Alice Marie Beard
© 2004


            Eleanor was a 15-year-old orphan when her guardian arranged for her to marry a 16-year-old. Her guardian was France's King Louis VI, and the 16-year-old he chose as her husband was his own son, his heir apparent. Eleanor was a prize catch for his son because Eleanor came with more land than King Louis VI himself controlled.

            Eleanor was 30 years old and the mother of two daughters when she left that marriage with the Catholic Church saying that she was free to walk away because there never had been a valid marriage. Eight weeks later, she married the man destined to become King of England.

            This work will consider one narrow aspect of Eleanor's life -- the legal issues surrounding Eleanor's change of roles after 15 years as the Queen Consort of France:

A.  Briefly

            Born in 1122, Eleanor was the daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, and Aenor, the daughter of the Viscount of Chatellerault.  Eleanor's mother died when Eleanor was about nine years old.  On April 9, 1137, her father died, and Eleanor became the 12th century version of the 20th century's Athina Roussel, granddaughter of Aristotle Onassis.  Suddenly, Eleanor was a very wealthy young girl. 

            She was heiress to the county of Poitou, the duchy of Gascony, and the duchy of Aquitaine. The Aquitaine itself included the counties of Saintongne, Angoulême, Périgord, the Limousin,  La Marche, and Auvergne. The overlord to those lands was the King of  France, who at the time was Louis VI.  Eleanor's land mass was more than six times that of the King of France.  Additionally, Eleanor was Roman Catholic, never married, believed (with good cause) to be a virgin, beautiful, educated, literate, physically healthy, and from "good stock." 

            Eleanor shared two sets of distant ancestors with the king:

  • Through France's King Robert the Pious and Constance of Arles, Eleanor and the king's son were third cousins, once removed.  For the king's son, the distant king and queen were great-great grandparents (two greats); for Eleanor, they were her great-great-great grandparents (three greats).    By canon law consanguinity rules of the 12th century, the king's son was four degrees from Robert and Constance, and Eleanor was five degrees from Robert and Constance.
  • Through the Duke of Aquitaine Guillaume III (d. 963) and Gerloc-Adele of Normandy (d. after 962), Eleanor and the king's son were fourth cousins.  For both Eleanor and the king's son, the couple were great-great-great-great grandparents; that's "four greats."  Both Eleanor and the king's son were six generations down from Guillaume III and Gerloc-Adele, thus fourth cousins through those ancestors.   "Adelaide, the sister of Duke William IV of Aquitaine, had married Hugh Capet, from whom the kings of France were descended."  [Meade @ 109.]  By canon law consanguinity rules of the 12th century, both Eleanor and her prospective groom were six degrees from Guillaume II and Gerloc-Adele.

            [CLICK for ancestor charts.

            By the terms of Eleanor's father's will, Eleanor's domains were "not to be incorporated into the royal demesne but should remain independent and be inherited by Eleanor's heirs alone."  [Orderici Vitalis Angligenae Coenobi Uticensis Monachi, Historia Ecclesia: The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, vol. 4, p. 175, edited by A. le Prevost.]  The vassals of Poitou, Aquitaine, and Gascony had sworn allegiance to Eleanor on her 14th birthday.  [Weir @ 19.]  Marriage alone would not bring Eleanor's land into the royal demesne, but the mixing of blood lines would.  If Eleanor's heirs were also the heirs of the king, it would mean a greatly enlarged France.  The king surely saw an excellent prospective mother for his future grandchildren, and an excellent prospective land grab for the future of France.

             On July 25, 1137, in Bordeaux, Eleanor and the king's son made their marriage vows before Geoffrey de Loroux, Archbishop of Bordeaux, at the Cathedral of Saint-André.   

            On August 1, 1137, King Louis VI died, and Eleanor's husband became France's King Louis VII.

            The couple made their primary home in Paris.  In about 1138, Eleanor was pregnant, but she miscarried.  She was about 16 years old.  [Weir @ 31.]  In 1145, Eleanor delivered a daughter, Marie.  In 1150, Eleanor delivered a second daughter, Alix.   

            Among genealogists, 15 years of marriage during a woman's prime childbearing years and only three pregnancies usually would indicate a "less than close" marriage.  According to Richard of Devizes, a Benedictine monk who is believed to have been a resident at Winchester Castle during the time when Eleanor was held prisoner there and who is believed to have known Eleanor during the time of her imprisonment (1173-1185), "Louis did not visit his wife's bed very often, and then only in accordance with the teachings of the Church, which decreed that sex was to be indulged in solely for the purpose of procreation, and not for pleasure, even within marriage."  [Weir @ 31.]

