I think she herself would have avoided going down that path if she had been able to stop herself in time, since at one time she truly did love Henry very much, and perhaps never stopped.) Also, as Jolene reminded me this morning, she is the Disir of my Disir, as the first Plantagenet queen; in a way, she is their Bestla. So it is more than fitting that she have a place among them in my practice.



  1. That’s a really interesting and thoughtful way of deciding the question, and you’re right: our Disir and other honored dead might do as much to help us avoid making similar mistakes to their own as they might do to inspire us to be like them.

    Have you read Alison Weir’s biography of Eleanor? It’s well worth it, especially because there are so few accounts of her that aren’t either people trying to curry favor or, conversely, denounce her, and speaking as a non-historian, I thought Weir did a good job of balancing those viewpoints.

    1. Thank you for the question, by the way; it really got me to examine this more closely!

      I have not read it yet, but I do have it and it’s on my to-be-read list. I’ve read a few of Weir’s other books (a couple on Anne and her sister Mary, and I think there was one other) and I don’t always agree with her, but I do respect her (speaking as a non-historian–or, only an armchair, amateur one, anyway–myself).

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