            The first cleric to note the shared ancestry of Eleanor and Louis VII was the Bishop of Laon, in 1143.  Soon after, the Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux criticized Louis by saying, "[E]veryone knows that [the king] has married his cousin in the fourth degree."  [Weir @ 42.]

B.  How Things Became Intolerable for Eleanor

            On Easter Sunday in 1146, Eleanor and Louis each "took the Cross" and vowed to lead vassals to Outremer, an area made up of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Tripoli.  Eleanor was recognized by Louis as being "able to muster a vast following of her vassals." [Weir @ 48.] Louis recognized that it was Eleanor's efforts that resulted in the larger portion of the army they would march with being Eleanor's own vassals. [Weir @ 51.]

            On June 8, 1147, at the Abby of Saint-Denis and in the presence of Pope Eugenius III, Louis turned over the care of the kingdom of France to the Abbot Suger.  Suger was Louis' chief minister of the royal administration, a post Suger also had held for Louis' father.  The Pope blessed Louis, and three days later Louis and Eleanor left for the Holy Land as part of the Second Crusade.  [Weir @ 54.]  "Eleanor and Louis travelled with their separate retinues." Louis slept at night in a tent with his two male bodyguards, and Eleanor slept elsewhere.  [Weir @ 55, citing Bibliothèque des Croisades: History of the Crusades, edited by Joseph Michaud.]  

            The Crusade did not go well.  By late January 1148, the Crusaders had reached Attalia, a Mediterranean coastal city in the southeast of what is now Turkey.  While in Attalia, the Crusaders were reduced to eating their own horses.  [Weir @ 62, citing Odo de Deiul's De Ludovici VII Francorum Regis, Profectione in Orientem, as translated by Virginia D. Berry in 1948, and citing Guillaume de Nangis' Chronique, as edited by F.P.G. Guizot.  Odo was Louis' advisor and bodyguard on the Second Crusade; Guillaume was a 13th century French historian and monk at the abbey of Saint-Denis.]  The plan was to get to Antioch by ship. Antioch was at the far eastern edge of the Mediterranean, near what is now the border between Turkey and Syria.  Louis did not have enough money to pay the passage for all of the Crusaders.  The decision was that those who wished to go and who could pay their own passage would go, and the others would be left behind "to starve or die of plague."  [Weir @ 63.]  More than three thousand Crusaders converted to the Moslem faith for nothing more than the promise of food.  [Weir @ 63, citing Odo.]     

            On March 19, 1148, Eleanor and Louis arrived at the port city closest to Antioch, then traveled ten miles up river to Antioch.  [Weir @ 63.]  Antioch was ruled by Raymond of Poitiers; he was the brother of Eleanor's late father and maintained a court much like the court Eleanor had experienced in her youth in Poitiers.

            Raymond wanted the Crusaders to attack Aleppo first, a city in northern Syria, because Aleppo was one of the weaker cities, yet its capture would have given easier access to the county of Edessa.  Louis, however, wanted to go directly to Jerusalem.  Eleanor agreed with Raymond's assessment, and she did so openly.  "To Eleanor, [Raymond's] plan seemed eminently reasonable.  Should the Turks succeed in overrunning northern Syria and capturing Antioch, the entire Holy Land would be threatened, and nothing would then prevent them from sweeping down to Jerusalem. ... [T]he security of the Holy City [Jerusalem] would best be established by driving back the Turks in the north."  [Meade @ 106.] 

            Raymond and Louis were two military leaders in complete disagreement.  According to John of Salisbury, Louis and Raymond quarreled openly, and the king's barons supported him.  [Weir @ 66.] While Louis might not have wanted to recognize it, Eleanor was also a leader, and she knew that the Aquitanians would follow her lead. 

            There followed a marital spat that escalated and had historical consequences.  The closest and most reliable reporter on the scene was John of Salisbury.  Within a few months of the spat, Eleanor and Louis were, in effect, in emergency marriage counseling with Pope Eugenius III.  Each told his/her story to the pope.  John was then secretary to Eugenius, and John wrote his account in about 1165 in his Historia Pontificalis, which was edited and translated in the 20th century by Marjorie Chibnall.  [Published 1956 in London as The Historia Pontificalis.]

              According to the report of John of Salisbury, as cited by Weir, Eleanor announced that, unless Louis followed Raymond's lead, she and her vassals would remain in Antioch.  [Weir @ 66.] Louis threatened to take her from Antioch by force.  Eleanor countered that their marriage was illegal because they were too closely related, that she wanted an annulment, that she would "relinquish her crown, resume her title of Duchess of Aquitaine, and remain for the time being in Antioch, under Raymond's protection."  [Weir @ 66.]

            It was the royal version of, "I'm moving back to my parents' house!"  As the brother of Eleanor's late father, Raymond's court was as close as the orphaned Eleanor had to her father's house.  

            According to John of Salisbury, "On March 28 [1148], Louis quietly began mobilizing his forces for departure [from Antioch].  Sometime after midnight, ... the army began moving out. ... [It was] an evacuation carried out with ... secrecy. ... At the last moment, in a sort of commando operation, the Queen was snatched from Raymond's palace." [Meade @ 111.]

            Louis' military efforts continued with nothing but failure.  Late in April of 1149, Eleanor and Louis boarded separate ships to return to France.  [Meade @ 120; Weir @ 70.]  In October 1149, after some time lost at sea while on separate ships, the couple arrived together in Tusculum, Italy, before Pope Eugenius III, the man with the power to decide the legality of their marriage.  [Meade @ 124, Weir @ 71.]   

            Eleanor presented her case to the Pope: she wanted an annulment based on consanguinity.  Separately, Louis presented his appeal: he did not want the marriage ended.  Like any good Catholic pope, Pope Eugenius III "was a staunch believer in marriage."  [Meade @ 124.]  After listening to both husband and wife, the Pope confirmed the marriage "both orally and in writing," and he did so without hesitation.  [Meade @ 125.] According to John of Salisbury, "[The pope] commanded under pain of anathema that no word should be spoken against [the marriage] and that it would not be dissolved under any pretext whatever."  [Meade @ 125.]  That evening, the Pope prepared a bed  for the couple, and "The Pope made them sleep in the same bed," according to John of Salisbury.  [Meade @ 126.]  "[T]his pope chose to treat an obvious case of incest with indulgence in order to safeguard the indissolubility of marriage."  [Duby @ 58.]         

C.  Freed by the Birth of a Daughter

            In the summer of 1150 (some mistakenly say 1151), the couple's second daughter was born.  France was a Salic Law country, and Salic Law demanded a male heir. [Title 59, Clause 6, deals with inheritance rules for allodial lands (i.e., family lands not held in benefice) and specifies that in "concerning salic lands (terra Salica) no portion or inheritance is for a woman but all the land belongs to members of the male sex who are brothers."]   Louis and the people of France had hoped for a male heir to assure smooth transition of power and dynastic continuity, from father to son.  "[E]very [French] king since 987 had left a male heir to succeed him."  [Meade @ 130.]  Robert the Pious -- Louis' great-great grandfather and Eleanor's three-greats grandfather -- had repudiated two wives in his effort to find a wife who produced a son. Now, Salic Law was forcing Louis to consider what he had not wanted: allowing his wife Eleanor to walk away from the marriage as a woman free to marry again.

The Salic Law: Title 59.
Concerning Private Property:
1) If any man dies and leave no sons, if the father and mother survive, they will inherit.
2) If the father and mother do not survive, and he leaves brothers or sisters, they will inherit.
3) But if there are none, the sisters of the father will inherit.
4) But if there are no sisters of the father, the sisters of the mother will claim that inheritance.
5) If there are none of these, the nearest relatives on the father's side will succeed to that inheritance.
6) Of Salic land, no portion of the inheritance will come to a woman, but the whole inheritance of the land will come to the male sex.

            Louis' advisor Abbot Suger argued against ending the marriage.  Suger reasoned, first, that Eleanor was young and might yet bear a son.  Suger reasoned further that giving up Eleanor would mean giving up the Aquitaine; if Eleanor remarried, the addition of her land to some other lord would "[lift] this unknown someone to a position of greater power than that of Louis."  [Meade @ 130.]    

            Suger died in January 1151.  With Suger gone, no one was left to argue against ending the marriage.  According to Georges Duby's analysis of histories that were written at or soon after Eleanor and Louis' marriage was annulled, "the matter of consanguinity counted for very little.  [Early historians] considered it an argument that was seized upon in order to legitimize a necessary repudiation."  [Duby @ 62.]

            In late August 1151, Louis met in Paris with Geoffrey "Plantegenet," Count of Anjou, and Geoffrey's 18-year-old son Henry, Duke of Normandy.  The three met to negotiate a way to avoid a military battle.  During negotiations, Geoffrey "stalked out from the hall in a fit of black bile."  [Meade @ 142.]  However, their stay at the Palace continued for a few days, and they left in  peace.  Most historians are of the opinion that any further negotiations during the visit were between Eleanor and Henry.

            Geoffrey and son Henry left Paris headed west for Angers, the capital city of Anjou. En route, Geoffrey fell ill.  He died September 7, 1151. After Geoffrey's death, Henry asserted his possession of Anjou and Maine in addition to Normandy and Touraine.  [Weir @ 86.] Through his mother, Henry was also poised to take over England.

            In late September 1151, Eleanor and Louis began their final trip together into the lands that Eleanor had inherited from her father -- Aquitaine, Poitou, and Gascony.  "There were Frankish garrisons in the major towns of Aquitaine, and ... they [had to be] withdrawn in peaceful, orderly fashion before [the marriage could be ended].  ... Then the queen could return to her lands without anxiety about possible conflict between the king's men and her own vassals."  [Meade @ 138, citing Alfred Richard's Histoire des comtes de Poitou, 778-1204, Paris, 1903.]  Louis was accompanied by many of his advisors, bishops, abbots, and barons.  Eleanor was accompanied by the archbishop who had officiated at her marriage to Louis, by bishops from her territories, and by vassals from her homeland.  [Meade @ 147, citing Richard.]  The journey continued through late February 1152. Then, Eleanor went to her childhood hometown of Poitiers, and Louis returned to Paris.  [Meade @ 147.]

            On March 21, 1152, the Friday before Palm Sunday, Louis and Eleanor met in Beaugency, a city in the south of Louis' territory.  Louis was a parishioner of the Archbishop of Sens.  The Archbishop "convoke[d] a council at Beaugency."  [Duby @ 55.]  "Present at the Council were the Archbishops of Reims, Rouen, and Bordeaux as well as some of their suffragans [diocesan bishops subordinate to a primate of an ecclesiastical province] and a large number of the barons of the realm; the king's cousins swore to the kinship."  [Duby @ 128, note  92.]  The Archbishop of Rheims "acted as cautioner for the Queen, who did not contest the action." [Weir @ 87.]  The two children born to the marriage were declared legitimate, and custody was  awarded to Louis; Louis promised Eleanor that her land would be restored intact, and Eleanor was given the right to remarry "so long as she gave Louis the allegiance a vassal owed her overlord."  [Meade @ 148, citing Leopold Delisle's editing of Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres' Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France.]  Then the Archbishop of Sens "formally declared the incestuous union null and void."  [Duby @ 55.]

            And Eleanor was free to go, once again the unmarried heiress to Aquitaine, at risk of being "seized at any moment and married at the point of the sword. She was once more what she had been when her father died -- the quarry of every fortune hunter and robber baron."  [Seward @ 69.]  "With an escort of her vassals," she left for Poitiers.  [Weir @ 88.] 

            Eleanor evaded at least two planned abductions.  The day after her divorce, she learned of a plot to abduct her for the purpose of a forced marriage.  The would-be abductor was Theobald of Blois, whose land she had to pass through to reach her own land.  [Meade @ 149, citing Andre Salmon's Recueil des Chroniques de Touraine, published 1854.]  Eleanor also evaded a planned abduction by Geoffrey Plantagenet, younger brother of the Duke of Normandy.  [Meade @ 149.]

           On Easter Sunday, March 30, 1152, nine days after leaving Beaugency, Eleanor was in Poitiers, in Maubergeonne Tower, the palace that her paternal grandfather had built to house his longtime mistress -- Eleanor's maternal grandmother. 

            "[I]mmediately she declared null and void every act she had made together with her ex-husband, as well as those he had made alone."  [Meade @ 149.]

            Records exist showing what Eleanor did administratively in the next seven weeks, but no records have been found showing contact between Eleanor and the Duke of Normandy during  this time.  According to Weir [@ 90], on April 6, 1152, seven days after Eleanor was back in Poitiers, and 16 days after the Church had annulled her marriage to Louis, the Duke of Normandy met with his Norman barons and "took counsel of his vassals [about marrying Eleanor], seeking their approval of the match."  His vassals approved.  Six weeks later, on May 18, 1152, Eleanor and the Duke of Normandy married in the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre at Poitiers.  According to Meade [@ 150], Eleanor and the Duke of Normandy sought and received a Church dispensation so that this new marriage could not be voided on the grounds of consanguinity, because -- like most of the royals of the 12th century -- Eleanor and her new husband also shared ancestors within seven degrees. 

            Not wishing to have her borders overrun by the king's army, Eleanor had given no advance notice to her overlord and former husband, nor did she grant him the expected courtesy of seeking his permission to marry. 

            At the age of 30, middle age for a woman in the 12th century, Eleanor's life began again.

A.  What court had subject matter jurisdiction?

            The Church courts claimed subject matter jurisdiction in cases arising out of (1) administration of the sacraments; (2) testaments and wills; (3) benefices and church property; (4) oaths and pledges of faith; (5) sins meriting ecclesiastical censures.  [Berman @ 222.] 

            In the case of an annulment, the Church could reach jurisdiction in two ways: First, marriage was one of the church sacraments; the church had jurisdiction over the sacrament of marriage; thus, the church had jurisdiction over cases flowing out of disputes involving the marriage sacrament.  It was in the two decades before 1100 when "the church finally won the  exclusive jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to marriage that it had long claimed as its right."  [Duby @ 20.]  Second, marriage was an oath, a contract, and the Church had jurisdiction over cases arising out of oaths.

            Also, in the case of Eleanor's annulment, the Church could reach jurisdiction because of jurisdiction over testaments and wills: As noted above, Eleanor's father's will had specified that the land he devised to Eleanor was "not to be incorporated into the royal demesne but should remain independent and be inherited by Eleanor's heirs alone."  In ending the marriage between Eleanor and Louis, the rules Eleanor's father set in his will had to be considered.  

B.  What court had jurisdiction over the persons?

            Church courts claimed personal jurisdiction over (1) clergy and their household members; (2) students; (3) crusaders; (4) the "wretched," meaning the poor, widows, and orphans; (5) Jews in cases against Christians; (6) travelers, when necessary for their peace and safety.  Additionally, "any person could bring suit in an ecclesiastical court ... on the ground of 'default of secular justice.'"   And, "parties to any civil dispute could, by agreement, submit the dispute to an ecclesiastical court."  [Berman @ 223.]

            Eleanor and Louis were heads of state.  In effect, they were in the Church court because they opted to submit to an ecclesiastical court.  For them to have done otherwise would have been politically untenable. 

            Louis had been crowned King in a ceremony performed by Pope Innocent II in 1131.  [Weir @ 22.]   In France, from the late 11th century, the papacy and the monarchy were close.  "There was a close association between the Capetian dynasty [Louis' family line] and the royal abbey of St. Denis.  ... [A]bbot Suger of St. Denis, in the reigns of [Louis VII's father] and Louis VII, continued to be the chief minister of the royal administration.  Whereas the ceremony of   anointment was becoming a mere formality in Germany and England, the religious and emotional qualities of this ceremony were still accentuated in France. ... The association of the church with the French monarchy was particularly emphasized during the ... reign of Louis VII, [who] exhibited great friendship for both the pope and the higher clergy all over France."  [Cantor @ 414.]  So great was the connection between the French monarchy and the Church that, writing in 1050, Cardinal Pietro Damiani had counted the ordination of kings among the church sacraments.  [Cantor @ 418.]   

            Eleanor and Louis also were in the Church court because they had recognized the Church's jurisdiction in matters of marriage and annulment previously:

            (1st)  Their marriage in 1137 had been conducted before a priest, despite the fact that in 1137 less than half the population sought church sanction for marriage.  "In the year 1000 the majority of people in Christian Europe were not married in a church ceremony.  Marriage involved Germanic-style cohabitation, frequently signified by the giving of a ring.  By [as late as] 1200 perhaps half the people in Western Europe, particularly among the wealthier and more literate classes, were married [in front of] a priest."  [Cantor @ 419.] 

            (2nd)  Eleanor and Louis also had recognized the Church's jurisdiction in matters of marriage and annulment in 1141 when they argued that the Church should annul the marriage between Eleanor's sister's lover and the lover's wife.  [Meade @ 56.]  Pope Innocent II's response was to reaffirm the validity of the marriage between Eleanor's sister's lover and his wife, and to excommunicate Eleanor's sister and her lover.  [Meade @ 57.]

C.  Venue

           The venue of Beaugency (just southwest of Orleans) was appropriate because Louis was a parishioner of the Archbisop of Sens and Beaugency was a city in the Archdiocese of Sens. Also, Beaugency was in a part of Louis' territory that was geographically closest to Eleanor's territory, thus making as short as possible the distance Eleanor would have to travel to reach her own land.


            Historians are in agreement that by the 12th century, "Canon law largely replaced the secular codes that had governed questions of marriage during the Middle Ages.  The Church's rules ... formed the legal environment" for marriage.  [Herlihy @ 80.]  "By 1100, ... Church courts and their canon law had, through popular preference, eclipsed secular jurisprudence on all matters relating to marriage."  [Gies @ 134.]

            At times, ecclesiastical courts applied civil law, but the Church remained adamant that "she alone could decide whether the impediment of kinship should be invoked, in other words, whether by an act of grace, depending on the 'quality of the persons' and the circumstances of the time, she [the Church] might grant an exception, the dispensation."  [Duby @ 22.]  Eleanor and Louis' case for annulment rested on the claim of consanguinity -- being too closely related by blood.


            Officially, the question presented was fairly straightforward: Did Eleanor and Louis' marriage comport with the Church's rules for a valid marriage?

            There were, however, other legal issues involved in Eleanor's transitioning from her role as queen consort of France's King Louis VII to wife of the man waiting to be England's king.  One of those issues was what became of the land her father had given to Eleanor.  Another issue was what kind of contract, if any, had Eleanor and Henry negotiated?

                                             A. The Church's rules on marriage

            Johannes Gratian had completed his Concordia discordantium canonum (better known as Decretum Gratiani) in about 1140.  Gratian, considered the father of canon law, was an Italian monk who taught at Bologna.  His subject -- canon law -- was new. Canon law took shape in the late 11th century and was based on corporate law.  [Berman @ 202.]  Gratian's Concordia was a vast collection of church tests and papal pronouncements.  [Gies @ 137.]  His was a "hot off the presses" work that included decrees as recent as those from the Second Lateran Council, held in 1139.  Part of Gratian's Concordia was a consideration of marriage.

i. Requirements for forming a valid marriage

            Gratian argued strongly for active, true consent as the basis of a valid marriage, writing that even "a father's oath cannot compel a girl to marry one to whom she had never consented."  [Gies @ 138.]  Consent was the "sole essential that could not be omitted."  [Gies @ 138.] 

            According to canon law as presented by Gratian, the sacrament of marriage required no formality; rather, the man and woman were themselves "ministers of the sacrament."  [Presence of a priest was not required until the 16th Century.]  A marriage was formed when (1) there was an exchange of promises to be married in the future (called "contract of betrothal"); and (2) an exchange of promises to be married in the present (called the actual "marriage contract"); and (3) consent to sexual intercourse after the formation of the marriage contract.  [Berman @ 227.]  According to Gratian, "[T]he contract was deemed concluded with the 'words in the present,'" but was "vulnerable to dissolution until it had been consummated."  [Berman @ 227.]

            Marriage was a contract, and by canon law "[m]istake concerning the identity of the other party, or a mistake concerning some essential and distinctive quality of the other party, prevented the consent and hence nullified the marriage."  [Berman @ 227.]  Additionally,  although not related to the marriage of Eleanor and Louis, duress nullified a marriage because duress was an interference with free choice.  Canon law looked at marriage as a contract, and helped to develop the concepts of modern contract law: free will, mistake, duress, and fraud.

            As Berman explains [@ 228], "[C]anonists were able to find a solution to the problem of mistake, which had greatly vexed the Roman jurists quoted in the Digest, by focusing on the question whether the mistaken party would have entered into the marriage if he or she had known the truth."

            Soon after Gratian's work, in about 1152, the year of Eleanor and Louis' annulment, Peter Lombard produced a work with ideas somewhat different from Gratian's.  Lombard was a Bishop, a graduate of the University of Bologna with a doctorate of theology.  He was familiar with Gratian's work.  Lombard argued that "physical consummation could not be important to validity because to make it so would cast a shadow on the marriage of Joseph and Mary. ... For a real marriage, legally uncontestable, the couple must pronounce 'words of the present,' words that stated explicitly that they took each other, starting at that moment, as husband and wife."  [Gies @ 139.]  According to Lombard, that alone created a valid marriage.  Regarding sexual intercourse as a requirement for a valid marriage, "Christian writers ... were loath to affirm that the marriage of Jesus' parents, Joseph and Mary, which was never sexually consummated [according to Catholic dogma], was in any respect imperfect."  [Herlihy @ 80.]

            The minimum age for contracting a marriage is unknown; however, likely the minimum age was close to what Pope Alexander III (pope from 1159 to 1181) gave as the minimum ages during his papacy:  14 years old for the groom, and 12 years old for the bride.  [Gies @ 139.]  Louis and Eleanor were 16 and 15 when they married. (It should be noted that some historians suggest that Eleanor may have been born not in 1122, but in 1124. That would mean she was 13 when she married, still old enough by Pope Alexander III's rules.)

            Thus, if in an act of free-consent a male and a female of marriageable age exchanged marriage promises using "words in the present," the Church said there was a valid marriage.

ii. Annulment

            However, while the Church proclaimed the indissoluble nature of marriage, there were "loop holes":

  1. Impotence at the time of marriage made the marriage a nullity.  [Berman @ 228.] 
  2. "Marriage between a Catholic and a [non-Christian] was void, since baptism was a necessary condition for participation in any sacrament."   [Berman @ 228.]
  3. "[A]ny marriage in which the conjugal union was 'sullied' by ... incest" was void.  [Duby @ 21.]  By Church definition since the 9th century, "incest" was sexual contact or marriage between a man and woman who were related "to the seventh degree of consanguinity, as well as to relationships by affinity and spiritual kinship."  [Gies @ 137; Duby @ 17.] "Consanguinity" meant shared-by-blood ancestors.  "Affinity" meant relationship-by-marriage or "in-laws"; since husband and wife were seen as having become "one flesh," all relatives on both sides also became related to each other.  [History of Marriage in Western Civilization]. "Spiritual" meant a relationship through godparents.  By canon law's figuring of consanguinity, "seventh degree" was a count of degrees of relationship. Persons were remote from one another by as many degrees as they were remote from the common stock, omitting the common stock. Degrees of relationship were determined by the number of generations on one side only.

            There was no statute of limitations governing an action for the annulment of a marriage, and no marriage could be annulled without a legal action.  [Berman @ 228.]  Thus, unless a couple related within the seventh degree did something to draw a distant kinship to the attention of a local cleric, the possibility of annulment was little more than a "get out of jail free" pass that each spouse could hold in reserve.  Children born to a marriage that was later annulled were not at risk of being "bastardized," because "[w]here parties married in good faith, without knowledge of an impediment, ... children of the marriage were legitimate."  [Berman @ 228.]   

iii. Judicial separation

            In addition to annulment based on lack of consent or based on an impediment, "the Church permitted judicial separation on the ground of fornication, apostasy [renunciation of religious faith], or grave cruelty."  [Berman @ 229.]  However, the Church did not permit what we would today in Virginia call divorce a vinculo matrimonii (divorce from "the chains of marriage").  The judicial separation permitted by the Church was what today in Virginia we call divorce a mensa et thoro ("from bed and board," limited divorce). Judicial separation did not allow for any re-marriage.

B.  Property concerns

            As much as Louis might have wanted to keep the Aquitaine, the law was not on his side.

            "Eleanor's dower lands [the land she inherited from her father and brought into her marriage to Louis] could only be officially incorporated into the Frankish kingdom when she had born a son, and moreover, when the son succeeded Louis on the throne."  [Meade @ 129.]  Until then, if Eleanor died, her land would be inherited by her daughters, but the land would not become French territory.  Recall from above that by the terms of Eleanor's father's will, Eleanor's domains were "not to be incorporated into the royal demesne but should remain independent and be inherited by Eleanor's heirs alone." The words of her father's will granted Eleanor considerable power.

            That Eleanor would leave the marriage with her property left her with some chits to play as she would have had to negotiate the next phase of her life.

C.  Possible contract negotiations between Eleanor and the Duke of Normandy

            Did Eleanor communicate with her next-in-line husband, the Duke of Normandy, while still married to Louis?  Historians have found no records of communication, but logic says that there must have been communication between Eleanor and the Duke of Normandy, Henry.  As noted above, 16 days after the annulment of Eleanor and Louis' marriage, only seven days after Eleanor was back in Poitiers, Henry was meeting with his barons seeking their approval to marry Eleanor.  He would have sought their approval because he knew their military strength might be required to protect the merger of the Duchess of Aquitaine and the Duke of Normandy. 

            Whatever communication there might have been would, by necessity, have been clandestine.  Such communications while Eleanor remained the wife of King Louis would have been treason, and punishable by her death.

            A man who identifies himself only as Ian Isan of North Sydney, Australia, believes he may have decoded what remains of "secret messages" exchanged between Eleanor and Henry.  [His theories were at his personal web site through 2007; by 2008, the site was down.]

            He puts forth the theory that Eleanor and Henry made future plans and negotiated the terms of their future marriage while Eleanor remained married to Louis, after Eleanor and Henry met in late August 1151.  His theory is that their messages were exchanged in drawings that were prepared to look like plans for tapestries, and that sometime within the next three hundred years or so, the drawings were turned into actual tapestries and are now known as "The Lady of the Unicorn Tapestries," or "La Dame à la Licorne Tapisseries."

            The set of six tapestries is at the Musée de Cluny in Paris.  Art historians have said that the tapestries represent the six senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, taste, and love.  I shall leave it for greater minds than mine to wonder whether Mr. Isan's theory has validity.


            The Church applied their rules correctly and with ease at the annulment proceedings in Beaugency.  Eleanor and Louis' marriage met all of the rules for a valid marriage with the exception of their being too closely related.  The two were related within the disallowed level of consanguinity through two sets of ancestors: (1st) France's King Robert the Pious & Constance of Arles, and (2nd) the Duke of Aquitaine Guillaume III & Gerloc-Adele of Normandy. [CLICK here for ahnentafel charts, showing the ancestors of Eleanor and of Louis, and of Henry, with whom Eleanor also shared ancestors.] 


            Europe would have had a different history -- and many years of wars might have been avoided -- if the French Archbishops had followed the lead of Pope Eugenius III and denied the annulment and instead ordered Louis to keep "bedding" Eleanor until there was a son.  For, as Suger saw, the birth of a son was still possible for Eleanor.  In her new marriage, Eleanor gave birth to five sons, and three daughters.  Before Louis finally had a son in August 1165, Eleanor had birthed four sons for Henry. One of those sons became England's King Richard I.



BERMAN, Harold J.: Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.

CANTOR, Norman F.: The Civilization of the Middle Ages.  New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

DUBY, Georges: Medieval Marriage: Two Models from Twelfth-Century France.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

GIES, Frances and Joseph: Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

HERLIHY, David: Medieval Households.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.

MEADE, Marion: Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography.  New York: Hawthorn Books, 1977.

SEWARD, Desmond: Eleanor of Aquitaine. The Mother Queen. New York: Dorset Press, 1978.

WEIR, Alison: Eleanor of Aquitaine.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.

INTERNET WEBSITES: "History of Marriage in Western Civilization, Magnus Hirshfeld Archive for Sexology"; accessed Nov. 1, 2004. "The Salic Law," at web site of François R. Velde, former Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University, Department of Economics; accessed Nov. 1, 2004.


Eleanor had two husbands. She birthed 10 children and miscarried one.

Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, Countess of Poitou
BORN: 1122, Chateau de Belin, Bordeaux, France
DIED: 31 Mar 1204, Mirabell Castle, Fontevraud, France
BUR.: Fontevraud Abbey
FATHER: William X, Duke of Aquitaine
HUSBAND #1: Louis VII, King of France
BORN: 1119/1120, Reims,Marne,France
DIED: 18 Sep 1180, Paris, France
MARR: 25 Jul 1137, Bordeaux
ANNULLED: 21 Mar 1152, Beaugency, France
FATHER: Louis VI, King of France
MOTHER: Alix/Adelaide of Maurienne, Countess of Savoy
A-1.) Marie
BORN: 1145, Paris
DIED: 1198
SPOUSE: Henry I, Count of Champagne (full brother of Theobald I, Count of Blois)
A-2.) Alix
BORN: 1150, Paris (some mistakenly say 1151)
DIED: Abt 1197
SPOUSE: Theobald V, Count of Blois (full brother of Henry I, Count of Champagne)

HUSBAND #2: Henry II, King of England
BORN: 25 Mar 1133, Le Mans, Sartha, France
DIED: 6 Jul 1189, Chinon
BUR.: Fontevraud Abbey
MARR: 18 May 1152, Bordeaux, France
FATHER: Geoffrey, Count of Anjou
MOTHER: Matilda (Maud), Princess of England
B-1.) William
BORN: 17 Aug 1153, Normandy
DIED: Abt Apr 1156, Wallingford Castle, Berkshire
B-2.) Henry
BORN: 28 Feb 1155, Bermondsey
DIED: 11 Jun 1183, Martel
WIFE: Margaret, Princess of France (by Louis VII's 2nd wife)
MARR: 2 Nov 1160, Neubourg
B-3.) Matilda (mother of Otto IV, Roman Emperor, b. 1182, d. 1218)
BORN: 1156, London
DIED: 28 Jun 1189, Brunswick
HUSBAND: Henry V, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria
MARR: 1 Feb 1168, Minden
B-4.) Richard (King of England)
BORN: 8 Sep 1157, Beaumont Palace, Oxford
DIED: 6 Apr 1199, Chalus, Limousin
BUR.: Fontrevaud Abbey
1st BETROTHED: Alys, Princess of France (by Louis VII's 2nd wife)
(Marriage to Alys did not happen; instead, Alys had affair with her betrothed's father.)
WIFE: Berengaria, Princess of Navarre
MARR: 12 May 1191, Limasol, Cyprus
B-5.) Geoffrey (father of Arthur of Brittany, b. 1187, d. 1204)
BORN: 23 Sep 1158
DIED: 19 Aug 1186, Paris
WIFE: Constance, Duchess of Brittany
MARR: Jul 1181
B-6.) Eleanor (mother of Blanche of Castile who m. Louis VIII, King of France 1223-1226; grandmother of Louis IX, King of France 1226-1270)
BORN: 13 Oct 1162, Domfront, Normandy
DIED: 31 Oct 1214, Burgos, Spain
HUSBAND: Alfonso VIII, King of Castile
MARR: 22 Sep 1177, Burgos, Spain
B-7.) Joan
BORN: Oct 1165, Angers
DIED: 2 Sep 1199
HUSBAND #1: William II, King of Sicily
MARR: 13 Feb 1177, Palermo
HUSBAND #2: Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse
MARR: Oct 1196
B-8.) John (King of England)
(father of Henry III, King of England 1216-1272)
(father of Joan who m. Alexander II, King of Scotland 1214-1249)
BORN: 24 Dec 1167, Beaumont Palace, Oxford, England
DIED: 18 Oct 1216, Newark Castle
BUR.: Worcester Cathedral
WIFE #1: Hawisa/Isabella, Countess of Gloucester
MARR: 29 Aug 1189, Marlebridge
WIFE #2: Isabella of Angouleme
MARR: 26 Aug 1200, Bordeaux


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